I began my journey with the harp in 2012 with the goal of playing therapeutic music for patients & the dying. In 2022, ten years later, I officially began my career as a
Certified Music Practitioner with Gundersen Health Hospice & Palliative Care.
Why the harp? It’s not that I was in love with harp music, to be honest. I had very little exposure to the instrument. To answer this, I have to go back to 2003 when my mother died.
Though my mother had received excellent care and I was honored to be with her when she died, I was left with this question: How can we relieve the suffering of the dying beyond the use of drugs? Some suffering might be emotional, psychological or spiritual that manifests as physical pain. Is there a way to address this without a common belief system?
I carried these questions for many years.
Meanwhile, I became a hospice volunteer. I co-founded a community deathcare group, Threshold Care Circle, to educate people about their right to care for their dead at home
(yes that is legal, but know your state’s laws). I started gathering stories about life after the death of a loved one for a book, Where the Tree Falls, the Forest Rises.
While at a National Home Funeral Alliance conference for home funeral educators in 2011, I heard a presentation about a program for harpists to play for the dying. Something clicked. This seemed to be an answer to my long-held questions about assisting the dying.
Music, of course!
There was only one thing: I DIDN'T PLAY THE HARP. I checked the program website
and learned I could start the harp while taking the courses.
I rented a harp from a friend and & got started. I had a few lessons from a retired harpist who lived in our rural area in the summers. Practiced diligently daily. The first program didn’t work out, so I found another, Music for Healing and Transition Program, that includes other instruments & a range of patient conditions. I continued with the harp as I’d fallen in love with the instrument and felt the harp would be the perfect instrument for healing music.
I attended the MHTP classes in 2015, five weekends over the next yea, completing 80 hours of instruction, a test, 40-hour practicum, and submitting recordings. I was interrupted in the process by a diagnosis & surgery, and finally became a Certified Music Practitioner in 2018.
I have loved my work as a CMP. I receive benefits from playing that are equal to the benefits my music provides my patients. It is a gift to serve others in this intimate, loving way. I have played for those who need rest, enabling them to fall into a deep sleep. I have played familiar music for those who were stable and happy to remember the songs of their youth. I have played for those actively dying, calming family members at the same time. I find working in this way allows me to be more fully present for others than anything else I have done for hospice patients.
One day I was called to the VMH Hospice Center to play for a woman who was actively dying. When I arrived she had already passed on, so I played for her daughter who had been with her mother as she died. Here is what she writes about her experience:
“Immediately after my Mother died in hospice, Charlene played the harp just for me. I felt broken; but was then transported and held in the music. It felt like a musical massage that helped me release the physical and emotional tension that I was holding in. The therapeutic music session put me back together.”