An acoustic guitar slung firmly on the shoulder, and a white protective mask enveloping the lower part of her face, Becky Bressan gently approached the screened window.
“Hi, there,” she softly offered to her audience of one. “What’s your name?”
“I’m Sherry,” came the response from inside the room.
“And how are you?”
“Well, half asleep.”
“Do you like Easter music?”
“I like all music, so Easter music is fine. I don’t sing, but I like to listen.”
And with that, Bressan segued into a heart-tugging rendition of “Amazing Grace” that filled not only Sherry’s room with uplifting light but the whole of the Belmont Lodge Health Care Center commons area.
“That was beautiful,” Sherry said in a near whisper as the last line vanished into the morning air. “It reminds me of my kids. I had two boys and a girl … but I had to give them up for adoption.”
Even in the face of a history-making pandemic, the show — and, more importantly, the healing — must go on.
Bressan is a certified music therapist who uses her commendable talents to bring a therapeutic touch to patients under the care of Sangre de Cristo Hospice and Palliative Care.
With strict social distancing and isolation directives in place at care centers and assisted living facilities, Bressan has adopted the role of a wandering troubadour, offering songs both sacred and secular from outside the windows of patients like Sherry.
“As non-medical staff are not allowed into nursing home facilities at this time, I’m providing receptive music therapy, which is mostly just the patient listening,” Bressan said. “I’m not going to be doing a lot of processing or interaction. It’s more performance-based.”
And with Easter Sunday but a few days away, Bressan was quick to present a traditional spiritual like “Amazing Grace” and “Old Rugged Cross” to those of the Christian faith.
“It″s providing some spiritual support for our patients, as myself, our chaplain and our social workers aren’t allowed into facilities,” she explained. “During this COVID 19 period, we are very focused on the physical needs and the bodies of our patients — of everyone, really — but that doesn’t mean that our emotional needs and our mental health needs just go away.”
Trysten Garcia, a spokesman for the hospice, said agency-wide, as many as 20 patients are benefiting from Bressan’s melodious treatment.
“There’s a lot of physical and mental benefits,” Garcia explained. “At the end of life, there’s a lot of stress and anxiety that can come on. What Becky does is provide a sense of consistency, taking the patient’s mind off the circumstances so mentally, their state is greatly improved.”
Outside the window, it wasn’t only Bressan’s vocal gifts that captivated Sherry.
“Who’s that out there with you?,” Sherry asked Bressan. “He″s good looking.”
“Him? That’s Trysten,” Bressan replied. “And I’ll let him know you think that.”
A bit sheepishly, a face-masked Garcia approached the window to introduce himself to his admirer.
“Hey Sherry,” Bressan said without missing a beat. “What do you say we do a song for Trysten?”
And with that, the entertaining therapy started anew.
The only possible way it could.
“Hey, hey, good lookin,′ whatcha got cookin’?′ How’s about cookin’ something up with me?”
Pleased as punch, Sherry thanked Bressan as the genteel troubadour moved down to the next window.
“I hear from many hospice patients that the music therapy decreases their pain, that I make them feel more comfortable,” Bressan said. “One patient told me, ‘Music makes me bring up memories I haven’t thought of in years.’
“In everyone, I feel that music just brings a sense of comfort and connection. And that’s important, especially in times like right now when that connection is really lacking.”
And what about any special difficulties that come with singing through a protective facial mask?
“Well, as you can tell, it keeps falling down,” Bressan said with a near laugh. “But I worked in a hospital for my training, so I’m very used to singing through a mask. It’s just that when you have to use the same mask, because we have a shortage, that the elastic stretches out and it slides down.
“It can be annoying at times, but we are here to do whatever we can to keep our patients safe.”