Home Music Therapy inspires 94-year-old hospice patient to tap dance again

Music Therapy inspires 94-year-old hospice patient to tap dance again

Cedar Valley Hospice marks National Hospice & Palliative Care month

November is National Hospice & Palliative Care month - a time when we draw attention and awareness to a very special kind of care. This year’s theme follows the National Hospice & Palliative Care Organization’s (NHPCO) campaign, My Hospice, which aims to demonstrate what hospice means to each unique individual and family it serves.

For Doreen Stirm of Independence, it means “joy,” because of her experience with Cedar Valley Hospice.

With the flick of her heel and the sounds of 30s and 40s music in her ears, Doreen was dancing again.

The smile on her face meant she was instantly transported back to when she was a little girl, putting on her tap shoes and letting the music move her body. Although this time she wasn’t upright, the feeling inspired giggles as her daughter’s eyes brimmed with love.

“It was a wonderful gift from Cedar Valley Hospice,” said daughter and part-time caretaker Angie Reuter. “She has always loved to dance.”

To help 94-year-old Doreen re-live “the magic,” Cedar Valley Hospice Music Therapist Rachel Johnson came up with the perfect plan. She took some taps she had at her home from her own daughter’s dance classes, took out the stitching and then glued the taps onto Doreen’s favorite pair of blue slippers. Of course, the living room stage wouldn’t be complete without Doreen’s old tap board she had saved from all those years ago.

“It was like Christmas morning,” said Rachel. “Her eyes lit up. I don’t think she ever thought she would be able to do that again. She was so happy.”

Doreen was practically born into a passion for music. Her grandfather was a singer in Washington D.C., where she grew up, and her mother, Anne, played the piano...daily.

“Every morning, I would wake up to the sound of Country Gardens,” she said. “And we would sing together all the time.”

It was only natural that she join a dance class. She studied tap and point ballet through high school. In the evenings, her mother used to take her to the theatre where they always sat in the first or second row to see the “guys play in the band.” Saturday nights were Lawrence Welk nights. “Of course, I knew all the songs for that too,” she said grinning.

It wasn’t long before she would begin a whole new adventure and move to Iowa with her husband, Ralph, who just got out of the service.  

“Here I was a city girl and he was a farmer,” she said. “Boy did I have a lot to learn.”

Before she knew it, she was helping to raise 200 chickens, bail hay, and, of course, feed Ralph and his crew of nearby farmers who helped Ralph take care of his 240 acres of soybeans and corn.

“I couldn’t even cook, but thanks to Ralph’s mother, I learned how,” she added. However, she remembers fondly the first time she cooked on her own.

“I had cooked a smaller meal because it was lunch time, and I didn’t have a dessert,” she chuckled. “Ralph looked at me and said, ‘Is this all we’re getting?’ I learned quickly how to make pies... Cherry became Ralph’s favorite.”

Together they were the perfect team. They raised three children and farmed their land for 50 years before moving to Independence in 1998. During that time, Doreen became very involved in church, and, of course, played the organ there for 36 years.

Today, as she sits in her recliner, her piano is only 5 feet away, still with sheet music on its stand. Unfortunately, she can no longer play it. She has macular degeneration causing her to barely be able to see, and her body is slowly declining.

“You’d think after all those years of playing, I would have memorized at least one song, so I could play it,” she smiles shaking her head.

That’s why helping her dream or “bucket list” goal become a reality was so important, said Rachel, Cedar Valley Hospice Music Therapist.

“She is such an active participant in our music therapy,” added Rachel. “For music therapy, the most important thing is to meet patient goals. Her goal was to be able to tap again. When I brought her the slippers, it was such a joyful moment for her...I think for a little bit she forgot she was 90 and dealing with her health.”

Angie and her family are so grateful for all Cedar Valley Hospice has done for their mother. “They enable us to be able to care for her better,” said Angie. “Plus, she loves their company. It’s the million little things that they do which make all the difference.”

Although Doreen is receiving hospice care in her home, she is still enjoying life the only way she knows how – by creating new experiences. In her lifetime, she’s been a singer, an organist, a painter, a poet, a farmer’s wife, a mother, and now, a great-grandmother who tap dances.

“As I look back, I have a lot to be thankful for. I never knew I had this long,” Doreen said. She plans to make the most of it with Cedar Valley Hospice by her side. Her next goal? She has been inspired to put together a recital like she did when she was young – tapping and singing to some of her favorite tunes.

Doreen’s constant smiles continue to radiate her positivity. “Sometimes life isn’t easy, but it can be cheerful if you make it,” she added. “Every time I see the sun shine, I’m so happy for that.”

Meanwhile, Doreen’s Cedar Valley Hospice team anxiously awaits her upcoming recital.

“This has helped her quality of life tremendously,” said Rachel. “I’m so grateful to not only have met her, but to be a part of this journey with her.”

To see Doreen tap dance, visit our Facebook page. For more information about how Cedar Valley Hospice can help your loved ones, call 800.626.2360 or visit cvhospice.org.