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Music therapy ministers to patient needs in 'winter of life'

Donald Granstaff, 92, sings Louis Armstrong's "On the Sunny Side of the Street" at his Princeton, Ky., home on Feb. 4, with board certified music therapist Kenna Hudgins, a contractor with Pennyroyal Hospice. 

PRINCETON, Ky. — "At 92 years old, I finally learned to do as I'm told,

The sun comes up, the sun goes down,

The earth keeps goin' 'round and 'round.

I'm content where I am.

In the winter of life, I do the best that I can."

Princeton resident Donald Granstaff spends much of his time these days looking back on his life.

The 92-year-old husband, father, Navy veteran, musician, preacher and missionary served his country and God for decades around the globe. Today, Donald often reflects on those times from his bedroom while under the care of Pennyroyal Hospice.

"I was thinking the last few days, what have I accomplished?" he said Monday afternoon. "Around the world twice. Haiti and the West Indies -- all that. And all I can come up with is the guys that I prayed with and I lead them to the Lord. And, I suppose that's what it's all about."

To help Donald face the winter of his life, Kenna Hudgins, board certified music therapist, brings her keyboard, drums, guitar and even a tambourine, weekly to share an hour of tunes with the elderly patient at his home. Hudgins and Donald sing familiar songs and play the instruments together in an effort to make his transition easier.

"The main goal I initially assessed (for Donald) was for anticipatory grief -- to work through the acceptance of the fact that we are terminal and now on hospice (care)," she said. "He's very aware, so day after day just knowing that it's coming and there will be changes and decline. Life is hard. Music therapy offers a way to process that musically."

Music therapy

"Anyone who responds to music can benefit from music therapy, especially in hospice," Hudgins said. "Music plays a role in all of our lives. It always has. It's why we can watch a movie and feel scared, feel love or feel emotion. Music causes neurologic response -- it affects our whole brain -- in multiple areas simultaneously. Because of that, music therapy is not about being a musician. It's not about understanding music. It's about just responding."

Hudgins, who is a contractor with Pennyroyal Hospice, uses her skills as a board certified music therapist to address the needs of patients in Christian, Todd, Trigg, Lyon and Caldwell counties in western Kentucky.

"Hospice is very grounding," Hudgins said. "Every day that you go into somebody's house and they're dealing with their struggles, it brings you back to true purposes -- day-to-day tasks and stresses don't matter as much because life is short. Personally, it's just a very rewarding field."

Communicating with hospice social workers, Hudgins identifies patients who may benefit from music therapy. She asks family members for 10 minutes of their time to visit their loved one and share a song or two with them to assess his or her responses.

"I don't usually talk much about it, I just let them experience it," she said, smiling. "I've never been told not to come back and it's never just 10 minutes."

Hudgins said everyone has memories associated with certain music.

"A therapist's job is to find that music that is significant to that person," she said.

Working with some patients can be difficult, Hudgins said, because of the emotions tied to facing the end of life, but sharing music with them is rewarding.

"Music is so joyful," she said. "When I get to bring joy to a family and a loved one ... that's not a sad job. ... I'm really blessed to just be a part of their lives. To bring joy is just huge."

Music with Donald

After working with Donald for several weeks, Hudgins said her therapy goals for him shifted to decreasing his feelings of isolation.

"I try to get as much participation from him physically, whether that's playing the keyboard or drumming," she said. "As his hands might get more stiff, clapping -- anything to get his body engaged. If his body is unable, then just getting him to verbally participate. That, in and of itself, will decrease isolation."

In Monday's music therapy session, Hudgins wanted Donald to sing some love songs with her while playing instruments.

"With Valentine's day coming up next week, we're going to do sweetheart songs," she said.

"The old sweetheart songs," Donald said. "That's the best kind, the old ones."

The duo harmonized to Bing Crosby's "Let Me Call You Sweetheart" as Hudgins played the keyboard.

"Let me call you sweetheart

I'm in love with you

Let me hear you whisper

That you love me too ..."

In the middle of the song, Don stopped singing to share a childhood memory.

"I used to hear my dad sing that one all the time," Donald said.

"Yeah? Did he sing it to your mom?" Hudgins said.

"Yeah. He worked in vaudeville for a long time," he said. "He played mandolin and violin, and he sang all the time. He loved to sing."

"Good memories," Hudgins said.

Donald married his own sweetheart Betty 68 years ago. They exchanged vows on June 16, 1950.

"It was my birthday," he said.

In the living room, Betty sat on the couch quietly listening to her husband sing and play music with Hudgins. She said music therapy is a comfort to her and Donald, who played several instruments, including the organ, keyboard and drums since he was a boy.

"I love that he's even trying," she said after the session. "I think this is a good thing for him because he was a musician. It meant so much to his heart. That was his life."

Back in his bedroom, a second song, Frank Sinatra's "My Funny Valentine," also sparked Donald's memories of his father.

"That's a good song," he said. "He used to sing songs like it."

"I'm glad I'm making you think about your dad. I haven't heard you talk a lot about him," Hudgins said.

"He was quite a man. Yeah boy! He was something else," Donald said, remembering times they would go fishing together at Lake Barkley. "He owned a couple of boats. Nice, big boats. And I used to go with him on the boats."

Midway through the hour, Hudgins sang the chorus to a song about Donald's life they wrote together after three or four music therapy sessions.

"I am a husband, a father, a preacher, a teacher

A born-again, saved-by-grace man ..."

"When I came out of college, I was a really smooth character," Donald said, listening to the lyrics. "I was fast and furious, and I didn't stay that way very long. I was saved in June 1959, and before that I was a 'religious' human being ..."

Early in their marriage, Donald and Betty took their five children to the mission field in the British Isles of the Caribbean and later in Haiti. Donald also helped another missionary build a radio station in Dominica. When they moved back to the U.S., he pastored a few churches in McMinnville, Tennessee, and Princeton. For a time, he often played the organ in the Barkley Lodge dining room.

"He was a musician from the time he was little," Betty said. "Every church we were a part of he would play the organ until he wasn't able to physically."

Now, Betty said, some days can be difficult.

"Sometimes I have an overwhelming sadness. It's hard to see him not be able to do anything," Betty said, crying. "God love him, he never complains. Never, ever complains about anything. He's just always up and very sweet. He's still a testimony to everybody that visits him because of his attitude."

'Happy Trails'

To close out Monday's music therapy session, Donald and Hudgins sang the Roy Rogers and Dale Evans classic, "Happy Trails."

"Who cares about the clouds when we're together?

Just sing a song, and bring the sunny weather.

Happy trails to you,

Until we meet again."

"I think it's good. It can help lift you up," Donald said of music therapy with Hudgins. "I'm not like some guys. Some guys get tired of it, throw their hands up and leave. I'll try."

Hudgins said Donald "still has a lot of life in him."

"Whether (the patient) is a musician or not, music is a way to connect with the outside world. It can pull you into different areas of your own life, make you feel alive again," she said.

Part of Donald's legacy will be the song he and Hudgins wrote together.

"We have created a tangible song that he can leave for his family," she said. "His family are musicians so they can actually play that song and play it with him."

The chorus is:

"I am a husband, a father, a teacher, a preacher

A born-again, saved-by-grace man.

I'm a musician, woodworker, a servant, missionary

But most of all I'm just a good ole boy from Kentucky."

Donald and Hudgins plan to meet weekly for music therapy.

"Every one of us has had music in our lives that has impacted us," Hudgins said. "It's my job to figure out what is going to impact someone at the end of their life for the best end-of-life experience possible."

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