Jul 1, 2021 by Maria Thompson
“Hospice is a way of providing comfort and care. It's a beautiful service,” said Sara Severson, Therapeutic Musician at Knute Nelson. “Not only for the patients but their families.”
Caring for hospice patients is emotional. There is sadness. There is also immense satisfaction and joy, as Sara, Pam, and Amy attest. Their stories show how they serve patients and their families and why they love it.
Sara had what she calls a “God moment” that led her to hospice. A few years ago, she sang for a hospital patient who was dying of cancer. “When I left the hospital that day, I thought to myself, and I told God this, ‘I want to do this for a living. I want to use my God-given talents to provide music for people when they need it the most.’”
Sara uses live music – singing and guitar – to comfort and care for hospice patients and their families.
“Music provides so much comfort even for those that can't hear as well anymore. Live music is beneficial because our bodies are made of over 80% water. The vibration from music travels through our bodies to the vagus nerve that controls our vitals. That’s why music can provide a very soothing, calming effect.”
“I want them to be either smiling or sleeping or feeling very relaxed by the end of the session.”
Sara uses music for more than its power to soothe. “Sometimes, we just have a ton of fun. It all depends on how the patient is feeling that day. Sometimes we have sing-a-longs with the patient and their families. It brings so much joy to that room.”
Sara often follows patients and their families throughout their hospice journeys. “I spend a lot of time with them, and there have been moments where I have been fortunate to be there when the patient takes their last breath. To be there in those moments is an unforgettable experience.” Sara has also sung at some patients’ funerals.
“I still can't believe I get to do this for a living.”
Pam’s journey to nursing started on the ski slopes. “I was in college at Bemidji State, and I decided to take Nordic ski patrol,” she said. “I had to take advanced first aid to do this. I was really good at it. So I decided, ‘Hey, I can do this. I can help people. And I'm good at it.’ So that's why I decided to go into nursing.”
Pam’s worked in hospitals, primarily in intensive care units, over her 30-year career.
“I always admired the hospice philosophy – comfort, quality of life, and support for families – and worked with hospice nurses very closely in my career.”
After Pam experienced hospice for herself – through the death of her mother – “I knew I had to make a change in my career. I have not regretted it since day one.”
“After I decided to go into hospice, I saw this ad for Knute Nelson. And the funny thing is, I have a tie to Knute Nelson. I grew up in Alexandria, and when I graduated high school, I applied for and received a very nice scholarship from Knute Nelson.”
Just recently, she saw the power of hospice again, this time with her father. “Once he was on hospice, he slept for the first time in three weeks. For five hours, because of the comfort medication, they were able to give him. When he woke up, he said, ‘This is wonderful.’ When I saw the peace in his face, I knew hospice was the right thing to do. He died peacefully.”
Being part of patient and family journeys has made a powerful impact on Pam. “I had a very dear patient who's 93 years young, and she and I connected. We would talk about birds and nature and her grandkids.”
“As she drew closer to death, I reassured her that I would be there for her and make sure that she was comfortable. I told her, ‘Whenever I see a Pileated Woodpecker, I'm going to think of you.’ And by gosh, the day she died, what did I see? A Pileated Woodpecker.”
Amy had been working as a social worker in county government for 20 years. She enjoyed it but felt it was time for something else.
She’d already talked to a social-worker friend about working in hospice. Then one evening, that friend called and told Amy that she planned to retire so there would be an opening. Was Amy interested?
“I sat on it for a couple of hours, and the next thing I'm at my computer filling out the application. I thought, ‘What the heck am I doing? How can I leave a job of 20 years to go to a job that I don't know much about?’”
Within a week, Amy had a job offer. “It's been the best decision I've ever made.”
Her work varies depending on the patient’s and family’s needs. “The biggest part of my job is social and emotional health,” she said. “Making sure that the caregiver and patient are doing well, and checking on extended family members.”
“I work with a lady who is struggling with caring for her husband. Every week I visit her. We talk through any issues that she's having and plan how we can work through them. Continue to support her.”
“Knute Nelson has been a wonderful organization to work for. I appreciate the fact that we can pray here. I thank God for giving me the opportunity to work here and to serve our families in this special way.
Amy’s work hasn’t gone unnoticed. In 2020, she received the Customer-Focused Excellence award. She was nominated by her peers. One remarked: “She has a patient who likes to read the Star Tribune first thing in the morning. Out of the kindness of her heart, she purchases a newspaper on her way to work in the morning and drops it off for the patient to read.”