By Joyce DeWallace, Contributing Writer
Northborough – Several years ago, Kathy Todd’s sister, Martha Walker, was very ill. Todd, who was a member of the Westborough Congregational Church choir, started singing to her sister as she lay in her hospital bed. The music seemed to comfort her. That gave Todd the inspiration to start a group to sing for people with terminal illnesses or chronic conditions. Walker has since passed away, but from that germ of an idea, Journey Home Singers has developed with Todd as its director.
Jan Racca, who now serves as the coordinator for the singers at the Beaumont Rehabilitation and Skilled Nursing Center of Northborough, sings with the Assabet Valley Mastersingers and was recruited along with others from local churches and chorale groups to form a new group for this purpose in 2009. They designed themselves after the Vermont Hallowell Singers, a hospice choir. From that group they learned that music can open hearts, quiet fears and touch all who are present, including family members and friends, caregivers and singers at the end of life.
The decision about what to call their group came during a brainstorming session. One of their favorite songs is a hymn, “There are Angels Hovering Round.” The last line is, “We’re on our journey home” and from that came the name Journey Home Singers.
“It describes what we’re trying to do; to bring patients joy, comfort and let them know that they still have value at that stage of life,” Racca explained. “We try to communicate soul to soul. I feel totally blessed by doing this. Our mission is to provide comfort to those who are under hospice care. We add another dimension as we reach out to them.”
The singers are invited by the hospice chaplain and set up their performance, called a sing, with the activities director at the facility. The group normally brings five to eight singers, and the patient might have a few family members and friends in attendance, but both groups are small.
“We sing hymns, uplifting songs and old standbys like ‘What a Wonderful World’ and ‘You are My Sunshine.’ We have both upbeat and more solemn music. We try to tailor songs to the individual we’re singing for,” Racca explained.
“We leave our egos at the door,” Todd added. “The patient reactions vary. We see big smiles, tears of joy, tears of sadness. Mostly, they are appreciative and grateful. Often they want us to sing more. After a sing, all of us have some sort of personal interaction with a patient, a word, a touch.”
Journey Home Singers has between 15 and 20 members, who are required to take three hours of hospice training to prepare them for such issues as confidentiality, how to handle patients who are in pain, and how to deal with families who are grieving.
Member Anne Deysher learned of the choir at a town chorale concert.
“I loved the idea of singing, and it just struck me,” she said. “It provides as much joy for me as it does for the patients and families.”
To find out about joining Journey Home Singers or how to arrange a sing, email Kathy Todd at [email protected].