There’s a reason we sing to our babies when they cry in pain as their teeth erupt from their gums or can’t fall asleep at night. Song comforts these new and uncomfortable sensations of pain, easing the fear. Similarly, the dying often experience new and discomforting physical and emotional pain as the slip from the known to the unknown. A local group of women (and one man) have joined together in song to ease the discomfort of individuals during these times of physical and emotional transition.
The Threshold Choir formed a little over a year ago when Emily Plott gathered a few friends together to sing to a friend who was passing away. The group met and practiced a few songs and played them to Emily’s friend over the phone, offering comfort from afar. Now, practicing two times per month, the local choir is loosely following the directive and guidance of a national affiliation of Threshold Choirs who are located throughout the country, offering song to the departing.
The formation of the choir was a natural fit for Karissa Ronkin, a lifelong singer, a caregiver at Jamie’s Place, and a trained death doula. Most often associated with birthing, doulas are also trained on the other end of life, supporting individual during their passing of life. Karissa trained as a death doula through A Sacred Passing, a Bellingham-based end-of-life organization with a mission of “offering death and dying education to individuals, community associations, and medical organizations. Together they work as supportive educational companions to guide and assist people towards a more conscious dying experience, while honoring individual autonomy” (www.asacredpassing.org).
As a death doula, Karissa’s role is to support the emotional and physical needs of the dying and support the family through the end of life process. She explained, this service can be especially important when an individual doesn’t have association with a particular faith-based organization or access to a chaplain who traditionally offers similar support. Even if the person or family does belong to a church or other following, the death doula provides a supportive role in making sure end-of life decisions are honored and works to create a more stress-free death environment for all those involved.
The Threshold Choir came as great comfort to Terri DeWeert, who welcomed the choir to the bed of her mother Dorothy Pritchard, who passed away at Jamie’s Place last month. Terri saw the choir as a wonderful gift to her mother. Dorothy was in a deeply agitated physical state and non-verbal condition during the final weeks of her life. The choir came to Dorothy’s side and upon the presence of their song and harmony, her body settled into a more peaceful place and she smiled. Karissa recalled that Dorothy’s face brightened, and she verbalized, “I can hear you.” DeWeert was deeply comforted knowing that her mother found peace during her serenade.
Karissa explains that often when a person is passing, though they might be non-verbal, they can often hear. Songs, especially from childhood, can elicit calming and pleasureful memories and feelings. The choir’s ambition is to find the songs that are meaningful to the passing and bring forth those calming and joyful memories. The choir is also there for the family and care-givers to create a break from what can be a time of great distress and monotony. The choir has developed a repertoire of songs that relate to transitioning to the great beyond but hope to expand upon their collection of songs over time as they gain more exposure.
The Threshold Choir feels honored to be of service to anyone in the community for end-of-life comfort through song. Additionally, they see their role expanding with the intention to ease any life transition. After all, change can bring discomfort and many stages: birth, coming-of-age ceremonies, grief or death. For more information about the choir or how utilize their services, contact Karissa at (609) 922-2865. If you are interested in joining the choir, contact Emily Plott at (360) 790-6318.