In the same way that Milly, wife of oldest brother Adam in Seven Brides for Seven Brothers, sings that “love never goes away, it plays on like a song”, so does Seven Songs for a Long Life. It brings together the stories of six hospice patients at Strathcarron Hospice in Scotland.
The film covers a variety of topics – trying to make a will, medicating pain, finding a guardian for a child, memory boxes, being a carer and moving house. We also see the growing relationships between staff and patient, patient and patient.
The stories play on in your heart and mind long after you have finished watching. It is a love story because film makers, patients, families and staff connect, through music, their thoughts, experiences and ideas.
I have been thinking about how Seven Songs for a Long Life fits into the wider evidence base about music and living well with dying.
Music has existed in human societies since prehistoric times, for example flutes made from vulture bones have been radiocarbon dated to the Upper Paleolithic period, more than 35,000 years ago (1).
Music allows expression, regulation of emotion and evokes pleasure and, while there is still a need for high quality research into the benefits of music in palliative care (2), we do know it has positive effects.
For example, Kordovan et al. tells us that music aids therapeutic conversations in terminally ill patients (3). And Ray Travasso, music therapist at St Elizabeth Hospice and EACH (East Anglia’s Children’s Hospices), points out how music is a medium for physical, social, emotional, cognitive and spiritual communication (4).
Furthermore, a study of 84 palliative care patients reported beneficial outcomes such as subjective relaxation, wellbeing, pain relief and quality of life (5).
Seven Songs for a Long Life is about living well with dying, as much as the good death itself.
It has been suggested that we make meaning of illness, suffering and death by telling a story (6). The film shows us how hospice patients and their families make sense of their world through their personal stories.
These personal stories not only support patients and their families but also invoke and sustain compassion in clinicians. Romanoff and Thompson (7) remind us of the importance of the arts in helping to elicit narratives resulting in potentially transformative relationships among patient, family and practitioner.
The combination of music and personal stories provides a unique insight into the everyday world of living and dying well.
So what are my seven reasons for why you should watch or use the film?
- If you are a person with an incurable illness the film shines a spotlight on other peoples’ experiences which may help you discuss and think about how you can live and die well.
- If you are a family carer, son or daughter there are insights into being a carer and how to talk with each other.
- If you are a parent, it provokes thinking and ideas about being a patient or a carer.
- As a member of the general public it helps you to think about what might matter to you, those you love or your friends and neighbours.
- As a clinician, the film triggers reflective practice useful for revalidation evidence and everyday care. It helps you to think about the context of each persons’ life and how to have person-centred conversations.
- As an educator, the DVD and educational booklet provides advice and tips on how to use the film clips, and what questions and reflections to use. The film as a whole can be used (eg in public viewings with a post-screening workshop) or in individual clips for specific sessions.
- As a researcher it provides an example of collaborative working between clinicians, musicians, film makers and user involvement over a period of time on sensitive issues such as death and dying.
Finally, the beautiful music score by Mark Orton leads you through the film. The 19th century German poet Heinrich Heine is quoted as saying “When words leave off, music begins”. This is very apt for Seven Songs for a Long Life. In the film, the music stimulates you to think about your own mortality, compassion, resilience as well as caring for patients and their families as people and those who matter to them.
This film is worth watching – it is a love story of living and dying well through the medium of spoken and unspoken words and the music.
- Zatorre RJ, Salimpoor VN. From perception to pleasure: music and its neural substrates. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America. 2013; 110(Suppl 2):10430-10437.
- McConnell T, Scott D, Porter S. Music therapy for end-of-life care: An updated systematic review. Palliative Medicine. 2016; doi: 10.1177/0269216316635387
- Kordovan S, et al. Prospective study on music therapy in terminally ill cancer patients during specialized inpatient palliative care. Journal of Palliative Medicine. 2016; 19(4):394-399.
- Travasso R. Creativity in learning disabilities. Presentation to East of England Strategic Clinical Network All-Age Palliative Care and End of Life Care Education Event. 14 April 2016.
- Warth M, et al. Music therapy to promote psychological and physiological relaxation in palliative care patients: protocol of a randomized controlled trial. BMC Palliative Care. 2014; 13(1):60.
- Stanley P, Hurst M. Narrative palliative care: a method for building empathy. Journal of Social Work in End-of-Life and Palliative Care. 2011; 7(1):39-5.
- Romanoff BD, Thompson BE. Meaning construction in palliative care: the use of narrative, ritual, and the expressive arts. The American Journal of Hospice and Palliative Care. 2006; 23(4):309–316.