Few indeed of us are granted the luxury of determining the manner and setting of our own deaths. And most of us know the heartache of watching a loved one die slowly in the harsh environment of a hospital room, entangled in a net of tubes and wires and shunts and monitors and oxygen masks and bedpans. It’s not the way in which most of us would choose to shuffle off this mortal coil, had we the choice. A hospital can work miracles at times; but when the time for miracles has passed, far better to make one’s exit in cozy, homelike surroundings, in the company of one’s nearest-and-dearest, regardless of whether or not it’s still “visiting hours,” and with medical care focused on alleviating pain rather than merely extending life when acceptable quality of life is no longer possible.
That concept, deemed hopelessly old-fashioned and unscientific in the first half of the 20th century, began to enjoy a revival with the beginnings of the modern hospice movement, pioneered in the 1950s and ‘60s by Dame Cicely Saunders and Dr. Elisabeth Kübler-Ross. Hospices actually date back to at least the 11th century; in the Middle Ages they were found throughout Europe and the Near East – indistinguishable then from hospitals, really, considering how little truly curative medicine was available in the time before germ theory. Whole religious orders were founded for the care of the dying, and that care probably had more in common with psychological social work than with actual nursing as we know it today. Now we have come full circle, with hospices popping up across the land, promulgating Saunders’ philosophy of treating the whole patient (and his or her family), not just the disease.
A community that has hospice facilities and services available to its terminally ill residents is a lucky community indeed, and the mid-Hudson is fortunate to enjoy the presence of Hospice, Inc., with offices on lower Broadway in Kingston and on Violet Avenue in Poughkeepsie. It’s a low-key sort of organization dedicated to the mission of “helping individuals who are at the end of life maintain their dignity and enhance the quality of life,” and most of us aren’t aware that it’s there until we find out that someone close to us really needs it.
Among the services offered by Hospice, Inc. is an innovative program in music therapy. Board-certified music therapists treat patients using such techniques as songwriting, singing, improvisation and music therapy relaxation techniques to alleviate pain, anxiety, depression, impaired quality of life, anticipatory grief and the need for “spiritual discourse.” Research studies of the use of music therapy provide ample evidence that it can significantly enhance the quality of life for people with advanced illness.
But like all medical care in these times, music therapy programs are costly to run. And since the arts are widely viewed as an expendable “frill” when budgets get tight, they are usually the first thing to go when it comes down to a choice between providing a service and passing the cost on to the consumer. Stepping into the funding gap are local musical heroes Jay Ungar and Molly Mason, who will perform in concert to benefit Hospice, Inc.’s music therapy program this Sunday, November 13 at 3 p.m. in Olin Hall on the campus of Bard College in Annandale-on-Hudson.
Perhaps best-known for the music that they performed as backdrop for Ken Burns’s PBS documentary on the Civil War, Grammy-winners Ungar and Mason have established themselves among the premier performers of American acoustic music rooted in the Appalachian, Cajun and Celtic traditions. Joining them onstage for this afternoon concert will be special guests the Strawberry Hill Fiddlers. Tickets go for $15 general admission and $10 for seniors and students, and may be purchased by calling Hospice Foundation at (845) 473-2273, extension 1109, or online at https://hospice.worldsecuresystems.com/BookingRetrieve.aspx?ID=73877. Walk-ins are also welcome.