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Saturday, February 5, 2011

Hospice-Palliative Volunteers Support Patients’ Social Activities


Becoming Dead Right: A Hospice Volunteer in Urban Nursing Homes by Frances Shani Parker is now published in e-book form at Amazon and Barnes and Noble booksellers.

Hospice-palliative patients are not always able to participate in many social activities, but they should be encouraged to become involved when they can. Social interactions can improve their sense of belonging, distract them from being depressed, and bolster their independence. Sometimes they can watch from the sidelines while still expressing their opinions and creativity.

As a hospice volunteer in Detroit nursing homes for many years, I found it very rewarding being a catalyst for patient involvement at festive gatherings. The following excerpt from Becoming Dead Right: A Hospice Volunteer in Urban Nursing Homes (paperback and e-book editions) demonstrates an important role volunteers can play in supporting patients’ participation:

Richard, my hospice patient in his eighties, seemed depressed some days, as if leaving his room to spend time with others was too much of a bother. I focused on ways to help him turn his indifference inside out, even as death’s footsteps quickened down his path. After a great deal of motivating conversation, I finally convinced him to allow me to give him a wheelchair ride to a theatrical performance at the nursing home.

 “Along the way, Richard greeted other patients and staff members who were headed down the hall in the same direction. Some shuffled along with canes and walkers, while others moved with little or no assistance. Caressing her blanket, a white-haired woman with dementia told Richard she was on her way to the airport to catch a plane. A man broke out in song with “We’re Off to See the Wizard.” I couldn’t help rolling my eyes in disbelief when Richard started telling people to hurry, so we wouldn’t be late. With each turn of his wheelchair, I could feel his energy growing as we approached the big blue room, a place that made him feel good.

 Exhilaration ignited as the show started. Accompanied by the soft thunder of drumbeats, speakers shared stories and poems in praise of their elders. Residents were given small instruments to play and were coaxed to join in singing lively songs. Dances from back in the day inspired some audience members to sway in their seats. For a soul-stirring while, the nursing home disappeared. We were all transported to a fabulous planet where euphoria was our oxygen. I watched a radiant Richard wave at people he recognized, holler when the emcee gave the signal, and clap like his life depended on it. And the quality of his life really did.”

Frances Shani Parker, Author
Becoming Dead Right: A Hospice Volunteer in Urban Nursing Homes is available in paperback at many booksellers and in e-book form at Amazon and Barnes and Noble booksellers.