By Andrea Fenwick
One of the things that I learned from being a hospice volunteer is that hearing is the last sense that we lose before we die. Even after someone has died, speaking words of kindness, love, and peace offer comfort to those still living; and singing can soothe and bring a sense of ritual and ceremony to these scared moments beyond time and space.
As a hospice volunteer, I found that sitting at the bedside of those who are dying was an honor; and yet often times I would find myself wanting to do something more than witness and hold loving space. Both of these, in and of themselves, are beautiful and powerful offerings, and nothing else is required or needed. But while loving silence can be perfect, singing or humming from one’s heart is also nurturing and healing.
Singing is an ancient practice that is frequently called “kindness made audible,” and it can bring a significant addition to the hospice patient and their loved ones. I became aware of the organization called Threshold Choir International (TCI) from a hospice volunteer who belonged to a local chapter. When requested by the client, family, caregivers, or healthcare staff, three or four Threshold singers will gather around the patient’s bedside. (During COVID times, we ‘gathered’ via Zoom.) We bring our open-hearted presence and blend our voices together as one, offering songs of peace, love, joy, and release.
Once I began singing at the bedside, I was captivated by the heightened awareness and centeredness that happened in the room. I could feel the peacefulness within myself and could see the hospice patient relax as we sang. I truly understood the significance of the notion that “giving is receiving” in this exchange, where the true receiving is the honor to be invited as a witness to these sacred moments. After the first rehearsal, I knew this was the path I wanted to be a part of and that I wanted to provide this loving offering.
The first Threshold Choir started in 2000 by Kate Munger as a non-religious group of women volunteers who offer comfort through song to individuals who are critically ill or dying. In the past 20 years, TCI has grown to over 200 chapters worldwide. These choirs started out as a sisterhood of women and now several chapters are open to men joining as well. Threshold singing is always a free service, and donations are accepted.
What is unique about threshold choirs is that the repertoire is mainly written by our own choir members. When people are more familiar with a tune, they tend to focus more intently on the song. Because the general population is not familiar with threshold choir songs, the one receiving the songs can more easily rest and take in the kind, soothing, and healing words. The words of the songs often times give voice to feelings of loss, grief, forgiveness, peace, love, and joy. In my experience, these songs touch anyone in the space including loved ones, caregivers, and health care staff as well. The singing is always acapella and when words are not necessary, songs may be hummed.
If you know of someone who could benefit from this singing, or if you are interested in joining a group, please contact www.thresholdchoirinternational.org to find your local chapter.