Monday, August 20, 2012

Caregiver–Patient Poem: Hospice, Dementia Aha! Moment with Music

Caregivers who embrace patient care with win-win expectations know that aha moments can come at any time. Meaningful conversations and feelings drift into a now/here place that helps us worm our way from the unknown to the known. Aha moments are not forced or always joyous and explosive occasions. Many times they are subtle, quiet with a settled satisfaction that brings whispered gifts of personal knowing about life lessons. One reason some people assume hospice work is depressing is that our aha moments with patients are not shared enough with people who are unaware of powerful scenarios we experience sometimes.

Recall a few of the aha moments you have known, especially those that made you better people. Many of you have had them. Share these enlightenments with others who wonder why you do this work or those who express a general interest in what your work entails. Aha moments can enhance lives of patients and caregivers.

This poem describes one of my favorite aha moments as a hospice volunteer. I had a very challenging patient whose name was Katherine. She usually lay in bed sleeping or looking up at the ceiling. I couldn’t tell if she was bored, unhappy, mellow, or all three. Rarely speaking, she never sat up on her own or walked. We mostly stared at each other while I talked.

Knowing that Katherine had been active in her Baptist church in the South at one time, I decided to use my CD player with headphones (this was before iPods, etc.) to help her enjoy music sung by Mahalia Jackson, whom many hail as the greatest gospel singer ever. After reading this poem, you’ll understand why it’s one of my favorite aha moments and why I still smile every time I read it. Share your aha moments with others, and you’ll be smiling, too.

Sounds of Ecstasy

Headphones frame your head.
You look at me, your volunteer,
wonder what they can be.
Mahalia Jackson’s song erupts,
“When the saints go marching in...”
Sleepy eyes widen like popped corn.
“It’s a CD player,” I say.
Your mental video rewinds
through time from the nursing home
to an Alabama church service
where bodies rock to music.
I join you clapping with the choir.
Your stiffened hands move
with a powerful energy that rises
like a resurrected hot flash.

“It’s wonderful,” you whisper.
Mahalia responds singing,
“Walk all over God’s heaven...”
I picture you joking with Death
when it’s your time to holy dance
to the Other Side of Through.
Mesmerized by the music,
you soak in every song.
A CD player exhilarates you
with sounds of ecstasy.
Such an easy thing for me
to bring, but before I leave,
you say you love me twice.

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

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 form at Amazon and Barnes and Noble booksellers.


  1. EXCELLENT insight & creativity. You made Katherine smile & made her life better. Thank you.

  2. That poem just chokes me up. I am amazed at how music seems to make the most listless patient come alive. I recently watched one of "my" patients clap his hands in time to music, when in the past he had not even spoken to me.
    One of my favorite moments came when I'd been visiting a near-death patient for weeks. She would not acknowledge me or even try to talk while I was there. During one visit I was asking myself, "Why am I sitting here when I could be doing other things? She doesn't care if I'm here or not." Suddenly I realized she was holding out her hand to me, almost as if she could read my thoughts. We held hands for a long time. That changed everything for me. I no longer "assume" anything about hospice patients.

  3. Thank you both for sharing your responses. An aha moment can be such a celebration for both patient and caregiver. It's amazing how much joy can come from music.