Music-thanatology is a professional field within the broader subspecialty of palliative care. It is a musical/clinical modality that unites music and end of life care. The music-thanatologist utilizes harp and voice at the bedside to lovingly serve the physical, emotional, and spiritual needs of people who are terminally ill or dying, their loved ones, and caregivers with the prescriptive delivery of music.
Prescriptively delivered music is live music that responds to the physiological/existential needs of the patient moment by moment. By observing vital signs such as respirations, heart rate, and temperature, the music-thanatologist provides music that is tailored to each specific situation. The warmth of this living music can bring solace, dignity, and grace to those nearing the ultimate journey at the end of life.
Prescriptively delivered music can help ease physical symptoms such as pain, restlessness, agitation, sleeplessness, and labored breathing. It creates an atmosphere of serenity and comfort that can be profoundly soothing for those present. Difficult emotions such as anger, fear, sadness, and grief can be relieved as those present are invited to rest into a musical atmosphere of beauty, intimacy, and compassion.
Music-thanatology is not intended to entertain or distract the patient. Instead, it allows the patient to enter into the process of letting go in his or her own very personal way. It affords families a chance to be with their loved one in an intimate yet safe atmosphere where words are not necessary, and words that are spoken come from deep within, supported by the music.
Music and medicine have a long tradition as allies in healing. Music-thanatology is a contemporary field rooted in that same tradition. Today, music-thanatologists practice throughout the United States and in several other countries around the world.
As medical technology becomes more advanced, it is recognized that there is suffering that eludes even the most sophisticated medical treatment. Physicians and caregivers welcome music-thanatology vigils as an integral part of care that offers an opportunity to relieve suffering and provide comfort.