Music Therapy Helps The Dying

Relaxing, Reaching the Recollection, Music Helps With the Closing Transition

Three music therapists from MJHS Hospice and Palliative Care crisscross the city and suburbs to sing songs to the dying every week.

With a flute or tambourine, guitars strapped to their own backs and a songbook jammed inside their back packs, they play with music for over 100 patients, in housing projects, in nursing homes as well as in a waterfront house that is luxurious.

The time for radiation and chemotherapy is over.


On Tuesdays in the Bronx, a music therapist, Yelena Zatulovsky , plays tunes for Millicent Williams, 94, who came from Jamaica to America as a young girl, and is dying of colon cancer.

The music starts: a tune to hold death at bay, a tune to adopt passing, or to praise God. A Vietnam veteran asks for a tune in Vietnamese. One guy asked just in the lyrics for tunes with passing, to drive his family to talk about the future to him. He was prepared to discuss it. They werent.

So the therapist sang Queens variation of Another One Bites the Dust. Amazing Grace and other spiritual songs are most commonly requested only before departure.


Ms. Wilsons son, Mark V. Wilson, a videographer and music producer, quit working to care for his mom. Music therapy was requested by him for his mom.

James D. Williams, 85, of Brooklyn, who’s dying of cancer, says, Right now I ‘m on borrowed time.

A therapist, Charla Burton, sees to sing hymns with Mr. Williams and his wife of 61 years, Daphne, 79. The Lord has kept me and I will be really glad, Mr. Williams says. With the back-up of my wife. She holds on to me. Both were born in Belize, and part of the religious practice, their tunes, have a delightful Caribbean lilt.


For the last four months, another therapist, Charla Burton , is seeing with Rose Vuolo, 86, an Alzheimers patient.


Merle Gross, age 73, a breast cancer patient, with Charla Burton in her backyard on the South Shore of Long Island, in Oceanside.

In Oceanside, N.Y., Merle Gross, 73, is dying of breast cancer. Sitting beside an ocean inlet, she and Ms. Burton make choices for a songbook she needs to leave behind.

If there’s enough, it’s going to contain all the people she loved, tunes for every person in her family and her dog, Shayna.


Meredith Traver and early Chinese folk melodies play on the flute for Kai Sui Fung, 60. He’s dying of lung cancer.

And in a Manhattan housing project, a mother cradles her 6-month-old daughter, Cecilia, and Meredith Traver and a lullaby play gently singing the words, Papa will buy you a mockingbird.

Among the youngest patients Cecilia Havre, in the system, has Trisomy 18, a genetic defect; half those created with this illness don’t live beyond the first week of life.

The infant smiles at her dad, Eddie Havre, Chantel Vazquez, and her mom. Cecilia is not hearing, but her parents soothe. Cecilia is booming in hospice or end-of-life care where treatment may be included, and may be transferred to palliative care.


Ms. Burton seeing James D. Williams, 85, at his residence in Brooklyn. He could be ill with prostate cancer. He and his wife Daphne, of 61 years, both love to sing hymns.


Rose Vuolo

Rose Vuolo, 86, an Alzheimers patient on Long Island, has had visits from Ms. Burton for four months.

Rose seldom talks. She’s not gotten increasingly better, says Paul Motisi, her grandson. Its become endless confusion. Except occasionally when Ms. Burton visits.

Ms. Burton plays the Cole Porter tune Begin the Beguine the lyrics of which even Cole Porter said he couldn’t recall without the sheet music. Yet with perfect pitch and range, Rose sings along, on a good day. It was the tune she and her husband danced to


Charla Burton plays with tunes that Merle Gross needs to place into a songbook she’s creating for friends and her family. She expects to leave each man she’s adored a tune, and her dog.


Meredith Traver playing guitar for 6-month old Cecilia Havre and her mom, Chantel Vasquez. Cecilia has a genetic disorder called Trisomy 18, which claims half its casualties before the first week of life.


When her music therapist plays Cecilia grins, but she’s not hearing. She’s, nevertheless, flourishing in hospice or end-of-life care where treatment may be included, and may be proceeded to palliative care.


Ms. Travers ,with the help of a nursing aide who interprets and sings, motivates Kui San Fung to shut his eyes, and open his head. Forget the nursing home, she says. Picture the pictures in the tune.


Rose Vuolo and her music therapist, Ms. Burton. My grandma is apparently lucid, said her grandson, Paul Motisi, when Charla is playing. Her emotions go into a space that is considerably more favorable.

Millicent Wilson, 94, who’s dying of colon cancer in the Bronx, quit singing after her husband died and she got ill, says her son, Mark V. Wilson, who quit working to take care of her. But because his mom is singing

By the end of a tune, she asks him, Mark, why dont you dance anymore?


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