Music therapy shares journey through grief



Music therapist Emily Paar visits a patient at the Peggy F. Murphy Community Grief Center. She said the grief center is available to anyone who has experienced a loss.

“How many people are suffering out there in the community who don’t even known that they can go talk to someone for free about their grief?”

Music therapist Emily Paar sees the faces of grief. She welcomes the bereaved. She puts them at ease. Her music becomes their conversation and their healing. No two conversations are the same.

“I think it’s such a brave thing to reach out when they need help, and I would encourage people to reach out,” she said. “So many people struggle. This is something that we don’t talk about enough. It’s something that people don’t understand. People think you should just move on and get over it, and that’s not how grief works.”

Paar will present “Healing Through Music” four Thursday evenings in March at Visiting Nurse’s Peggy F. Murphy Community Grief Center. The four-part series is free to anyone who is experiencing grief.

“I’ve had some people who had just lost their spouses, or had lost someone years ago, but it can be any relationship, be it sister or child or brother,” she said. “It’s a safe space, and it doesn’t have to be something that you come to individually. A couple can come or someone else who might be helping you along your journey.”

She sees the grief center as primarily for adults, complementing the role that Erin’s House for Grieving Children serves in the community. A grief counselor typically will be hand at Paar’s music therapy sessions.

“There is no expectation for anybody to be musical,” Paar said. “Some people think music therapy is only for people who are musicians; I would argue that we are all musicians in our own right.

“As music therapists we are trained to facilitate and support our music experiences with anybody, no matter what they are able to do. So there is just no need for anyone to think ‘I can’t drum’ or ‘I can’t hold a beat,’ because we won’t put anyone on the spot.”

Each session begins with a relaxation, some deep breathing to calm the participants. “They might be coming in after work, or after caring for kids all day, so this is to calm down and get in a space where we can work together,” she said.

The evening will include lyrics analysis and creative arts experiences and perhaps adding to the relaxation experiences. “We definitely fill up those two hours,” Paar said. The music therapy experiences will resonate with each person on their own level. “It’s giving people several different outlets, and tools they can use on their own time. Then songwriting is how we wrapped up our sessions the last time around, by writing a song together, singing it together. It was really beautiful and I was able to record it and share it with everybody so they could take that with them.”

The program will be from 5:30-7:30 p.m. March 2, 9, 16 and 23, at 5920 Homestead Road. Light refreshments will be served. RSVP by Feb. 27 by calling (260) 435-3261. “We will cap it at 25. If there is a big response, though, we will offer it again as soon as possible,” Paar said.

Paar stressed two points about participation. First, the sessions and other classes at the grief center are not limited to those whose loved ones were cared for in Visiting Nurse’s hospice programs. “The grief center is for anyone who has had a loss,” she said. Second, it is important to take part in all four sessions. “They will progress and we’ll work together as a group,” Paar said. Those who attended a previous series bonded and made connections that continue.

Parr, who is from Warsaw, earned her bachelor’s degree in music therapy at IPFW. Beyond music classes, the program requires a study of anatomy, physiology and psychology, she said. “It’s like any other therapy. Music is just our medium, how we get to our goal. Music therapists also pass a state exam and must be recertified every five years,” she said.

She completed a six-month internship at several settings in California and returned to Fort Wayne. She has been with Visiting Nurse for five years, and has been full time for about one year, working with the patients. She continues offering her programs independently. She is now working on her master’s degree through Augsburg College in Minneapolis.

Paar said she first planned a career as a veterinarian. Through a high school experience, she determined that she should find another field. She had experiences in choirs and other forms of music. “I was going to take some general IPFW courses to get going in a degree, and then about a week before classes I found music therapy online and I thought ‘This is interesting,’ ” she said. “I auditioned to get into the program and I never looked back. It was something that I never questioned.

“I feel fortunate to do what I do. I feel very lucky.”