Sunday, December 20, 2009

Hospice Veteran Gets Last Wish Granted (Video 3:29 mins.)

To the world you may be one person, but to one person you may be the world. Anonymous

During this season of giving, honoring wishes of veterans is especially important. However, the Bay Pines VA Medical Center in Florida cares all year long about hospice veterans and their last wishes. They have created the Bay Pines VA Medical Center Make-A-Wish program primarily to grant last wishes of hospice veterans who have no close family or friends. Since 2002, they have helped over a hundred hospice veterans realize dreams.

Christopher Glenn, a hospice Navy veteran, wished longingly to take a plane flight over his hometown. As time went on and his terminal illness progressed, he had given up hope of ever having his wish come true. But Stuart Sidell, recreation therapist at Bay Pines VA Healthcare System, had other ideas. He decided to make Christopher’s dream a reality and even had him serve as plane pilot.

This video report from “The American Veteran” captures the wonderful results that this thoughtful act of consideration accomplished in enhancing the quality of Christopher’s life. Two weeks later, he died with his last wish fulfilled.


During this holiday season and throughout the new year, be love(d).

Frances Shani Parker, Author
Becoming Dead Right: A Hospice Volunteer in Urban Nursing Homes is available in paperback and e-book editions in America and other countries at online and offline booksellers.


Sunday, December 13, 2009

Uninsured Patient's Poetic Cries (Video Poem)

Having no health insurance is a serious problem. Aurora Harris, a friend and fellow poet, has been living the unlivable with a torso serving as “a tomb of womb pain.” Like millions in America, she bears the added hardship of having no health insurance. In addition, she is the primary caregiver of her 89-year-old mother, who is very ill.

Throbbing with pain from an unknown infection, Aurora wrote the poem "On Deaf Ears: A Poem Before Turning Fifty." She hopes her anguished voice will be heard and help the many people agonizing in a healthcare system in need of urgent reform. 

Note: During a recent conversation, Aurora shared that her health is improving. She credits the intervention of a concerned friend who led her to appropriate medical care. Too many sufferers without health insurance are not as fortunate.

Frances Shani Parker, Author
Becoming Dead Right: A Hospice Volunteer in Urban Nursing Homes is available in paperback and e-book editions in America and other countries at booksellers such as Amazon.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Advice for Adult Orphans

More and more of my friends are becoming adult orphans. Many have one or no parents alive. Others are caregivers who will possibly
 become orphans in the near future. These suggestions can help adult orphans coping with life’s new reality:

  1. Flow with the grieving process. Each person’s bereavement is unique. Maintain good health, accept assistance from others, and get counseling support if needed.
  1. Remember that you are responsible for your own happiness. Hobbies, travel, social functions, volunteer service, and other enjoyable and fulfilling activities add quality to your life.
  1. Establish new holiday traditions and family rituals if you think you should. You can include ways to commemorate deceased parents. Keep their stories alive for generations to come.
  1. Help your children and others plan for their future roles as adult orphans by preparing yourself and encouraging them to discuss and record their end-of-life wishes. 
  1. Remember that life is for living. Deceased parents would want you to move forward productively on your journey. Doing so is another tribute to them.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Christmas in May Story: Hospice Volunteer and Nursing Home Patient

Have you ever celebrated Christmas in May? A hospice volunteer in Detroit nursing homes, I shared a wonderful Christmas in May experience with one of my patients. Sometimes patients needed me to help them solve problems. One day, Inez and I had an especially great visit. I had been thinking about how to find a key for a music box her niece had given her for Christmas. She loved that music box and liked to have it on display, so she would have a good excuse to talk about it. She had never heard it play because the key was missing when she received it. She said her niece had tried to find a key, but with no success.

The music box was a lovely piece of handiwork. A wooden base supported a clear glass container. Inside the container lay a beautiful butterfly resting on a small floral bouquet. Underneath the box was a hidden switch that made the seasonal display enchant with spurts of brightness. Inez, my ninety-two year old patient, said that she often sat and watched the softly glowing scene blink on and off. One night, she and I quietly watched it together. That's when I realized how much this silent little music maker meant to her. Unfortunately, neither of us knew what song it was supposed to play. We imagined the Christmas song we thought it should play and hoped one day we could solve the mystery.

Getting the music box to play became my project, but I knew I would need some help. The next day, I explained the problem to Burton, a teacher at my school. He decided to become a part of the solution by checking out some stores that might have the missing key. It sounded like the search for Cinderella's shoe. After looking for two weeks, Burton finally found a matching key at a large toy store. The sales lady was so touched by his story about Inez's "musicless" box that she gave him the key free of charge. We couldn't believe our good fortune, which became Inez's thrill maker.

In the second week of May with spring showing off nature's fashion makeover from winter, Inez heard her cherished music box play for the very first time. She picked it up gently and carefully placed it near her hearing aid. The song we had wondered about for months, the song that had driven us to discover its name finally played the sweetest version of "Joy to the World." Just hearing the music box fulfill its purpose felt like a miracle. Inez grinned widely, thanked me, and told me to thank the nice man who found the missing key that made her music box come alive.

The mystery had been solved, and Inez was ecstatic. I thought nothing else that day could outdo the pleasure of hearing the music box play, but I was wrong. After Inez set her mechanical miracle on the window sill, so we could admire it playing and revolving, something wonderful occurred that surprised us both: The brightly colored butterfly started moving, slowing creeping up to the opening red flower. Inez and I gave each other eerie "Twilight Zone" looks. Then we shared rainbow smiles about the joy in our own little world.

Frances Shani Parker, Author
Becoming Dead Right: A Hospice Volunteer in Urban Nursing Homes is available in paperback and e-book editions in America and other countries at online and offline booksellers.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Engage With Grace: Talk About End-of-Life Wishes

Last year during Thanksgiving weekend, many of us bloggers participated in the first documented blog rally to promote Engage With Grace - a movement aimed at having all of us understand and communicate our end-of-life wishes.

It was a great success, with over 100 bloggers in the healthcare space and beyond participating and spreading the word. Plus, it was timed to coincide with a weekend when most of us are with the very people with whom we should be having these tough conversations - our closest friends and family.

Our original mission - to get more and more people talking about their end-of-life wishes - hasn't changed. At the heart of Engage With Grace are five questions designed to get the conversation started. We've included them at the end of this post. They're not easy questions, but they are important. Think about them, document them, share them.

Over the past year, there's been a lot of discussion about end-of-life issues. And we've been fortunate to hear a lot of the more uplifting stories, as folks have used these five questions to initiate the conversation. One man shared how surprised he was to learn that his wife's preferences were not what he expected. Befitting this holiday, The One Slide now stands sentry on their fridge.

Wishing you and yours a holiday that's fulfilling in all the right ways.

To learn more, please go to This post was written by Alexandra Drane and the Engage With Grace team.

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

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Aging, Sick Dogs on a Caregiving Trip (Video 3:49)

Two years ago, I did a blog post on sick, aging dogs enjoying a life-enhancing trip. The dogs were showcased in a heartwarming video, actually a “dogumentary,” titled "Seven Days with Seven Dogs." Like an old tune with different singers, the video continues to mesmerize about terminally ill older adults of the non-human kind.

Living at a refuge similar to a canine nursing home, the dogs struggled with health challenges ranging from deafness, epilepsy, hip dysplasia, heart murmur, and a lymphatic mass on one “hospice” dog predicted to live only a few more weeks. Caregiving humans decided it was high time these canine seniors had their chance at smelling the roses we humans often have to remind ourselves to smell. A great way to do this was to take all the dogs on an adventurous trip to dog-friendly locations immersed in nature.

This video shows another application of quality caregiving with an ill, older adult population that has supported others unconditionally for years. Join this soul-stirring, dog-centered trip where floral fragrances permeate the air, where wounded spirits soar, and where we are reminded at personal levels that the best things in life are not things.

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

Friday, November 13, 2009

Holiday Grief Support (Video Poem 4:00 mins.)

The holidays can be a troubling time for many who are grieving the loss of loved ones. Through the years, people associate holiday traditions with familiar people and places. These suggestions offer bereavement support for those dealing with grief during the holidays:

Excerpt from "Becoming Dead Right: A Hospice Volunteer in Urban Nursing Homes”

"Mourners have to decide the best ways they can adjust to the holidays. One option is to create new holiday traditions. If holidays were celebrated as a family, new traditions can be planned as a family, so everyone can have input. This will give family members an opportunity to discuss their feelings about the deceased loved one and possibly include something in the new tradition that commemorates that person in an uplifting manner. This could be a type of memorial that adds pleasure to holidays in the future, something that would have pleased the deceased.

Whether celebrating the holidays alone, with others, or not at all, people should always follow their hearts and do what feels best for them. There is no one way for everyone. There are different ways that work well for different people. Some people who found the holidays stressful, phony, or too commercial before their loved one died may want to redirect their holiday focus. They might choose to participate in an activity that is calmer and more meaningful to them such as volunteering at places where they can help others or sharing with others in another capacity. Others may want to celebrate alone or with a few friends, take a trip to another state or country, or just be involved with something they enjoy doing that may or may not have anything to do with the holidays, but everything to do with their own quality of life."

This video by offers bereavement support based on the sympathy poem “Do Not Stand at My Grave and Weep.” The poem comforts with thoughts that the deceased loved one is reflected in nature.

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

Friday, November 6, 2009

Hospice Chaplain Planned Detroit Nursing Home Memorial Service

The need to honor the deceased in an atmosphere of healing and support from others has been a common manner for mourning the dead. But sometimes people die without family and friends available to handle funeral or memorial services that recognize, honor, and bring closure to death. Such was the case with my hospice patient named Lelia, whose memorial service was planned by the hospice chaplain:

Excerpt from Becoming Dead Right: A Hospice Volunteer in Urban Nursing Homes

A small group gathered in the recreation room at the nursing home. Most people present were other patients who knew Lelia. Essie, Lelia’s sister, came with a friend named Nola. The hospice chaplain opened the memorial ceremony with a prayer and a reading. Taking turns, we shared our memories of Lelia. Some comments were hilarious, while others revealed Lelia’s demons. We all discovered new layers of Lelia that came together in a mental mural of colorful qualities.

Essie spoke last, “I’m sitting here in shock listening to what you all said about my sister. I can’t believe we knew the same person. The Lelia I knew hardly ever said anything funny, and she sure wasn’t thoughtful, at least not to me. Even when I helped her get into this nursing home, she still acted like she hated me. She was grouchy and liked to criticize people all the time. Nobody was really close to her. To tell you the truth, nobody in our family was close to anybody else in the family. There was just too much drama going on all the time. That’s why I’m the only one here. I started not to come myself, but now I’m glad I did. I learned something new today. I feel better about Lelia after hearing your stories.”

Although the chaplain hadn’t known in advance how many would attend the ceremony, she had brought twelve helium balloons, the exact number needed for each person present to have a balloon to release later. Like colorful hula dancers swaying from strings tied to a chair, the balloons added a festive energy to Lelia’s homegoing. Riding down with the group on the elevator, Nola mentioned that she and Essie were both singers. We all agreed they should lead us in song when the balloons were released during our tribute to Lelia.

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, Author
Becoming Dead Right: A Hospice Volunteer in Urban Nursing Homes is available in paperback and e-book editions in America and other countries at online and offline booksellers.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Holiday Help: Caregivers and Relatives with Dementia, Alzheimer’s Disease (Video 1:57 mins.)

The holidays are approaching fast. You’re a caregiver of a relative with dementia. You dread the upcoming love-hate festivities you have grown to expect during this busy time of year. You can really use some help.

According to University of South Carolina research involving caregivers of relatives with Alzheimer’s disease, the leading cause of dementia, there are three themes that may be prominent during your holiday season:

1) Becoming aware of your relative's symptoms

2) Trying to have one last normal holiday

3) Deciding how to handle holidays when your relative lives in an assisted living facility

Support is available from healthcare providers and others who can empower you during these joyous and sometimes stressful weeks of planning and celebration. In this video titled "Through the Holidays," Eve Moses, an educator with the Alzheimer’s Association, offers practical suggestions that can assist you in making happy holiday memories.

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

Friday, October 23, 2009

Nursing Home, Long-Term Care Trends: Robotic Technology of the Future (Video 2:04 mins.)


                                         Humanoid Service Robot REEM-B

Many people, particularly the graying pre-baby boomers, probably assume they won’t be around in the next 50 years. But with the speed of technological inventions nowadays, who really knows? Longevity continues to increase while fertility rates decrease. Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid struggle with ongoing adjustments as demographics evolve into a future we can only predict. Fortunately, research from the University of Louisville School of Nursing in Kentucky gives us a glimpse into the future with results reported in "Nursing Clinics of North America.” These are the predicted trends for long-term care:

1) Future years will see a more diverse population with increased aggressive treatment of chronic illness.

2) Consumers of health care and their family caregivers will take more active steps to manage and coordinate their own care.

3) Housing trends that produce more senior-friendly
communities will encourage independent living rather than
seniors having to move into institutions.

4) Increased incentives for use of home and community-based care
will allow people to stay longer in their own homes in the community.

5) Technological advances, such as the use of robots serving as companions and assistants around the house, will also decrease
the need for institutional living.

This video gives a visual glance into the potential of robotics in the future with a demonstration by a humanoid robot built by Pal Technology. Robots like this could provide service at home to those who are unable to perform these actions themselves.

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

Friday, October 16, 2009

Hospice Volunteer Research: How? What? Why?

How do hospice volunteers learn about hospice volunteer opportunities?

What motivates them to start volunteering?

Why do they continue to volunteer?

These are open-ended questions that researchers at the University of Utah Department of Communication asked 351 hospice volunteers from 3 states. The following are the research findings:

1) Volunteers heard of opportunities through hospice and healthcare contacts, personal contacts, print and electronic sources, and other nonhospice organizations.

2) Volunteers were motivated mainly to be of service to others and because of a personal experience with the death of someone close.

3) The majority of volunteers continued to serve because they found it personally rewarding, wanted to help others, or both. Many continued because of the quality of their own hospice organization and staff members. Demographic influences were small.

These research results are particularly important to volunteer coordinators in recruiting and maintaining a productive volunteer staff. My video poem “Reflections of a Hospice Volunteer” expresses the win-win experiences of many volunteers:

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

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Dementia (Alzheimer’s) Caregiving with Understanding and Patience (Video 5:31 mins.)

Dementia refers to a group of conditions that gradually destroy brain cells and lead to mental decline. Many conditions can cause dementia, but Alzheimer’s disease is the leading cause. According to the Alzheimer’s Association, this disease, which advances at different rates, destroys memory and the ability to learn, reason, make judgments, communicate, and perform daily activities. Patients may also experience changes in behavior and personality such as anxiety and delusions.

Dementia is like a fluttering bee. As a hospice volunteer in nursing homes, I never knew when it would make honey or sting. There were times when residents with dementia were rude or violent. I have seen one slap a CNA’s (certified nursing assistant) face with such force I thought the CNA would fall over. To her credit, she took a deep breath and walked away while another CNA intervened.

Residents with dementia enjoyed talking about the past and embellishing their stories. Sometimes they remembered detailed incidents from childhood and minutes later couldn’t remember where they were. They needed encouragement when they became afraid. I tried to analyze what caused certain behaviors. Distractions helped them change their thoughts. Just like everyone else, they felt respected when their opinions mattered. I let them make some decisions, usually limiting the choices to two, so they wouldn’t feel overwhelmed.

Caregivers and other loved ones of those with dementia have to remind themselves often that patients’ repetitious questions and other unintentional behaviors are manifestations of the disease. This video titled “What is that?” reminds them (and all of us) to dig deeply into wells of themselves for understanding and patience.

Frances Shani Parker, Author
Becoming Dead Right: A Hospice Volunteer in Urban Nursing Homes is available in paperback and e-book editions in America and other countries at online and offline booksellers.