Soft-Sound: The Evolution of a Personal Journey
Soft-Sound: The Evolution of a Personal Journey
by Ann-Marie Boudreau
Like many individuals, I have thought of my own death and whether I would be able to face my end with the same courage that I begin each day. Like many daughters, I have considered the death of my own parents and how I can make their final passage as comfortable as possible. Death is not unfamiliar to me. In my youth I worked as a nurse's aid in an old age home. I will never forget the loneliness, fear, and pain I encountered in those souls. Perhaps it was this combination of personal, familial, and societal deaths that caused me to step into a fascinating journey, one that explores the dying process from a therapeutic standpoint.
Several years ago, when I was studying in the Soundwork as Soulwork Program with Gary Diggins, I found a way to support those facing their final passage. In the program we delved into how sound could support individuals who were in deep grief and going through a bereavement process. In the program we were also introduced to the work of Therese Shroeder-Sheker. She revitalized an ancient service of music that uses music to assist in the dying process. Shroeder-Sheker founded the Chalice of Repose Project, a work that combines the human voice with live harp music. The practitioners hold vigil at the bedside of the dying person. Typically, two harpists play and sing while the terminally ill person is held in the embrace of a loved one. When I witnessed the Chalice of Repose work, it opened a door for me.
I was searching for modalities to support those in their final passage as well as techniques to undergird the quality of life for those moving through the dying process. I coined the term Soft-Sound to describe my version of this specialized area. Instead of voice and harp, I tend to work with a wider sonic palette and incorporate instruments collected from around the world such as the Celtic harp, the East Indian Shruti box, the Ocean drum, and Tibetan bowls or tingshas. Since the human voice is the primary language of the soul, one that speaks directly to the heart, it is well used in this supportive work. Vocal expression combined with other instruments generates a quiet and supportive atmosphere, one filled with peace, calm and comfort.
Essentially, Soft Sound helps to mitigate stress within the ill or dying person. Because the dying process typically raises emotions such as anger, grief, or fear in human beings, the release of those feelings can effectively occur through practices that are emotionally based such as with breathwork. Verbal modalities such as guided imagery can be used. A practitioner of Soft Sound might even combine sound with physical touch, such as massage or reflexology. Soft-Sound is not always about sound, though. The support of clients can include a wide range of expressive modalities that are practiced silently. Sessions can include energy practices such as Reiki, or therapeutic touch. If appropriate, I will incorporate spiritual practices such as meditation, creating a mandala, or designing a ritual. In the end, it's all about what serves the client's needs.
A year ago I came together with other like-minded souls who also were inspired to reach out to individuals facing terminal illness. Together with Michele Meehan, a skilled Breathwork therapist, we gave birth to a service we simply named: The Sound and Breath Group. Made up of Soundwork Practitioners and therapists, the group may be small but is chasing a big dream. Our mandate is to support those facing terminal illness. The group is dedicated to working with individuals, families or groups to help reduce pain and discomfort and create a more calm or peaceful state within the client, loved ones and their surroundings. The use of combined soundwork and breathwork sessions can also help clients release anxieties, fears, anger or grief that they might be holding onto. Another focus of the group is to help support meaningful transitions by co-creating personal rituals for the individual or the family. Those who are passing are supported in creating their own rite of passage or designing their personal memorial service. All spiritual backgrounds and practices are respected within this work.
Last October a dear friend fell ill and stood at the doorway facing her own mortality. She underwent heavy chemo treatments over the last 10 months. I visited and worked with her at every opportunity possible. Just this last week she had a lovely afternoon garden party at her home to celebrate the beautiful group of women who had supported her through her illness. It was a moving moment for me and for everyone present at this celebration of her life.
This past June I was thrilled to be invited to bring Soft-Sound into Casey House to work with those suffering with HIV and AIDS. I was very impressed with what I witnessed. To quote from a recent Toronto Star article on Casey House the nurses "not only tend to the physical suffering of their patients, but empathize with them, listen to their fears and soothe their shattered emotions." The absolute respect and acceptance shown to each soul, no matter the path they have walked, touched my heart deeply. I know there is much that I will learn in my work at Casey House.
A thought to leave you with. . . .William Blake, the poet, spoke of how he saw death as being 'part of the fullness of the human life cycle - as a definitive event which has the potential to crown each life and make each of us more deeply human.' Should we choose, our experience of life can be a journey of both living well and dying well.
For information on the College's "Soundwork as Soulwork" Program which covers working with grief and loss and many other psychospiritual areas contact Linda Kuschnir at 416-484-8178. For more information on Soft-Sound you can contact Ann-Marie Boudreau at or 416-604-8871. The Chalice of Repose Project web-site is www.chaliceofrepose.org.