Sunday, June 7, 2009

Hospice Volunteer Book Review: Meeting the Death Monster in Becoming Dead Right: A Hospice Volunteer in Urban Nursing Homes

In America, death is still a terminally ill taboo in great need of palliative-hospice care. Too many people avoid talking, hearing, writing, or reading about the end of life. As an author and consultant on hospice and eldercare, I have been told on several occasions that the topic is just too “depressing” or too “final.” Several months ago, this reluctance to deal with death visited a friendship. I had given a casual friend a copy of my book Becoming Dead Right: A Hospice Volunteer in Urban Nursing Homes. Not knowing her feelings about death, I decided not to talk to her about the book unless she brought it up. Recently, she did. I’ll call her Alice.

Alice works in the healthcare profession, so I was somewhat surprised to discover that she feels strongly that death, a frightening stalker of her dreams, is her enemy. She shared that death has stolen too many of her loved ones, including pets. She helplessly dreads the thought of losing even more. My own acceptance of death, which comes across clearly in my conversations and writings, seems inappropriate to her. She finds my views too accepting of her enemy, too casual a regard for life. While she says she would consider hospice care along with other options, she admits she could never be even an average hospice volunteer.

What is her feedback regarding my book? She loves the patients’ stories and my comments about interacting with various people in the nursing home world. The original poetry, which concludes each chapter and probably nudges her own poetic abilities, pleases her. She finds the discussions on caregiving, dementia, death rituals, and bereavement informative. The explanations about school-nursing home partnerships and the ideal nursing home described in the chapter “Baby Boomer Haven” are particularly enjoyable. But she dislikes emphatically the premise that there is a “right” way to die.

I am not sure if her hostility toward death has changed much, but I hope that this book meeting with what she refers to as “the monster” has impacted her positively on some level. Those of us who embrace the topic of death will continue to be viewed with dismay by those who deal with mortality through avoidance and resignation of themselves and loved ones as victims of death’s malicious powers.

Alice’s revelations reinforce the importance of promoting death as a natural part of life that should be experienced with dignity by everyone. One person at a time, I believe conversations and writings enhance lives of the naysayers by slowly empowering them with death acceptance, even as they resist the message. I appreciate Alice’s frankness in sharing death’s painful presence in her life and in giving feedback on my book. Most of all, I commend her willingness to become a ball of courage rolling into the high weeds where the death monster lives.

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.

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