Dedicated singers ease the journey home

NOTE: This story ran in the Catholic Free Press on October 21, 2016 in their Bereavement supplement.

Each Wednesday afternoon, eighteen men and women gather at the Congregational Church in Westborough to rehearse songs for performance. They have come from various churches, Catholic and Protestant, in Westborough, Northborough and Marlborough. Some come from the Westborough Community Chorus and the Assabet Valley Master Singers. The performances for which they rehearse are however, not meant for entertainment.

(L to R) Jim Nolan, Mary Beland and John McCann are members of the Journey Home Singers and all are members of the St. Luke the Evangelist choir in Westborough, MA. Beland invited both men to join the Journey Home Singers.

The Journey Home Singers sing in homes, hospitals and nursing homes to hospice patients. “Our intention is to bring comfort, beauty, caring and compassion with our singing to anyone who wants us to visit,” said Kathy Todd, director of the Journey Home Singers.

Todd started the group in June of 2009 after attending a singing workshop in the Berkshires. During that gathering, flyers were distributed for a workshop involving hospice singing. Todd was immediately intrigued, inspired by her own personal experience with caring for a dying sister.

“We started [the Journey Home Singers] in June of 2009, which was about six months after my oldest sister died,” recalls Todd. “My sister Martha had been ill with COPD for several years, and had just entered hospice care at her home in August 2008. On August 19 she fell and broke her hip and was taken to ICU at St. Vincent’s in Worcester. About a month later, doctors determined there was nothing more they could do for her, other than having her live attached to a ventilator. My youngest sister and I kept a vigil with her that night after she decided not to go with a ventilator. Time spent by her bedside was the first catalyst that led me to realize a vision that became the hospice choir.”

The workshop was run by Hallowell from Brattleboro, VT. Their mission is to offer support to the dying by bringing comfort, calm and beauty. After attending, Todd felt compelled to start a group. “I thought about it for a long time, I had no experience as a director,” she said. She decided to call her choir the Journey Home Singers, inspired by a song she heard at the workshop, “Angels Hovering Round”: “We’re on our journey home…”

Todd began her search for members, beginning with her choir at the Congregational Church in Westborough. She expanded that search to other church choirs and community choruses. Mary Beland, member of the St. Luke the Evangelist Choir in Westborough, was one of the first to join.

“I received notice from Betsy Sowers (a friend of Todd) that the Journey Home Singers was just being conceived and Kathy was searching around for singers to join,” said Beland who is also a member of the Assabet Valley Master Singers. Recently she invited fellow church choir members Jim Nolan and John McCann to join.

Once assembled, Todde sought to publicize the group. “I work for the Community Advocate (out of Northborough) and they were very supportive,” she said. The newspaper did a story on the Journey Home Singers in 2010 and granted Todd time off as needed to do the performances.

Because they seek to personalize their song selections for each patient, The Journey Home Singers offer a wide repertoire of songs taken from both Christian and Jewish traditions. Soon after the article ran, Todd connected with Mary Poole, once the hospice chaplain at Beaumont Nursing Home in Westborough who assisted Todd in in this effort by supplying the patient’s first name and last initial, faith tradition and condition (responsive/unresponsive).

Beland’s motivation for joining the group was similar to Todd’s. “I was already comfortable with the idea because I sat with my sister while she was dying. She and I shared the same love for music.” She knows that as a ministry, one may not always get feedback from a patient. “If you want applause, you might not get it,” she said.

Nolan feels it is a way to continue to have music in his life while helping others. He too understands that responses will vary although he has noted a “flutter of an eye, a tear, a raised hand” from those to whom he has sung.

McCann was motivated to join because of a rather involved experience he had years ago traveling to Guatemala with his then teenaged son only to return and discover that his brother had unexpectedly passed away. He recalled a moment when he was alone during the trip, surrounded by the wind, noting the quiet and sensing that something was happening.

“In Lo De Bran in the early afternoon, I was sitting alone by a well, on a wall. No one was near me. I was surrounded by a gentle soft warm wind which engulfed me. I felt a little different, but did not think much of it, other than it was very hot … I … felt a very quiet peace.”

When he learned when his brother had been stricken, he realized it had happened while he was sitting by that well. “The Good Lord kept Jim in our presence for three more days, allowing my son Aidan and me to return safely from Guatemala and to be with him. I could never explain how even in the horrors of Jim’s death that God can be so good so as to allow Aidan and me such special moments with Jim just before he died.” It was this experience that prompted McCann to minister to other such people through the Journey Home Singers.

Stories abound of experiences with patients. Todd recalls a man who kept a hymnal near his bedside but was unable to hold the book open due to his condition. “He was a singer – after one song, he joined in even though he really couldn’t hold the book. It made him so happy,” she said.

One experience involved a little girl. “We went into Boston Children’s Hospital to sing for a seven-year-old girl — one of our toughest. She was not conscious and had seizures three to four times a day. The whole family was there, so upbeat. They put their arms around her and sang to her – they would sing along with us,” recalls Beland.

The Journey Home Singers thus fulfills a much needed mission. “If can we talk about dying and be aware of our own death, we can become more comfortable with it and use the time have now in a much more effective, more beautiful way. We’ll live well,” says Todd.

If you are interested in joining The Journey Home Singers, you can contact Kathy Todd at or call 508-335-1043.




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Susan’s latest CD, “Mater Dei” is now available!
Purchase here.

Many people find coloring to be a wonderful way to relax and experience harmony in their lives. Is that you? Join my Email List to subscribe to this blog and receive your free Harmony coloring book (and more).

River of Grace Audio book with soundtrack music available now on Bandcamp. Listen to the preface of the book, and all the songs.

Susan Bailey, Author, Speaker, Musician on Facebook and Twitter
Read my other blog, Louisa May Alcott is My Passion




Groundhog Day – reliving the same challenge again and again

Groundhog Day Chris Piascik, Flickr Creative Commons

I never could sit through “Groundhog Day” starring Bill Murray. Relive the same day over and over? No thank you. And yet, I can’t get away from my own Groundhog Day – the weakness in my life that haunts me, again and again.

What’s yours?

How many of us have those physical “weak spots” in our bodies that constantly succumb? The sore throat that signals a cold. The leg once broken, now chronically stiff. The back that aches simply by standing in place too long.

Spiritual weak spots

st. nicholas ted, Flickr Creative Commons
st. nicholas ted, Flickr Creative Commons

There are spiritual “weak spots” too, brought back to life again and again by circumstance. Mine is managing money – we always seem to be short. The same financial problems repeat themselves endlessly. Right now we’re going through a season of endless hits – dental bills, medical bills, car repairs. I climb two steps up the slippery slope only to slide back down another ten. It is death by a thousand cuts, wearing me down, making me tired and discouraged. Frankly it’s boring, eating away at any desire to approach God and ask again for the grace to continue in the battle.

St. Nicholas, patron saint of finances, must be sick of hearing from me.

The scars of repetition

It’s not like I don’t know why these things happen. We are poor money managers because making lots of it has never been a priority. We accept that. Decisions were made to favor other aspects of our lives rather than money. But the security of having enough would be nice!

Once upon a time my husband and I were polar opposites – he, the spender; me, the penny-pincher. The last major financial challenge forced us to meet in the middle and come together as partners. Learning to work as a team surely helps and I am grateful for that lesson learned, but it didn’t come without scars. Scars of shame at my own stupidity. Scars of loss when we’ve fallen short of meeting our obligations. Scars from feeling the need to keep our money problems a secret. Those scars make it hard to trust; I am stuck.

Injured Piggy Bank With Crutches Ken Teegardin, Flickr Creative Commons
Injured Piggy Bank With Crutches Ken Teegardin, Flickr Creative Commons

These periodic problems with money only fuel the desire to penny pinch and that’s the deepest wound of them all. I am small-hearted when it comes to giving money because I just don’t trust that God will provide what we need. I can trust the Lord in so many areas of my life but when it comes to finances, the well runs dry.

I am guessing this is why the cycle repeats itself — God still has something to teach me. Along with the lesson of learning to work in tandem with my husband, I have also learned not to ask God for money to “fall from the sky.” Instead I ask for fortitude, wisdom and patience. I’m guessing I also need to ask just as diligently for healing. And I’m learning to ask others to pray for me.

paul writing--featuredAs St. Paul was not freed from his “thorn in the flesh” after petitioning the Lord, I doubt I will be freed from mine of the spirit. But I can take a lesson from this favored saint who accompanies me on my marathon journey to God each day: accept it and rejoice in it. To paraphrase 2 Corinthians 12:10, when I am weak, I am strong. Because I depend on God’s grace, not my own strength, to get through each challenge no matter how often it repeats. God’s strength never fails.

It could be Groundhog Day every day but God’s grace will prevail. He will test me, prune me, yank up the weeds, teach me. And I will grow stronger through him and closer to him.

Originally published in The Catholic Free Press, October 14. 2016
copyright 2016 Susan W. Bailey




Click to Tweet & ShareGroundhog Day – reliving the same challenge again and again

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Susan’s latest CD, “Mater Dei” is now available! Purchase here.
Join her at St. Luke the Evangelist in Westborough, MA on Monday, October 17 from 8 to 9 for a Marian concert to benefit Haiti. Free admission, free will offering to be taken up. Songs from “Mater Dei” will be featured.

Many people find coloring to be a wonderful way to relax and experience harmony in their lives. Is that you? Join my Email List to subscribe to this blog and receive your free Harmony coloring book (and more).

River of Grace Audio book with soundtrack music available now on Bandcamp. Listen to the preface of the book, and all the songs.

Susan Bailey, Author, Speaker, Musician on Facebook and Twitter
Read my other blog, Louisa May Alcott is My Passion




Little things mean a lot to Mary — offering music for Our Lady

In honor of the birthday of Mary, the Mother of God, here is my September column for The Catholic Free Press. I have an exciting announcement at the end of the post.

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madonna-and-childRecently while driving to work I listened to a song about Our Lady of Gaudalupe, I felt a surge of emotion and recognized a feeling I had not experienced in a very long time – Mary’s special touch of peace. I felt elated quickly followed by regret that I had been so negligent in my devotion to our Blessed Mother. It’s so easy to rattle off a “Hail Mary” without a thought! Continue reading “Little things mean a lot to Mary — offering music for Our Lady”

Introducing The Catholic Mom’s Prayer Companion A Book of Daily Reflections

I am excited about a new daily devotional coming out from Ave Maria Press called The Catholic Mom’s Prayer Companion A Book of Daily Reflections, edited by Lisa M. Hendey and Sarah A. Reinhard. I was asked to contribute 4 devotions to this wonderful book and am honored to be included in this distinguished group of over 80 leading Catholic authors.

I just got my advance copies and I can now share with you one of my reflections:

inside book-640

Continue reading “Introducing The Catholic Mom’s Prayer Companion A Book of Daily Reflections”

A little grace from a BIG God

old poolRecently I lost something I truly loved.

It was a minuscule loss when compared with the suffering of so many around me and across the world. Embarrassed at how much it upset me, I turned to God in prayer and asked for detachment. The prayer was swiftly answered in a way only God could imagine.

So what did I lose? Continue reading “A little grace from a BIG God”

Another great discovery right under my nose!

Remember when I posted about discovering a little piece of heaven across the street from my house? After living there for twelve years?

Looks like I’ve found another treasure in my town. Continue reading “Another great discovery right under my nose!”

Nice, Baton Rouge, Dallas, Orlando, and your own life: When you can’t find the words during desperate times

There is no doubt that we are in the midst of a violent storm, in the world around us, and in our own private spheres.

We wake up to another terrorist attack or senseless shooting. We face a crisis of trust in our leaders.

Our faith is under siege. Believers face ridicule and rejection, and for some, martyrdom.

Sickness and death surround us. We witness children in poverty dying of starvation around the world. We encounter suffering, death and grief among our own families and friends.

In the midst of these storms,
do you find it difficult to pray?

Continue reading “Nice, Baton Rouge, Dallas, Orlando, and your own life: When you can’t find the words during desperate times”

What makes you think of spiritual things? Here’s an exercise to help you identify them.

flow lesson logo-640
Materials needed: pen or pencil and paper, and your memories

Pick a quiet place in your home to do this exercise and make sure you can sit still comfortably for several minutes.

Be still

Take a moment to be still with God, taking several long and deep breaths and listening as you breathe. In and out, in and out. Be conscious of the rhythm of the breathing. As you breathe in, whisper the name of Jesus; as you breathe out whisper, “Be with me.” Do this for several moments until you feel quiet and still. Continue reading “What makes you think of spiritual things? Here’s an exercise to help you identify them.”

Reaching my weight loss goal through the toolbox of Grace

My latest Catholic Free Press column (June 17, 2016)

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Grace is invisible.

We feel its power pushing us forward, carrying us as does a river’s current. It takes us many places both serene and chaotic. It molds and shapes us. Yet there’s nothing concrete to grasp onto. We cannot dip our hands into its waters nor physically feel that current.

Or can we?

Continue reading “Reaching my weight loss goal through the toolbox of Grace”

How can I release regrets in my life? Try this spiritual exercise.

NOTE: I have a bunch of these spiritual exercises in River of Grace called Flow Lessons and I thought I would share them with you. Give it a try and see what happens!

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flow lesson logo-640

Materials needed: pen or pencil and paper; a large sink or bathtub; a small, empty Tupperware; various small objects that will not be harmed should they get wet

Note: If you belong to a faith tradition that practices the sacraments (such as the Roman Catholic, Lutheran, Episcopal or Orthodox faiths), making use of the Sacrament of  Reconciliation/Confession/Absolution is the best place to start when dealing with regrets. The kind counsel of the priest coupled with the reception of sanctifying grace provides true spiritual healing. The value of this exercise is for any leftover regrets you were unable to release after reception of the sacrament.

Be still

This may be a difficult exercise so you will want to take some extra time to be in the presence of God. Use previous practices such as slow breathing, birds flying away from a tree or placing objects in a bag to clear your mind of cares and anxieties. Continue reading “How can I release regrets in my life? Try this spiritual exercise.”