Welcome to my Blog

This Blog is a collection of my thoughts and experiences as a music therapist and human being working with people at the end of their lives in hospice. In my experience I have seen some amazing things- things that have given me a glimse of something bigger. I have learned that in our suffering, in our doubt, there is also room for beauty and a deeper sense of the divine. Music taps into the rhythms of the earth and at the same time transcends it. I want to share my experiences from the past and from each day moving forward. Hopefully one or two people will find it interesting. Please visit my Web-sites at http://www.nielsenmtbc.com/ or http://www.musictherapycd.com/

Please note that I take client confidentiality very seriously. Names and sometimes other details have been changed to protect the identities of my clients.

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Silent November Air

Oh that moment each year... I step into the cold, silent November night air. No more crickets and frogs singing. No more night birds singing. Even the owls have left for the year. Stillness and silence. Nothing but the Erie sound of grain dryers in the distance. It's always a little moment of grief and gratitude for the summer that was, and a bracing for the winter to come.
Winter is a part of life, but as we move from autumn to winter, there is a sad goodbye to what was- a practice in letting go. Winter is a time when life pauses, with a hopeful promise it will resume. We hold the light in the darkness with a faith that life will begin again. The creatures of the earth will awaken and return again. Nature will be reborn. We will be reborn.
In this present moment of change we need to both mourn and celebrate the beauty of what has been, and what will be.
"In the cold and snow of winter, there's a spring that waits to be, unrevealed until its season, something God alone can see." ---- Hymn of Promise, Natalie Sleeth

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Is Suffering "Inhuman"? I Don't Think So.

After a long absence, I'm back. Life has been a little crazy the past couple of years and this blog page has languished too long. Some recent cases being covered in the Media, as well as an increased awareness of end-of-life have inspired me to pick it up and carry on...
This evening I was watching PBS's NewsHour, and a discussion about end of life and the case of Brittany Maynard, who has decided to legally end her life. Like I said before I have mixed feelings about this case. But aside from the larger moral-ethical issues, I had a strong response to something Barbara Coombs Lee said when speaking on Brittany's behalf. She referred the dying process as "inhuman" and "dehumanizing". No. A natural disease process is not removing a person's humanity. Dying is often a stripping away in a progression toward a spiritual transition, but suffering is a part of it... until the part that's human is left behind. I've seen just how awful it can be, but it is not contrary to our humanity. Suffering is not only part of life, it defines what it means to be human. I'm reminded of Captain Kirk famously stating, a little too overdramatically, "I need my pain." But it's true.

The Buddha taught that "all of life is suffering". Jesus' life was about suffering. Indigenous people still engage in spiritual practices that involve symbolic suffering. Nearly every spiritual tradition has suffering at its core. Why? Because to suffer IS to be human. It's terrible. It's gut-wrenching. It sucks!!! But it IS human.

To ease suffering is also human.

To be afraid of suffering is human.

I don't condemn Brittany for her choice. It would not be my choice, but I honor her right and do believe others should have that right. But before we do that we need to make many more strides toward increasing access to quality hospice and palliative care, which can ease suffering and increase quality of life until the last breath. Natural, human death with dignity is possible. I see it every day.