Lullabye time: Singing group comforts others at the end of life

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By Michelle Williams

The end or boundary; the point or level at which something begins or changes — this is the meaning of the word “threshold.” When it pertains to someone’s life, it is often surrounded by sadness suffering, pain and grief, for both the person at the threshold of life and the people who care about that person.

Directed by Carmel resident Deborah Carrithers, a group of Indianapolis singers aim to bring comfort and joy to the bedsides of those at the threshold of life.

The Threshold Singers of Indianapolis are part of a network of choirs around the country, and even extending as far as the United Kingdom and Australia. The choirs are composed of volunteer singers who most often perform in groups of three or four a cappella at the bedsides of hospice patients.

“We do what we call ‘holding space,’ which is a way of creating an environment where people are free to feel whatever they’re feeling with no judgment.” Carrithers said.

Carrithers explained that soothing music may help to lower blood pressure, reduce heart rate and deepen respiration, which can lead to feelings of comfort for patients and those around them. Patients have responded so positively that some hospice facilities have requested the group visit on a regular basis.

The first Threshold Choir was formed in 2000 in California by Kate Munger, the organization’s founder. Munger compiled songbooks containing 450 songs she personally wrote or curated.

“We say that they are spiritual without being religious,” Carrithers said. “They speak to spiritual concerns and fears, but they do not put forth any particular dogma. We try to honor all religious traditions as well as those who do not have churches.”

The Threshold Singers of Indianapolis formed in 2011 when Carrithers was approached by a friend.

“Kate Munger talks about the shiver that goes up your spine when you hear about it,” Carrithers said. “I definitely had that. I had a little bit of experience at the bedside sitting vigil. I just knew that this was something I wanted to do.”

Carrithers was initially a member of the group, and then co-directed with a friend. In November 2013 when her co-director left to serve on her own, Carrithers assumed the position of sole director for the group. She has grown the local choir to 11 active members, with others expressing interest at a growing rate.

Her vision is to grow the group to a point where smaller groups may practice and perform together regionally around Indianapolis. Members practice together twice per month at Central Christian Church downtown, and the group gives up to five monthly performances.

The Indianapolis group currently performs all over the city at locations such as the Abbie Hunt Bryce Home, St. Francis Beech Grove, Carmel Health & Living Community and Seasons Hospice. Seasons Hospice employs a full-time music therapist and keeps another on its national board.

“They really understand how we can help the patients.” Carrithers said.

Sarah Mishler, joined the group over one year ago when she was seeking a way to serve people through music.

“Music is a real connection straight to the heart,” Mishler said. “It’s just a beautiful experience to do it and I hope it’s a beautiful experience to hear it. It’s just really profound.”

Carrithers hopes to grow the Indianapolis chapter so that the group may provide its services to more people at the threshold of their lives. She has witnessed firsthand the way that singing can transform moments of sadness into an experience of comfort and joy — offering an opportunity for friends and family to cherish the last few moments of their loved ones’ lives.

About Deborah Carrithers

  • Favorite pastime – Threshold Singing
  • Favorite local restaurant – Abuelo’s
  • Favorite color – Teal Blue
  • Age – 64
  • Birthplace – Opa Locka, Fla (near Miami)
  • Favorite vacation location – London
  • Names of spouse, kids – Pat, Tess
  • Place of work – Bose, McKinney & Evans LLP
  • Place of worship – Central Christian Church (downtown)
  • What kind of car do you drive – Saturn Vue
  • Most DVR’d TV show – Masterpiece Mystery
  • Favorite quote – Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a great battle.” – Philo of Alexandria
  • Motto to live by – Try to see the things that happen to you in life, both the good and the bad things, as opportunities to practice responding with love.
  • Early morning riser or night owl?  Early morning riser.
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