She started her intiative with creating music for COVID-19 patients in 2020 and it developed into a nonprofit helping dying people in critical care.
The COVID-19 pandemic has claimed the lives of millions around the world and altered the way most of us look at life. People lost their loved ones and went through an extreme period of grief at the peak of the pandemic. COVID patients were isolated, alone and devastated as they faced the hopelessness of death without their family and friends around them. Songwriter Emily Cavanagh was heartbroken when she heard these stories of people dying alone. So she decided to play a part in helping these individuals.
She began calling hospitals in lockdown to see if any COVID patients would be interested in having a song written about them, reports PEOPLE. She told the outlet, "I was so sad. I wanted to send a little light. People were dying with no one to hold their hand or be in the room with them or tell them a story or even listen to their story. It just felt like there wasn't much we could do." However, Cavanagh thought, "Maybe I could find a way to tell people's stories through songs," and she started the songwriting initiative in summer 2020 in New York City. She said, "We just saw the power of music. This allows a little bit of peace and a little bit of comfort in such a hard time."
Cavanagh was a social worker when she began her musical career. She used to write and sing songs at night while working for social welfare during the day. She combined these two passions and has been making music for doing something good in the world for the past 10 years.
She wrote songs for COVID patients for about 18 months for free until she received a donation from a man whose wife died in one of the hospices she was writing songs for. This past June, she formally founded the nonprofit A Song For You, nearly two years after she began her initiative. Cavanagh explained that the benefactor wanted her to continue her songwriting for patients "well beyond the pandemic."
"But his only stipulation was it has to be a nonprofit. He said, 'I want you to keep writing for this specific population of people, people who are at the end of their lives who sometimes go forgotten and their stories aren't always told,' " she added.
She now has a team of 50 volunteer musicians—and she's seeking more. Many singers and composers are out on tour and are frequently too busy for the rapid turnaround necessary when producing personalized songs for hospice patients. Patients first wanted to hear someone recreate a favorite song. Cavanagh and her team now only compose original songs about people who are trying to express their stories. She believes that these songs will always keep their memory alive.
Patients' loved ones fill out a questionnaire so the songwriter may learn about the subject and what style of music they appreciate and, more importantly, don't like. Cavanagh or a volunteer then composes an original song and records it as an MP3 file or on video, which is then provided to the individual who inspired the lyrics and music.
A Song For You has delivered around 150 original songs to patients in hospitals or hospices across the country to date. Before the nonprofit was launched, Cavanagh sent around 100 covers to people in critical care. Social workers frequently print out the lyrics and frame them for family members who have suffered the loss of a loved one. One woman who married before she died was able to dance at her wedding to a song Cavanagh wrote about her love story. She said, "It was just a small gift that we could send, and something that they could keep with them long after that person had passed." Cavanagh also wrote a song for a 38-year-old cancer patient whose teenage daughter wanted him to know his legacy will live on in music. She said, "It's just this idea of going on even after someone has left. I'll go on singing your name. If it's a dark time, I'll light the way, and then someday your memory will do that for me.
"This celebrates someone's life and their legacy in a really simple way. But it's able to carry on even when they're not here anymore."