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ON THE SCENE: Helping Hospice with music

January 30, 2014
By NAJ WIKOFF , Lake Placid News

Kathy Kernan of her and her husband Milton Dudley's experience during a Friday, Jan. 24 concert at the Lake Placid Center for the Arts by the Adirondack Harper, Martha Gallagher of Keene and some of her friends.

"Hospice was a big part when Milt's mom was dying, They were fabulous. Unfortunately by the time his mom signed up for hospice she did not last more than a couple weeks, but it was wonderful, it was a wonderful transition. She fought the lung condition and when she was finally able to hear from her oncologist that it was time to stop her treatment hospice just eased that transition into 'How do we do this now? How do we figure what's still helpful and what's not in terms of medication and life events and that sort of thing.' The hospice people were wonderful helping us and her through that. I remember the very first interview she had with them and when they went through the process of asking her a bunch of questions, hard questions, and how freeing that was for her to be able to answer those and feel secure. It was great. It was really good."

Conversations about hospice, death, and dying are hardly what one typically expects when attending a concert, but when it's a concert by Martha Gallagher, one has to expect the unexpected.

Article Photos

From left are Dennis Gallagher, Martha Gallagher, Susan Grimm-Hanley and Brian Melick. (Photo — Naj Wikoff)

Martha is a harpist, which is like saying Michelangelo was a sculptor. She does way more than play the harp, she belts out songs that can set the popcorn to popping, at times she is up on her feet playing and swaying with the harp like it's a violin, while other times out come traditional Celtic songs that transport one to green hills of Ireland on a Sunday morning.

The musicians she put together Friday for her "Where the Heart Is" concert at the LPCA are no slouches either. Sue Grimm-Hanley is practically a one- person band equally talented on the flute, sax and accordion as she is at singing, while percussionist Brian Melick can make any object expressive, and Dennis Gallagher is a gifted composer and performer on the nine-string guitar when not serving as Martha's "stage slave." (his words).

Which is to say with Martha, you just never know. What many learned was this year Martha, who normally tours the United States performing in colleges and concerts halls, decided to stay home and perform in and around the Adirondacks. In addition, while doing so, she decided to promote High Peaks Hospice.

"About 20 years ago, Dennis' great aunt came to die with us," said Martha. "It wasn't something we could do by ourselves. Hospice was suggested, and since we were in the High Peaks Hospice region we contacted them. They came right in and made what might have been a very difficult time become a really wonderful family memory. It wasn't easy, but they made it possible, memorable, and full of a lot of good stuff."

An important component of her hospice concerts is Hope, her harp made up of mismatched wood. She told the audience about taking a tour of a harp-makers shop in Seattle a couple years back.

"We came into this room with these racks and racks of pieces of a harp all labeled and everything. I said, 'What are those Ray?' He said, 'Oh, those are just the orphans,' and continued on. I said, 'Whoa! Come back here! What do you mean orphans?' He said, 'Martha, when we build a harp we build it from a single piece of wood. The wood comes in, we cut it, and when we go to build a harp sometimes we find that there is a defect in one or more pieces of wood and we can't use them. Sometimes it is a structural thing, sometimes it is just a knot is the wood and the way it looks. So then we have these pieces that are still good. We don't throw them out. We hope to match them with something else but we never do so here they sit in the orphanage.' I said, 'Great, build me an orphan harp with these harp-less pieces of wood,' and after getting a lot of badgering emails from me they did."

"Martha came to us with the idea of promoting High Peaks Hospice at her concerts," said Darcie Townsend, director of development for High Peaks Hospice. "She feels very strongly about what hospice does and what we did for her family. I think it is a wonderful way for us to spread the word more because we are going to reach a larger audience, people we might not get to otherwise. It is hard for us to get to people and help them understand what hospice care really is. She does it in such a wonderful way that people not only understand what it is but understand the value of it."

"Hospice is palliative care, but palliative care is more than hospice," continued Townsend. "It is comfort care. If someone has had a serious operation or a serious injury or disease and are going to live, they can have palliative care to take care of their pain and help them be comfortable through that. Hospice is clearly always palliative care because that is what they focus on but anyone can have palliative care if they are having a problem with pain."

"I think of palliative care as positive, life-giving care, and, at the end of life, as a way of living and not dying," said Kathy Kernan, who is a registered nurse. "It is more than death. It is more than end-of-life care. It is a philosophy of care that includes the spirit and the mind. It is holistic. It includes more than just dealing with pain. It is integrative care."

"From a personal perspective, I think hospice is extremely important because, as Martha said tonight, to be in your own home surrounded by the people you love and the things you love is just so important," said Hannah Hanford, director of the Adirondack Health Foundation. "I think whenever possible the staff at the hospital wants to work with hospice because they allow people to be where they want to be and need to be."



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