Playing Kalimba in Hospice
Companioning a Dying Mom

On March 23, my wife's mother, Marge Driskill, passed away. Deb and I spent her last hours with her, singing and playing kalimba, and we were greatly blessed by this experience. Here is the story in Deb's words. —Mark

Deb Holdaway
Deb Holdaway

This past March I had the experience of being present with my mother as she relinquished her broken body and freed her light-filled spirit. I was honored to share these moments with her, attaining, perhaps, our most deeply shared intimacy.

This experience was enhanced by the presence of live music on the kalimba. As Mark played some of my mother's favorite songs and improvised others, attuning his playing with her breathing, I saw her move from fear and sorrow to peaceful acceptance and love.

We sang songs that were meaningful to her, and Mark spoke of her imminent death in a way that allowed her to hear the story of her life with love, absent of judgement, and forgiving of transgressions and regret. These songs and words helped my mother die peacefully and they also allowed me to gift her with love, light and music.

I probably would have been with her anyway, but the music drew us closer together and elevated the experience by providing a beautiful and flowing backdrop. It opened a doorway for our emotions and finally for her spirit to dance.

Companioning the dying is not for the faint of heart or those who wish to feel comfortable or have a definition of a good or bad death. It is walking alongside of someone, offering love and acceptance without a personal agenda, or a need for them to "do it right". When someone is unable to speak, as was the case with my mother, the words and actions of love may be constrained, but there is truth in the silence between words. The emotions that are freed by the sound of music can provide a space for grace and acceptance.

When we place ourselves in the presence of beauty, we nourish ourselves and we allow ourselves to attain wholeness and balance. We relax into the rhythm of a spirit-filled awareness, blessed with acceptance and inspiration.

Something else happened. I saw my husband Mark step up to the plate with deep love and assurance to do a beautiful thing. He effectively ministered to my mother and myself as he was transformed by a personal calling to help someone die.

—Deb Holdaway, April 14, 2010

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