Jim LaRue ’59 brings peace to hospice patients through music

On the night Jim LaRue ’59’s wife died, he was sitting in her room at a hospice facility in Medina, Ohio, when he heard the husband of another patient playing the piano in the common room. Even in the midst of an immensely painful experience, the music comforted him. “It made me feel more natural and relaxed and at peace with what was about to happen,” he recalls. “And I think my wife felt the same.”

After her death, LaRue decided that he wanted to give back to other patients and families by playing music at the same hospice. The only problem was that he couldn’t play an instrument or read music. He had almost given up when he stumbled upon a store that sold Native American flutes.

The Native American flute was a simple instrument with two chambers and a set of hollow finger holes. LaRue had struggled to learn how to play other instruments, but finding this flute, it turned out, was kismet. “It was just a matter of playing it and playing it until I felt comfortable,” says the retired minister and sustainable builder who majored in philosophy and religion at Bucknell.

Now, more than 10 years after that night at the hospice, he owns seven flutes and volunteers at three hospices — including the one where his wife died — six times a month. When he visits, he plays songs that he composes on the spot for patients. LaRue sees it as a way to remember and honor his wife. He says he plays from the heart, and the patients are often deeply moved. He recalled one woman who began crying quietly while he was playing. Her daughter-in-law approached him afterward and told him that it was the first time she had cried since her husband had begun his battle with cancer six months earlier.

“The flute has this mysterious and beautiful effect on people,” he says. “It allows them to feel they can be emotional and let go.”