Helping Residents find joy and peace through music is what Natasha Grossfeld, holistic music therapist at SALMON Home Care, does best.
She thinks of her work as giving a voice to those who may have lost their own. “As soon as I could talk, I started singing,” she says, “and my parents forced me to take piano lessons, which I’m now grateful for.” But Natasha first realized the therapeutic power of music after witnessing her great grandfather’s response to a song she sang at his bedside during the final days of his life. Although he was nearly deaf, he squeezed her hand after being unresponsive for almost a week.
That moment instilled in her the power of sharing songs and stories as people begin their end-of-life transitions. “They have these subtle ways of telling us they’re still listening, just like my great grandfather did,” she reflects. The experience also inspired her to study music therapy at Berklee College of Music in Boston, where she learned to connect, inspire and heal others through music.
For seven years, she has served as SALMON Home Care’s only music therapist, traveling across New England from campus to campus to help calm, soothe, relax and connect with patients.
“You know how music affects you during your day-to-day activities,” says Sheryl Duclos-Zagame RSN, BSN, “but the connection she has to the music is so powerful. To witness it in person only gives me a greater appreciation for how crucial her role is in caring for our patients. It’s an honor to have such talented people on our team.”
For some Residents, Natasha’s music helps ease pain and stress. For others, it draws out emotions. In some cases, it even connects them with their past.
“I worked with one patient in hospice through SALMON for about three years,” she explains. “In his youth, he had been a guitarist and singer. When his disease progressed, he couldn’t hold an instrument. But, as long as I matched his pace, he could still sing along with me.”
To help hospice patients create meaning at the end of their lives and leave a unique legacy behind, she often works with them to create legacy projects as keepsakes. In this case, Natasha and the Resident recorded one of their music sessions together—a compilation of his favorite songs, including “Mr. Spaceman,” a psychedelic tune from the ’60s by The Byrds. His family can now enjoy lasting memories of his singing for years to come. “In the recording, you can hear his voice sailing above me, harmonizing. I was really proud to put it together and share it with his family.”
She especially enjoys using music to connect with dementia patients whose language centers and memories are diminishing.
Music therapy has a special and unique way of reaching them, evoking lost memories and triggering responses. She remembers visiting one female Resident who was in her room alone. As Natasha started singing “You Are My Sunshine,” the Resident began to mouth the words along with her. “She hadn’t said anything in three years, and she couldn’t communicate what was going on, but her eyes were watering.”
After the session was over, Natasha texted the Resident’s daughter to share what had happened. Her daughter was shocked—and she revealed that “You Are My Sunshine” was the song her mother sang to her when she was young.
“The way the brain processes music is unique,” Natasha explains. “We don’t just hear it. We sing along, and we process speech. We might read the lyrics. If we hear the rhythm, we might tap our feet or dance along. Dementia patients who can’t string together two words can sometimes sing a whole song if you can find the right one. It’s a scientific and magical experience.”
Natasha says she often feels like she’s helping a beautiful community of professionals serve a greater purpose as they support one another. She appreciates working side by side with team members who are just as dedicated to showing up every day for SALMON Residents as she is.
“I feel blessed to work with the people I do,” she describes. “Oftentimes, it does feel like family.”
When she’s not focused on music therapy, Natasha loves learning how to sew, playing board games with friends and family and—of course—writing her own songs.
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