Drumming with Dad: End of Life Rhythmical Journey
By: Moe Jerant
Population Served: Seniors
My Dad's breathing had become labored and almost painful to watch but he responded to our drumming ...We followed him and his last breath came on the pulse of a shaker.
I am very fortunate to be a professional drummer. Since my beginnings on kit many years ago, my rhythm journey has introduced me to several wonderful and powerful healing drums, some incredible teachers and endless numbers of warm,loving people. As a Remo HealthRHYTHMS Endorsed Facilitator I have had the opportunity to bring drums and drumming into many peoples lives on a regular basis. I've drummed in lock down in an adolescent detention center, drummed with kids diagnosed with everything from autisim and ADHD to kids at risk, "well elders",seniors in nursing facilities, families at festivals...You name it and I've probably done it. Every experience taught me something and each one had moments to be cherished. But none of these things prepared me for drumming for my Dad.
My Dad had been diagnosed with dementia about 10 or so years ago. It meant that slowly but surely he was going to lose his ability to intake and process information and his body functions would regress as well. As a retired social worker he knew and fully understood what that meant but he was a fighter and determined to rise to the occasion.
February 2009 he entered a nursing home when it got obvious that we couldn't care for him at home any more. He adjusted well, always looked at the bright side and couldn't wait to "get the gang together"...his family.
Christmas 2009 was a celebration of mixed feelings. We were glad to still have Christmas together but concerned that my Dad's condition was growing worse. One morning in mid-January I went to see my Dad who was still in bed. The nursing staff said he was having one his sleepy mornings and they thought it best to let him in bed for the day. When I returned the next afternoon he didn't look well at all and I had him admitted to the hospital. He was suffering from internal bleeding caused by one of the medications that helped him live. During the next few days he was not conscious much but I know he heard every word that was spoken about tests, results and diagnosis.
To honor my Dad's Living Will and respect his wishes for his last days we moved him from the hospital to a local hospice facility. As Providence would have it the medical director is one of my African drumming students. She suggested that we have our regularly scheduled class at hospice rather than our usual meeting place.So we did. About 10 or so of us brought frame drums, shakers, a Native American flute and lots of Reiki, surrounded his bed for almost 2 hours and just played. This experience was almost beyond words. Everyone drumming knew why we were there. They came to be there and be "all in". The energy we created came from everyone's heart and was filled with more love than you can imagine. You could see my Dad's face relax when he understood what was happening. He knew we were there and why we were there and he joined us. He contributed the rhythm of his breathing to our circle of drums and we supported each other..just like he taught me about life. I stayed with him through the night holding his hand much like he did for me when I was a scared little kid.
By mid afternoon the next day I got a call that I should come to hospice because he was getting close to crossing over. I gathered my brother-in-law and partner and the three of us drummed again. Very gentle rhythms with a soothing shaker and again my Dad joined us with his breath cycle.
After dinner my Mom and the rest of the family said their goodbyes and left for home. A friend and I stayed behind and we began drumming again. My Dad's breathing had become labored and almost painful to watch, but he responded to our
drumming as before. He relaxed and we matched the pulse of our frame drums to his breath. We worked together and as his breathing slowed down we slowed to a shaker rhythm. We followed him and his last breath came on the pulse of a shaker.
I took his hand, promised him we would take good care of my Mom and thanked him for everything he taught me in life. It was an honor to be with him at his crossing and an equal honor carry his spirit in me. I won't forget.