Monday, August 9th, 2010
By Margie Wuebker
Music, memories, smiles
Therapist uses guitar, violin to help local patients
ST. HENRY - Music fills the courtyard at The Gardens of St. Henry as former Cassella resident Rita Flaute and members of her family sing golden oldies such as "You Are My Sunshine" and "Let Me Call You Sweetheart."
Music therapist Brittany Hartwig provides the accompaniment, first with a guitar and then a fiddle.
Flaute is dealing with lingering effects of a debilitating stroke. She requests a lively rendition of "Tennessee Waltz." The familiar lyrics prompt memories of earlier days when she and her husband, the late Ray Flaute, danced across the Maria Stein American Legion floor at weddings and other social events.
Hartwig finishes the song and asks Flaute "Was Ray a good dancer?" A smile tugs at the corner of her mouth and she nods yes.
"I taught him," the mother of 10 replied as a flicker of merriment glistened in her eyes. "He didn't even step on my toes."
The couple met at Lindhaus Park near Fort Loramie and dated for five years. They marked their 60th wedding anniversary in July 2009 - a month before her heart attack, subsequent open heart surgery and the stroke that robbed her of so many things, including the ability to dance and play the piano. She lost her husband before the year drew to a close.
"Music brings forth memories for the patient as well as family members," Hartwig said. "You know a good song says a lot."
Daughters Teresa Gerlach and Ann Hemmelgarn, as well as granddaughters Rita Gerlach, Kim Prenger and Janel Hemmelgarn, take turns picking tunes from a list provided by Hartwig. Many of their selections are hymns 82-year-old Flaute used to sing at Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary Church in Cassella.
"My Favorite Things" prompts memories of the time she used to spend in the kitchen baking pies, cakes and cookies, frying chicken and making homemade noodles. The granddaughters remember spending time at her house during summer vacation, embarking on family campouts and sitting around a campfire singing.
The session draws to a close with Hartwig, a 25-year-old New Bremen resident, promising to bring a CD containing Flaute's favorite songs to play between therapy sessions. She has a special request to be included - "The Chicken Dance." Although her dancing days are over, she can still tap her left foot to the infectious beat.
"I am happy you came," the white-haired woman said in a voice no louder than a whisper. "Come back if you have time."
Music therapy is an established health care profession that uses music to address the effect of physical, emotional, cognitive and social needs of patients in a wide range of ages. It focuses on promoting wellness, managing stress, alleviating pain, expressing feelings, enhancing memory and improving communication.
"Music goes to the emotional part of the brain," she said. "Familiar songs take patients back to happier times in life or brings them back to reality as in the case of those with dementia."
Her decision to pursue a career as a music therapist came prior to her 2003 graduation from New Bremen High School. The talented musician and vocalist went on to earn a music therapy degree from Eastern Michigan University in 2008 and neurologic music therapy certification the following year. She formerly worked with developmentally disabled youths and those with behavior problems before returning to the area late last year.
Hartwig especially enjoys working with older adults and dealing with the related matter of grief counseling. Since joining hospice in January, her patients have ranged in age from 46 to 104.
"I enjoy helping patients enhance their life review and find beauty in the dying process," she said. "Families often ask me to play at their funerals. I find satisfaction in helping them through a very difficult time. I am merely the instrument; the music provides comfort."
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