I live a long way from most of my family – so I know what it’s like to be separated from the people you love. But, like most of us, I never imagined the thousands of people in care homes that would die without their loved ones by their side this year.
I work as a music therapist in MHA care homes in London, supporting people living with dementia. In our charity, we’re dedicated to enabling people to live later life well. Our work includes sessions for residents experiencing feelings sometimes associated with dementia such as anxiety, depression, or agitation. We advise carers about how they might use music to support residents in daily activities and care. We also run group sessions to help people socialise and share memories through song and conversation.
Covid-19 hit the care sector hard. But I am so proud of the courage I saw around me: determination to carry on caring. At the beginning, when homes were locking down, it was a frightening and uncertain time for colleagues and residents. Our team of music therapists helped wherever we were needed. Alongside music therapy, I might have been delivering essential supplies to residents in the morning and been there for someone at the end of their life in the afternoon.
We lost many residents to Covid and related illnesses – and none of their families were able to be with them. But the residents are like family to us. We could be with them. We are dedicated to being there no matter what.
In care settings, you get to know residents – you know their families, their life stories, their pets’ names, their favourite food. So, when they become ill, it feels like your family are becoming ill. People were distressed, isolated and confused about what was happening and why they weren’t being visited. But we were with them.
It is a privilege for us to be with our residents at the end of their lives and to tell their families that we’re caring for their loved one.
Through music therapy I tried to make the lives of residents ‘normal’, to offer hope and comfort at a difficult time. For those dying I tried to make this passage easier for them. I helped them know that they weren’t alone.
There is a prayer with these words:
In me there is darkness,
But with You there is light;
I am lonely, but You do not leave me;
… You abide with me.
Many of us this year have felt what it’s like to be separated from loved ones. I have been able to be there for people at the ending of their lives, when their family could not be. And alongside them with me was God. Just as our staff in the care homes do not leave our residents, God does not leave us. I powerfully encounter God through music and, using my music therapy, I could help our residents feel that God was with them, too.
At our darkest, most distressing moments, God is with us.
Sophie works in London for MHA. The prayer Sophie quotes is by Dietrich Bonhoeffer, from Letters and Papers from Prison.
MHA is the largest charity care provider for older people in the UK, dedicated to enabling people to live later life well. MHA was founded by members of the Methodist Church in 1943, and today it supports over 18,000 older people across Britain through their 90 care homes, 72 retirement communities and 60 community groups.