Talking about death our own, or those closest to us, is one of the hardest things anyone can do. During Dying Matters week we’re looking at different ways of starting such a conversation.
The Swan Song Project gives people facing end of life and bereavement the opportunity to write and record an original song. They record the song and put it on a cd, they can keep their song private or share it on the project website. Ben tells us more about this moving project.
“I was inspired to start the project when reminiscing about my grandma and how much I would love to have a recording of her singing with us. I then thought it would be even more incredible to have a recording of her singing something she had written herself. I’ve been obsessed with song writing for a long time and have been running song writing projects in different environments for several years now so I thought I could try and offer it to people nearing the end of their lives. It seemed like such a good idea to me, I was surprised to then find out nobody else seems to be doing it. It took me over a year developing it but then I started sessions at Marie Curie hospice in Bradford last May and it has just gone incredibly well.
The sessions are such a pleasure to do and participants and their loved ones have given overwhelming feedback about the benefits. Some write songs for those closest to them expressing things they may not have been able to do face to face, some use it as a chance to reflect on their lives and record their stories, some have said it has helped them come to terms with their condition and it has provided a positive focus in times of distress. Most have a great sense of pride in what they create and several have been played at the writers funerals. The benefits have surpassed my own high expectations for it and I hope they carry on for a long time as the songs live on with loved ones.
The sessions work differently for every person. Some come in knowing exactly what they want to write about and how they want it to sound, some have a vague idea and I help them explore and develop it and some come in with no ideas and just start talking until we find something. It’s a really fascinating process and no two sessions are the same, just as no two songs are the same. People say amazing things and don’t realise it a lot of the time.
Sometimes people say things to me like “I bet everyone says this in their song” and nobody does, even when people are writing about the same thing, say the love of a partner, nobody will say that the way that person does. Everyone has their own way of phrasing things and their own stories that make them unique and it’s a real pleasure for me to explore these and hopefully capture them with people.”
What people have said:
“Thanks again Ben this has been one of the best memories I can recall in a long while and it could only be made possible by your generous time, skill, and patients I will treasure this great gift always”
“Just wanted to thank you for being around at the Marie Curie hospice my son passed away and what was going on in his head is unimaginable. I know he enjoyed writing that song which must have provided some relief for him a break from the discomfort and stress perhaps. So a sincere thank you from myself and his family I hope you can keep up this good work.”
Ben continues “Long term I want to spread The Swan Song Project across the country and for it to be a standard thing that people have the option of writing a song near the end of their lives. Obviously people can write songs at any stage of their lives too and I hope this might inspire more people to do that but the project offers the support for people in one of life’s most difficult stages. The project is also available to those dealing with losing a loved one, I’m actually on my way to a bereavement session today.”
Thank you Ben for talking about this most poignant project. The Swan Song Project has now started working at St Gemma’s Hospice.
The term Swan Song derived from the legend that, while they are mute during the rest of their lives, swans sing beautifully and mournfully just before they die. Although this isn’t actually true, swans can make a variety of noises throughout their lives, the idea has carried on.
You can follow the self-funding project at www.facebook.com/theswansongproject and also hear some of these inspiring songs.
On Twitter @SwanSongProUk
And the official website with the songs on is www.swansongproject.co.uk