Monday, June 5, 2017

Hospice Volunteer’s Alzheimer’s Dementia Poem Praising Ancestors

This sign from America's Jim Crow era reminds me of a painful history I share with many. After the Civil War ended in 1865 and continuing to the Civil Rights Act of 1964, government Jim Crow laws legally enforced racial discrimination, particularly against Negroes. These laws institutionalized numerous inferior economic, educational, and social practices far below and sometimes non-existent compared to advantages white people received. Negative ramifications continue today impacting victims, their families, their communities, and the entire nation with long-term burdens and losses of productivity.

In an urban nursing home, I was inspired to write this poem while watching my African American hospice patient sleep. I thought about our shared heritage that bridged our communication beyond her Alzheimer’s dementia. This poem is written in praise of her and everyone’s ancestors who have endured racial-ethnic oppression. Their resilience gifted us with sustaining stories of joy, pain, courage, and survival that go far deeper than words.

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

1) Visiting Someone With Alzheimer’s Dementia: Emotions Without Memories (Research)

The post link below reminds us that the emotional lives of individuals with Alzheimer's can be greatly influenced by experiences, people, and places they do not recall.

2) Children Learn About Alzheimer's Dementia: School, Family Support (Video 3:51)

An educator who has been actively involved with introducing elementary-middle school children to the nursing home world and dementia for many years, I have always been impressed with the sensitive ways they embrace knowledge about this disease. Click link below for more information about this form of teaching-learning called service-learning.

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 online and offline booksellers


  1. Ronee HensonJune 11, 2017

    Frances, this is absolutely beautiful !!!
    Thank you for writing it....

    Ronee Henson, Hospice Volunteer

  2. Thanks, Ronee. I'm glad you like it. Happy endings, Frances