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Sunday, February 17, 2013

African American Hospice Caregiver: Patient, Dementia Poem


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


Dying is universal. A hospice volunteer, I come together with my patients as strangers and often discover, even in our differences, 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 even common pain.

My book Becoming Dead Right: A Hospice Volunteer in Urban Nursing Homes concludes each chapter with an original poem. I was moved to write the poem Deeper Than Words while watching my hospice patient sleep. I thought about our shared African American history that bridged our communication beyond her dementia. This poem is dedicated to Miss Loretta, Ruby Bridges and our awe-inspiring ancestors.

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 in America and other countries and in e-book form at Amazon and Barnes and Noble booksellers.

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