The Sound of Music and Connection

My only client was Ms. Jeanette Cunniff, a 102 year old widowed mother of 2 (youngest being 77 years old), therefore I will describe what made my relationship meaningful with her.
Based on the training that I had with Ascend Hospice, it doesn’t seem like Ms. Cunniff is a typical hospice patient, and that she is there for her progressed age. She has a wonderful and friendly spirit, and has been taking her aging process in tremendous stride. While there were many times in the first few meetings I had with her where her eyes were very much in pain, or she was not willing to talk to me, in the meetings where I did have a conversation with her, she was very open to have long conversations with me about her life experiences. I learned that she studied music at Oberlin College in the 1930s, which led to us taking a trip to the piano in the nursing home so she could play. She immediately began to play hymns, anthems and Christmas songs all while complaining how out of tune the piano was! Other patients, along with me, began to sing along to her tunes. Nurses walking by were even surprised to find Ms. Cunniff playing the piano (“Is that her?”, “Wow, I didn’t know she played”).
The Monday after her 102nd birthday celebration, my partner and I visited her, and she happened to be livelier than ever. In that conversation, she spoke about her college experiences, and how in the co-ed jazz gigs she would play for, it was a clean environment and “there was none of that hanky panky at all”. Amidst these interesting conversations, Ms. Cunniff was never hesitant to express her gratitude of our service, and that everyone at the Masonic Village worked to make her comfortable and happy. She told us that she herself did volunteer work when she was about our age, so she truly appreciates and understands the importance of the work that we are doing, even if it was just giving clients someone to talk to, she expressed.
My experiences with Ms. Cunniff reminded me that healing as a health care provider is not just about knowing science or the best medicine to prescribe a patient; it is also about building an emotional connection with the patient. Just giving her “someone to talk to” benefitted me too in that I learned skills of emotional communication. I learned how to make Ms. Cunniff feel heard and express her feelings of pain and happiness by paraphrasing, asking the right questions, and knowing when she needed her space, too. While I am no expert in patient communication, I know that the exposure and experiences I have had with Ms. Cunniff will make me a better health practitioner. I know how to better connect with the people I will be taking care of, knowing what to avoid, and what works.
The Ascend Hospice program has served to reinforce the desire I have to be a caregiver in the field of health. The best part of the experience has been the relationship I have built with Ms. Cunniff, and knowing that I have made a cumulative impact on her wellbeing, just by spending some time during her weeks to socialize with her. I don’t know of anything more human.