Home > Death, Music, Personal > “Am I in heaven already?”: On hospice and harpists

“Am I in heaven already?”: On hospice and harpists

“Hey, Mom. Guess what? I’m coming into town.” Rachael just told me you’re dying, so if I don’t come now, I’ll never get to see you again.

“Oh, that’s nice, honey. Will you stay with me?”

“Sure I will, Mom. Sure I will.” Because I hate that house, but this is it. My moments to be with you are dwindling.

“Okay, then. I’ll see you soon.”

I knew the days ahead would be hard, but I had no idea just how hard. I had no idea I’d soon call hospice, crying as I said, “I don’t know what to do. I just don’t know what to do.”

The nurse who spoke with me understood my mom’s less than fond feelings about hospice, but her concern shifted to alarm as I described the specifics of the terrifying situation in progress. “We have to find a way to help you. We just have to. I’ll call you back soon.”

It was never going to be easy to say goodbye to my mom, but thanks to hospice, it was easier. The ways in which the hospice workers helped my siblings ranged from minor to miraculous. Even after I kissed my mom goodbye for the last time, taking my son away so she could more easily let go of pain it was excruciating even to witness, hospice workers remained in close contact with my siblings. They weren’t always gentle, but they were a protective cushion around us, and I was grateful to know they would continue to work their magic in my absence.

The day my mom died, Rache texted me that hospice had arranged to have a Strings of Compassion harpist play for our mom. “That’s . . . neat,” I replied, dubious about the merits of such an arrangement.

A couple of hours later, I received a couple of text message videos of the volunteer hospice harpist playing for my mom. Rache texted me that she fled the room in tears, seeing how mom’s face eased as the harpist worked her musical magic.

Despite my earlier doubts, I cried, and quietly thanked both the hospice and the harpist.

When my mom’s obituary ran a few days later, my siblings and I requested remembrances be offered to the hospice.

I thought of the hospice and its magic workers often in the months following my mom’s death. I was so grateful for them, and how they made a painful transition almost bearable.

Time went on, and my thoughts about them dwindled. Until, this morning, my Farmer’s Market meanderings led me to hear music that sounded exactly like a harp. My eyes landed on the harpist and instantly filled with tears. As I fumbled in my pocket for my produce cash, I placed her tune as “Pachelbel’s Canon.” The tears came tumbling out as I placed a few dollars in her basket, shaking so that I accidentally knocked over her basket and had to right it.

I listened for a few more moments before snapping a picture and fleeing.


Two Deborahs overlapped as I fled: the one at a Long Beach farmers market in February 2013, and the one of March 2010 who wept at her desk over the kindness of hospice strangers, most especially a harpist.

This morning, I want to say a thank you to hospice workers and harpists everywhere. Until this morning, I don’t think I understood how deeply those notes had woven themselves into my soul.

This morning, I understand. And I can’t help but think of a girlfriend whose mom volunteered as a hospice harpist before she passed away. According to my friend, she was asked more than once, “Am I in heaven already?”

It’s hard not to smile, remembering that, and feel awash in gratitude for the magic worked by a hospice harpist. We aren’t in heaven yet, but thanks to the kindness of hospice workers and volunteers, I am attuned to the little pieces of heaven they bring closer as they walk among us.

Categories: Death, Music, Personal Tags: , , , , , ,
  1. February 17, 2013 at 11:05 am

    This was such a special and intense memory you’ve shared. Thank you, Deb. What a blessing to have people like that around to ease the pain of dying.

    • February 17, 2013 at 1:24 pm

      It is my hope to be one of those people someday. I am trying to move away from writing personal stuff here, but this … had to be written.

      • February 17, 2013 at 2:03 pm

        I’m so glad you did write this post. I hope to be one of those people someday as well.

  2. Duffy
    February 17, 2013 at 11:56 am

    I don’t know how we would have gotten through my grandfather’s last weeks without the hospice nurses. I am so thankful for them. We didn’t have a harpist, but the nurses suggested playing music as a comfort. We chose music from the church as it was so important to my grandfather. You could tell it eased his last days.

    • February 17, 2013 at 2:06 pm

      Just listening for a few minutes today, I wondered how I could have been dubious. Music is such amazing therapy for the rest of life, so it makes sense the same should hold true for its conclusion. So thankful.

  3. February 17, 2013 at 1:03 pm

    Hospice, and the people who make it possible, is a human- created miracle. I am sorry for the sadness of losing your mother, but glad that you had the cushion of hospice to help you all with her journey.
    And Pachelbel is a heart- tugger no matter what the circumstances.

    • February 17, 2013 at 2:08 pm

      I think of heaven as existing in these moments and people rather than as a destination. I am grateful for its workers in all their forms, musical or otherwise. It’s gratitude more than grief that inspires this post, because I am immensely grateful.

  4. February 17, 2013 at 1:37 pm

    Thanks for sharing this touching memory. . . and a reminder that we all need to be aware and appreciative, specially to those who help the elderly at the end of their days.

    • February 17, 2013 at 2:10 pm

      I am glad to have been reminded. I meant to make periodic donations, but I stopped thinking about hospice and haven’t donated once since. This was a welcome (if startling) reminder.

  5. February 17, 2013 at 3:14 pm

    There really is a special place in heaven for those who help ease the ones we love in the transition. And yes, there will be harps. No one has ever comforted me as much as the nurse who stayed with me while my sister Beth passed.

    • February 18, 2013 at 4:49 pm

      I am so glad she was there with you, and glad to know she and others out there continue this difficult but amazing work.

      • February 18, 2013 at 5:03 pm

        Me too, Deb.

  6. February 17, 2013 at 11:20 pm

    My daughter died 30 days ago. It was a dreadful time and we, as a family, would never have survived if it had not been for their compassionate care. I hope there are harps in heaven.

  7. February 18, 2013 at 4:10 am

    As always, you make me want to reach across the miles and wrap you in a blanket of love. Truly my friend, I hope you don’t stop telling these stories. They remind us to thank others. They remind us of the life around us, the life that is worth remembering and worth being grateful for.

    I remain so grateful you are here, you empathy and compassion shinning. I remain thankful I read you always at just the right moment it seems. Thank you for sharing this.

    • February 18, 2013 at 4:53 pm

      I was almost frustrated with myself for typing this: “Come now, didn’t you just determine where you want your blog to go?” And yet, that decision was made with the recognition that I will encounter these moments that demand to be written about. There will always be a place for capturing these moments, because when they happen, the only way I can step out of them is by writing it out and letting it go . . . here.

  8. February 18, 2013 at 5:59 am

    Hospice workers are wonderful people. I truly admire what they do. And the idea of a harp player is beautiful. What a calm, peaceful way to ease the transition to death to have that beautiful music playing all around you. I hope when my time comes, someone would do that for me.

    • February 18, 2013 at 4:56 pm

      I didn’t get to see my mom’s face as the music played, but I imagined it as very similar to my grampa G’s. When we were all finally standing around him together a few hours before he died, his face unclenched and it appeared that he was listening to some beautiful music we couldn’t hear. It was beautiful to see, even though I knew it meant his moments were numbered. I, too, hope there’ll be a harp in store for you, and for me.

  9. February 18, 2013 at 4:46 pm

    Wow, that is so awesome. I am always in awe of harp music. It is one of the most peaceful and magical instruments ever created. Thanks for sharing, Deb. 🙂 XOXO

    • February 18, 2013 at 4:58 pm

      Thank you for the smiles! Even though I sniffled the whole way through writing this, I was smiling too. What a world we live in, that hospice exists and that people choose to devote their lives to it! I am so glad to live in this world, for however many years I have. ♥

  10. February 19, 2013 at 12:48 pm

    My Mom was a hospice nurse for 30 years but I never heard about harps being played. What a beautiful way to go.

  11. February 19, 2013 at 2:39 pm

    I found you through El Farris and just had to comment. The hospice people are angels in disguise. They were so kind and helpful when my father in law was dying of cancer. Your encounter with harp player made me cry.

    • February 24, 2013 at 7:44 am

      I am so glad I didn’t reply to all comments immediately, because revisiting this post is giving me a chance to revisit last week’s gratitude. It is amplified, as I read these words anew. Thank you.

  12. February 22, 2013 at 10:00 am

    What an intense, emotional post. I think that hospice and the people involved in that program are simply amazing. While my experience with them was brief (my dad was only on hospice for a weekend before he died) they were kind, knowledgeable, and strong, helping me to be strong too. Harp music in your world will never be the same and I think that is rather nice.

    • February 24, 2013 at 7:47 am

      Harp music in your world will never be the same and I think that is rather nice.
      Amen to this! Back in 2010, I had no idea how much a handful of harp notes would change me, and how I think of harp music. I’d never really given it much thought before, but now it’s part of a larger narrative and a huge source of gratitude for me. ♥

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