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.