So. It has been an eventful month, to say the least.
When I applied for this Friday off from work (about a week ago), I was feeling emotionally drained, fatigued and slightly jaded (even if I did not always show it). It made sense to take some time off, to regather my thoughts and feelings, and to perhaps reconfigure the WHY of what I’m doing.
It all started from 3 Sundays ago, when I received a call from a colleague tearfully telling me that one of our kids was in intensive care and not expected to make it through the next day. The social worker had asked if I would be able to have one more music therapy session with him?
Yes, I said. Of course. We made plans to go down first thing next morning.
I don’t think I had much time to prepare myself for it. I texted a trusted peer and shared my worries about doing the session. My worries about not being able to separate my personal emotions from my role as the therapist in the room. She reassured me that it was ok to show our emotions and that I could try taking deep breadths if it got too much to handle. I wrote about my emotions in my journal. Had some alone time in the morning before work, to ground and steady myself. That was about all the preparation I could do, I think.
The session itself started on an emotional high. Little D, not even 3 years of age, was in a comatose state, kidneys failed, his face swollen and puffed up, with machines and tubes all around him (But then this wasn’t something new, even when he was coming to school he was already surrounded by tubes and machines). It became quite apparent that the music was more for mum than for D. She started crying the moment the strings of the guitar filled the room.
Same chords. Just repeat. Hold the space, I told myself. C – G – F – G – C. Repeat. Mum took a call. Came back. Continued crying.
“We are here… Here with D…” A song to establish our being there. Our presence. Our being together. Humming. A space for comfort. And also because I didn’t trust myself to sing words continuously without breaking down or cracking with emotion.
“Is there anything you’d like to say to him?” I chocked out to mum, after some time of just playing instrumentally. A floodgate of emotions opened as mum verbalised what she seemed to have been keeping in. “You can go and do all the things you couldn’t do here…”, “Mummy has already tried her best, sorry…”, “If you want to go you can go, it’s really ok”… It felt like she needed that space, and perhaps even the presence of people who allowed her to say those things.
Keep playing, keep playing. Don’t stop the music. Hold the space. She needs to let this out. Even though my tears were salty, my nose was dripping grossly, even though my shoulders and fingers were tensed and tired from the continuous plucking.
When she seemed to have finished all she wanted to say… or at least reached a suitable pause… I let the song take over again. To gather. To validate. To comfort.
“Mummy loves you… Loves D…”. “Thank you mummy… for taking care of me.”
A voice for D, perhaps, who has never uttered a word in his life.
Hesitantly, I ask. “Are there… any songs he liked in particular?”
“Not really…” A pause. “Maybe… Can you sing You are my Sunshine?”
And we did.
You are my sunshine
My only sunshine
You make me happy
when skies are grey
You’ll never know dear
How much I love you
Please don’t take my sunshine away
“D, I’m sorry I did not dare sing this song to you because I was afraid I would cry. You will always be my sunshine ok…”
Needless to say we were all emotional wrecks by this time. Yet, it felt like the right moment to wrap up the session.
“Can we sing a goodbye song?” – This, I had not expected.
“You mean the one we always sing in class?”
“Yes that’s fine”
It’s time to say goodbye
Goodbye to D, goodbye
Thank you for your music
And now we say goodbye
After we left, we heard that mum had brought D home. And D passed on at home the next morning.
How do I even begin to describe what the journey was like after that experience?
I moved through the world feeling numb, drained and fatigued for the next week or so.
I could not sleep, and woke up early.
I continued sessions but could feel that my heart was nowhere there with the kids in front of me.
I don’t know if it was grief, or emotional exhaustion. Or maybe a combination of both. I didn’t understand how everyone around me, my colleagues – could continue as normal when inside I felt so hollow and empty. I felt isolated – no one else could understand what that space felt like, what it felt like to be holding the space with music and connecting in those moments through song and music. I tell people “It was an emotional session” but that did so little justice to the experience that it became a chore to even try to explain.
Doubts also crossed my mind. Was I being unprofessional by investing too much of my emotions? I should not have allowed myself to get so deep emotionally? Is it a sign of my incompetence as a therapist that I’m unable to handle the emotions when it gets this tough? How do people working in palliative settings do it? Does this mean I’m not suitable to work in palliative settings?
It’s getting better. Even though there were times when I thought it would not.
And I am glad I can honestly say: I’m very thankful for the privilege. For the experience. It has deepened my practice so much. To have been there, with the music, as the music therapist. When I started working in this job, I never imagined that I would get to do a session like that. And now I can look back and see how it has helped me grow, helped me know myself better, helped me truly appreciate what music can do.
The feelings may be difficult, but they can teach us so so much.
And the journey continues.