Monday 6th December
As some of you know, I occasionally write up a story or two from my Volunteering at a London Hospital, my role being a “Ward Musician.” But in Covid times I'm restricted to the use of a Blue-tooth speaker and the use of the Spotify App to search for patients’ musical requests. But here, I must warn readers that this story is quite emotional.
Last Monday, I was deeply affected by a wonderful encounter with a patient, the said patient being “End-of-life," a term used by the NHS to signal that someone is on the last furlong. Very often, this status (if that word can be used) is shown by a picture of a flying swan at the head of the bed, though this would only be displayed with the consent of the family. In this case, last Monday, there was no picture, but the curtains were 3/4 drawn around the bed, and the patient’s niece was at her bedside. My colleague, Lucy, had overheard the niece talking to a Family Liaison Officer about her auntie’s situation. In these circumstances, family visits can take place.
It was at the end of our shift and Lucy suggested to me that we show our faces to this lady and her niece. The old lady (95) was lying down with her head propped up a little by a stack of pillows, though her head had lolled over to the right. She was conscious and awake and aware her niece was addressing her.
We introduced ourselves to the niece. She turned out to be Scottish and her Aunt originating from near Elgin, Aberdeenshire. I asked if her auntie enjoyed music, and whether I might play something on my Bluetooth speaker. The niece said Auntie Elma loves Ella Fitzgerald and asked her aunt if she’d like to hear a song by Ella. Though her aunt was lying motionless in bed, she was very attentive and we heard her say “Ella” and “Yes”.
I looked at my Spotify app and top of the chosen list was "Every time we say goodbye". I mentioned this title to her niece. We both kind of looked at each other rather sheepishly, both thinking the same thought: Should I play this or not? I really wasn't sure! But something inside me said, "go for it, do it". I held the Bluetooth speaker close to Elma's head, to ensure she would hear the song. It was kind of a tear-jerking moment, listening to the violin intro and then Ella beginning to sing. I glanced across to the niece, sitting there with bated breath.
Would you believe it? This lovely auntie began moving her lips to the song lyrics, as and when she remembered them, and every now and again would sing the words in a faint but audible voice. This was especially true on the phrase, “Every time we say goodbye". I turned to the niece and could see she was in tears. And Lucy as well. Me too. It was such a poignant, yet a happy moment, entirely private behind the blue curtains - a real connection between us all. I just felt honoured to contribute something and share with that family. I know the niece will never forget what happened for the rest of her life. It was my most treasured memory in my 6 years as a volunteer.
The strange thing was, prior to my switching the song on, I had thought the second line of the song was "I cry a little" but is in fact is "I die a little." Would I have still played the song had I known? Who knows? In truth, I don't think it mattered. It was meant to be.
Every single week there is usually something that happens that tells me I was in the right place at the right time. I’m going to quote part of the song: “When you’re near, there’s such an air of spring about it; I can hear a lark somewhere, being to sing about it.” And that’s when my eyes started to well up!