Sunday, April 20, 2008

Hospice Volunteer and Nursing Home Poem: Staff Shortage ("Living Colors")

My book "Becoming Dead Right: A Hospice Volunteer in Urban Nursing Homes” includes an original poem after each chapter (16).

A previous post dealt with the widespread vision problems of residents in nursing homes and the negative impact poor eyesight has in patients’ lives. Many of these vision problems could be corrected if residents regularly received basic eye care.

This poem was inspired by one of my elderly hospice patients who had dementia and poor eyesight. She needed assistance to eat, but there was a staff shortage at the nursing home that day. Using her fingers, she started feeding herself. I arrived to find her with food smeared around her mouth. After wondering what that experience might have been like for her, I wrote this poem:

Living Colors

A nursing home room
serves as your dining place.
Colors on a supper plate
charm century-old eyes.
Green, brown, white form
an aromatic rainbow
of bygone days that nourish,
thrill you with their stories.

When no one helps you eat,
you reach with forklike fingers.
Green tastes like memories
of grass tickling childhood toes.
Taste buds savor brownness
of a mahogany man who
hungered for your love.
Handfuls of August clouds
whisk you to a picnic,
hint at mashed potatoes.

A volunteer, I arrive to see
your smile smeared with dreams.
Each morsel of remembrance
has fed your starving mind.
Anchored in reality of meals
with special meanings,
your appetite is satisfied
with colors from the past.

© Frances Shani Parker

You can hear me read "Living Colors" with graphics on YouTube.

Frances Shani Parker, Author
"Becoming Dead Right: A Hospice Volunteer in Urban Nursing Homes”
“Hospice and Nursing Homes Blog”


  1. That is a great poem, and the photograph serves as a very tangible experience for those of us who cannot imagine what it may be like to be without full use of our senses.

    You have inspired me to maybe incorporate semi-sensory deprivation into medical training. You could have someone put on goggles with limited vision, with vaseline smeared all over them for blurriness effect. Put headphones on that just have white noise with the occasional random noise, gloves that dull the sense of touch and grip, and limit the movement of hands and fingers.

    Thanks Frances!

  2. Thanks, Christian, for the poetry compliment.

    Crawling into other people’s bodies, thinking and feeling what they experience can be so awakening when we pay attention. Incorporating semi-sensory deprivation into medical training sounds great. Many healthcare workers would benefit from those experiences. Based on your creative description of props, you’ll be a natural for this.

  3. AnonymousJuly 08, 2008

    I am a Volunteer Coordinator for a Hospice. Thanks for sharing this.

    -Julie Parker
    Volunteer COordinator
    Caris Healthcare

  4. My pleasure, Julie. Thanks for taking the time to express appreciation.

  5. I work in a nursing home as an aide, and this poem is wonderful. Though I've only been in this field for a year (I am only 18 after all) I have seen many other employees not understanding what it's like for these elderly residents. In my stna class, we did have to do the vaseline glasses, had to have one arm tied behind our back (an illusion of a stroke) and try and put a button up shirt on, we had to also put popcorn kernels in our shoes and walk around the building (feeling of what it feels like as they lose weight and the bones are more protruding) It was a great experience and it really helped us learn how it felt to be elderly, the teaching was great, but it could never be as awful as living through it everyday. After 10 minutes, we got to take all the stuff out, these residents live with this everyday, they can't just remove it all.

  6. Anonymous, thanks so much for responding. I can't tell you how refreshing it is to hear such moving words from a young adult. I am so glad your training included semi-sensory deprivation activities.

    "Living Colors" will be available on this blog as a video poem and at YouTube within the next two weeks. You can hear me read it and two other poems (already there) about my nursing home experiences by going to YouTube and searching "francesshaniparker." I have big respect for the hardworking CNA's. I wish you the best.

  7. AnonymousJuly 17, 2012

    Your poem is so moving, many memories have come to me of the frail elders I've helped in their rooms when alone and unable to help themselves. Thank you, your writing is beautiful. Sara Bartlett