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December, 2004

"Healing with Music"

by Wade Krauss

Want to give back and feel tremendous spiritual growth? Want to smile and get goose bumps? Want to get great ideas for original songs? Have you been feeling detached? Want to really feel the connection that exists between all souls? Want to be around people who have no ulterior motives but rather share their clarity on what really matters? THEN READ ON !!!

Having had two life threatening and altering events, I have a wonderful sense of gratitude and have entered a time of life where it has become crystal clear to me that we are truly all connected. What followed, for me, was a deep understanding of the saying, "when we help others we help ourselves".

At age 21, I was severely injured in a college lacrosse game. I received "last rights" and was not expected to survive. During the 28 days I spent in the hospital (over a week of that time in the ICU), I recall "seeing" and "hearing" my parents and friends talking about how sad it was that I was dying. I recall my mom and dad being in the room crying. I remember the priest coming and giving me "Extreme Unction" or "last rights", which is now known as the "sacrament of the sick" in the Catholic faith. Never once did I feel like I was dying even though I saw and heard things that made reference to that possibility. I felt a warm feeling of being bathed in light. I could not open my eyes or speak but I could still see everything that was going on around me. Most fortunately, I recovered and left with a huge gift. The gift was knowing that I had been spared from an early departure from this human state for a reason. While I knew it was to do something good for others, that reason was not yet clear to me as I was, remember, all of 21 years old .

More recently, in 1999, I was again faced with a remarkable challenge. I was struck by lightning. (talk about getting a tap from above!) I was left alive but given several challenges to address. I was left with permanent tinitus, which is a constant ringing in my ears. My left side was not the same. My left arm was and still is numb, my left hand became awkward and weak and I have cognitive difficulty some days worse than others . In therapy, they asked me if I had any hobbies etc. I responded by saying that I loved to play my guitar. The doctors and therapists said that I could help myself by continuing to play my guitar everyday. I could only play my old electric guitar at first as it was easier to push down the strings. It was discouraging to feel awkward at something that was once so second nature.

I met with a group of wonderful people who had a jam session every other Thursday. Even though this was an "acoustic" jam session, these folks let me bring my electric guitar and little amplifier and join in anyway. Little by little my ability started to come back and I found an acoustic guitar made by Edward Dick that seemed to be made specially for me. It had nylon strings and a narrow neck with a hole cut in the top side which helped me to hear the sound too. I felt that all these things that were helping were really something. I was being guided into the very thing that I was meant to do in life. In hospice care we see these occurrences / coincidences so often that we use the term "god-incidences".

My belief / understanding is that when a rhythm is syncopated in some fashion to the human heartbeat, one finds "ease" or resonance occurs. (It does not mean it has to be slow; it can be fast, as long as there exists an "unambiguous" beat that is in syncopation to the heartbeat). This resonance enhances the body rhythm and the person gains "ease" or a feeling of well being (or their "dis-ease" is lessened).

Some thirty years ago, I read a book by Lawrence Blair called "Rhythms of Vision". In one account he spoke of a test done with an ergometer attached to a man's arm. The measurement of the man's strength was taken without music, with a rhythmic piece playing, and then with some hard to follow progressive jazz piece. The reading was greater when the easy to follow rhythmic (resonating) piece was playing. And, conversely, the reading was less when the (dissonant) technical jazz piece was on.

This is especially important to me in my work with unconscious people. In that, I try to create an "ease" around the dying person: an image of a mother's arms surrounding them, protecting them, telling then it's OK to move toward "the light", safe to "let go", if you will. My first hand experiences (my own near death at 21, Wendy's return from being what they said was "brain dead" to her telling me that she heard every song I sang to her while she was out, and several hospice accounts attesting to the same) with unconscious people is that hearing is the last sense to go. These observations have shown me that we, as musicians, can be facilitators and help people who are on the "edge", reluctant to "let go". We can help them feel the serenity or "ease" that will help them to crossover.

Of course, on the other side, there is the simple fun of playing someone's favorite song, maybe their wedding song, and watching them in their "last days on earth clarity" conjuring up all those wonderful memories of youth and love and laughter (songs of the summer). What a privilege to be part of this phenomenon. I always come out of the hospice "lifted" and feeling touched by something divine.

My buddy, Roger Wise, goes with me, too. Roger is my "Clarence" ("Angel, second class", like in the movie , "It's A Wonderful Life "). Make no mistake about it though, there is nothing "second class" about ole' Roger. It is really great to have someone to bounce this stuff off. He's a music historian and a great "picker", too. He so often picks the exact song we needed to play for a given person we are visiting . It is simply a gift he has been given. We come out sometimes saying, "Wow! Did you see that?" Or, "Did you feel that?" Goose bumps!!!

I lay no claim to what happens when I work with people. It is rather for me to step aside and "get out of the way," in fact, while the Holy Spirit works through me and my fellow volunteers and care givers. While we can't write the "ending" for ourselves or for one another, through sharing ourselves and our talents we can certainly enhance and make that time surrounding the transition so much easier and less fearsome for so many.

Ironically, despite dealing with my disabilities, this is the most fulfilled I have ever felt in my life. To be able to finally identify what it is I am meant to be doing is wonderful.

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