The last sound some residents of the Levine & Dickson Hospice House may ever hear is the soothing harp of Tinky Timmons.
“I feel honored to be with someone as they're taking their last breaths,” said Timmons, who plays at the Huntersville facility on Thursday mornings. “I'm trying to create a space for them to lift up.”
Timmons, 61, also plays on Wednesdays at the Carolinas Medical Center's emergency room waiting area. She's been volunteering at both locations for about three weeks as part of her training to become certified through the California-based International Harp Therapy Program. Unlike music therapy, which uses music as a therapeutic tool to help address certain behaviors, “therapeutic harpists” play to help patients in the moment.
She moved to Charlotte 10 years ago from Concord after her children and godchildren, whom she also raised, grew up and moved out. Timmons calls harp therapy her “new path in life.”
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“I'm healing and taking everybody with me,” she said. “You go through stages of your life, and this is my journey to being single with my kids gone.”
She discovered the International Harp Therapy Program while at a healing art conference in Boone two years ago. Though she had only learned to play the harp a few years ago so she could perform at her daughter's wedding, she felt inspired to start again.
“The harp found me,” she said.
Timmons became intrigued by the end-of-life process after a close friend died several years ago.
“Her death was a gift of living for me,” she said. “When you go through someone else's mortal time, you look at your own life and learn to live more authentically.”
Timmons is also a facilitator of touch drawing, a healing form of art that involves painting with one's fingertips. She has worked with abused women and children as well as cancer patients.
At Levine & Dickson, she plays improvisational pieces and spiritual music in ancient musical modes, or sound pitches.
Levine & Dickson staff members also enjoy her music, said volunteer coordinator Misty Molloy. Because many hospice patients at the center are in crisis, the atmosphere can be stressful.
“Her music makes (the staff) more calm as they're providing end of life care,” Molloy said. “We have a lot of volunteers, but Tinky brings something different to the table.”
Timmons' musical selection is different for the emergency room. Because patients vary in age and condition at the hospital, she plays from a selection of 33 songs in 11 more popular genres to appeal to different musical tastes.
“I deal with kids to elderly people (at the hospital),” she said. “I've had to adapt and use all my skills.”
Timmons' focus is end-of-life harp therapy. Right now she plays in the Levine & Dickson hallways, but later this year she'll receive a therapeutic harp practitioner certification and play in hospice patients' rooms as they die.
“I'll play differently for each individual patient,” she said. “I'll listen to their breathing patterns, talking and machines in their room. I'll take those tones and with my harp I can bring some healing.”