Notes of Comfort: Bedside Musician's Gift to Hospice Patients
As soon as the 85-year-old man in the wheelchair saw Steve Litwer approaching, he began to wave. Steve was visiting on a very special day. The man and his wife were celebrating their 65th wedding anniversary. Steve is a bedside musician and hospice volunteer for Crossroads Hospice & Palliative Care.
“I only played two songs,” he shares later. “I got them talking about how they met, how much they love each other, their children, their grandchildren, how fruitful it was for them to talk about their relationship. You meet such interesting people!”
Steve began volunteering six years ago. An amateur guitar player, he mostly played at home for himself. He found the hospice patients he visited to be a willing audience as he practiced new songs and expanded his repertoire.
“At the time, there were no other musician volunteers at Crossroads,” Steve explains. “I was getting good results. People who were able to interact interacted with me.”
Starting a New Chapter
Steve began keeping a journal about his visits to patients. It started out as just a sentence or two which turned into paragraphs and then became little stories. He shared the stories with an author friend who said the stories could be a nice book, but it was missing a personal connection from Steve.
He began writing more about how he felt about the interactions. “Then something interesting happened,” he says. “I was raised in a difficult environment and had blocked out most of my childhood, but you can’t sit with a dying patient and not reflect on life itself. Memories from my own life starting kicking in.”
Steve wove those memories into his collection of patient visits, turning his journal into a book: The Music Between Us: Memoir of a Bedside Musician. While patient names and details are altered to protect patient privacy, each chapter starts with a story from a patient visit followed by a reflection on Steve’s own life.
Themes of the book include self-awareness, volunteering to help others and some of Steve’s own spirituality. In 2021, the book was named as a finalist for the Thorpe Menn Literary Excellence Award.
The Joys of Volunteering
Steve is a wonderful advocate for anyone looking to volunteer with hospice patients.
“Anyone can volunteer,” he says. “You can use whatever skills you have or just sit with patients and talk with them. It may not be for everyone, but you’d be surprised at what you can do and by how much you are needed.”
“These people aren’t dying,” he continues. “They’re actually living. They’re still living until they die. A lot of them don’t have a lot of visitors. Others have family members who are very involved, but it wears them out to be a caregiver. It’s a great gift to somebody, but it’s also a gift to yourself to sit with somebody on a journey to the end.”
Steve explains that becoming a hospice volunteer is especially gratifying as a retiree. “When someone shares that they are retiring soon, I ask what they are going to do in retirement. You better find something. Volunteering is a great way to give. Start subscribing to VolunteerMatch to learn about volunteer opportunities in your area.”
“There are many joys of volunteering. It doesn’t have to be with hospice patients, but that’s certainly a noble place to explore.”
Crossroads is always looking for new volunteers to share their time and talents. To learn more about hospice volunteer requirements, call 1-888-564-3405.
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