Saturday, September 27, 2008

Ghost Bike Memorials Honor Killed and Injured Bikers, Raise Awareness (Video 1:05 mins.)

This post about impromptu memorials includes an excerpt from my book "Becoming Dead Right: A Hospice Volunteer in Urban Nursing Homes.”

“Impromptu memorials, which have been around for many generations in this country, are increasing. Publicized terrorists' attacks, natural disasters, crimes, and accidents have united large numbers of people around common bonds of grief. These memorials often begin with a tragedy involving one or more deaths. For example, a child might be murdered or killed in a car accident. Within a short period of time, toys, such as stuffed animals, along with flowers, balloons, posters, cards, photographs, and other memorial displays begin to accumulate at the site where the crime or accident took place.

At some point, community members might come together at that same location or elsewhere for a candlelight vigil of prayers for the deceased as well as prayers for community healing and improvement. The shrines and altars resulting from impromptu memorials touch many people in a personal manner and serve as powerful reminders of the deceased and the cause represented.”

© Frances Shani Parker

“Ghost bikes” are more recent examples of community memorials that are believed to have started in St. Louis, Missouri in 2003. A ghost bike, usually a junk bike painted white and secured near the scene of a tragedy, is the memorial project of a worldwide movement for commemorating deceased or injured bikers struck down by motor vehicles. Appealing to both personal loss and moral sensibilities, ghost bike memorials are being displayed in a growing number of cities. A ghost bike is yet another example of a memorial personalized by loved ones and community members as they unfasten earthly connections with the deceased.

This video shows a" ghost bike memorial for Alice Swanson,” a bicyclist killed on July 8, 2008 in Washington, DC.

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

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Hospice Workers and Death Rituals

This post includes an excerpt from my book "Becoming Dead Right: A Hospice Volunteer in Urban Nursing Homes.” In a chapter titled “Death Sentences,” I relate the fascinating end-of-life journey of my patient named Lelia. The afterlife is referred to as the Other Side of Through. Because Lelia had very little family support, the hospice chaplain organized her death ritual, which concluded in this manner:

“Our humble circle stood in the front yard of a Detroit nursing home to perform our final death ritual for Lelia. People riding by in cars on a busy street observed a lively group of ecstatic mourners looking upward, enthusiastically singing “Going to Shout All Over God’s Heaven.” Passionate voices resonated like rockets. We released our buoyant balls of bliss floating in a hurry to get somewhere. I imagined Lelia looking on, bobbing her head to the gospel beat. She grinned her toothless rainbow smile that colored our hearts with joy from the Other Side of Through when we all yelled, “Bye, Lelia! Have yourself a good time!”

© Frances Shani Parker

I have been present at several death rituals of hospice patients. As a hospice volunteer in a nursing home, I don’t often see many of my patients’ relatives and friends until the ritual is held. The closure that takes place is often viewed as a final expression of care for relatives and friends of the deceased. However, research by the Orvis School of Nursing at the University of Nevada shows that hospice workers also benefit from such rituals. Not only do the rituals provide closure and an outlet for their grief, they also decrease the risk of burnout and compassion fatigue that hospice workers can experience.

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

Monday, September 15, 2008

Teddy Bears: Companionship, Grief Support, Containers for Cremated Remains

Cuddly bears often have comfort appeal for both children and adults. In nursing homes, many patients with dementia cherish their dolls and bears, sometimes referred to as “babies.” Imagine all the interesting conversations these fuzzy companions share with their nurturing owners.

Hospices use bears for companionship with dying patients and for grief support with families after loved ones have died. Some hospices collect donations of new bears from the public. Others have volunteers that sew “memory bears” made from fabrics of deceased loved ones’ clothing.

Nowadays, people even use stuffed bears as containers for cremated remains (also called “cremains”) of the deceased. Not only for memorial displays, these personalized bears with hidden pouches often accompany their owners during their daily travels. Death seems easier to bear when the gentleness of a soft bear enfolds loving memories.

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

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Life After Death: The Other Side of Through (Video: 5:53 mins.)

This post includes an excerpt from my book "Becoming Dead Right: A Hospice Volunteer in Urban Nursing Homes.” The book refers to life after death as the Other Side of Through.

Many people believe in life after death. For them, death is a comma, a pause proceeded by a dash into another dimension of life. Others say that life, as we know it while living, is all there is to existence. They consider death to be a period at the end of the final sentence in their life stories.

One day, my patient named Mabel (pseudonym) received a birthday card from her church members. This led to an interesting conversation about life after death.

“Were you active in your church?” I asked.

“Well, not too much. I helped out with a few fundraising activities like the annual church bazaar. I usually worked at the ticket booth. I didn’t want to be too active because I have my own personal views about religion. I don’t see religion the way most of my church people see it, so I stayed kind of low-key. Religion is fine, but I don’t believe in God. I only believe in Jesus.”

“Really? Why is that?”

“Jesus was a person in real life. People saw him and wrote down what he did and what he said as part of history. I know that Jesus existed. He was right there walking and talking in front of people. Nobody can deny that. But God is different. Nobody has really seen him. Nobody knows how he looks or even what he is. That’s why I don’t believe in God. But I definitely believe in my Jesus.”

“What about heaven, Mabel? What do you think of that?”

“If there is no God, then there is no heaven. It wouldn’t make sense to have a heaven without God. That’s how I see it.”

“What do you think happens after people die?”

“What do I think happens? Nothing. They get buried, and their problems are over. Their problems end, and ours continue.”

Mabel’s belief about life after death was one of numerous opinions that people have. Many have thought about the possibility of immortality. They connect it with a soul, reward, and punishment. Some have lived their lives according to those beliefs. For those who believe in an afterlife, there is often a spiritual motivation linked with nature’s cycles of birth and death. They embrace the mystery with faith and decide there is no spiritual death, only a change in their immortal soul’s experience.

Of course, a lot of people say they don’t know what to believe. Scientific research on near-death experiences and other death-related phenomena continues to accumulate data to shed new light on discussions about life after death. Ultimately, people have to decide for themselves what they want to believe.

© Frances Shani Parker

In this KVVU TV video, three individuals, who believe they traveled to heaven during near-death experiences, explain what happened. Did they really cross over to the Other Side of Through? Was it real or a hallucination caused by an oxygen-deprived brain? You be the judge.

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