a:  the act of devoting <devotion of time and energy>

b  :  the fact or state of being ardently dedicated and loyal <her devotion to the cause> <filial devotion>

It’s another Tuesday afternoon, and I’m rolling my harp and gear down the hall at the Hospice unit. As I walk past an open door I can see a family in the room across from the nurse’s station. Curled on her side in the huge hospital bed is an impossibly old woman – tiny, wrinkled and weathered, wizened, and dying. Sitting at her bedside is an impossibly old man – not as wrinkled, but equally weathered. He rests his head on the bed beside his wife. He is looking into her eyes, and gently stroking her hand that lies atop the turned-down sheet. I can see his love in how he looks at her, in his delicate, soft touch. He loves her even as she leaves him, even as the life he knows with her comes to an end. I see devotion that grew and strengthened over the decades they spent together.

And so, I play for him today. I play hoping to ease the burdens of letting go, of saying goodbye. I play hoping to show that he is not alone as he walks the path of endings, that others knew and felt this pain, and told their stories of losses and leavings in these old tunes from Celtic lands. I play tunes for a breaking heart.

Towards the end of my hour on the unit, his granddaughters help him slowly shuffle down the hall to where I am playing. They find a chair and help him sit close to me. He listens so attentively, leaning towards me to hear the music. There’s a light in his eyes, a twinkle, and he smiles broadly when I finish. He looks deep into my eyes and says, “Thank you.” I look back as deeply. There are no words – the music said all that is needed.

This is why I play music, why I play the harp, why I devote my time to harp lessons, to practicing, to learning repertoire. This is why my love and my energy and my desire are all found at my harp bench. This is why I haul my harp and bench and music stand through the hospital parking deck and corridors and elevators on Tuesday afternoons. I play music for connection, and for transcendence. Today I receive both – gifts from Music, and from the ripened fruit of devotion.


13 thoughts on “Devotion

  1. Thank you for sharing these moments with us!

    Sometimes I’ve wondered about the place of music during the last stages of life. In my experience ‘on the other (medical) side’, being in a room with a dying patient brings a certain silence, sometimes it feels like everything worth saying has been said and you can only ‘be’ there. Would music be appropriate in such a setting? Here in the Netherlands, harp therapy is very rare (mostly practiced in nursing homes etc) and I’ve never had a patient request music. But I wonder, wouldn’t it sort of ‘distract’ them or ‘hold them back’?

    I think your writing provides the answer – the music expresses the things that cannot be expressed in words. In the music you show the patient and their family how you care and you give them a meaningful experience that no well meaning doctor ever could. The language of music is universal and speaks directly to the soul.

    A few years ago I read this piece on the internet – it’s from a commencement address for a music conservatory. Especially this part is really powerful:

    “”If we were a medical school, and you were here as a med student practicing appendectomies, you’d take your work very seriously because you would imagine that some night at two AM someone is going to waltz into your emergency room and you’re going to have to save their life. Well, my friends, someday at 8 PM someone is going to walk into your concert hall and bring you a mind that is confused, a heart that is overwhelmed, a soul that is weary. Whether they go out whole again will depend partly on how well you do your craft. “

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  2. It’s so wonderful that you do this. Having recently experienced so many goodbyes in much the same surroundings, I would have liked some music playing during my visits. I’m sure you have touched many people with your music!


    1. I think music so helps when going thru such a difficult experience. Yesterday a woman came out of a patient room, burst into tears and hugged me when I started playing. She was on day 12 of sitting with her loved one – and said it was the first bit of beauty she’d had in those 12 days. Such a potent reminder of how music can help and heal.


    1. It was good to be reminded of why I schlep my harp and deal with the parking deck and elevators and all the inconveniences of getting me and my harp there. There really is a higher purpose at work in my going there.


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