A verse of “Amazing Grace” that most people may not have heard echoes in Ken and Julie Dragstra’s minds.
This verse, which talked about their family, was composed by their son, Chris — and sung at his funeral last March. The 36-year-old died after a battle with Huntington’s disease.
“Chris couldn’t speak, but he could sing,” Julie said.
The verse Chris composed was made possible through a branch of hospice care not always known about.
“We could sing to him some, and one volunteer that came each week would sing sometimes, but the music therapy provided through hospice I think was real highlight for Chris,” Julie said.
Sioux Center Health Hospice and Home Care, which is highlighting November as National Hospice Awareness month, began offering music therapy about two years ago.
Music therapy is provided to patients based on each individual’s needs. A certified music therapist designs sessions around patients’ preferred music to reduce pain and restlessness; provide emotional and social support; and encourage communication.
“His words weren’t always clear, but it was obvious he was singing,” Julie said about her son. “Singing was a way to express his faith, a way to connect on a different level.”
The service is the perfect addition to hospice services, said Julie.
Hospice offers coordinated services to terminally ill patients and their families in their chosen environment. Physical, psychological, social and spiritual care are available from a medically directed interdisciplinary team consisting of physicians, nurses, therapists, home health aides, social workers, pastors and volunteers.
Hospice care does not seek to cure, does not seek to hasten or prolong, but instead offers comfort and support for patients and families focused on enhancing the quality of remaining life.
Having worked as a hospice nurse for about 25 years, Julie knew about the service but having a family member receive hospice care shed new light on the service.
“Just knowing a nurse or social worker or music therapist was coming, we know our son felt cared for,” Julie said. “Knowing there’s somebody looking out for you who is different from your family was comforting for Chris, but also for us, knowing he was receiving good care.”
Having the physician-directed care coordinated by registered nurses and having skilled nursing visits for pain control and symptom management allowed Julie and Ken to be parents.
“I didn’t have to think about all those details,” Julie said. “I know how to but I was able to be his mom when I visited.”
Ken could tease his son about being a Chicago Bears fan instead of the Minnesota Vikings rather than worrying about his son’s comfort.
“That’s partly why we chose hospice care because I was concerned, being he couldn’t talk anymore, that he might be in pain but couldn’t tell us,” Ken said. “Knowing there was nursing care 24/7 and that they could assess him and give us updates was so helpful.”
Having a weekly volunteer visit Chris, whether it was to read, talk about Western Christian High School basketball — Chris was on the team in high school — or sing hymns was another favorite part of hospice service for Chris as well as his family.
“Chris’s story shows hospice is for all ages,” Julie said, “not just the elderly or for someone battling cancer.”
The couple appreciate having a local hospice service available.
“A lot of relatives with Huntington’s disease had to go to Minneapolis,” Ken said. “We’re very thankful that Royale Meadows and hospice were willing to work together and allow us to have Chris nearby.”
Though Chris moved to Royale Meadows about seven years ago, he had only received hospice care about the last two years of his life.
“I don’t think without them he would have lived nearly as long,” Ken said. “I knew little things about hospice from my wife, but know more now from Chris’s experience, and I truly believe hospice helped provide a better quality of life for Chris.”