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”


  1. It would be great to see more hospices discussing their own practices to deal with the volume of death the staff sees. I think even with rituals the acuity and stress can be heavy over time. Thanks for posting this.

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  3. Yes, it would be interesting to see how hospices deal with this. These “American Journal of Hospice Palliative Care” research results, gathered through in-depth interviews with hospice volunteers, indicate that many volunteers find their own ways to prevent compassion fatigue or burnout.