Singing Over the River: The Gift of Music at The End of Life

by Sylvia Maddox

from the Spring/Summer 2017 issue of Reflections magazine.

The last year of my grandmother’s life, our family would often gather round the bed and sing well-known hymns. Her favorite hymnal was Heavenly Highways, and those hymns at the end of life gave comforting images of the “shining river” where we would all gather when our earthly pilgrimage would cease.

I have never been a great singer, but I hear a blessed harmony when I sing with people at the end of life. At this time of life, spoken words do not always express the tenderness of the human voice singing. A song of one’s culture or religious background is the place where one feels most at home. I have also seen that singing around the bedside not only comforts the dying but also brings peace to the circle of family and friends gathered.

Even if loved ones don’t know the song, or don’t share the same faith, there is, as John O’Donohue says, “a shelter of music.” How many times have I seen all the anxiety and worry in a room change when we enter this shelter of music.

Recently I visited a person at a hospice facility who was agitated and could not communicate easily with his voice or with his eyes. When I began to sing, “Abide with Me,” everything stopped. His whole body became calm as he reverently put his hand over his heart and began to receive the words of the abiding presence of Christ. The image of his moment of peace stays with me as I carry in my heart all the precious memories of singing with loved ones as we gathered at the river “that flows by the throne of God. “

Sylvia Maddox is a writer and educator. She is a member of Church of Reconciliation, San Antonio TX.  Reach her at


Back to Table of Contents, Spring/Summer 2017 issue of Reflections magazine.

From The Episcopal Diocese of West Texas

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