Palliative and Supportive Care

Original Articles

The spiritual meaning of pre-loss music therapy to bereaved caregivers of advanced cancer patients

Lucanne Magilla1 c1

a1 University of Windsor, School of Music, Windsor, Ontario, Canada


Objective: The aim of this study was to learn how music therapy sessions, held prior to the death of a loved one, impact spirituality in surviving caregivers of advanced cancer patients.

Method: The method of naturalistic inquiry was used to investigate the spiritual meaning of pre-loss music therapy sessions. Bereaved caregivers of seven different patients, who had been receiving music therapy through a home-based hospice program, participated in individual open-ended interviews. Interviews were recorded, transcribed, and coded. Themes were organized as they emerged.

Results: As caregivers reflected on their experiences in music therapy, they reported autonomous joy (music therapy affected the caregiver directly) and empathic joy (caregivers' joy was based in remembering seeing the patient happy in music therapy). They also noted feelings of empowerment due to the ways they felt they had contributed in the care of the patients through music therapy. The caregivers were found to engage in processes of reflection that inspired these spiritual themes: reflection on the present (connectedness), reflection on the past (remembrance), and reflection on the future (hope). They referred to the ways that the music therapy sessions helped them find connection with self, others (through bringing their loved ones “back to life” and have a “renewal of self”), and the “beyond”; and that times in music therapy brought them happy memories and sentiments of hope. Meaning through transcendence was found to be the overarching trend in this study, as caregivers were lifted from remorse into heightened sense of meaning and gained “airplane views” of their lives.

Significance of results: Pre-loss music therapy can potentially assist caregivers during times of bereavement, as they retain memories of joy and empowerment, rather than memories of pain and distress, and find meaning through transcendence.

(Received March 18 2008)

(Accepted April 26 2008)


c1 Address correspondence and reprint requests to: Lucanne Magill, 1671 Victoria Avenue, Windsor, ON N8X 1P7, Canada. E-mail: