Updated: Aug 3, 2021
Have you ever thought about the music you want played at your death bed? We put a lot of thought into music we want at weddings, and we almost always create playlists for parties and special events. I have a playlist for working out, for long walks, for Sunday morning house cleaning and I even have one I put on when I need to come down from whatever stresses or difficulties I am currently pondering.
At least for me, but I imagine for many of you as well, music is my go-to and when someone asks me what kind of music I listen to, I always respond that it “depends on my mood”. Some music takes me back in time, which I appreciate, especially as I seem to be aging a whole lot quicker these days. Some music makes me smile and pump my fist to the ceiling, and some music makes me cry, but all music makes me feel and I dig that… a lot!
“Music is a language that doesn’t speak in particular words. It speaks in emotions, and if it’s in the bones, it’s in the bones.” Keith Richards
I think about my own mortality often. Mainly because I am a hospice nurse and I see a lot of death, but more recently because of COVID and it's reminder of how fragile life is. I have planned out my last few weeks in detail; who I want there, the scenery, the bedding, and yes, even a playlist, because when it is my time, I want it done my way.
I have walked into a patient’s room hearing music I am absolutely certain they wouldn’t want to hear. This upsets me because I realize that whoever put it on, did not take into consideration that the person lying in the bed could hear it, or whether or not they would even want to.
When I sit with a patient and their family, and we talk about how the next few weeks, or days, will go, I often suggest they spend time together and work on a playlist. This is a wonderful thing for them to do for many reasons, most importantly is that they get to choose what they hear as they are dying. But what I found, and I what I love so much, is the joy they all have while choosing each song, playing music together, feeling the emotions each song might elicit, walking down memory lane that a song might light the path for, and sharing a moment together that will also be a wonderful last memory for all of them.
“I hadn’t realized that music could unlock things in you, could transport you to somewhere even the composer hadn’t predicted. It left an imprint in the air around you, as if you carried its remans with you when you went.” Jojo Moyes
Recently I was able to spend a lengthy amount of time with a patient and his beautiful family. I suggested they create a playlist. Own his last day, as we all gathered around his bed, we listened to the songs they collaboratively picked out. Some songs brought us tears, some just made us stop for a minute and remember, some reminded us why we were there, and each song seemed to soften the moment, helping each person in the room to feel gratitude for knowing him, for being loved by him, and most of all, realizing what an honor it was to share this incredibly private and intimate moment with someone they were about to say goodbye to. Each song seemed so appropriate for each stage of his experience; at one point, I remember someone saying, “I love this song”, and he surprised us all by saying, “me too”, which we all laughed about.
After that day, one of the family members shared the playlist with me, which I have been listening to a lot. Sometimes I can’t help but wonder if they went into my head and picked out all the songs I would want to hear. We probably all have a few similar songs…
I invite you to start imagining your playlist now. Not because you are going to die right this moment, but because you will one day, and while you have a voice, and an opportunity to have it done right, start playing some music, and go down memory lane. Imagine the songs you would want to hear as you took your last breath.
“If I knew I was going to die at a specific moment in the future, it would be nice to be able to control what song I was listening to.” Chuck Klosterman