“It’s a big deal to be able to relieve fear and anxiety for someone,” says Elaine Pontius, a talented musician and Crossroads Hospice volunteer.
How does Elaine bring calm and serenity to patients? Through the soothing sounds of a harp.
Elaine first learned about hospice while helping to care for a friend’s mother. The family asked her to come and sing to their mother. She did, but she soon realized that an instrument may provide more of thesoothing effect that the family was seeking for their mother.
Elaine helped calm her friend’s mother with her singing as much as she could. She passed before Elaine could share her new musical talent: the sound of the harp.
After thinking about which instrument would help calm someone, Elaine had decided the harp would be ideal. “I had heard about bedside harp playing and the benefits of soothing music … it has a calming influence and can lower blood pressure,” she says.
With an ear for melodies and musical background, Elaine made it a priority to learn how to play. As her skills grew, Elaine’s own mother loved hearing her practice. She found it relaxing and soothing, as she made her own transition to assisted living.
“I heard about Crossroads Hospice from a friend who began working there, and I wanted to get involved.”
Elaine signed up to volunteer with Crossroads in St. Louis, MO, with a mission to spread calm and comfort with the sounds of her harp. Her first volunteer experience was playing at a birthday celebration for a patient as part of a Gift of a Day.
“It was a lovely day, but with everything going on, the patient was agitated and wound up from all the company. As soon as I started to play, she quieted. I could see that it also relieved anxiety for the family. It’s a unique way to perform,” says Elaine. “You’re not in the spotlight. You’re there to help calm the patient.”
Although Elaine owns three types of harps, it’s her “bedside harp” that comes with her to see patients. “It has a sweet, pleasant sound, and I can play it as a lap harp or use a guitar strap and stand to play.”
The harp is a hit with the seniors, who enjoy the opportunity to try it. “If they have the strength, I let them pluck the strings and show them how to play a few arpeggios.”
Elaine has found her work with our patients to be incredibly rewarding. “I wish other people wouldsee the benefits of volunteering. Most people view end of life as sad or morbid, but really it’s anhonor to be a part of that milestone and to celebrate a life lived well,” she says. “We recognize their life with music and a joyful heart and celebrate that we had them.”