Victoria Storm (left) provides comfort to a hospice patient through music therapy, a philanthropy-dependent service.
Victoria Storm, the clinical program manager for Ascension Illinois's art, music and massage therapies, was anxious and scared when she first went back to the skilled nursing facility after the spring 2020 lockdown.
The lights were dim. The hallways were empty and quiet. Signs warned of the possible presence of the novel coronavirus.
In her head, Storm questioned whether she truly needed to be there during a global pandemic to provide music therapy to hospice patients. But, trusting her protective gear, she forged on.
Comfort in Song, Art and Healing Touch
Ascension Illinois Hospice Care programs serve thousands of people every year. In fiscal year 2021, thanks to philanthropy, 9,000 people received grief and bereavement support. Nearly 3,400 art, music and massage therapy visits were provided.
Integrative hospice therapists like Storm — including art, music and massage therapists — work closely with the clinical hospice team and family members. They provide therapies that reduce pain and anxiety, offer comfort, and enhance patients’ and families’ ability to cope with the changes and grief at hand.
“We write songs with people. We paint and make pictures,” Storm said. “We use touch and tactile experiences to allow people to know that they matter, that they’re supported and they’re not alone in this journey.”
Not Alone in the Hospice Journey
Even though integrative therapies have been shown to reduce pain and suffering at the end of life, these therapies are not reimbursed. This means that philanthropy covers 100% of the cost of these services.
“Our programs help people, and they help people at some of the hardest times of life,” said Storm. “I can’t express enough how important the support of our donors is.”
Hospice patients often struggle with physical pain and emotional suffering, depression and anxiety, isolation, agitation and restlessness. Art, song and healing touch can help them communicate with their loved ones, make meaningful connections during difficult times and come to a sense of resolution about what they are saying goodbye to and what they are preparing for next.
For example, artistic expression may allow patients and family members to communicate difficult things that may be too hard to say in words alone. Comfort touch and gentle massage techniques may offer therapeutic value at a time when patients’ bodies are often a source of distress.
An Essential Human Connection
On that first day back to work at the skilled nursing facility in 2020 post-lockdown, Storm found the patient she had come to see in her bed, listening to the radio, looking up at the ceiling.
She knew the patient, who had dementia, was a Motown fan, so after she introduced herself, Storm got out her guitar and started playing an instantaneously recognizable tune by The Temptations.
In her hospital bed, the woman soon started tapping her toes, swaying her shoulders, bobbing her head.
Storm understood, then, why she needed to be there: Music allowed this woman, who was battling dementia and nearing the end of her life in a once-in-a-lifetime pandemic, to emerge from her isolation. It allowed the two of them, despite the circumstances, to connect. Anything that ignites that kind of human connection, Storm said, is essential.