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In the intensive care unit

The ICU nurse said to go to the room immediately—the patient was in critical condition and rapidly becoming non-responsive. The family was considering hospice care.

The patient made no response when I entered and introduced myself, but the family asked me to play.

When he heard the sound of the harp and voice, the patient turned his head to me and smiled. A brief gesture, but an extraordinary one for someone so close to death.

The patient’s grandson—three years old—looked nervous as he entered the room with his grandmother. A shy smile came across his face when he saw my harp. He came over and plucked a string when I suggested it.

After I had finished playing, the patient’s brother told me of a time when he had been traveling in Europe and had come to a monastery.

He had entered the quiet chapel and heard the sound of monks singing. He spoke of the peace, beauty, and wonder of the moment. “This is what your music reminded me of.”

The ICU room—still full of medical equipment and the tragedy of a life ending—also became a space with peace, smiles, and family love.

Music can do that. Lovingly and skillfully offered, music can transform medical situations and reveal the humanity of the moment for patients, families, and staff.

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