After Tom Su watched his father die in the palliative care unit at Burnaby Hospital, it would have been easy for him to just walk away from the facility and vow never to come back.
But he didn’t.
Su had spent day after soul-crushing day in the unit caring for his father, who was dying of lung cancer.
During that time, he noticed some of the other patients didn’t have anyone outside of the hospital staff to care for them – or even pay them a visit. Su also saw families suffering, with few if any moments to escape their overwhelming anxiety.
So he decided to do something about it. He picked up his violin – an instrument he had been playing since the age of four – and made arrangements with Burnaby Hospital to come and play for patients and their families.
That one visit has turned into hundreds as Su drops in every Tuesday night. The classically trained violinist plays everything from the classics to pop songs to movie themes.
He even takes requests.
Su does whatever it takes to ease the suffering. He plays for patients with cancer and people living in long-term care.
Su also plays for people with dementia, and he recalls the impact his music has had.
“One patient started humming the melody,” Su said about that flash of recognition. “A family member was really surprised because that hadn’t happened before. “
Playing the violin has brought a lot of joy to Su’s life, but visiting Burnaby Hospital is not easy. For one thing, Su also plays in that same unit his father spent his last days in.
“(Playing there) is actually quite emotional,” Su said. “The smell, the scenery, it gets to me. It is very difficult for me.”
And yet, he still goes because he sees the difference it can make in a patient’s day. Su even gives up part of his Christmas Day to play for patients.
Su, who is 49 and works for Telus, said the visits combine the three main sections of his life, including his music degree, his many years spent in the hospitality industry, as well as his current job.
Su doesn’t just play music, he chats with at least 10 to 15 patients and family members during his visits. Sometimes, people just need someone to listen to them during such a stressful time.
Some weeks, Su is able to go for additional visits thanks for the support of his employer, Telus, which says its employees have contributed more than 1 million volunteer hours in the past year.
“Telus has a culture that encourages staff to give back,” Su said. “Telus has been very flexible for me.”