Wednesday, February 1, 2012
Hospice Poem: Michigan Volunteer Honors Alzheimer’s Patient and African American Ancestors (Ruby Bridges)
Because my hospice volunteering is primarily in Detroit, Michigan, many people assume that all of my patients are African American. Actually, I have had several Caucasian patients who were in my care for years. Dying is universal. My patients and I come together as strangers and often discover that we share similarities that bond us to higher levels of understanding of one another and ourselves. Shared similarities can include race, language, talents, occupations, travel, values, joys, and pains.
I was inspired to write this poem while watching my hospice patient sleep. I thought about our shared African American heritage that bridged our communication beyond her Alzheimer's disease. This poem is dedicated to her and our ancestors, especially those strong and inspirational like Ruby Bridges.
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
You can also read my tribute to a nun who positively impacted my life as a child and later developed and died from Alzheimer’s disease here:
Frances Shani Parker, Author
Becoming Dead Right: A Hospice Volunteer in Urban Nursing Homes is available in paperback at many booksellers in America and other countries and also in e-book editions at Amazon and Barnes and Noble booksellers.