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01.09.2009 | Original Article | Ausgabe 9/2009

Supportive Care in Cancer 9/2009

Resounding attachment: cancer inpatients’ song lyrics for their children in music therapy

Supportive Care in Cancer > Ausgabe 9/2009
Clare O’Callaghan, Emma O’Brien, Lucanne Magill, Elizabeth Ballinger


Goals of work

Scant attention focuses on supporting parent–child communication during the parents’ cancer hospitalizations. Parents may struggle to remain emotionally available. Caregiver absences may threaten secure attachment relationships with infants and elicit problems amongst older children. Music therapists help many parents with cancer to compose songs for their children. Their lyric analysis may provide insight into song writing’s communicative and therapeutic potential.

Materials and methods

Two song lyric groups were comparatively analyzed (based on grounded theory). One group included 19 songs written by 12 patients with the first author. Another included 16 songs written by 15 patients with three music therapists (including two authors), which were previously published or recorded for the public. Songs were composed by 20 mothers and seven fathers for at least 46 offspring. All parents had hematological or metastatic diseases. Qualitative inter-rater reliability was integrated.

Main results

Comparable lyrical ideas in the two parent song groups included: love; memories; yearning for children; metaphysical presence (now and afterlife); loss and grief; the meaning and helpfulness of the children in their lives; hopes for and compliments about their children; encouragement; requests; personal reflections; existential beliefs; and suggestions about to whom the children can turn.


Parents’ song lyric messages may support their children during the parents’ illnesses and through the children’s developmental transitions and possible bereavement. Some parents use song writing for catharsis and to encourage their children’s continuing attachment with them after death. Through promoting parent–child connectedness and emotional expression, therapeutic song writing can be a valuable oncologic supportive care modality.

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