Monday, January 3, 2011

January 3, 2011: Providence comes in Sevens, pt. 7 of 7...


Yes, I know, I skipped 6... when I wrote my notes, I realized one of the separate notes was the fact that I was only at UC Irvine last Wednesaday because Ali was sick, not because I was scheduled to be there, and who knows what my last two shifts on Thursday and Friday would have been like if I had been there at my regularly appointed time... (well, we know that I would have been playing a small concert on Friday I guess!)  So, since I've alluded to this fact in several of these posts, it no longer counts as its own... which is really my way of just getting to number 7...

My office library - reorganized today!...

Have you ever had the experience that all the events of your life were handed to you consciously and with intention?  I have.  Several times, in fact.  I think of Rick Warren's title, "A Purpose Driven Life."  That is ME TO A T.  I remember playing a single concert with an all-star band in Tempe, AZ probably 11 years ago.  There were at least 8 of us in the project.  Just before we were to hit the stage at our sold out show, I was asked to say a benediction.  We stood in a circle inside the back of the ryder rental truck we used to transport all our gear.  I was honored to speak because many of the musicians in this circle were musicians I looked up to, so to have their ears and their respect in that moment meant a lot to me.

I mentioned that each one of us in that circle had travelled a great many miles in our individual journeys in life.  What miraculous harmony there was in the culmination of all those years and all those miles in that very circle in that very moment in time.  Mind you, these were some pretty cool guys, and when I said that, they all just paused, looked up at each other and at me and smiled, recognizing the significance of that statement.  We were about to unleash about 200 collective years of pain, struggle, passion, and music onto that audience.  THAT was what was possible out of our collective experience.

On Wednesday afternoon, as I was walking from one unit to the next, I spotted one of my dearest patient's wife walking down the hall.  I had seen this patient first in the infusion center, then in the ICU, then back in the infusion center again.  Things were not going well for him.  At 57, cancer was winning, and the game was nearing its end.

It's always bittersweet when I see an outpatient up on the unit; we get to spend more time together, but only because they are sick enough to be admitted into the hospital.

When I first approached the room, the wife and I said hi, and I quickly saw that there was a treatment team waiting to speak with her, so I went and saw "C" in the meantime.  When I returned a while later, there was a different treatment team in the room, and the air in the room was INTENSE, heavy, and really, really sad.  Before I got a chance to slip back out the door, "E's" wife said, "Wait - he REALLY wants to see you! - come in!"  So, I quietly walked in the room.

The team in the room was the palliative care team and the case manager.

Knowing my friend and patient in that hospital bed, this was absolutely the LAST team in the hospital he wanted to have to be listening / talking to EVER.  E is a fighter and does not want to admit that his body is losing the fight against cancer.  The PAIN and SORROW in the room was palpable.  I quietly and professionally introduced myself with my name and title of music therapist, to which I kind of expected a warm response from the palliative care team of all teams, but instead, I was met with a kind of indifference that for a split second I took personally, but then didn't as I caught up to where the conversation was by assessing the energy of the room as a whole, and each person's facial affect, body posture, and overall 'noise.'

Ever been in a room where people's internal chatter is so loud you can almost hear it?  It certainly shows up in their fidgeting or physical movement somehow.  I was once in a consultation in NYC with Bella where the young nervous Fellow in the room was so loud in his thoughts and body movements, I ALMOST stopped the conversation to coach him on the spot on how to quiet himself down.  It was literally deafening to me.

Anyhow, the read on this room was silence.

Utter silence.

My buddy in that bed had his eyes shut tight, and was squeezing them tighter.  Although their job was done, his eyes kept squeezing, as if to shut out the inevitability of what was to come, as if to shut out the conversation that just transpired, as if to shut out reality in that very moment.

I leaned in, and asked if he'd like to hear a little about Colorado (he knew I was going there for the holidays) or should I just shut up and play my guitar.

"Do you have your flute with you?"  He grimaced.

"You bet."

"Can I just hear that for a while?"

"You got it."

I carry a small, wooden, native american flute with me in the hospital.  Nothing calms a room faster than the sound of a LIVE native american flute.  The sound itself - regardless of the notes - is so otherworldly that it takes people IMMEDIATELY out of the hospital room and teleports them off into their imagination.  That is exactly why I taught myself to play it.  I'm not very good, but I play what I feel, it sounds pretty far-off to me, and I get really positive feedback just about every time I break it out.

I found my lucky yellow pad that I write all my songs on... behold, the original scribblins of Bella's Song...

I played for as long as I could keep something that remotely sounded musical going, sliding into "Amazing Grace" for a few stanzas and back out into trance-ville.  After, I gently transitioned into some gentle arpeggio guitar in the same key as the flute.  I hummed and sang "His Love is Everlasting," a hymn written through me back in 1999.  The chorus goes:

His love is everlasting,
Though at times you may feel afraid.
But his arms are always around you,
Leading you home when you've gone astray.

The whole song is written about being able to come back to God in any moment, but it was specifically penned for hospice, it was told to me.  It was to be used as a lullaby for people staring at the threshold of their transformation into afterlife.  I have had the privilege of playing this song in this exact context before, and I just knew it was appropriate on this particular day.

After I finished, it was quiet for a moment in the room.  E was getting ready to speak.  The door to the room was open, and the ongoing conversation with palliative care could be heard from the hall in hushed tones usually reserved for wakes and pre-memorial conversations.  I leaned way over to hear E, so close I could smell his breath.  It was sweet and soft, just like he is.

He has a little 3 year old at home.

He says, with eyes still trying to shut what's already shut, in a half whisper, half cry, "What do you do when you've promised your little girl that you were NEVER going to leave her?"

This is where  1. being a BOARD CERTIFIED MUSIC THERAPIST, not a volunteer musician really was important, but 2.  this was that moment - the moment like the one in the rental truck - "the moment you've all been waiting for!"  Some people train their whole life to step into the batter's box with the bases loaded in the bottom of the ninth, or to stare down the eternally long straightaway of the 100 meter dash.

My entire life up until this point has just been training.  Training for this moment.  Training for this response.

That conversation was for E and me alone.

I will say, though, that E knew of Bella's passing, and after a LONG pause to allow any possible response to come up, recede, and wash back up again like a gentle wave in which to bathe him, I left no stone unturned about my beliefs, his beliefs, and the game of life itself.  Our conversation was so authentic - who has time to bullshit someone when death is knocking at the door?  I was grateful we were alone, as his wife would not have been able to handle how direct we spoke about death, heaven, "time," ALL OF IT.  It was so rich, that I couldn't even recap it for Angelique later that evening.  In fact, this is the first time I have even tried to put any of this piece of the story back together again after it happened.  It was just too extraordinary at the time to actually articulate.

God put me on this planet for one thing I know of: to accompany/comfort/inspire people as they prepare for the afterlife. It is my honor to be a shoulder to lean on as they walk toward their threshold, and it is the highest honor to be the soundtrack of that glorious moment of transformation.

What are you here to do?  Who are you here to be?

God night.


  1. WOW - now that was an amazing event! Thank You so much for sharing. I can not even put into words what I am feelings.

    I am glad you are open to see the reasons you are here and the purpose you are to refill! You are a continued inspiration!

    Love the pretty picture of Ali and the great picture of Bella & Ang.

  2. What a beautiful story, Tim - and a great reminder of how God works through us!


  3. What a blessing you have been given, such an amazing gift from God. I will include your friend in my prayers as he prepares himself and his family for the times ahead. Thank you for continuing to allow us into your lives. You are an inspiration.

    North Dakota

  4. I've been reading for a while, but only comment once in a while. This post, I don't even know how to put it into words how it made me feel. Bless you for being able to be there with your friend to help him into his next journey. You are an amazing man, with an amazing family:)

    Vicki in NY

  5. This one brought tears to my eyes. And I love that photo of Bella and her mama!

    Cara in Tucson

  6. Wow - this was amazing. Really, you should put a Kleenex alert on these things! :)

    God put you in that place, in that moment, with that man, for so many reasons. And He enabled you to provide exactly what he needed. What a blessing (for both you and him!)

    Praying that God will continue to use you, Ang and Ali in mighty ways. We still love and pray for all of you!

    Love from TX,
    Laura (for Team A)

  7. Tim.... you are a angel in a humans body! I have no doubt that is why you and Ang where chosen to be Bella's parents. And I have no doubt that is why God uses you to help comfort those in need! You truy are a blessing!!!

    All my love,
    Sarah Hickman

  8. Thank you for sharing...I needed that.

  9. Simply I felt as if I was in the heart aches for patient can feel his heavy heart for his little girl....I pray that God's will be done and that God carry his precious family. What a blessing you were to each other in that room, that day.
    thank you for sharing...

  10. Such amazing stories Tim!

    Still here, still thinking of you, just can't find the words (also not checking up on ANY blogs daily right now... but every other day or so)


  11. What a beautiful story, Tim. I've had those moments myself and I am thankful to have had them and to be able to be a part of such a meaningful time. Love you and your family.


  12. What a BEAUTIFUL story Tim. I don't know what to say except that I really appreciate you telling us this story and I am glad I was able to read it tonight. Of course you have me in tears. My husband is across the room looking at me bewildered and asking why am I crying AGAIN?! Thank you!!

    Lots of Love,
    Amber, Craig, Malorie(2yrs), and Liam(1yr)
    The McLaughlin Family, CA