Sacred Time and the Gift of Singing

By: Meredith Hill, Hospice Peterborough Volunteer

The Borland family lives across the road and we’ve only known them in a way that’s slightly more than acquaintances. However, in the last four years we have watched as Margaret, the matriarch in her eighties, struggled with and succumbed to Alzheimer’s. Though her children and their families had moved into the house for support, even their whole tribe was no longer able to provide for her and keep her safe and the decision was made for her to go to Fairhaven for care.

I was surprised when her husband, Wimpy, came to me, weeping that this had been the worst day of his life. After that opening, there were several conversations with different family members as they struggled with her decline and when she was transferred to hospital and then the palliative ward. The vigil began and we observed the gathering of the clan and the all night and all day comings and goings.

When we received the call that Margaret had died, I crossed the street and was welcomed into one of those sacred places where people were open in their mourning and storytelling …and I was privileged to just be there with them. One of the stories they told was the visit of the Bedside Singers. They knew of the connection I have with Hospice and asked me to tell everyone there how wonderful their visit had been.

The Borland’s have been key members of Saint James United Church since they were married there 65 years ago. Christian hymns are their language of sacred time. Margaret was no longer speaking when the Singers came to the ward that evening but as they sang, her family watched in awe as she began to mouth the words along with them. And that fully churched family joined in the singing in what became for them a tremendously meaningful time.

By the next day, as Margaret was clearly weaker, the fully gathered family went back to that experience with the Singers and began themselves to sing the hymns and songs that were part of their lifeblood. They’re not entirely sure at what point in the singing Margaret actually breathed her last breath, but they know that their gift of presence and music were important parts of her good death. They wanted Hospice to know the gift of those singers being there had meant so much to Margaret, who could not say thank you. The whole family very warmly extends their thanks.