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Expecting the Unexpected

I am a planner. I like to have a plan for most things that I do, and even when I don’t have a plan, I like to at least plan for the fact that there will be no plan. I think it mostly comes from a desire to know what I should be expecting. A desire to be prepared, mentally, emotionally, etc.

In other words, me and Surprise don’t quite Harmonize.

But the world of Music Therapy is full of surprises – some big, some small – and that’s something that I’m growing to at least appreciate, if not yet fully embrace (I’m working on it!)
Rather than a predictable and repetitive melody, this job feels more like free jazz sometimes. That is to say: it can feel a little all over the place! Just when you think you know what chord must be coming next, you’ve shifted into a new key. Right as you get a feel for the beat, the drummer drops his sticks and starts playing trombone instead. During a session with a client in a common area, a well-intentioned passerby visiting the facility hands you a grapefruit with a wink and a, “What you’re doing is so nice, keep it up!” (True story.)
You never quite know what your week might entail!

There are certainly constants that remain true in every session, every interaction, every song and every intervention. And, as mentioned in a previous post, structure and repetition are valuable tools in Music Therapy (See: Déjà Vu! Repetition in Music Therapy) But I’ve started to notice that one of those constants is fluctuation. One of the things we as therapists can Expect – with some degree of certainty – is the Unexpected.

We can expect songs and interventions to take a turn and become something entirely different.
We can expect clients to enjoy instruments and songs we never thought they’d like.
We can expect to forget instruments and materials and need to improvise – and we can expect those moments to perhaps be even more engaging and beneficial for our clients than whatever we had initially planned! (Who knew?)
We can expect cancellations, rescheduling, relocating, and visitors.
We can expect to be offered a grapefruit in the middle of a session.
(Okay, maybe that one’s a stretch.)

A lot of these surprises are good things! When we can embrace the Unexpected, “roll with the punches,” and learn to improvise (musically or otherwise) to suit the situation, our clients often benefit. And so do we.

But other surprises can be more challenging.
Other surprises can be harder to respond to.
Because no matter how much you think you’ve prepared, no matter how long it might have even been Expected, no matter the fact that you know full well what Hospice care means…

The death of a client can still knock you off your feet.

Which, I think, in its own way, is a good thing. Therapeutic relationships are meaningful for the therapist as well as for the client, and grief is a natural, human response to loss. So the fact that it can be hard to “roll” with this particular “punch” is no surprise. In fact, it’s evidence of empathy, confirmation of care, the mark of a meaningful relationship. But it is still hard.

If we can Expect the Unexpected, isn’t the opposite also true?
Something Expected can still catch us off guard.
So what do we do when an Expected outcome arrives Unexpectedly?
How do we make sense of the surprising event when it suddenly comes?
I certainly don’t have answers, but I know that it’s okay to feel shocked.
To feel uncertain.
To not be prepared.
To not have a plan.

Rather than trying to file those things away with a logical (but maybe somewhat robotic), “It was Expected, and I had prepared,” we can try to appreciate the (natural, human) feeling of surprise, even if not quite embracing it yet. And maybe that can better equip us to support those who are feeling significantly more shocked and uncertain than we in the wake of this “Expected” event.
Because remembering that even the Expected can still be entirely Unexpected might just help us to Harmonize with the Surprised.

– Written by Kevin Middlebrooks, LPMT, MT-BC

Walk to Remember: Life After Perinatal Loss

This Sunday, in recognition of October as National Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Month, Northside Hospital hosted their annual Atlanta Walk to Remember. Our team had the privilege of attending this event alongside a number of parents, families, friends, and other healthcare professionals, all there to remember the precious and much-too-short lives of the babies they have lost. Suffice to say, we were honored to be entrusted with providing the musical backdrop for such an important day! Kevin Middlebrooks played piano while families arrived, found their seats before the presentation, and enjoyed refreshing popsicles in the warm autumn afternoon. Meanwhile, Bianca Ford, Maria Nichta, and Camila Casaw led the younger guests through a menagerie of fun and unusual sounds at the “Instrument Petting Zoo.” Later during the presentation, our whole crew came together – led by Maria and Bianca – to sing a few songs in honor of life after loss.

The theme of this year’s Walk was “Tribe”, and the beautiful example of the elephant was given: Elephants are among the most intelligent creatures on earth. That statement does not only refer to their ability to think practically, but also to their emotional intelligence. When a mother elephant loses her baby, she will lay by its side and grieve while the rest of the herd gathers around her, laying their trunks gently on her back for support until she is ready to move. This kind of empathy embodies the spirit of Northside’s “Tribe” in the face of the silent grief that is Perinatal Loss. As Music Therapists, we have a unique and powerful medium with which we can come beside our clients, their families, and one another in the midst of pain. When words fail, we have a tool to help us demonstrate empathy for our own “Tribe” until they are ready to move, ready to speak, or ready to sing again.

There is no time-table for grief. Eventually, our hope is that we can gather together and sing, like we did on Sunday: I think I can make it now, the pain is gone. All of the bad feelings have disappeared. Here is the rainbow I’ve been praying for. It’s gonna be a bright, bright, sun-shiny day. But until then, may we lie still with our Tribe in their pain – until they are ready to move.

{If you would like to learn more about the Northside Hospital H.E.A.R.T.strings Perinatal Bereavement and Palliative Care Department, please visit their website.}

Written by Kevin Middlebrooks, LPMT, MT-BC

 

 

 

 

 

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