Sunday, May 26, 2013

End-of-Life Humor: Hospice Caregiver, Dementia Patient Balloon Story

It’s a boy! No, Miss Ruby didn’t give birth at age 89. But, like all her room visitors, she thought her balloon message was hilarious!

What does this have to do with quality end-of-life care? Contrary to what some people think, many terminally ill patients continue to maintain a comic state of mind and often initiate and enjoy participating in humorous activities. Sometimes the humor is unintentional, but the energy is just as exciting. That has definitely been my experience as a hospice volunteer.

I’m a balloon lover. My favorites are Mylar foil balloons with special shapes, themes, and messages. Many of my patients with dementia enjoy balloons as much as I do. Funny scenarios have often resulted after I brought them balloons. This true story came about after I offered to get a seasonal spring balloon in a flowered shape for Miss Robinson, a patient with Alzheimer's disease, the most common form of dementia. But she decided she preferred a green balloon instead. This heart-warming balloon adventure followed.

Excerpt from my book Becoming Dead Right: A Hospice Volunteer in Urban Nursing Homes:

Miss Robinson was very emphatic about choosing a green balloon. She couldn’t explain why the color green meant so much to her, except to say it was her favorite color. The party-supply store had many flowered balloons, but green ones were scarce. After a lengthy search with my help, the salesperson found one green balloon in the entire store. Later that week, I brought the balloon to Miss Robinson, tied it to her wheelchair, and took her for an indoor ride around the nursing home to show it off.

“Look, everybody! Look at my red balloon! Did you ever see a red balloon this pretty? It’s my red spring balloon! Hey, everybody, look at me! I’ve got my own red balloon!” she exclaimed.

A few days later, I visited Miss Robinson. Her balloon hovered over her bed like a shiny green pit bull on guard. She could enjoy watching it bobbing around doing its doggie dance and even talk to it if she felt lonely.

“Hi, Miss Robinson. Do you remember who I am?” I asked, giving her a little memory test.

“Sure, I remember you. You’re the hat lady who brought me my purple flag. See, it’s still waving in the air. I just love my purple flag!”

I smiled, thinking of the evolving green balloon that had developed a life of its own. In less than two weeks, it had evolved at three different levels with hidden powers I hadn’t known. It was enough to have gone from a green to red balloon. Now, it had become a purple flag. I couldn’t wait to visit Miss Robinson again before the balloon deflated completely. I looked forward to hearing more about her happy adventure with the green balloon and its miraculous makeovers. 

© Frances Shani Parker

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 booksellers such as Amazon and Barnes and Noble .

Friday, May 17, 2013

Dreams About the Deceased: Dream Themes and Bereavement (Hospice Caregiver Research)

Have you had dreams about someone close to you who has died? Did the  dreams affect your mourning process? Researchers of dreams and mourning asked these same questions and more to 278 bereaved persons who had been hospice caregivers. The study focused on the relationship between dreams and the mourning process. Fifty eight percent of those who responded said they dreamt about deceased loved ones. Most dreams were pleasant, both pleasant and disturbing, and a few completely disturbing. Which kinds of dream have you had?

Prevalent dream themes included these:

1)   Pleasant past memories or experiences
2)   The deceased free of illness
3)   Memories of the deceased's illness or time of death
4)   The deceased in the afterlife appearing comfortable and at peace
5)   The deceased communicating a message

How did your dreams about the deceased affect your mourning process? Sixty percent of research participants felt their dreams increased their acceptance of the loved one’s death and improved their comfort, spirituality, sadness, and general quality of life.

This research is important because it shows the high prevalence and therapeutic relevance of meaningful dreams among the bereaved. While many counselors may be uncomfortable addressing dreams during psychotherapy with patients, they should consider the relevance of dreams among those who are bereaved. Counselors should consider increasing their own awareness, knowledge, and skills on this topic.

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 booksellers such as Amazon and Barnes and Noble .

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Cancer, Suicide, and Holocaust Survivors (Research, Video 2:17)

Question: Do you think a higher number of older adult Holocaust survivors who have cancer would commit suicide more than their counterparts who have cancer and are not Holocaust survivors? After all, many older adults were children when they witnessed and experienced the atrocities related to this part of history.

It’s easy to assume that Holocaust survivors with cancer would have more suicides. But a study of these older adult cancer patients indicates otherwise. The incidence of suicides were not significantly different between the Holocaust exposed and nonexposed groups. Past exposure to maximum adversity did not increase the suicide risk among persons with cancer.

These Holocaust cancer-suicide research results were surprising to me in a good way. Erika is my Jewish friend who was a child during the Holocaust. Her firsthand stories give history a name and face that validate the plight of those murdered during that horrific period. She attributes her current existence to a sympathetic family that hid her in their home from Nazi soldiers. Like many survivors who are older adults now, Erika continues to cope with the trauma of her childhood experiences. 

This video titled Holocaust Survivor Testimony: Menachem Frenkel showcases another Jewish child who survived the Holocaust due to the extraordinary goodwill of others who risked their own lives. Rescue attempts were made by three organizations -- the OSE (Children's Aid Society), Amitie Chretienne, and the Jewish Underground in Lyons -- to remove some 100 Jewish children from a concentration camp. Menachem and his sister were among those rescued one night. They escaped being among the 1.5 million Holocaust victims under the age of twelve. 

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