Laura Luedeke has a beautiful gift she uses to comfort people as they make their way from this world to the next.
A single flight of one talented, generous angel, she sings people to their rest.
“Every life is significant,” she said. “Every life is important, no matter how long it is, and every life needs to be respected and celebrated. I think music is a way to do that. Why do we wait for the funeral to sing beautiful music? We should surround the people we love with beautiful music while they’re still here.”
A retired Appleton Areas School District music teacher and busy vocal coach and performer, Laura volunteers every week at Cherry Meadows Hospice. The facility and its staff hold a special place in her heart because her mother, Betty Luedeke stayed there during her final days.
“She was in a coma and my sisters and I took turns staying with her,” Laura said. “It was my turn and we were in our jammies. We were watching ‘Golden Girls’ and, all of a sudden, she started moving a little bit and then she opened her eyes and she hadn’t opened her eyes in all these days, and I got a nurse and she took a look at her and the nurse said, ‘I think you should be calling your family.’ So I made three quick phone calls because I wanted to sing her on her journey. I put the phone on silent then and started singing and she passed during ‘Just a Closer Walk with Thee’ and then we had that as the processional for her funeral.”
Laura was so grateful to the staff at Cherry Meadows for the care her mother received, and so moved by her own experience with her mother, that she wanted to honor her mother by singing to other patients there.
“I just think music is our birthright, but it is also our death right and everything in between,” she said.”
She began volunteering in early December more than three years ago and, though she said she was very nervous, her first experience told her she was in exactly the right place, offering exactly the right form of comfort at exactly the right time.
“I came into the room and the family was gathered around their mother. I asked if they’d like a little music and they all said they did, so I started singing ‘Silent Night.’ Their mother had not communicated in several months. Had not said a word and, all of a sudden, she started to sing and they all started crying, bawling, and they were just kind of leaving the room because they were so overwhelmed and then someone started videoing because they had to share it with their siblings. They were saying, ‘You’re not going to believe it. Mom, who has not said a word, is singing ‘Silent Night.’
“So, that was my first day.”
Laura keeps a journal of her experiences and it is filled with stories like that, examples of how spiritual music can be and how the blessings it offers flows both ways, from singer to audience and right back again.
She has played in silent rooms and in raucous ones, filled with family and friends grateful for an opportunity to celebrate one last time before their loved one leaves.
And then, as they begin their journey from this life, she sings them on their way.
If you want to enjoy a similarly fulfilling volunteer experience, but don’t sing or play an instrument, Cherry Meadows has just the program for you. It’s called Hopes and Dreams and it allows volunteers to surprise hospice residents with cool experiences and gifts tailored just for them.
In one case, a resident was a big fan of the Walking Dead, so a Hopes and Dreams volunteer found a pair of Walking Dead socks for him. Another resident loves barbershop quartets and Laura, who is also a Hopes and Dreams volunteer, is going to book a group to perform.
For more information about the Hopes and Dreams program, you can contact Cherry Meadows Volunteer Coordinator Jane Shea at (920) 454-6859.
2 thoughts on “An angel sings them to their rest”
Laura’s singing is lovely. What a gift she is giving, providing peacefulness and beauty in someone’s last hours!
A Hopes and Dreams volunteer was very generous with her time and creativity when my sister was dying of ALS, organizing a family party while I was feeling very overwhelmed. That’s a wonderful, and not terribly well-known, program. Thank you for publicizing it.
Laura is a dear friend of mine and I’m not surprised to find out about this work. She is one of the most loving and empathetic people I know, and her voice makes me melt every time I hear it. Thank you, Laura, for this special work!