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Music and End of Life

Have you given any thought to the audio environment you want around you during your transition from life to death? While that seems like a morbid question, many of us have Advance Care Directives (ACD) that give explicit instructions for our medical and end-of-life care, so why not include our music preferences in them? For example, would you prefer quiet soulful music, or total quiet? Up-beat show tunes, folk music, torch songs, rock n roll, hip-hop, EDM, Classical? It’s a beautiful consideration, and one you can make at any time of life.


Since death is such a final chapter, I often think that it’s worth some effort on my part to consider the complete picture of my wishes for my own death. Assuming I’m able to make some choices now that could be deployed then and that my death doesn’t come as a surprise, there are definitely some songs that I want to experience during the months, days, or hours of my last shuffle off this mortal coil.


If you are curious about music for end of life, let’s discuss it a bit more fully.


What songs will you choose?

You may be more or less musical than me, but most people enjoy music in some way. I’ve collected a few hundred songs that have some special meaning for me; you probably have done the same. These songs we prefer, whatever their musical genre, are our individual power songs. Our personal all-time Top 40.


I will probably make choices from the songs that have the most meaning for me, and that support me in my own process of dying. For me, that will include a lot of music where I feel an invitation to the sublime, the spiritual, and the timeless.


There are also some personal favorites that make me smile, reduce my physical pain – yes! some studies have found that music can reduce the need for pain meds by 50% or more – or help quiet my worried mind. I’d want to have those songs ready and waiting for a caregiver to play when I need them.


I also happen to enjoy ambient music or sounds recorded in nature; there’s a good chance I’ll have some of those sounds in my end-of-life playlists, as well as actual music from a number of genres. More about this below.


There’s no time like the present to review your own Top 40 and choose the music that would seem most appropriate for close to and during your passing.


How will your caregiver play your music?

For completeness, if you introduce your preference for music (or not) into your ACD, everyone present for and caring for you will have clear instructions about what music to play when you need it most. Alternately, if music is not something you want around you, that’s important to specify, too. In our house, there’s always random music playing audibly on somebody’s mobile device; that may or may not be your final wish, and you get to say so in a way that your caregivers must honor.


If you chose to listen, you could expect to use comfortable over-the-ear headphones (I love the noise-canceling kind) or actual speakers (if that’s practical and permissible in your care surroundings), and a mobile device with a streaming service such as Spotify that gives you or your care team control over the songs you want to hear.


I like Spotify because it allows you to make your playlists “public.” Anyone can access and listen to a public playlist. This is a useful feature since your personal mobile device may or may not be accessible during your final days on Earth, and a member of your care team will need to get to your music!


A word or two about playlists

You might create one of more playlists as you desire – this is a great way to be creative now in support of your eventual care then – and it’s even better if you chose a particular order for the songs in any particular playlist. For example, I like to organize my playlists so that they have a definite beginning, middle, and end, as well as a particular purpose (sadness, joy, invigoration, relaxation, peaceful rest, sounds of nature, ambient, etc).


Specify the playlists in your ACD to help your eventual care team find them and use them without too much effort – you can always change the contents of the playlists as you wish without actually listing every song in your ACD! This can be as detailed or as general as you like, of course, and you may be quite specific about your preferences or leave them up to the caregiving team. It’s all about you!



Music Care Inc is a vital resource for you as you consider your end-of-life music. We do playlist consultations and online shared-screen how-to, as well as offering you new musical ideas to explore if/when you get stuck searching for “the” perfect song. Please reach out – we are here to help.