A Very Special Christmas with “Singing Angels; Healing Angels” at Kaiser Hospital
At the Hospital with Audrey Linden
“What are you doing New Years, New Year’s Eve?” The song brings up that question. But my answer is about what I am doing Christmas Day. I am leading my annual holiday project called, “Singing Angels; Healing Angels” at Kaiser Hospital on the west side with a hearty group of volunteers. I have been doing this project for twenty-five years, and it has become a tradition for me, for my volunteers and for the patients and staff at Kaiser Hospital. I have core groups who have been coming with me and Santa for almost as long as I have been going. It is a joy to lead and leaves us all completely fulfilled.
It all started when I was sitting in the Course of Miracles and pondering what to do for Christmas. My family had deceased and the special holiday “with presents under the tree” was no more. I felt lonely. Since my mother’s passing, and in my family, it was mother who got the tree, decorated it with our help, shopped for gifts and wrapped them. It was mother who prepared the dinner later and she made sure someone who did not have family had a place to go. She opened her heart and her dinner table for one or two more people and made them feel part of our family despite my father’s protestations. He felt she worked too hard, but it gave her immense joy and pleasure to give.
I did go to friends and we exchanged gifts, and ate and ate and stuffed ourselves silly. Then we went for a walk to make room for more food. I usually came home satiated and grateful I had a place to go and share with others. The focus was on the gift exchanges and food. I felt there must be something “more.”
I was in the Course of miracles choir, way back in 1986 when Marianne Williamson asked who wanted to go and sing to children at Children’s Hospital. My hand shot up. I so resonated. The next thing I knew Marianne delegated the entire project to me. Project? It was only an idea at the time. Since I was in choir, I had some singers who volunteered. I had a Santa whom I picked from among the ranks. I got songbooks from the choir director who made a tape. The project was shaping up.
Children’s Hospital re-directed me to Kaiser Hospital on Sunset who re-directed me to their smaller hospital on Cadillac and La Cienega. And, thus began “Singing Angels; Healing Angels” some twenty-five years ago.
People donated, gifts and I had a large group of over 30 volunteers. I began my association with Shaba Barnes, who was then Director of Volunteers. I took an orientation, but nothing could orient me for what was to take pace that sealed in my mind this is how I would continue to spend the holidays.
I had not been in a hospital since my mother had passed in 1972 at Cedars Sinai Hospital. I still had some emotions tied up in that experience that had not been released or healed. The night before I was to go to Kaiser, I had a lot of fear and trepidation. Could I do this? Would I fall apart? Would I re-live my mother’s passing? She had such a difficult transition, and I had not handled it well. I wondered what I had gotten myself into. Well, Marianne Williamson would lead and I could fall behind or even leave. And, I did have the comfort of 29 or so other volunteers.
We went into rooms singing “I Wish You A Merry Christmas” as I led the singers. I could do that. I felt much joy as we sang not only to the patients, but to their visitors, and to the nurses. It was their holiday too. We went into a room in which the man seemed to be struggling to speak. Marianne led a prayer with a healing circle. I was astonished that I saw with new eyes and a new heart. I did not feel fear at all. I felt love and compassion, and I felt a new strength come into me. All bad memories of my mother’s passing faded away. Marianne left and said, “It’s your group now.” And, truly, it was my group and I became a leader. That’s how “Singing Angels; Healing Angels” came about and was born that Christmas Day.
This patient was not dying. He was struggling to express joy. I went back in a couple of days to visit and do some guided imagery healing work and to my surprise, he was alert and actually eating. He had a feeding tube when we sang before. He told me his wife was in a nursing home, and he had been so depressed he had stopped eating. But, he felt the infusion of joy when we sang to him. He said no one had sung to him like that since he was a child. His mother had sung to him, and he remembered her with love. The experience cleared his depression. I did guided imagery and included his wife, Betty in a prayer and invited him to picture her and send love to her. He did. He ended up leaving the hospital within the week. When I last had spoken to him, he had a hamburger! The miracle of love through song and prayer had done its work.
I will not forget Dwyer Leighton either. We had gone into ICU, which is the Intensive Care Unit, and in one bed was an African American boy who looked like a fallen, crumpled bird with his wings crushed. He was hooked up to monitors and had tubes in him including a feeding tube and oxygen. Again, I did not turn away or feel any fear. As we sang he seemed to breathe easier. The “Healing Angels” gathered round his bed as I led in meditation and prayer and his labored breathing relaxed. He was at ease. I saw beyond the tubes and machines and I saw the love and light that was Dwyer Leighton. A poem got channeled through me called “The Love and Light that is Dwyer” which I left for his mother. She framed it by his bedside.
I visited weekly and his mother befriended me called me to help her see Dwyer differently. Dwyer had sickle cell anemia and a seizure left him without oxygen for a critical amount of time. His brain no longer functioned, but he was not “brain dead.” No, I could attest to that. Somehow this boy who did not look me in the eye knew who I was. The respiration therapist told me he knew my voice, and she saw his nostrils flare when I spoke to his as his breathing went from labored to calm when I did guided imagery with him. I felt such peace when I worked with him and knew he was indeed at peace. I usually had my hand on his chest so I could feel his heartbeat.
Ashley was determined he would get up and walk. His doctors did not think he would and wondered at what was keeping him here. A mother’s love was. About a year later, Ashley called to tell me Dwyer had turned twenty-one, and his first act as an adult was to let her go. I had just written a poem with the lines “Butterfly Boy, fly away.” What synchronicity! She told me she could not let go and so Dwyer had. His gift to her on his birthday was to let her go. My poem was on the back of his remembrance program at his funeral. I will never forget Dwyer or Ashley. The lesson I learned was enforced, “Love is Letting Go.”
I did a project every two months and recruited from the Course in Miracles. If we did not have a real holiday to celebrate, I created one as “Maypole Day. I went and did individual work in between. When I took took metaphysical courses at the Beverly Hills Center for Science in Mind, their members joined me. I opened my project up to various Science of Mind and non-denominational churches and volunteers from temples. I had volunteers from O. C. Smith’s City of Angels’ church and Della Reese’ Understanding Principles” or “Up” as she called her church. When I joined Reverend Michael Beckwith’s Agape and sang in Rickey Byars-Beckwith’s choir, a lot of choir members came along. Now, Cornell Christianson and The Agape Road Show sponsors us.
Since starting this project, I was given a scholarship to Gerry Jampolsky’s Center for Attitudinal Healing. I took the training in Tiburon to find out I had been using the principles as outlined in his book, “Love is Letting Go of Fear.”
I have taught workshops in Attitudinal Healing, Forgiveness workshops, and other workshops and seminars at Beverly Hills High, where I had gone to school. I have been an ECaP facilitator, seminar leader and speaker. I added Qi Gong when I took training with Grand Master Foo from China and became certificated in Qi Gong and also am a Level 1 Pranic Healer with Master Stephen Co. Healing is the “gift that keeps giving.” Dr. Eric B. Robins, is a surgeon who took the Pranic Healing workshops and introduced Pranic Healing at his Kaiser Hospital in Panorama City. He co-wrote a book with Master Co called, “Your Hands Can Heal You.” And, we have been doing the work at Kaiser on the west side!
In the beginning, I opened my project to the community with blurbs in the Beverly Hills Courier and in the L. A. Times but there were no takers. Then, a few people started calling to donate gifts. I recruited department stores for fragrance samples and had some from May Co, then Macys, and Niemen Marcus. Gradually, people from the community wanted to actually be a part of my project which showed the consciousness was changing. And, I have had many Jewish people come and sing carols though they don’t celebrate Christmas. Even if Chanukah has passed, we sing the traditional songs to Jewish patients.
There are many stories over the years of such miracles with the patients at Kaiser. Some involved the overall attitude of the staff. When I first brought my group, we encountered some skepticism. “Who is this lady and why is she doing this?” I would go back and do individual work with some of the patients if they or their family had asked. One nurse was superstitious as I prayed with the family. I had to get my volunteer badge with my photo and take the volunteer training at Kaiser.
Gradually, the attitude shifted from total acceptance to welcoming. I got a phone call before one of my holiday trips from a nursing administrator in SKU who requested us to come to her unit. She had heard about us and wanted to be sure her patients got the Christmas caroling and visitation from my group. SKU? I had no idea what that meant. It means “Skilled Nursing Unit,” and it is for the very challenged who appear to be unconscious. I went in first to check it out for my group, and I saw patients sleeping or unconscious and hooked up to various machines and support systems. I was a person who had “hospital phobia.” No more.
As I explained the situation to my volunteers we decided we would sing “Silent Night” very softly and soon my group saw through new eyes also beyond the life support systems. When the heart energy is open, there is a place for the miraculous. One teenager who was with us had been clutching a stuffed animal and had not wanted to part with it. She was holding an older woman’s hand and cooing to her as she placed the stuffed animal on the woman’s bed. The woman’s eyes fluttered open as we sang. The child learned generosity and that love heals.
The SKU ward closed and moved to another Kaiser facility. But, I will not ever forget that phone call and how we were welcomed into SKU. That nursing administrator saw beyond the appearance of her patients and knew they needed to have songs sung to them and to have the healing effect and that they would receive. Their spirits were uplifted.
On one of my visits, we sang to a nurse and gathered around her bed. This young woman had given and given but did not receive. She had collapsed. As we sang to her, she opened up and cried and held the outstretched hands. She “got it” and was able to receive. She was a “caregiver” to the extreme and not a “care receiver” and was burned out. It landed her in the hospital in bed. She opened up to us and made the decision to love herself and to take care of herself so she could go back to being a nurse who has energy to give.
Over the years, we have gone to ICU (Intensive Care Unit), CCU (Critical Care Unit) and NICU (Neo Natal Intensive Care Unit). We usually sing softly and walk by the glass windows so the patients can see and hear. Occasionally, a relative will ask for me and a few volunteers to come inside and sing and ask me to lead in guided imagery and prayer.
I sang and worked with a man who had such an angelic face. He had long grey, white hair and at first, I thought he was a woman. He was an older man, and was a celebrity’s father. I went back to visit him until he was released. In one trip I visited an older gentleman and as it got dark, he said, “I want you to drive home safely.” I got chills. My father’s last words to me on the phone the night before he passed were those exact words. I realized my own father really was saying he loved me. My father had not been sick, and I had driven to Anaheim to be with my nephew. Earlier, I had called to let my nephew speak to my father and told dad I was spending the night. He said it was better to spend the night and cautioned me to drive home safely. His death from a heart attack had been sudden and unexpected. I had felt we had not said we loved each other until this gentleman echoed my dad’s words and I was able to hear the caring and those words of care meant “I love you.”
The nurses join in at their stations and sing with us. We have added “Feliz Navidad” and Chanukah songs also. One Jewish man was so moved, and he felt so much better he joined us in the “Dreidle” song with his son. He said we were doing a “mitzvah.” We had a doctor request a Jewish song and I asked him to lead us, and he did surprisingly well. He sang in Hebrew and told me he was in his temple’s choir. The nurses and patients were delighted by his beautiful voice. He was doing healing on another level. “Physician, heal thyself.”
It was a sign of acceptance when we were requested to do a walk through in ER. We are always very careful in Emergency to stay out of the way of the doctors administering to the patients, but we do walk around and sing softly. One year, I sang to a young woman and her husband who had been the victim of a drive by shooting. She could not understand why the shooting had happened. Her husband was laboring to breathe and was on oxygen. So, we held hands and sang softly until she stopped crying.
As I approach my twenty-fifth year of this project, I know it will be fulfilling and I and my volunteers will be filled full. I have many repeat volunteers and one, Barry Simon of Santa Monica, always brings stuffed animals for the infants in incubators. We sing outside the room and Barry, I, or a nurse puts these happy, funny stuffed animals by the newborns. We also sing to the new mothers and fathers whose babies were born on Christmas Day. We do “Oh Come Let Us Adore Him” and adjust for a girl to “Her.” There is nothing like welcoming a newborn into this world with a song.
Kaiser just hired a new security firm and I have to mention Barbara Blake, the roving security guard who joined me for a few years. She was assigned to escort us, but soon became one of us as she joined in singing. She went up to some of the nurses at the stations, waved her hands like an orchestra leader and led with this huge electric watt smile on her face as she beamed. Her bright energy was so appreciated. Last year, she said, “I am in with you next year.” She was one of us.
Kaiser Hospital has grown from the one small building I affectionately call the “old “ hospital to a big complex with an East tower, a West tower, and the Medical Offices building. It can be overwhelming. I was so happy to have Barbara lead us so I did not have to give one thought to navigating and could simply lead my group.
Over the years, I have had an African American Santa, a Muslim Santa, and a female Santa or two, etc. One Santa was a dude with sunglasses who did rap. Volunteers have been Jewish, Muslim, Chinese, Japanese, and Hispanic, you name it. I probably have even had an atheist or two. I center the group with meditation and guided imagery and we all one. We are love and light as I ask for us to see the beyond the tubes and conditions and to see the love and light in the patients. For this is where the miracles can occur. Healing is not only of the body, it is of the mind and spirit. Sometimes healing is as simple as feeling joy or coming to terms of acceptance. Other healings have been physical.
Thanks to dear Shaba Barnes, who first brought me on board and to Rosemary Wilson, my Director of Volunteer Services who took over when Shaba retired to New Mexico where her dream was to have a Healing Arts Center. Rosemary wears many hats, and is in charge of Volunteer Services, the gift shop, and introduced the Healthy Living Shop to Kaiser. She also is a writer and has written plays that are performed to the patients and staff. She sings and maybe one year, she will join “Singing Angels; Healing Angels.” I have many more wonderful stories and this project will continue to be my tradition and that of my volunteers. You could say it is my passion.
Names of patients have been changed in respect to their privacy.
Audrey Linden December 23, 2011
Hollywood Entertainment Reporter
ECap, Attitudinal Healing, Qi Gong, Pranic Healer