An Article by Cantor Steven Stoehr


An Article by Cantor Steven Stoehr

“The secret is not to make your music louder, but to make the world quieter.”

Mitch Albom, The Magic Strings of Frankie Presto: A Novel

Cantor Steven StoehrI have visited with numbers of dear congregation members who were enduring their last days of life. At times we have had time to dialogue about the inevitable and sometimes I have been invited into the intimate circle of the family’s journey when the patient is no longer visibly aware. I speak to the family and I always speak to the dying, giving him/her the respect of acknowledging their presence which is yet viable. Sometimes the person offers some manner of response, be it a furrowed or lifted eyebrow or, on a good day, the opening of one’s eyes. I offer to them the assuredness that our community is offering prayers for their well-being and that their family is close by and wanting for them to be well. If that implies being at peace and letting go, then maybe that is a moment of permission the person needs, if “well” merely means to be without pain for any undetermined duration, then that is what the person can feel. One living in a moment of dire medical dependency and helplessness yet needs to be afforded the dignity to feel as if s/he is in control of some aspect of her/his being. If that means continuing to breath, great and if it means ceasing to fight the battle, so be it. Whatever manner of dignity one can be gifted at a time of losing the tug-of-war with death’s grip, then that is a blessing.

Music is a treasure chest which can be opened for anyone in such a situation that often transports one to a place of solemnity. Playing music in hospice settings is quite common. The calming melodies quiet a person’s breathing and adds to the ambience of serenity. A person’s heartbeat is one which echoed the same rhythm of its mothering source in the womb, and in this instance, the heartbeat often finds its rhythm to the soothing hush of the music. I will sing a song or maybe prayer to (or with) the person and inevitably they respond. When we can quiet the outside world, the modestly toned melody of a person’s soul can be heard.

The old saying is that we were given two ears and one mouth so that we listen more than we talk. In sacred moments of transition between this world and the next people have a lot to say; if not audibly then within their heart’s beat. If they offer words, or phrases or even a little melody, listen and keep it with in you. People often yearn to hear the wisdom of a dying person’s’ final words or advice believing, in some way, that this passage to the next world affords someone a sense of clarity and prophecy of truth which eludes us during the cacophony of living life and, in the quiet chamber of dying, ultimate insights can be released. Maybe so, and maybe it is just mumble-jumble, but the whisper of one beloved person’s soul is music to one’s ears, and always in the right key.

If I can ever be of help to you acquiring appropriate music for a loved one, I would be honored with the opportunity.

Cantor Steven Stoehr

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