Perhaps the most important message anyone needs to hear is that they are not alone. This is true for people of all ages, whether they have special health needs or not.
Older adults who have experienced the loss of loved ones especially need to know that they are not alone. So do those who are having difficulties connecting with the world around them because of a disease process like dementia. The loss of one’s familiar surroundings and social support system can be scary, leading to anxiety, depression, and agitation. People need to know that even though life has changed, they are with people who care for them.
As caregivers, we can communicate our presence – the message, “I see you. I hear you. I am with you.” – in many ways. We learn people’s names. We don’t just walk by the lady in the wheelchair; we stop to say hello. We shake hands and give hugs freely. We get our healthy bodies down to eye level with the person we’re speaking to. We notice the little things – that Mary got her hair done today, that Joe got a letter in the mail, that Bob’s favorite team made the playoffs. (We also notice the not-so-good things – that Eugene looks extra tired today, that Maria’s kids couldn’t visit because of the snow.) We take time to fix the little problems – changing the channel or turning down the radio or checking whether Tom wants the door open or closed. Yes, it may take longer to get down the hallway or to get a group activity started, but each interaction communicates again that the other person is important and loved.
These same ideas of communicating loving presence transfer to how I structure music-making in music therapy. I use songs that incorporate group members’ names, which helps them to know I see them, even if they can’t tell me their names themselves. When clients respond to music by tapping their toes or dancing in their seats, I notice this, point it out, and encourage others to follow along. When someone starts singing a song or talking about a particular subject, I try to incorporate this into our music-making. (Earlier today, someone couldn’t stop talking about a fly buzzing around the room. Our next song? “Shoo Fly, Don’t Bother Me.”) If someone is not actively participating in music-making, I may just kneel at her feet, hold her hand, and gently pat her knee in time with the music. I am communicating that I am with that person and that I care.
It is my belief that this loving presence is one of the most important things I can offer as a music therapist through music, and that anyone can offer as one human being to another. I also think, though, that we sometimes forget the importance of something so basic and skip over it in our busyness to get things done, whether that’s the next client to see, the next meds to pass, the next household chores to get done, or the next game of bingo to call. I am as guilty of this busyness as anyone else, so I am making a special effort this week to notice the times when I am not as present as I need to be with the people I serve. Will you join me in this practice of noticing when you could be more present with those around you? I would love to hear your experience in the comments below.
One thing to remember is that being fully present with others takes a lot of energy, and we do need time for our own rest and renewal. Thoughts on that topic are coming in a future post – stay tuned!