Arts for Healing Connects Grieving Families and the Hospital Community

Each year, the Evening of Remembrance event at Yale New Haven Children’s Hospital in New Haven, CT creates a nurturing space for families grieving the loss of their child. Families come together to share memories and reconnect with caregivers through a variety of expressive art activities. Participants at the Heartstrings Chorus table were co-creating a song with music therapists, Shannon Kiley and Judy Engel, from the Arts for Healing Program. The song was to be played during the service, just before the infants and children who had passed away in the last year were to be honored by the reading of their names.

Shannon had been collecting the voices and heartbeats of staff members for weeks, creating the foundations of the Heartstrings Chorus recording. From the start of the event families approached the table in a nearly steady stream.

Often through tears, family members took turns sitting in the “recording booth” at the table and speaking into the microphone. Their voices layered one on top of the other in a chorus of loving sentiment. “Love will always connect us.” “El amor siempre nos conectará.” “L’amour nous connectera toujours.” “We love you!”

Simultaneously, Judy assisted other family members to record their heartbeats through a stethoscope. Each heartbeat, stacking one after the other in the computer, creating a dynamic breathing rhythm. The gentle sounds of the piano connected the heartbeats and voices into a cohesive musical piece. Many families had a poignant connection to heartbeat recordings, as they had previously received a legacy recording of their child’s heartbeat during their last days in the hospital.

Later, as we sat in the service and listened to the result of this community soundscape of voices and heartbeats from staff and families, a palpable bond emerged from the grief that had brought us all together that night. “Love will always connect us.”