Friday, March 4, 2011

Hospice Volunteer and Dementia Patient Share Common History: Poem “Deeper Than Words”

Guarded from angry mobs by federal marshals in 1960, first-grader Ruby Bridges integrated William Frantz Public School in New Orleans, LA, my hometown. In protest during the first year, all parents withdrew their children from the school.

Hospice volunteers and patients come together as strangers and often discover that they have common histories or characteristics. These familiar experiences and qualities unite them in special ways that take their bonding to another level of understanding. Shared similarities can include civil rights oppression, languages, disabilities, military service, talents, occupations, travel, values, and other factors.

My book Becoming Dead Right: A Hospice Volunteer in Urban Nursing Homes concludes each chapter with an original poem. I was inspired to write this poem while watching my hospice patient sleep. I thought about our shared African American history that bridged our communication beyond her dementia and enhanced my respect for all she represented.

Deeper Than Words

The outside world arrives
wearing my willing face.
Toothless, your smile widens
like a baby’s hungry for attention.
Almost ninety-eight years old,
your inner candle still glows.

A hospice volunteer, I lean closer,
talk into your listening left ear,
“Today is Sunday, Miss Loretta.”
My news drifts away like smoke.
You stare at me through dying coals.
Whatever I ask, you whisper, “Yes.”

I stroke your age-softened arms
while your hazed mind masters sleep.
Watching you, I dream generations
of women black and strong, each one
a book of sustaining stories
about joy, pain, courage, survival.

Within your warm brown frame,
spirits from our common history linger.
Aides say you have dementia,
that you don’t know a word I say.
Our language goes deeper than words.
We speak to each other’s souls.

© Frances Shani Parker

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.


  1. Beautiful and insightful. Nicely done. I have no words to speak of that wordless communication. You did it so well.

  2. I love reading your poem. With regard to hospice care, I think it is important to have a hospice care if there is someone who is dealing with end-of-life issues. Under such program, the patient will be given care that should include spiritual and emotional care.