From music into silence: an exploration of music-thanatology vigils at end of life



Recently Helen Cox recorded a conversation with music-thanatologist, Peter Roberts (Spirituality & Health International, 2006, Vol. 7, No. 1). This paper describes aspects of the findings from a multi-method study into the effects of this work on six patients who were inpatients at St John of God Hospital in Geelong. A total of 21 live harp vigils were observed over a period of nine months. A researcher observed and recorded details of each vigil, interviewed patients, relatives, nurses and pastoral care staff, and recorded personal observations. The music-thanatologist audiotaped reflections after each vigil. This paper describes findings from the perspective of patients. A key finding of this research is that music-thanatology makes a profound difference to the way that people experience the end-of-life journey. The prescriptive live harp music vigils take people beyond the music into a silence that is deeply spiritual and profoundly comforting. Copyright © 2007 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.