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Monday, April 28, 2008

"Young@Heart" Movie Review: A Hospice Volunteer's Perspective (Video 2:12 mins.)

I had been waiting to view “Young@Heart” for several weeks. I heard it was an excellent documentary about a spirited chorus of music-loving senior citizens. Averaging eighty years in age, they thrill worldwide audiences everywhere they perform, including in prison. In the movie, viewers accompany them during a series of rehearsals in preparation for an upcoming show.

Unfamiliar with punk or rock and roll music, chorus members struggle to sing new songs, while dealing with personal challenges and the death of two members during one week. Somehow they squeeze sweetness from every moment with friendship and commitment. Songs like “Should I Stay or Should I Go,” “I Feel Good,” and “Fix You,” the hands-down tearjerker of the day, wrap us in nostalgia, strengthen us with wisdom, and warm us with the creative power of music.

Their bodies may be old, but their hearts are wrinkle-free. Should you stay or should you go? Go. Experience these seniors' moving transformation and your own. Be inspired and entertained by this amazing tribute to aging, life, and death. View the "Young@Heart” movie trailer here.

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

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”

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Hospice Volunteer and Nursing Home Story: Dying to Die (Video 4:28 mins.)

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

Are you ready to die? It’s something we all will do. Each person has a choice about how to respond to the inevitable. Many people assume that nobody really wants to die, but I have known several hospice patients who looked forward to death. Take Bella (pseudonym), for instance. She said she was all ready to go to heaven, but she kept putting it off because she wanted her death ritual and other plans to be just right.

“I won’t be here when you come next week. I’ll be in heaven. You can call ahead if you want to be sure I’m not here. That way you won’t make a trip for nothing,” she warned me.

“Thanks for telling me, Bella. I’ll just come anyway and see for myself,” I responded like it was the most normal thing in the world. In recent weeks, whenever I left from visiting her, Bella said it was the last time I would see her. She said she would be dead before I returned the following week.

When I returned and she was still alive, I’d say, “Well I guess you changed your mind about dying this week.” Bella always had a good excuse. Sometimes she didn’t want to miss some festive activity like the annual Christmas party at the nursing home. But most times, it was for practical reasons like getting funeral, burial, and other after-death plans in order. She wanted her children to clean her house thoroughly, so relatives and friends could go there to fellowship after her funeral. Cleaning entailed sorting and packing clothes for charity. There were several other tasks beyond actual dirt removal. Her various excuses for not dying continued for months.

Bella even invited me to join her on her death journey. She said it might be more fun if we went to heaven together. I declined this invitation by explaining it just wasn’t my time. Besides, she already had a bunch of people there waiting for her.

But one day, Bella’s warning came true. I received the hospice phone call saying she had died. I smiled to myself and said, “Good for you, Bella! You finally did it!"

What about you? Are you having death conversations that will help you and others prepare for death? Do you think about what death really means to you as a patient, a caregiving relative, or a healthcare professional? This video encourages us to have more of these conversations and prepare for our own and others’ deaths. Using the “D” word is long overdue.

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

Saturday, April 5, 2008

Nursing Home Culture Change: The Green House Project (Video 7:33 mins.)

What makes a nursing home really feel like home? That’s a major theme for culture change in nursing homes. Think about how you live in your own homes, and it’s easy to figure out what most nursing home residents want. Cedars Nursing Home in Tupelo, Mississippi is a Green House Project alternative to traditional nursing home living that has put the “home” back in nursing home.

With the intention of developing Green House homes with long-term care organizations around the country, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation provides grant funding for the Green House model on a national level. At the Green House Project, life in a traditional nursing home has been reinvented. Residents, living in cottages of ten, thrive as families in homes built to blend in with the neighborhood. They add their personal decorating touches, greet the day when they feel like it, plan menus, and eat with the staff. Mealtimes prepared in an open kitchen are unhurried and socially rewarding.

Each elder has a private room and bath with easy access to all areas of the home. Nursing assistants (CNA’s), referred to as “shahbazes” focus on nurturing, sustaining, and protecting residents. Assistance residents receive doesn’t interfere with their independence. View this video of a Green House Project home where home really is sweet.

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