Session Story: Music Therapy with Children Experiencing Grief and Loss

Music Therapy Grief Work

Working in a children’s hospital has its joys and its sorrows.

(Please note that in order to protect patient confidentiality, names and various other details will be changed, but the stories I share on this blog are based on true events.)

I’ve worked in a pediatric hospital since 2009.  Part of my job at the hospital is to provide emotional support to families when a child passes away.  Sometimes, I provide support by singing the child’s favorite songs as the ventilator is withdrawn. Sometimes, I play soft guitar music in the corner of the room as the parents spend those last moments with their child, so that the room isn’t so horribly silent when the sound of the child’s breathing ceases.

sometimes, I provide support by coloring and singing “Frozen” songs with the patient’s siblings.

I once got a referral to help support a group of sisters whose brother was actively dying.  They were sitting quietly in a separate room, tense and silent.  The first thing I did was offer some paper and markers.  The mood of the room lightened somewhat as they started to color together.  I saw that one of them had a “Frozen” shirt on, so I asked the group, “Do you like the song, ‘Let It Go?'” One of the girls looked up and nodded, and the others glanced up with interest but went back to coloring.

I got out my guitar and started to play and quietly sing.  I could see one of the girls’ lips moving with the lyrics, and noticed that the other girls were coloring more freely now that the room wasn’t silent and the mood had lightened up even more.  After I finished the song, another girl asked if I knew “Do You Want to Build a Snowman?”  Some of the girls quietly sang along, and afterwards one mentioned that their brother loved that song.  We started talking about what other songs he liked, and they helped me create a playlist on my iPad of his favorite songs.

As we listened to the music, the girls began to feel more and more comfortable talking about their feelings.  One asked, “Will he be able to hear us singing his favorite songs when he’s in heaven?”  I replied, “I don’t know…what do you think?”  She smiled and said that she thought he would.  They told each other about the pictures they were drawing.  One of the girls said she was going to put her picture on a window so that he could look down from heaven and see it.  We talked, danced, sang, and colored for the next hour.

The goal of my session was not to cheer them up.  My goal was to create a safe space, give them opportunities to express their feelings, and to let them know that whatever they were feeling was ok.

I recently had the opportunity to provide music therapy services at Brooke’s Place in Indianapolis.  I led a short music therapy group with each of their support groups for children grieving the loss of a loved one. Each session varied based on the age group, group size, and energy level of the group members, but most of them involved instrument playing, music sharing, laughter, and connection. Grief work looks different for every person – especially children – and it was such a privilege to be able to help these children and teens express their feelings through music.

If you’d like some more information about how to support a child who is grieving, visit the resources page of www.brookesplace.org, and check out their amazing programs for grieving children and families.

Joyful Melodies works with children who are experiencing grief and loss outside the hospital.  Do you know a child who is struggling after a loss?  Contact us to find help.

Until next time,

Lauren

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