Lauralee's Song

Lauralee's Song: 'My Bonnie Lies Over the Ocean'

When I arrived in Lauralee's room, she was resting. It was anything but quiet. Her breathing was deep and laboured. Her every gasp was a gasp for life. Lauralee was battling breast cancer. The pain in her body was gradually taking her over.

Although our encounter had been brief, Lauralee touched my soul and I believe that music had touched hers. The nursing staff had informed me that she "mostly slept", yet I thought I would stop by her room anyway. In one afternoon, I looked into her room 3 times only to discover that she was sound asleep. At the end of the afternoon, I was leaving the unit and a middle-aged woman emerged from Lauralee's room, approached me and said, "Lauralee heard you singing (in the other rooms) and she wants you to come visit her. Can you come now?" Before I could even consider a response, something in me burst forth a "yes" and we were on our way.

When I arrived alongside her bed, I reached for her hand. It was pale limp and seemingly lifeless. We made eye contact and I greeted her: "Hello Lauralee. My name is Maureen. Would you like to listen to some music?" Through a deep and heavy sigh, she mouthed a "yes". I asked her what kind of music she liked and she replied, "gospel". Her friend suggested some religious tunes as the two of them belonged to a local church community and shared a deep faith. I pulled out my guitar, sat at the foot of the bed and sang a few verses of "Amazing Grace". Her friend, Sarah, joined in.

Following the last strum, Sarah commented that Lauralee was from England and "perhaps she would enjoy some tunes like ! "My Bonnie Lies Over the Ocean." Sarah began to sing the refrain. A few words into the song, Lauralee burst out "That's not the way it goes!". Before Sarah or I could respond, Lauralee began to sing. I began to softly accompany her on my guitar. With some pauses separating the phrases and the odd lyric interspersed with a deep, prolonged breath Lauralee was able in her own time to sing an entire verse and refrain of the song "My Bonnie Lies Over the Ocean". Sarah and I applauded her efforts and musical interpretation of the song!

Following a few other tunes by Sarah and me, I packed up my guitar and said goodbye. I asked Lauralee if it would be okay if I came back to visit again and to share some music. She slowly turned her head towards mine and whispered, "The music takes away the pain in my chest." I asked her permission to put in a CD of soft instrumental music before I left and then I was on my way, retracing the steps towards the nursing station I had begun a half hour earlier. I mentioned to the first nurse I saw Lauralee had sung an entire verse and refrain of "My Bonnie Lies Over the Ocean". She looked at me in disbelief, unable to comprehend my story, and so I repeated what I'd said, trying to convince myself in the process that what I had just witnessed had in fact taken place.

In the following visits we had together, Lauralee regressed significantly. When I went to visit her on 3 subsequent days, she was in a deep sleep. Only once did she rouse long enough to engage in some conversation and to comment on the music. The fourth time I stopped by her room, she was gone, gone from her bed and gone from this life.

Maureen Miller

Maureen Miller is a Music Specialist on a palliative care team in Red Deer, Alberta, Canada. This is one of many entries in her collection: Songs of September - Memorable Music Moments in the Palliative Care Unit