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Music becomes a healing memorial

Ten years ago, Michael Whitman's teenage son took his own life. Ever since, the Lyme, N.H., resident has found comfort in music. Now he's trying to help others appreciate music's healing power. He's compiled 83 songs about pain and loss‹such as Tom Paxton's "No Time to Say Goodbye"‹into a three-volume CD collection titled Before Their Time. Recently, he played some of the cuts from the collection at a grand rounds presentation at DHMC.

"Michael is really helping to start a movement," says Dr. Joseph O'Donnell, a professor of medicine at DMS. "Hopefully, [he] is going to show the providers at DHMC . . . how music can be used as a therapeutic tool."

Music is already heard throughout the Medical Center every day. Patients and visitors can listen to tunes being played on the Steinway grand piano that sits in a central area.

Cuts from these three volumes were part of a recent grand rounds at DHMC.

Patients can choose music they would like to hear through headphones during cancer treatments. Music is an essential component of complementary services, such as reiki massage, according to Deborah Steele, support services coordinator at DHMC's Norris Cotton Cancer Center. And some people have even organized music services for loved ones‹like the one that family members and coworkers held for nursing education director Ellen Ceppetelli after she was seriously injured in a sledding accident a few years ago.

So when O'Donnell suggested that Ceppetelli ask Whitman to make a presentation at DHMC, she wasted no time in issuing the invitation.

The next step, hopes Dr. Ira Byock, director of DHMC's palliative medicine program, may be for DHMC to hire an experienced music therapist to help create a formal music therapy program as part of the palliative care service. He envisions a professionally administered version of Whitman's type of program, as well as support for those who are nearing death‹the kind of music service that could "anoint a person who is dying, almost as a sacramental gesture of bearing witness to this sacred event."

In the meantime, Whitman is planning to take the presentation about his Before Their Time CD series on the road, "because I think it really does have a very wide appeal."


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Dartmouth Medical SchoolDartmouth-Hitchcock Medical CenterWhite River Junction VAMCNorris Cotton Cancer CenterDartmouth College