To relieve distress, pain, or anxiety
with comforting song offered to individuals
who are struggling to live or struggling to die;
to bring ease and peace at life’s thresholds.
Dear Friends of BTS,
We hope you’re keeping cool this summer and enjoying whatever you’re doing. We’re often asked if we take a break for the summer like many choruses do. But illness and death don’t take a break, so neither do we. Of course, many of our members take vacations during the summer, but we have enough singers to continue visiting our regular clients and answering urgent calls to sing for people in their final hours.
We now have 42 members, 27 of whom are trained bedside singers (Sails). Seven of those are Anchors — song leaders at the bedside. We held an Anchor training workshop over two days in April, which several of our Sails participated in. We hope to have new Anchors in the next several months as these Sails complete their training.
In the spring, we offered our Compassionate Singing class to members who wanted to become qualified to sing at the bedside. One participant promptly became a Sail upon finishing the class. We expect others to follow as they feel ready.
The demand for our singing continues to increase as word spreads about our service. During the first six months of this year we made 359 bedside visits, an average of nearly two a day. We also sang for two meditation sessions at the Center for Sacred Change, for people undergoing treament at the Cancer Center, and at two memorial services, a funeral, and a vigil for the students killed by a car in Ferndale.
So far this year, we have made two presentations to classes at WWU and one open to the public at the central Bellingham library as part of their Skillshare program. We also participated in a service at the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship in Mount Vernon. Several members of the newly forming Anacortes Threshold Choir were also in attendance and joined with us in providing song for the Fellowship.
We’re eager to see the Anacortes choir get up and running. We occasionally get calls to go to Skagit County, but we can’t always accommodate them because of our busy schedule here. The wonderful women of the Anacortes choir hope to start providing services this fall.
In keeping with our commitment to provide ongoing training for our members, we sent one of our two volunteer rehearsal coordinators to the international Threshold Choir gathering in California. She came back energized and inspired, with new songs and vocal exercises to teach us. Five of our members attended a grief workshop in February, and several members have taken the new hospice Boundaries training. At least one of our members attended the Palliative Care Summer Institute.
In June, we sponsored a songwriting workshop for BTS members interested in exploring their songwriting talents. Ten of our members attended the session with local singer/songwriter Tracy Spring, who helped us develop ideas for song lyrics.
We had a Leadership Retreat in February for 12 members who hold leadership positions. We spent a very full day at Lairmont Manor drawing our leadership network closer. Sheila Goldsmith led us in improv exercises to free up our creativity.
In March, we hosted a presentation for the public on end-of-life choices. It was presented by a volunteer from Washington Alliance for Health Advancement (WAHA) and included information about how to communicate our wishes concerning health care in the event that we are unable to speak for ourselves. It was very helpful, and WAHA volunteers are available to work further with individuals to help get the paperwork done.
We are planning to follow up the WAHA talk with a presentation for the public on Advanced Medical Interventions, a behind-the-scenes look at what happens when a person is brought to the hospital with a medical emergency. This information helps bring end-of-life choices into clear focus. The presentation, offered by two experienced emergency room nurses, will be on September 9 at Jerns Funeral Chapel. An article about this workshop, written by our Vice President, is posted on our website.
The owner of Jerns continues to be very generous in offering us rehearsal space, as well as storage space for our chairs, music, and lots more. In gratitude, we rebuilt the shelves in the storage room, which had been poorly constructed, and we painted the curbs in their parking lot, which will help keep us safe when we exit the building in the dark of winter.
We continue to hold potlucks, where we eat excellent food, sing, and get to know each other better. At one recent potluck, we tried playing the game My Gift of Grace. Players answer questions about death, dying, and end-of-life issues. It’s surprisingly fun, as well as giving us the opportunity to discuss difficult topics.
Also at one of our potlucks, a friend of the host came in and asked us to sing over the phone for her relative who lay dying in Hawaii. We gathered around the phone and sang two songs for him, and then we sang for our host’s friend too. An unexpected opportunity to share our singing, for which we were very grateful.
Looking forward, we plan to participate in the Skillshare Fair at the end of August. It will be held at Fairhaven Park this year. We will set up a booth where we can sing to anyone who wishes, and we will also offer short workshops like we did last year.
We will take part in the Art of Death event in October, which has been extended to 10 days this year. We’ll be offering a 3-hour intensive workshop on bedside singing on Thursday, October 8, as well as participating in a panel on music at the end of life on Friday. We’ll have an opportunity to sing for people who drop in on Wednesday afternoon, and we’ll have an information table at the main event on Saturday.
The Northwest Regional Gathering of Threshold Choirs will take place in Portland in September, and we’re hoping to have several of our members attend. This year’s gathering will be the first without Kate Munger, the founder of the Threshold Choir movement, who retired last year. We’re eager to see what creative programming will take the place of Kate’s inspiring presence.
We anticipate offering our Compassionate Singing class again in the fall for women interested in becoming trained to sing with us at the bedside. Since it is available only to our members, anyone interested in taking the class should begin attending rehearsals over the summer so she can become a member before the class begins.
Becoming a member of BTS is easy! We ask that you attend 3 rehearsals within a 3-month period and let us sing to you while you relax in our reclining chair. There are no membership dues. You don’t have to be a great singer. In fact, you don’t have to sing at all — we have some members who support our mission in other ways, for which we are very grateful.
Come visit: Guests are always welcome at our rehearsals, which are on the second and fourth Tuesdays of each month, 6:30 to 8:30 pm at Jerns Funeral Chapel at the corner of Sunset and James. It’s okay to just observe, but chances are you’ll want to sing along with us. Call 360-927-4384 for more information or check out our website at BellinghamThresholdSingers.org.
Thank you, as always, for your enduring interest and support.
Bellingham Threshold Singers
PO Box 5303
Bellingham WA 98227