Friday, October 28, 2011

Becoming a Hospice Volunteer Against My Will

People often ask me how I became a hospice volunteer. For the record, nobody is more surprised than I am. You know how some people can walk into a patient’s room, plump pillows, and make all the right comments? Years ago, I was not that person. I never really felt comfortable visiting sick people. Working in the healthcare arena seemed depressing. Besides, I had made a conscious decision to become an educator when I was in fifth grade. Unlike many who have chosen hospice volunteering, my motivation had no connection with professional choice or with anyone close to me dying, although I had experienced that several times.

So, how did I get into this situation? I was principal of an urban public school located in an area of high poverty, crime, drugs, prostitution, and homelessness. Major problems of others clamored for space on my always-crowded plate. Over a three-year period, I was thrust into life-threatening predicaments of two men I didn’t know well who were suffering with AIDS, an infectious disease of the immune system caused by the HIV virus. They were my introduction to serious caregiving of the terminally ill.

The first man, who was in total denial about his condition, also had dementia that included daily harassment by invisible people. After he died, I sighed, thinking that scenario would never happen to me again. A year later, the second man showed up. Both men lacked strong support systems, which were crucial during the 1990’s when infected people were ostracized and dying quickly. My mother warned me to stay away from them or I might “catch” it.

But I didn’t stay away. I served as these men’s hospice volunteer without even realizing I was one. It just made good sense, and we all benefited from the experience. I discovered significant layers of myself that I never knew. After my involvement with the men ended, I ran into a friend who said she was performing service as a hospice volunteer. Her description of what she did sounded very familiar. A few weeks later, I read a newspaper ad about hospice volunteer training classes. I decided to get certified to do what I had already been doing and become even more prepared if somebody else ill showed up.

As an official hospice volunteer for many years, I have served numerous terminally ill patients who  showed up. In addition, I have been writing Hospice and Nursing Homes Blog for several years and have recorded my hospice volunteer experiences and insights in a published book titled Becoming Dead Right: A Hospice Volunteer in Urban Nursing Homes. I enjoy consulting with groups, advocating for patients, and educating caregivers, healthcare workers, policy makers, and the general public.

End-of-life care for millions of aging baby boomers continues to challenge our healthcare system and society. More people are needed to dig into wells of themselves and provide solutions to these growing concerns. Consider becoming a hospice volunteer. Various assignments are available to accommodate your personal comfort zone. Your service as a hospice volunteer can be a win-win experience, even if you didn’t plan to be one.

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

Becoming Dead Right: A Hospice Volunteer in Urban Nursing Homes is available in paperback at many booksellers in America and several other countries and in e-book form at Amazon and Barnes and Noble booksellers.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Informal Bereavement-Grief Rituals After the Death Ritual (Research, Video 3:46)

The donation of bodies to medical science anatomy programs is a significant end-of-life legacy. In addition to enhancing research, donated bodies offer training opportunities that ultimately benefit public health. People who say they are donating their bodies are often asked,  “Why donate your body? Don’t you want a funeral, memorial service, or something?” A common belief is that bodies donated to anatomy programs are dissected, studied, and then “disposed of” in an uncertain manner. The assumption may be that the entire procedure is strictly medical and scientific with few displays of gratitude for the donations and certainly no death rituals of respect for families or persons whose bodies are donated.

What are some death ritual options available for those who want to donate their bodies to an anatomy program? If funeral services are desired with the body present, the family can contact the funeral home and make arrangements with the anatomy program before funeral preparations are made. Another possibility is to have a memorial service without the donor’s body present.

But a little known fact is that a number of U.S. anatomy programs hold memorial ceremonies of gratitude honoring body donors. These final tributes to human lives are usually planned by students and faculty and include invited guests. Various U.S. anatomy programs hold nondenominational memorial services that include theme celebrations with expressions of speech, music, poetry, essays, visual art, and dance.

Those interested in donating their bodies to anatomy programs should contact the organizations that interest them and request information. Some have websites explaining their procedures. A list of common questions and answers about the body bequest program at Wayne State University School of Medicine in Detroit, MI can be viewed. Some answers may be surprising. For example, age is not a consideration for body donation, but there are other factors such as not having major organs removed. Also, if the family wishes to have the cremains returned for burial, the University, if requested at the time of death, will return the ashes to the family.

The following video features a cadaver memorial service with more than 300 in attendance. It is presented as part of a long-standing tradition by first-year medical students at the University of North Carolina (UNC) School of Medicine.

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.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Hospice Volunteers for Pet Owners: Pet Peace of Mind (Video 8:06)

What would you do if you were dying with no one to care for your pet? What would happen to your pet if you actually died? If you had no reliable support system in place, your pet could end up at an animal control shelter where it might not be adopted within a certain time frame and could be euthanized. A national program for non-profit hospices, Pet Peace of Mind provides help to hospice patients experiencing these problems.  Funded by Banfield Charitable Trust, this program works with hospices in providing temporary and permanent care for pets of hospice patients. Care includes training materials, routine pet care, and tools to facilitate adoption.

For many people, their pets are their family, sometimes their only family.  They love and worry about their pets in the same ways others express concern about their children. When hospice patients are too ill to care for pets or need others to take full ownership of pets after they die, knowing a hospice volunteer will provide that care can be the difference between having a death journey with peace of mind or having one feeling depressed and anxious about the pet’s well-being. 

This video titled Pet Peace of Mind from Banfield Charitable Trust shows the importance of having a pet adoption program available for hospice patients.

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.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Hispanic, Mexican American Male Caregivers (Research, Alzheimer’s Video 2:48)

According to the National Alliance for Caregiving, in collaboration with AARP, more than 65 million people, 29% of America’s population, are caregivers for the chronically ill, disabled, or aged family members or friends. A family caregiver is usually a woman. Typically, she is 49 years old and caring for her widowed 69-year-old mother who does not live with her. She is married and employed. More than 37% have children or grandchildren under 18 years old living with them.

With these statistics, it’s little wonder we seldom hear about male caregivers, but they are out there with stories that need to be told. This post focuses on Hispanic, Mexican American male caregivers, particularly those taking care of parents. In a federally-funded study of 110 Mexican Americans who were caregivers in lieu of a female relative, the following results were reported:

1)   Caregiving strain and burden in Mexican American males may have more to do with physical and emotional costs than financial ones.

2)   Mexican American males providing personal care for their mothers adopt a matter-of-fact approach as they act "against taboo."

3)   This caregiving approach is a new way to fulfill family obligations

Ric Gomez quit his job and became a caregiver for his father who has Alzheimer’s disease. In this video interview with KPBS reporter Amita Sharma, Ric shares the triumphs and challenges of his caregiving experience.

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.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Sexuality of Older Adult Residents: Nursing Staff (Research, Dementia Video 3:09)

“You just made me throw-up in my mouth a little.”
“How about old people just stop having sex?”

These are a few of the negative stereotypical responses, including “funny” photos of diapered seniors, that I received at a social media site. Some are too vulgar to print here. I was attempting to initiate an intelligent discussion on the life-threatening topic of older adults and the prevention of HIV/AIDS. No one took this matter seriously. Disgust and ignorance are still perpetuated by many regarding adults having sex during their senior years.

Sometimes healthcare workers also reflect these biases, particularly regarding older residents with dementia. Examples are discomfort, denial, and other reluctance by some staff members when they are confronted with the sexual behavior of older residents in nursing homes and long-term care facilities. A study involving an extensive search of electronic databases of nursing staff and reported in the International Journal of Nursing Studies revealed the following:

1)   Nursing staff shows rather positive attitudes toward later-life sexuality.
2)   The extent of the staff’s knowledge regarding sexuality in the aged seemed to be very limited.
3)   Staff caregivers hold rather conservative attitudes toward sexuality of institutionalized elderly.
4)   Responses to residents' sexual behavior were influenced by the nursing staff’s own level of comfort related to sexuality issues and the culture within the institution where they work.

More research and education programs are needed on this topic in order to foster positive attitudes about sexuality of older adults. This video titled Freedom of Sexual Expression presents sexual expression as a basic human right for all residents, including those with dementia:

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.