I’ve always had a strong sense that music is my close companion along the journey of life. Music has accompanied me through various life passages, but there is one passage that I’ll never forget. It happened in Room 217 at the Uxbridge Cottage Hospital. My Dad was dying of cancer.
Dad loved music. He played the piano mostly by ear. I loved doing music with him. We used to play hymns together on Sunday afternoons. He would be at the organ and I would be at the piano. Dad and Mom would come to my recitals and concerts at school, church and in the community when I was a student and when I began playing professionally.
My Dad had been a heart patient, successfully coming through two quadruple bypasses. So the diagnosis of Level 4 Non-Hodgkins Lymphoma in the late spring of 2000 was unexpected. That’s how cancer is: it comes like an intruder.
There were several beautiful moments with Dad in those last months, when I used music to support him emotionally and spiritually. One morning, I played the hymns we used to play, him in a rocking chair, me on his organ bench. The tears were our words that day. Then right before his last Christmas, I played carol after carol. He was on oxygen, bundled tightly in a warm blanket in front of the fireplace. The songs implicitly spoke the feelings and memories we shared.
Three weeks later, we were all in Room 217 around his bedside – my five siblings, Mom and I – where we sang the hymns Dad loved. When we forgot the words, we hummed the tunes and Dad did his best to join in. I saw with my own eyes how music didn’t merely accompany but led the way in his final transition. It was a gift, wrapped with the ribbon of release for all of us.
When I left the hospital that night, I responded by committing to take my “comfort” music to others facing loss or the end of life. Music, designed for end of life care, would become something accessible to caregivers like my family, or the providers that cared for my Dad. The Room 217 collection (named in honour of that sacred space where Dad died) would be a musical and inspirational resource to help serve end of life needs with hope, beauty and gentleness. Room 217 would help ease the strain for the next breath, provide spiritual continuum toward the afterlife and bring comfort to friends and family. Room 217 would need to be simple and acoustic, designed with beautiful melodies that would speak into the human spirit. It needed to be gentle, soothing, contemplative, respectful of the people in the environment where it would be played. My long term vision was to have a collection of Room 217 music available for professional, family and volunteer caregivers–with songs that appeal to all ages.
In 2008, the Room 217 Foundation was established as a not-for-profit corporation and registered as a Canadian charity in 2009. The mission of the Room 217 Foundation is to raise and steward funds to further the following objectives:
- Music Care Resources – offering hope and comfort by producing therapeutic music products
- Music Care Education – providing skills & training for integrating music into care
- Music Care Delivery – getting resources to people who need them most
- Music Care Research – supporting innovative research in music and care
The music of Room 217 has been a peaceful presence in the lives of thousands of people. We have developed 12 albums, 3 DVDs, a Music Care Resource Guide and are presently producing a Dementia Care Singing Program. Room 217 music and resources are used in healthcare settings like hospices, hospitals and long term care homes across Canada. Room 217 music is also delivered digitally, and is used in other countries as well, offering support and comfort to those in complex care and life limiting situations.
The Room 217 Foundation is also building a music care community because of its educational reach through workshops, conferences, webinars and the music care certificate program. There is a growing interest from care providers and volunteer and family caregivers to learn more about integrating music into regular care practice. There is greater acceptance towards using music as not only a complementary but an integral part of care.
Music does accompany us along life’s journey. My sense is that we need to provide therapeutically designed and artistically pleasing music resources and education to care providers that will assist them in helping people living with cancer have optimal quality of life, especially in the home stretch. Room 217 is leading the way.
Bev Foster, B.Ed., B.Mus., ARCT, AMus, is an experienced musician and music educator. As founder and Executive Director of the Room 217 Foundation, a not-for-profit corporation and registered Canadian charity dedicated to music and care, Bev travels widely to perform and speak. Find out more about Bev and Room 217’s therapeutic music products at www.room217.ca.