Music that comforts the soul

Board-Certified Music Therapist Lori Sunshine strums the harp for hospice patient Geneva Fergusson.

Geneva Fergusson, diagnosed with bone cancer, was given six months to live, and was placed on hospice care. Three years later, she was holding strong at age 95, as she and her husband Fergie enjoyed a music therapy session with Livingston Memorial Visiting Nurse Association’s Board-Certified Music Therapist, Lori Sunshine.

Sunshine arrived at the Fergusson home with a myriad of exotic instruments. The collection included a harp, Tibetan bells, xylophone, ocean drum, and various percussion instruments. Instruments are chosen for their beautiful sound and the ease of participants playing them. Songs are selected to stimulate meaningful memories and joy.

The purpose of hospice is to provide comfort care and emotional support to the terminally ill in their homes so that quality of life is maintained and family members may be active participants in care.

Music Therapy is a vital part of the interdisciplinary team Livingston Hospice provides. The interdisciplinary lineup also includes a medical doctor, nurses, therapists, social workers, home health aides, and chaplains to provide for the patient’s physical, emotional, social and spiritual needs. Volunteers that provide respite for caregivers and companionship for the patient round out the team.

According to Sunshine, the purpose of Music Therapy as an adjunct to hospice is “to increase spiritual support, peacefulness, and meaningful connections, to distract from pain, and enable participants to emotionally express themselves, both verbally and non-verbally.

To commence the session, Sunshine invited Geneva and Fergie to choose which instrument they would like to begin with. They chose the harp.

Because Sunshine has been with this couple for three years, she was able to immediately tune in to their needs and instinctively select songs that spoke to their souls. She gave Fergie an instrument, on which he strummed and gently sang as Sunshine played her harp and sang along too. They improvised together, in harmony, moving into tunes familiar and spontaneously created, as Geneva looked on lovingly, content to just listen and bask in her love for her life and husband.

At one point, Sunshine gently placed an instrument called a Kalimba on Fergie’s upper back, while playing and singing softly to him to help create positive energy with the vibrations, knowing of his tight neck and shoulder muscles.

In addition to the home visits, Lori Sunshine regularly provides Music Therapy for Livingston hospice patients at assisted living facilities. She brings drums and other instruments and welcomes other residents to join in the making of music.

Livingston is proud to have two Music Therapists. Laura Demiera Fercano brings joy to hospice patients with her keyboard and knowing just the right songs to sing.

Music Therapy is evidence-based, with research showing effectiveness for increased wellness of mind, body and spirit.
In Geneva’s case, Music Therapy may also be a part of prolonging her life. No one can know for sure, but she feels that as a part of the whole hospice experience, Sunshine’s visits have been overwhelmingly positive. “I’m sure Music Therapy has contributed to my longevity.”

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