At the end of our morning on the dementia ward at QMC we had a few minutes left, and had not yet been to the double side-room. We were being observed by two Music in Healthcare apprentices, and James suggested they watch from outside the room to avoid ‘crowding’. There were two patients in the room, both in bed. One was a very frail and poorly-looking lady whose husband had just arrived to visit. The other lady smiled when she saw us and said “oh, have you come to play me some music?” We sang Over the Rainbow to her, and she joined in.
While we were singing to her I noticed the husband of the other lady, who had his back to us, looking over his shoulder at us, in a way which I interpreted as perhaps resenting our being there. He seemed quite tearful, and I wondered if he felt we were intruding on him and his wife at a very difficult time. When we finished Over the Rainbow I gestured to James indicating that the man was possibly unhappy with the music; almost at the same time he turned round to us, and James asked, “Is this ok, are we disturbing you?”. The man replied, “Not at all, it’s lovely” then added, “I know you’ve done it already, but a song I really like is You Are My Sunshine, would you do that one please?”
We sang a very gentle rendition of You Are My Sunshine, with a harmonica solo, and while we sang the man was leaning over his wife in the bed, stroking her face and singing softly to her. He sat down wiping his eyes, and clearly didn’t want to weep openly. It was a very emotionally charged moment for all of us and we were close to tears ourselves as we left the room, the man thanking us. The apprentices observing had also been very moved, one going off round a corner for a cry, and the other moving away slightly where she couldn’t see the man and his wife, as it seemed intrusive to watch this tender moment.
We talked about it later with the apprentices, and all agreed it had been very powerful, and that our own emotions must be attended to in this work. There are times when we need to hold back, in order to maintain the quality of the music, but we recognise that afterwards we should pause and allow our emotions expression, acknowledging that the musical conversations we have are two-sided, and we too are affected.