By Amy Silverman
By Olivia LaVecchia
By Monica Alonzo and Stephen Lemons
By Chris Parker
By Michael Lacey
By Weston Phippen
In a place where people go to die, four women have come to sing.
On a hot day in July, natural light floods Carol Beck's room at Dobson Home, the Chandler branch of Hospice of the Valley. A few personal touches remind the occupant of home: framed family photos, flowers, a "Thinking of You" card. A calendar filled with family members' photos is tacked to the wall nearest the bed, marked with the days different relatives intend to visit. The TV is off.
Carol Beck has adenocarcinoma, the most common form of lung cancer.
The women introduce themselves to Beck and her niece, the strangers they've come to comfort.
Beck is chatty, her bright red toes propped on a pillow. She guesses she's been here about seven weeks. Her niece and goddaughter, Amanda Klimczak, is visiting from New Jersey, where Beck once lived.
The choir forms a half-circle around the bed, and its leader, Kellie Walker, asks for requests.
There's no Sinatra on the set list. Instead, they begin with "Honey in the Rock," a traditional African-American spiritual. The harmonies resonate through the stillness of the home.
"Very pretty," Beck says after the song ends.
Both Beck and her niece get emotional during the second song, "Edelweiss," from The Sound of Music. The older woman's blue-gray eyes glaze over, tears welling up behind her glasses. A distant look crosses her face. She is lying in a bed at a hospice facility in Arizona, but, really, she is somewhere else.
"Beautiful. Thank you. That brought back memories of when I was a kid," says Beck. "My mom was a singer, as well. My dad was our main singer and they always sang . . . Thank you very much for that. And Mandy thanks you, too. She can't talk right now because she's crying," Beck adds with a laugh and a nod toward her speechless niece.
"Yeah, music can go right to your heart," says Walker.
"Well, that's where it's supposed to go. If people try to tell you anything different than that, they're wrong. They're totally wrong," says Beck. "You can listen to any genre of music, but it's always the same — it takes you right where you need to go if your heart is open toward it."
Talk turns to Beck's funeral arrangements — including hairstyle — and her young grandson's desire to care for her. "He thinks his job when he comes here is to feed me ice," says Beck. "Because, 'Granny has an owie in her belly, and when Granny's owie hurts, I eat ice.'"
Later, Walker says they rarely have someone that responsive — and talkative — when they visit. So when the choir sings again for Carol Beck, they include upbeat hymns and selections from musicals.
When Walker announces "Amazing Grace" as the second-to-last song, Amanda Klimczak quietly slips out of the room.
The music is comforting — but it can be tough, too. No one knows that better than Kellie Walker. She started Voices Lifted after singing to her sister and her father on their deathbeds years ago. Then a year ago, her husband Russell was diagnosed with stomach cancer.
"I thought, Oh, God, this is a little too close to home," Walker says.
So little by little, Walker is handing over management and even singing duties to her fellow choir members.
Voices Lifted is far from a traditional church choir. Although it was formed two years ago through the Valley Unitarian Universalist Congregation, the group is not exclusive to members of the church. Rather, the all-female group is open to the entire community, with one of the only exceptions being that girls under the age of 10 are not admitted.
After all, the choir's audience isn't the kind of crowd a young child would normally be accustomed to performing for.
Kellie Walker, 53, is soft-spoken and petite, her brown hair in a pixie cut. She takes a seat one July afternoon at a coffee shop in Tempe, exhausted after having just returned from a weekend music conference in North Carolina, and quickly consumes her fruit parfait.
A music therapist by training, she began her career in a medical psychiatric unit but since switched gears to become music director of the Valley Unitarian Universalist Congregation in Chandler, where she's held the position for 20 years. Once she joined the church, she had the opportunity to sing at the bedsides of people from the congregation.
But not before she experienced her own share of loss.
Walker describes the scene at her sister's deathbed as if it happened yesterday. But July marked the three-year anniversary of her family's loss of Katie Walker to breast cancer.
Walker arrived at her sister's side in Bellingham, Washington, with her daughter, Jolie, and husband, Russell, in tow. She can recall as many as 11 family members filing in and out of the room, trying to comfort her ailing sister while maintaining a sense of normalcy.
"If you haven't had this experience, it's surreal. But it's also ordinary life. Life is still going on around," says Walker as she describes the constant bustle around the house, complete with fussy children.
I would love to become a part of something like this, but I am not able to find any information regarding contacting "Voices Lifted". Please contact me at Allainnia@yahoo.comThanks,Alla
If the 12,000,000 plus illegal immigrants had a political leaning towards the conservative republicans would the pro illegal immigrants group still help with amnesty? I don't think so.
i am sitting here , not sure what to say ,, but really must not hold my voice still . i have another take on HOSPICE OF THE VALLY ,,, and the hell i PERSONALLY have had to endure . and yes , i can prove what i say ,,, heck , will open my personal HOSPICE OF THE VALLEY ,RECORD FILES for a $500.00 bill, ) at least i will get compensation some how . but even that 500.,00 would be small compared to that which i should be compensated for !!
i have been placed on HOSPICE OF THE VALLEY 2 TIMES ,,,,,, yes,, 2 TIMES ,,, shall not ever again even trust any hospice , and shall not ever forget , nor forgive ,
and my insurance, , yes, they too are in hot water over the stunt pulled by an insurance case manager ,, LAURA STIENWICH .... and not to go un left , is the Arizona State Ombudsman , no longer there , worker , RUDY ,M.
no i shall not ever forget that which was done, from tossing massive amounts of morphine to me , to the most basic abuse of human dignity , is when you find out that you have been a toy to be played ,, and not in the humane way either , nothing i can ever think of is worse than to have a case manager ,( Laura ,S.) place me on hospice, ,EVEN WHEN MY DR at that time was OUT OFT HE NATION !!!!!!! and there was no grounds for such action as that which Laura did ,
After Hospice of the valley found the mess up, and that i was placed with out Dr orders ,, the best thing Laura could say, was " well it happened , just live with it ," and get over it , it is water under the Bridge ,," ......... NO ONE EVER GETS OVER SOMETHING LIKE THIS < NOT EVER !!! she did not even apologize ,, nothing ,,
to this day , and till the time I DO finally depart , i shall loath both Hospice of the Valley ,and the case worker ....
and yes, i do have paperwork that will back it up , but at least i shall get a little comp back , soooo very little in comparison to the damage done .
Sounds like a pretty good plan to me dude Wow.
It's really feel sad to lose some one we love, that's one the most saddest part of life but sometimes it feel better to know that many people loved and care for us even we know that we are going to die because of our illness. Dying is just part of life, so I guess cherish the life you have and the things that make you happy while you live and enjoy living.Monticello Hospice
In regards to stress, music can influence a person mentally and relax the mind in many ways. On the emotional level music can bring forth a cathartic experience