Three evenings a week the sound of voices singing can be heard coming from patients’ rooms at Victoria Hospice. Sometimes it is a lulling, soothing melody; other times the song is upbeat and the patient and their family members are singing along. The voices belong to the Bedside Singers, a group of volunteers who bring their gift of music to the patients in Victoria Hospice.
Music is a good fit at Victoria Hospice. "People need to understand," says Marnie Lamb, coordinator of the Bedside Singers, "yes, there is sorrow at Victoria Hospice, people are dying and having to say goodbye. But there are great moments of joy and happiness with patients and families too. People have been married, celebrated birthdays and anniversaries. Life is happening here."
The Bedside Singers got their start in the summer of 2007 when Marnie, having joined the Getting Higher Choir, noticed how she hummed and sang while she worked as a Hospice volunteer. It seemed a natural progression to form the Bedside Singers. Now the fourteen volunteers practice weekly and, Marnie says, “We love this work. We get so much out of it. We are able to be a small part of their lives.”
Once a staff member refers a patient, a singer will meet with them to make sure they are interested. “We don’t sing to anyone without their permission,” notes Marnie. Singers, who perform in pairs without instruments, will ask the patient what they would like to hear. Something soothing? Something upbeat? The volunteers know that patients have good days and bad days, so the listener is always in control.
If a patient is close to death, the singers will consult with the family, and they may decide to just hum. On the other hand, on a good day, a patient may request a favourite song, and if family members are visiting, the request may be for songs they can all sing along with. Marnie recalls singing Somewhere Over the Rainbow to a grandmother with the bell-like voices of her two young granddaughters joining in, their own mothers too tearful to sing along. Down the road, Marnie imagines the girls saying, “I remember singing to my grandmother,” and hopes that will be comfort to them.
The focus is always on the patient, not on the performers, and the singers finish with a soft gentle transition. “We will hum our way out of the room. We’ve left the room, but the music stays,” explains Marnie.
[This article was originally published in the February 2012 edition of Focus Magazine.]