Musical Gifts at the End of Life

We all have a soundtrack to our lives. Songs from childhood hold fast in our memories, perhaps a mother’s voice singing a lullaby or silly songs sung on long car rides. Songs of our youth remind of us summer days spent at the pool or camp. Then there are the songs associated with firsts—first love, first dance, first kiss, first heartbreak. Wedding songs, songs we sing to our children, songs from concerts we attend, songs from movies we love. At end of life, it is natural to reflect and sometimes healing to share these important moments. We call this Musical Life Review, a way of processing and preparing for death. As part of the process, patients often want to leave a record of their Musical Life Review for their loved ones.

Here is a lovely song a client recently asked to record and leave for his loved ones. The message in the lyrics is one of love and loss. What is on the soundtrack of your life?

sung by Maureen McGovern
composed by David Shire
from the movie The Earthling

The road seems so long.
I pray I’ll be strong.
Afraid, on my own–
I think of you,
I’m halfway home.

Two lives, worlds apart.
You reached for me and touched my heart.
And oh, how I’ve grown.
Alone again,
I’m halfway home.

Who am I without you there?
Will my dream be worth the dream if you can’t share it?
I was lost until you came.
Now you’ve gone and once again,
I’m not the same.

I’m not sure what will be,
But part of you I take with me.
Afraid, but not alone.
‘Cause you’re part of me
I’m halfway home.
Repeat last verse.

Thank Heaven For You

Words and Music by Micki Grant Performed by Mimi Sinclair

As music therapists, we facilitate the expression of feelings by our clients. Sometimes that involves composing new songs. Other times we are able to find a song already composed that has just the right feeling with just the right words. Thank Heaven For You is a little known tune from the music “Don’t Bother Me, I Can’t Cope.” A client who loves musical theater was looking for a song to sing to her mother who has been a source of great support and comfort during difficult times. With just one little change in the original lyric, this song said it all for her.

When I’m worried, just a smile from you is all I need;
When I’m failing, just a word from you and I’ll succeed;
When I don’t have a cent to my name, I’m still rich indeed.
‘Cause I’ve got you and your love to guide me,
You to stay beside me,
Without you, I don’t know what I’d do,
Thank Heaven for you.

When I’m tired, you can touch my brow and I’m good as new;
And when troubles multiply, you make them see so few.
And somehow you make me believe there’s nothing I can’t do.
‘Cause I’ve got you and your love to guide me,
You to stay beside me,
Without you, I don’t know what I’d do,
Thank Heaven for you.

Before you came along, everything went wrong,
And it didn’t take much to make a mess of me.
Oh, but now I’m stepping high, my head’s in the sky,
Nothing can get the best of me.

‘Cause I’ve got you and your love to guide me,
You to stay beside me,
Without you, I don’t know what I’d do,
Thank Heaven for you.


Maria Sings

Maria is nonverbal and loves music. While she has on occasion vocalized short phrases from familiar songs, she typically listens to her selected songs smiling and often responding rhythmically by patting her legs or clapping her hands. In her music therapy sessions, she is currently working on using the iPad to communicate choices and answer yes/no questions, so the iPad was set up on the table when she entered the session room. But Maria had other plans for the day. She sat down and immediately began singing. To capture this novel event, the iPad camera was started and Maria, as you can see, enjoys seeing herself on the screen as she sings. Her therapist, Mimi Sinclair, engages in improvisation with Maria, matching pitch and shaping the song with some rhythmic tapping. This 5 minute video demonstrates Maria’s full engagement in reciprocal interaction through music and is a testament to her intention to communicate in a meaningful way with another. (Video presented with full permission of legal guardian.)