Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Hospice Book Review Haunted by Death Monster

Don’t be afraid to read this. Death in American society is still a terminally ill taboo in great need of palliative-hospice care. Too many people avoid talking, hearing, writing, or even reading about the end of life. As an author and consultant on hospice and eldercare, I have been told on several occasions that the topic is just too depressing and final. If you’re a hospice worker, you may have noticed that people often think we’re a little strange because we choose to work with people who are dying.

This reluctance to deal with mortality visited a friendship of mine. I had given a casual friend a copy of my book Becoming Dead Right: A Hospice Volunteer in Urban Nursing Homes. Wanting to be sensitive  and not knowing her feelings about death, I decided not to talk to her about the book unless she brought it up. Eventually, she did. I’ll call her Alice. She approved my writing this post.

Because Alice works in the healthcare profession, I was somewhat surprised to discover that she feels strongly that death, a frightening stalker of her dreams, is her enemy. She shared that death has stolen too many of her loved ones, including pets. She helplessly dreads the thought of losing even more. My own acceptance of death, which comes across clearly in my conversations and writings, seems inappropriate to her. She finds my views too accepting of her enemy, too casual a regard for life. While she says she would consider hospice care along with other options in the future, she admits she could never be even an average hospice volunteer. It would be too painful.

What is her feedback regarding Becoming Dead Right? She loves the patients’ stories and my comments about interacting with various people in the nursing home world. The original poetry, which concludes each chapter and probably nudges her own poetic abilities, pleases her. She finds the discussions on hospice, nursing homes, caregiving, dementia, death, and bereavement informative. The explanations about intergenerational school-nursing home partnerships and the ideal nursing home described in the last chapter are particularly enjoyable. But she dislikes emphatically the premise that there is a “right” way to die.

I am not sure if her hostility toward death has changed much, but I hope that this book meeting with what she refers to as “the monster” has impacted her positively on some level. Those of us who embrace the topic of death will continue to be viewed with dismay by those who manage mortality through avoidance and resignation of themselves and loved ones as victims of death’s malicious powers.

Alice’s revelations reinforce the importance of promoting death as a natural part of life that should be experienced with dignity by everyone. I believe conversations and writings enhance lives of the naysayers one person at a time. These efforts empower them slowly with death acceptance even as they resist the message. I appreciate Alice’s frankness in sharing death’s distressful presence in her life and in giving feedback on my book. Most of all, I commend her willingness to become a ball of courage rolling into the high weeds where the death monster lives.

You can read book endorsements, excerpts, and more at my website.

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. PJ, MinnesotaApril 11, 2012

    It is odd to me to consider Death "the enemy." For me, it's always simply been a natural conclusion for us all, but maybe I'm not a very deep thinker. I feel sorry for people who fear death, because there is no escape from it. Most of the patients I've seen in hospice care seem to have accepted their fate (with one exception, who will not allow anyone to use the word "hospice" in her presence) and many will talk openly about their lives and pending deaths. I have heard negative comments from people about hospice work, but for me, it is deeply meaningful. I hope it is for the people I visit, too. I feel it is an honor to be present for someone at the very last stage of life. I must read your book!

  2. PJ Minnesota, I'm like you. I think we embrace death as a "natural conclusion" because we are deep thinkers. We want to "go there" to places many people fear. Fears should be confronted or they will rule us. The "death monster" just might end up being our friend. Like you, most of my patients accept that they are dying. I had one patient who would say, "You know I'm dying!" and fall out laughing.

    When people talk to me about how depressing hospice volunteering must be for me, I ask them sometimes, "Do you really think I would volunteer to go somewhere to get depressed every week for years?" Serving hospice patients, especially those with dementia, is one of the best choices I ever made. True service is a win-win opportunity for all parties involved. One thing I know for sure is that it has made me a better person.

    P.S. Let me know what you think of my book Becoming Dead Right. Thanks!