The gift of a song…

By Ray Leone, MMT, MT-BC 

Ray is a Board-Certified music therapist who directs A Place To Be’s medical music therapy program through a partnership with Inova Health Systems.

Several months ago, when I was still fairly new at the hospital where I work as a music therapist, I met Mr. B. in the oncology unit.   Mr. B. was in for a few days for his chemotherapy treatment.  When I entered his room for the first time and introduced myself and told him that I was a music therapist, he looked at me in an odd way; perhaps wondering why I was there and what I was going to do.  Mr. B., in his early 70s, was a bit gruff.  He gave the appearance of a football coach, or a longshoreman, but in a gentlemanly way, offered me a seat.  I asked him how he was doing and he said he felt fine.  It seemed more of an annoyance that he had to stay in the hospital for a few days for his treatment.  He had more important things to get to.  After a bit of small talk, Mr. B. said “Well, are you going to take that guitar out and play something?”

Mr. B. told me that he liked country music, “Real country music, not this crap that you hear today.”  So I started with Johnny Cash.  After I played and sang, Mr. B. looked at me over his glasses and said, “Hmmm…not bad. Since you are here, you might as well play something another one.”  With each song, his stone face softened a bit.  I believe, Mr. B., was finding the music and the company…comforting.  After a few songs and a little more chit-chat, he said, “Ray, before you go, would you play ‘Amazing Grace’?”  As I finished the song, I noticed he was wiping away a few tears.  He then said, “Thank you Ray, I’ll be back in about 6 weeks, maybe I’ll see you then.”

When Mr. B., was back for another round of chemo, I visited with him again.  After a few country songs (real ones), he asked if I knew the song “In The Garden”.   I did not.  He said, “Ray, do yourself a favor and look it up.”  That night I did, and the next day when I went back to see him and played and sang it…more tears.  Mr. B. then opened up a bit about his cancer.  He told me it was a tough road, there was pain that no one knew about and he worried about his family.  But whenever he felt down he would rely on his faith.  He would sing, in his mind, ‘In The Garden’.

The next time I saw him, during his next round, he was looking a bit frail.  “Ray”, he said quietly with his eyes closed, “Will you sing ‘In The Garden’ for me?  I need to hear it.”  I sang, more tears, and then we just sat in silence.

I hadn’t see Mr. B. for months.  And during those months, ‘In The Garden’ became one of my go to songs.  I played it many times, especially for those patients who were really sick and relied on their faith.   Often times, this particular song brought on tears.  And I always thought of Mr. B., wondering how he was doing.

Just recently I saw Mr. B. again, this time in the ICU.  He was in pain, had some various complications and when I said “Hello” to him he said, “Ray, things are not good.”  I didn’t get to visit and share music with him at that particular time as he was going for a procedure.  When I was back on the unit the next day, one of the social workers grabbed me and asked me to go see Mr. B., to see if I could help.  I didn’t know what I was walking into and when I got to his room he looked very frail, he was agitated and very confused.  He was moaning and he was in pain.  It was so hard to see him suffering.  I sat and played.  I didn’t know if he knew I was there.  Finally, I played and sang ‘In The Garden’ and there were tears…they were mine.  Mr. B. passed away the next day.  I had seen him various times over the past year and my last moments with him, fittingly, was with the song ‘In The Garden’.  

Mr. B. gave me a powerful gift, the gift of a song.  A gift that I will never forget and a gift that I will always use and cherish.  A gift that may help others with their own pain, emotions, uncertainty or celebration.  And every time I play and sing ‘In The Garden’, I will always think about my friend…Mr. B.

I come to the garden alone

While the dew is still on the roses

And the voice I hear, falling on my ear

The Son of God discloses

And He walks with me

And He talks with me

And He tells me I am His own

And the joy we share as we tarry there

None other has ever known

The healing power of music…

(*the stories presented in this blog are based on accounts and experiences and are not actual accounts and experiences)