Singing comfort at hospice


Kevin Dunn will sing the national anthem at the 4 p.m. game Saturday at the 2013 SEC Women’s Basketball Tournament at the Gwinnett Arena, Gwinnett Center, 6400 Sugarloaf Parkway, Duluth, Georgia 30097 (for more information for tickets, go to www.gwinnettcenter.com)

For more information about Kevin Dunn’s volunteering or to hear his singing, go to www.dunn4uministries.org

Shirley Gunn-Walton reads the Bible to her mother every time she visits her at a hospice. One day, while reading Psalms 23, Gunn-Walton hears a sound – so sweet, like a gentle breeze.

She opens the door to discover Kevin Dunn singing, his soft, pitch-perfect voice floating inside this 16-room building.

Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound, That saved a wretch like me …. I once was lost but now am found, Was blind, but now, I see.

Every Monday, for the past decade, Dunn has filled the West Georgia Hospice in LaGrange with soul-stirring songs.

“His voice is so pretty. My mom lights up when she hears his voice. And honey, I really enjoy it, too,” said Gunn-Walton.

Gunn-Walton's mother, Beulah Burton, recently turned 100 years old. Burton, who has dementia and recently suffered a stroke, spends much of the day in her room — with daffodils and a poster that reads, "Aged to Perfection," — with her eyes closed. But her eyes fluttered open when Dunn stepped inside and crooned at her bedside, "How Great is Our God." Jesus loves me. This I know, For the Bible tells me so; Little ones to Him belong. They are weak but He is strong. Yes, Jesus loves me.

A decade ago, Dunn became a singing hospice volunteer after a layoff from a job as a pressman for a printing company. At first, the suddenly-out-of-work Dunn thought he would donate his time to a nursing home. But during a fateful traffic stop after dropping his kids off at school, he said a voice pointed him in a different direction.

“I heard a voice say, ‘hospice,’ ” said Dunn, “and at first I thought, no way, that is where people went to die. I don’t want to be there. But I kept hearing the voice, so after a week or two, I made some calls and looked into what I needed to do to volunteer at hospice.”

Growing up, Dunn sang in a church choir and enjoyed singing, but he didn’t tackle his first solo until he was 18, when he sang “We are going all the way,” by Jeffry Osborne at his sister’s wedding.

“He’s a blessing,” said Tammy Forbus, volunteer coordinator for West Georgia Hospice, who is moved to tears talking about Dunn. “He’s so encouraging to all of us. He does this completely voluntarily, every Monday. He is so faithful. I love his singing and you can feel his beautiful, gentle, Christ-like spirit. He just wants to bring comfort.”

Dunn, 45, also takes requests, and if he doesn’t know a song he learns it. Over the years he’s learned “Sweet Beulah Land,” “Saved by Grace,” “Precious Memories” and “Go Rest High on that Mountain.”

On a recent Monday afternoon, Dunn ambled from one communal space to the next. A fire was crackling in the fireplace. Visitors streamed in and out.

His voice doesn’t take over, but instead, the gentle tone is easy listening. Doors open as Dunn sings a series of gospel songs, one blending into the next: “How Great Thou Art;” “Sweet Sweet Spirit;” “The Lord’s Prayer.”

“If they are scared or unsure what the next life holds, I am hoping they hear God’s voice through my singing and that yes, they know that yes, there is a God,” he said.

Moved by the loving care of hospice workers and efforts to make patients as comfortable as possible, Dunn’s views on hospice have changed. Over the years, he’s grown close to people during their final days.

And he’s even been asked to sing at funerals — more than 60 during the past decade.

Angie Senter of LaGrange met Dunn about five years ago when her grandmother was in hospice for several months.

“My grandmother was there for a long time and they became close,” said Senter. “My grandmother looked forward to Kevin coming every week to sing. He would sing songs very special to our family: “In the Garden,” and “Go Rest High on the Mountain.” After my grandmother died, I asked Kevin if he sings at funerals, and he said, ‘I will.’ ”

Since her grandmother died in 2008, Senter has lost two relatives, including her stepfather who died just recently.

“When we learned our stepfather died, my sister looked at me and said, ‘Can you call Kevin?’ ” said Senter.

Over the years, jobs have come and gone for Dunn. All the while, he’s never missed a Monday at hospice. He recently got a job in sales at a local TV station. Dunn, who lives in LaGrange with his wife Deborah and two children, is happy to have a job and thrilled to be able to set his own hours, allowing him to be at the hospice every Monday at noon. Dunn, who is Baptist, also gets requests to sing at churches as well as to perform at other events. He is scheduled to sing the national anthem at the SEC Women’s Basketball Championship game this month at the Gwinnett Arena.

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