Living With Dying articles

More with Linda Schneck - Online extras

By Leah Carey
May 24, 2016

Linda Schneck, a music thanatologist from Barton, spent many years believing that her comfort with silence and solitude meant she should withdraw from society.

“I thought this all meant that I was drawn toward a contemplative life. So I thought I would join a monastery,” she said. “I was a contemplative child – I loved to just sit and look out the window and just watch things and be with things. I think I just had that personality.”

At age 40 she realized that she was often with people who were dying, and perhaps that was a clue to her future happiness.

“I actually found myself most comfortable with people who were dying,” Linda said. “Speaking isn’t always what people need you to offer to them. They seem to need more presence of being, your countenance and being with them, and gentle touch. That just suits me.”

Changing views on death

Linda said that she stopped counting long ago, but estimates that she has played music for about 5,000 dying people over the past 20 years. In that time, she has seen some changes in how the medical community treats death.

“It used to be when we started out, we would get called at the last minute. It was hard for physicians,” she said. “Things have come a long way … It used to be people were trying to do everything until the very end. And now we’re understanding, there’s a moment to say okay – let’s live into a good death. A good dying.”

Linda noted that the word “palliative” comes from a Latin root that means “to cover.”

“So I feel like sometimes it’s a blanket of sound covering and holding that person until their loved ones come,” she said. “Often, I continue to play after they’ve died. And it’s so wonderful when I can do that.”

“The music creates a field in the room – it’s a palpable field. People comment on that,” Linda continued. “The music is like a mediator. So we’re in this creative place of beauty. And it doesn’t feel sad. It feels transformational. It feels like this great honor. It feels like a birthing.”

Bring your baggage

In an era when it’s commonplace for people to say “leave your baggage at the door,” Linda takes a different view as she works with her clients.

“It’s not like I come in and I feel like, ‘I’m going to help this person.’ Not at all. I come in and I’m this person with my pain and the things I’m trying to work out … I come in fully as I am, with this person who is fully as they are. And together something happens between us that is more than us,” she said. “You need your baggage! You need all your sorrow, you need your pain. You need it all. But you need to learn how to live with it.”

“Live with it, maybe in a joyful way, even,” she said after a moment. “I’m feeling so bad, so horrible now. How can I make that into the most beautiful melody that I could possibly play? Transforming my pain into a beauty that would serve others.”

Not wanting to go fast

Linda gets as much out of her work as she gives to others. “I feel like it has created my life, made me the person I am. It’s the center of my life, it’s given me all the blessings. It’s been my spiritual offering, my work.”

It makes her think about what she will want at the end of her life, as well. “It makes me more conscious of my own mortality in a very big way.”

“There isn’t a day that I don’t think about dying. And I try to feel ready, that I could go at any moment,” she said. “I think I would want – I wouldn’t want it to be fast.”

Having lost both her father and her brother very suddenly factors into this feeling.

“Many people say, I just want it to be quick, I don’t want to suffer,” Linda said. “Even though it’s harder and there is some suffering to have it a little extended, I think I want to be able to be with people. And I want to be able to say my goodbyes. And I would want music around me.”

“I’m working with mystery and creativity and love, I think,” Linda said. “Sound is love.”

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