I am a perfect person to give a testimonial about the Eventide experience: I originally didn’t really want them to come.
In late September, after the wild six-month rollercoaster ride of my mother’s illness and predicted death, she had finally slipped into a coma. Our journey had been so intense and so personal that, even though I knew about the Eventide singers, and even though my mother loved choral music, I couldn’t imagine inviting a group of strangers into her bedroom during her last struggling hours.
I am a nurse, and I know all too well the difficulty of stepping into the unique cultural bubble that every family in crisis represents…the difficulty of matching their mood, of treading gracefully, of giving and serving without taking or intruding. It is very hard.
My sister Frances is also a nurse. Better yet, a Hospice nurse, and a musician. “Mom would LOVE it if they came!” she said when my husband Peter asked if we wanted Eventide to sing. So on Friday we made the appointment, wondering if our mother would make it ‘til 2 pm on Saturday when the singers could come.
At 1:45 we all gathered on my mother’s king sized bed next to her, as she continued the hard, open-mouthed work of dying. It was a muggy fall afternoon. All the windows were open, letting in the sound of birds, crickets and chipmunks. And then, the first few notes of the singers warming up in the driveway. Before the singers even reached the bedroom, their harmonies released an incredible rush of emotion in me. I knew, immediately, we had done the right thing.
My sister Whitney, who can’t be here today, wrote this about the experience:
“The music the Eventide singers shared at our mom’s bedside was a profound gift to our family. It gave us focused, beautiful time together. The songs created vibrations to which we could attach our love and tenderness. We listened, we added our voices, and we leaned into all the feelings that resonated throughout the space.”
In a phone conversation, my sister Frances who lives in Montana, said,
“They say the energy of music permeates all of our body tissue, not just our ears. The fact that the singers were all harmonizing in a circle that included the patient and the family was extremely powerful. We were all crying in that moment not because we were sad or scared, but because the musical vibrations tapped into our emotions. I know it reached Mom too, on a sort of soul level. She always loved music because it touched her deeply in a way nothing else could. Their music added depth and color to her last hours.”
We also discussed how miraculous it felt to have complete strangers come into our most intimate setting… in silence, except to give this gift…and then walk away…leaving us shattered, but so much more whole.
I’m fairly sure that the Eventide gift goes two ways as well. My daughter Sophie, who played violin for Mom in her last hours, wrote part of her college essay about the power of music in her grandmother’s death. She concluded with:
“Music brought peace to the poignancy of loss. In this moment, I was proud to be a musician.”
Thank you, Eventide singers, for your service to our family.