Written by: Ebony Faber, Publications Coordinator, Suncoast Hospice
Sometimes, in the midst of the darkness of dementia, moments of light shine through – an awakening. While under Suncoast Hospice care before his death, Christopher “Chris” Witt experienced his awakening through music.
Chris was a former NASA engineer who had severe dementia and lived in an assisted living facility (ALF). Clara, his loving and devoted wife of 50 years, requested that music therapy, a form of palliative care, be integrated into his care plan. A college senior studying music therapy joined Chris’ care team. She visited Chris at the ALF and played a guitar-like instrument and sang to him. The music struck a chord with Chris, who responded strongly to the music.
Clara, too, would sing to her husband. And soon a crowd would form outside Chris’ room for all to enjoy. “People would stand in the doorway. We sang religious hymns and others that soothed him. I even sang some old fraternity songs, which were very raucous, but they made everybody laugh. It was a happy hour when his music therapist was there. The music helped me too because if you’ve ever taken care of someone you love, it’s very stressful emotionally. It certainly helps the patient and the caregiver,” Clara said.
Clara believes the music played a role in Chris’ sudden speech. They were dancing one day and he began to speak after three months of not talking. He said, “I’m not so good anymore…and you are…Thank you for taking such good care of me. I love you so much.”
Rocket Scientist and Rockette in Love
Chris and Clara first met in Sunday school when they were teenagers. He joined the Army Reserves and served two years after college. Chris landed a job at NASA and designed the re-entry apparatus for the first men who went to the moon for their return trip to Earth. Clara was in show business. She modeled, acted, danced, performing as a Rockette at the famous shows at Radio City Music Hall in New York City.
The couple lived for years on Long Island, NY. They loved sailing and taking weekend trips out on the water. They had a wonderful life together and celebrated their 50th anniversary at the ALF where Chris lived.
Involve Hospice Sooner
Deciding to bring in Suncoast Hospice for her husband was not easy. Clara had heard about hospice care before but was uneasy about it. “You hear the word hospice and think, oh your loved one is dying. It’s frightening and you hope you never need hospice for your family or friends. But then I tried it and slowly I saw what they were doing for us. Chris received the extra attention he needed.”
Clara is extremely thankful for Suncoast Hospice’s care and support. “Suncoast Hospice was wonderful to us. They called me to see how I was doing. That was a help to me. It’s a very uplifting organization. You can tell that the people who work for Suncoast Hospice have this special gift of having heart.”
In photo: Clara Witt
Learn more about Music Therapy:
The American Music Therapy Association – www.musictherapy.org
Article – http://www.clinicaladvisor.com/music-therapy-in-palliative-care/article/177883/
Suncoast Hospice is a not-for-profit organization committed to serving those living with chronic and or terminal illnesses, nearing the end of life, or experiencing grief. For more information, visit www.suncoasthospice.org.