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In the fall of 2007 a group of women practiced for months in preparation to sing to hospice patients, but the choir members were nervous and didn’t know if they were ready to start.
While rehearsing at the Hospice of Northwest Ohio in Toledo, the singers saw a sign and knew they were ready.
“A patient was walking by while we were practicing and asked if we minded if she came in and listened. She was in the back of the room just listening to us practice,” choir member Theresa Kusner said. “We took it as a [sign] God telling us we’re ready.”
Every Tuesday night, the Threshold Choir of the Hospice of Northwest Ohio Chapter goes around rooms at the Perrysburg location. On Wednesday afternoons, the 17-member choir visits the Toledo hospice center. The choir sings to patients to try to bring peace and relaxation to the patients and families as death approaches.
The choir is made up of volunteers as well as staff members of the hospice who take time before or after shifts to sing. They ask patients and their families if they would like to hear some songs.
“We call it our ministry,” said volunteer Teresa Teifke of Maumee. “It is a beautiful feeling when you bring peace to the family.”
The Threshold Choir idea was started in 2000 by Kate Munger in California when she sang to a friend on his deathbed. She said it gave her and him comfort. The songs are not religious, but the Hospice of Northwest Ohio Threshold Choir said if patients request some hymns that they know, they will sing them.
Choir members said sometimes they will see a patient just once or twice, other times they visit patients several times. The choir members said they have been singing to patients when the patients die.
For Mrs. Kusner of Toledo, one moment a month ago stands out.
“I entered the room and knew something had changed with her because the room was full of people,” she said. “I politely asked if we could sing, and said we had sung before to her. Their initial reaction was, ‘I don’t know,’ but I said we could just sing one song to see how it was going, and at any moment they could give me a sign and we’d leave.”
The choir ended up singing for about 15 minutes, and, while it sang, the room full of people watched their mother take her last breath.
“We sang her to heaven,” Mrs. Kusner said, crying. “The family said it brought such peace, and this is the way we wanted her to go, with beautiful music to send her up.
“I will never forget that.”
Suzanne Fike of Philadelphia visited her sister, Johnell Wagoner, while the choir sang. Ms. Wagoner died in February. “They stood right next to her, and one of them held her hand,” Ms. Fike said. “It was so loving and peaceful.”
Amey Raihala, a Perrysburg resident who works at the hospice, said a lot of times the patients and families are reluctant, but once they hear the songs they love it.
“We had one person last week who asked to only sing one song at first,” she said. “Then after the song, asked us to sing another, then asked us to sing three, then four.”