He plays music to roaring crowds, but his best shows are for a much different audience.

All photos courtesy of Swan Songs. Used with permission.

Freddie Fuller is a country and folk music singer-songwriter who has entertained audiences at venues in and around Austin, Texas. He has recorded two albums, created a one-man show on the history of the Texas cowboy, and even performed for troops overseas. But some of the most profound performances of his life have also been some of the smallest, quietest shows.

Freddie performs personalized, acoustic concerts for people who are dying.

For the last four years, Freddie has worked with a small nonprofit called Swan Songs to bring the gift of music to people facing terminal diagnoses. Freddie and other Swan Songs musicians have played over 500 intimate concerts as a celebration of life for people nearing death, as well as their loved ones.


Why music? The answer is simple for Freddie: "Music is one of the few things that we as humans will allow to touch us in the deepest spots in our hearts."

In the United States, death is usually something that stays out of sight, out of mind.

Our conversations about the end of life are steeped in euphemism, and the actual process of dying seems to happen behind a veil — usually in a hospital or nursing home facility, rarely at home.

But treating death as taboo isn’t a recipe for having a "good death." Informed, nuanced conversations about the end of life can be helpful for both demystifying death and helping families navigate their grief. And a growing chorus led by health care professionals and social workers is calling for change in how we deal with death.

Swan Songs and its musicians are quite literally part of that chorus.

Since 2005, the nonprofit has fielded requests from the loved ones and caretakers of people with terminal illnesses and cultivated a community of local musicians who can help fulfill the recipient’s musical wishes.

When Freddie joined Swan Songs, he had already had the unique experience of playing music for his mother, who had cancer, as she approached the end of her life.

"I remember getting in bed with her in her hospital bed with a guitar, and I started singing to her," Freddie said. Years later, before his father passed away, he did the same thing — this time, with his five children in the room to share the experience.

The sense of hearing, Freddie noted, is usually the last sense to deteriorate at the end of life. So even if the recipient of his performance seems unable to respond or connect, they may still be hearing the music.

A recent Swan Songs experience reaffirmed Freddie’s believe that music has connecting power.

Another Swan Songs musician, Pam, had asked Freddie to perform a particularly special concert — one for her own dying father. When Freddie arrived at the hospital, about an hour outside of Austin, he found that Pam’s father was comatose and close to death. He gathered at his bedside with Pam and her sister and began to play.

"I played for 45 minutes or so," he says. "I played the last song, sang the last note, and hit the last guitar chord, and he took his last breath. We sat there very reverently and drank up the power of that moment."

That moment spoke to the essence of Swan Songs, Freddie says. Surrounded by music and love, his recipient passed on.

Freddie put his guitar back in his case and stepped into another role: that of a comforter and a friend. It was a short, soothing moment in time during a life landmark that is often cloaked in fear and despair.

That’s what Swan Songs is all about: bringing joy, connection, and peace to death, one of the most human experiences of all.

Heroes

On an old episode of "The Oprah Winfrey Show" in July 1992, Oprah put her audience through a social experiment that puts racism in a new light. Despite being nearly two decades old, it's as relevant today as ever.

She split the audience members into two groups based on their eye color. Those with brown eyes were given preferential treatment by getting to cut the line and given refreshments while they waited to be seated. Those with blue eyes were made to put on a green collar and wait in a crowd for two hours.

Staff were instructed to be extra polite to brown-eyed people and to discriminate against blue-eyed people. Her guest for that day's show was diversity expert Jane Elliott, who helped set up the experiment and played along, explaining that brown-eyed people were smarter than blue-eyed people.

Watch the video to see how this experiment plays out.

Oprah's Social Experiment on Her Audience www.youtube.com

Culture
via Cadbury

Cadbury has removed the words from its Dairy Milk chocolate bars in the U.K. to draw attention to a serious issue, senior loneliness.

On September 4, Cadbury released the limited-edition candy bars in supermarkets and for every one sold, the candy giant will donate 30p (37 cents) to Age UK, an organization dedicated to improving the quality of life for the elderly.

Cadbury was prompted to help the organization after it was revealed that 225,000 elderly people in the UK often go an entire week without speaking to another person.

Keep Reading Show less
Well Being

Young people today are facing what seems to be greater exposure to complex issues like mental health, bullying, and youth violence. As a result, teachers are required to be well-versed in far more than school curriculum to ensure students are prepared to face the world inside and outside of the classroom. Acting as more than teachers, but also mentors, counselors, and cheerleaders, they must be equipped with practical and relevant resources to help their students navigate some of the more complicated social issues – though access to such tools isn't always guaranteed.

Take Dr. Jackie Sanderlin, for example, who's worked in the education system for over 25 years, and as a teacher for seven. Entering the profession, she didn't anticipate how much influence a student's home life could affect her classroom, including "students who lived in foster homes" and "lacked parental support."

Dr. Jackie Sanderlin, who's worked in the education system for over 25 years.

Valerie Anglemyer, a middle school teacher with more than 13 years of experience, says it can be difficult to create engaging course work that's applicable to the challenges students face. "I think that sometimes, teachers don't know where to begin. Teachers are always looking for ways to make learning in their classrooms more relevant."

So what resources do teachers turn to in an increasingly fractured world? "Joining a professional learning network that supports and challenges thinking is one of the most impactful things that a teacher can do to support their own learning," Anglemyer says.

Valerie Anglemyer, a middle school teacher with more than 13 years of experience.

A new program for teachers that offers this network along with other resources is the WE Teachers Program, an initiative developed by Walgreens in partnership with ME to WE and Mental Health America. WE Teachers provides tools and resources, at no cost to teachers, looking for guidance around the social issues related to poverty, youth violence, mental health, bullying, and diversity and inclusion. Through online modules and trainings as well as a digital community, these resources help them address the critical issues their students face.

Jessica Mauritzen, a high school Spanish teacher, credits a network of support for providing her with new opportunities to enrich the learning experience for her students. "This past year was a year of awakening for me and through support… I realized that I was able to teach in a way that built up our community, our school, and our students, and supported them to become young leaders," she says.

With the new WE Teachers program, teachers can learn to identify the tough issues affecting their students, secure the tools needed to address them in a supportive manner, and help students become more socially-conscious, compassionate, and engaged citizens.

It's a potentially life-saving experience for students, and in turn, "a great gift for teachers," says Dr. Sanderlin.

"I wish I had the WE Teachers program when I was a teacher because it provides the online training and resources teachers need to begin to grapple with these critical social issues that plague our students every day," she adds.

In addition to the WE Teachers curriculum, the program features a WE Teachers Award to honor educators who go above and beyond in their classrooms. At least 500 teachers will be recognized and each will receive a $500 Walgreens gift card, which is the average amount teachers spend out-of-pocket on supplies annually. Teachers can be nominated or apply themselves. To learn more about the awards and how to nominate an amazing teacher, or sign up for access to the teacher resources available through WE Teachers, visit walgreens.com/metowe.

WE Teachers
True
Walgreens
via KGW-TV / YouTube

One of the major differences between women and men is that women are often judged based on their looks rather than their character or abilities.

"Men as well as women tend to establish the worth of individual women primarily by the way their body looks, research shows. We do not do this when we evaluate men," Naomi Ellemers Ph.D. wrote in Psychology Today.

Dr. Ellers believes that this tendency to judge a woman solely on her looks causes them to be seen as an object rather than a person.

Keep Reading Show less
Culture