On a weekday, Luther-Mayo Hospital’s atrium garden is almost silent, save the occasional rustling of a gowned patient walking the gravel paths between lush tropical plants.
At noon, though, the silence comes to life with a chorus of hushed voices. Ten women carrying tote bags and jackets walk through the atrium to an isolated corner. They sit, pulling binders and papers out of their bags. They chat briefly, voices still hushed. And soon, they sing.
“We sing for usually two hours,” said Peggy Blomenberg. “We sing old songs … We learn new songs together. We decide which is appropriate for us and which isn’t. We laugh a lot.”
As they sing, their voices form clear harmonies that echo through the empty atrium. They have no audience, at least not now. Instead, they are rehearsing for an important audience, often an audience of one.
The women are Threshold Singers in Eau Claire, one of hundreds of similar groups across the country that sing for those at the “thresholds” of life, including those whose lives are at an end.
“Typically, it’s people that are seriously ill,” said singer Ann McKinley. “They may be in their own homes, in a nursing home, and we sing just a few songs for the person.”
They also sing regularly at both hospitals in Eau Claire, Blomenberg said.
Sometimes they sing spiritual songs, and other times they sing songs meant to ease breathing and bring calm.
“Some are very quiet, some are more about breathing and staying in the moment, and some are about letting go,” Blomenberg said.
“One time we had an older gentleman that was dying and his son, who’s an adult, requested Ave Maria, which would be kind of complicated for us to sing,” McKinley said. “Then we kind of hummed the rest (of the song) but they had tears flowing, and I think they really appreciated it.”
Still, they acknowledge, not everyone has such a visible response.
“Some people are sleeping. Some people are in a coma. Sometimes there is no visible outward sign that there is any conscious awareness of us,” Blomenberg said. “We sing anyway. We sing very intentionally to that person. We have no idea where it lands, but we minister to each other in that space.”
Learn more about the Threshold Singers.