Hospice nurse Casie Williams connects with her patients through song.
Casie Williams doesn’t like to sing her own praises. But she does like to sing.
Williams, a home hospice nurse for IU Health, is known in some corners as the “singing nurse.”
Like the Michigan nurse who recently gained fame on the Internet for singing “You Light Up My Life” to a man in hospice care, Williams finds that music is a great connector with her patients.
“Music speaks to a lot of people in a lot of different ways,” she said. “For those who don’t understand it (like Alzheimer’s patients), it might calm them down. For those who don’t have energy, it might pep them up. I just think it speaks to the heart, the soul and the mind.”
Williams has been singing to her patients for years, but it was one particular patient whose story caught the attention of Williams’ supervisor, Gail Wind, who nominated her for a Care Champion award. (She didn’t win this time, but she was recognized and awarded Colts tickets for her commitment to the IU Promise, Wind said.)
Williams’ first visit with the 67-year-old female patient and her husband occurred in July 2017. Due to the woman’s Alzheimer’s disease, she would sometimes become agitated during the nursing assessment. Turns out, music calmed her.
“It was really kind of an accident,” Williams said. “Her husband always played the radio for her. I was trying to get her blood pressure, and a song came on that I sang at karaoke, so I, of course, start to sing it. She just looked up at me and smiled and just calmed down.”
After that, whenever the nurse would arrive for a visit and find that the woman was having a rough day, she would sing her a song. Sometimes they would walk together, singing, while Williams tried to get her blood pressure.
Eventually, thanks to a more effective medication regimen – and a little music – “her true sweet nature was able to come through,” Williams said.
The same could be said of Williams, who takes pride in being fully present in her visits with patients, caring for them physically and psychologically, according to Wind.
“Music and song can provide that link in our human experience of reaching out, connecting and comforting,” Wind said. “Casie’s expertise in palliative care is illustrated by her willingness to bring her whole self to the patients she cares for.”
Williams studied to be a music teacher but found her true calling in nursing. Now she combines both skills in her work.
“I believe when you have a God-given talent, you’re supposed to share it,” she said, so she sings and helps lead praise and worship at her church, in addition to singing on the job.
In September, the Alzheimer’s patient died, and her husband invited Williams to sing one last time for his wife.
At the woman’s funeral, Williams sang “Amazing Grace (My Chains Are Gone),” as well as a song at the closing benediction when the crowd of mourners joined in.
“It was a very beautiful and peaceful funeral. I was honored that he asked me.”
Williams doesn’t do any of this for personal glory. It’s about the patients, she said. That’s where it starts and ends for her.
“I start out every single day with a prayer that God uses me to shine some light and to bring someone peace. That’s why I do what I do, just to bring some peace and comfort to people. If singing to them does it, that makes me really happy. It’s my joy to be able to do that.”
— Maureen Gilmer, IU Health senior journalist