Lifting seniors' spirits through music

As a child growing up in Jamaica, he felt the power of music. Later, he saw it as a way to provide solace and spiritual healing to others.

“My uncle nicknamed me ‘double ugly’ and it was such a traumatic experience for me as an eight-year-old at the time,” says Donville Colquhoun, Chaplain at Centre de Santé Saint-Thomas, a Covenant Care supportive living facility.

“Music became my emotional secure base, and I used it as a tool for reframing the pain of negative emotions,” he says.

Music is a universal language

Since he started as a chaplain last year at the Bonnie Doon seniors’ residence, Donville, 51, has used his guitar, piano and singing skills as a way to connect with residents.

“Music is a universal language of the soul. It requires no translation. I consider it to be a big part of my presence and I use it as a way to make people feel relaxed and to start a conversation.”

With a guitar in tow, Donville plays songs and spends time with residents one on one and in group settings. He also incorporates music into group spiritual conversations with residents and during interdenominational worship services. Participants have an opportunity to make requests.

“Sometimes they ask me to sing lines from 'Let the Sunshine In,' a popular song back when they were young.

Just by starting a song about smiles and sunshine, Donville says, he and the residents are able to find a common place and a good starting point for a meaningful spiritual conversation.

He also vividly remembers a recent visit with a resident who has dementia. She couldn’t remember his name yet she would sing lines from the gospel song "How Great Thou Art," which he’d sung to her before.

Donville, who is married and has a degree in theology and a master's in counselling, says his goal is to be there for the residents and to try to lift their spirits. “They will thank you for visiting and they value your presence. They are dealing with some of the complex challenges of living at an advanced age.“

Comforting words through song

He adds that residents simply enjoy his company, particularly if they are missing family. “And so I’m just there to listen and to offer some comforting words through songs.”

Donville’s approach to spiritual care at Saint-Thomas has drawn positive reviews from residents, including Thomas Pare, who also happens to be a musician.

Thomas says he and his fellow residents appreciate being able to actively join the sessions. In addition to joining in the singing, Thomas sometimes plays piano while Donville strums the guitar during group singing.

“I try to show up every session because I enjoy playing music with him,” says Thomas.

Families of residents have volunteered to play the piano or join the hymn singing and singalong sessions.

“I’d like to think that compassion is a big part of my presence. And music provides a way for me to establish a deeper connection and to add value to someone’s life,” says Donville.

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