The Comfort Choir
The mission of the Comfort Choir is to bring comfort, calm, spirit, and a soul-connection to the bedsides of patients. We visit the bedside as a group of two to four singers and choose our songs based on the patient and family’s musical taste, spiritual direction and current state. Families and friends who are present in the room are welcome to join in singing with us. We also sing for memorials, funerals and vigils. By providing a kind and gentle presence, soft voices in harmony, and compassion, we hope to provide a unique type of care to both the patient and family present.
We are currently in residence at Michael Garron Hospital Palliative Care unit where we sing weekly. We often take requests from the patients to prepare for the following week. The service is offered free of charge. Contact our music director, Susanne Maziarz, for more info. firstname.lastname@example.org
Bridge Over Troubled Water
Meditation on Breathing
I believe that everyone has the power to make one small change and make the world a better place. We all have different skills, trainings, inclinations and abilities, and those strengths are the gifts we can offer to our community and greater world.
I realized that, with my position at Neighbourhood, I would be able to bring together compassionate musicians and create a bedside singing choir of our own. It began September 2011 and we rehearsed biweekly at Neighbourhood. Now we have the honoured position of singing weekly at Toronto East General in the Palliative and Continuing Complex Care wards. I am moved in surprising ways each week and have unexpected insights into life and death, friendship, family, community, the power of music, health and love.
When we were in the initial stages of realizing our thoughts and intentions on what our comfort choir would be and do, most of us had not had much direct experience working with the aged or infirm and were not sure where we would be allowed to sing to volunteer. We spent months preparing with no firm commitment from local facilities. I feel so lucky that TEGH agreed to allow us to volunteer on a weekly basis in their palliative and long term wards, and to find our expectations were realized. Patients, communicative and non-verbal, conscious and unconscious, respond favourably to our visits, our songs and chants. Staff, caregivers, and visitors are uplifted. Tears both joyful and bittersweet are shed. I also feel fulfilled giving a small part of myself to each of them and for being able to give back to such an excellent facility in our very own neighbourhood. My life is deepened as I am reminded how precious the gifts of life and health are, as well as our own mortality, and how I hope to be cared for in my times of need.
For me, singing has been a way to relax, to find joy and happiness, to remember beauty, to connect with others, to forget about my troubles. I joined the Comfort Choir because I felt called to share these gifts of music with people in need. I was anxious when it finally came time to sing for others. What would it be like? Would people really want to hear us sing? Would our singing really make any difference for those in pain? When we sang for our very first patient in the hospice at TEGH, we began with Amazing Grace. Within moments, silent tears were falling down this woman’s cheeks. The second woman we sang for was clearly uncomfortable and in great pain. As we began to sing, her agitation lessened and her breathing slowed. When we returned the next week, we were told that she had died sometime soon after our visit. Each week there are difficult and joyful and powerful moments for me. This choir is doing humbling and beautiful work, and I’m deeply grateful to be a part of it.
There is so much I love about the experience of comfort choir…The closeness and belonging and acceptance that could only come with building a project of compassion together that lasts over time….The shared decision making….The toning that I often wish could go on forever and puts me in a state of calm and reverence….The singing with old friends and new as each patient becomes…. The challenge of uncovering just the right song that will fill the room with the memories and spiritual uplifting of those facing their last days and for the family members, permission to grieve or let down tears…. Being given the honour of sharing those final hours with the most precious and loving people in the patient’s life…. Knowing the bright personality of patients before they fade to a state of rest…. and knowing they hear the spirit of our voices whether they respond or not…. Witnessing the love and dedication of family members there week after week, year after year….Hearing rumours that we touch the spirit and make the mood a little brighter for the staff on the ward. Checking out with a debrief of shared experiences…Knowing that whomever shows up that someone will step up to fill the roles that need to be covered to make a quality experience for all.