Monday, December 31, 2018

Widowed Fathers Coping (Research, Video 1:30)

Alexandra was diagnosed with a rare and aggressive form of breast cancer leading to a mastectomy, chemotherapy, radiation, and finally death, all within 16 months. At the time, she and Bertie were married with two children. Bertie, pictured above reading to his son and daughter, found himself thrust into a whole new parenting place joining the ranks of America’s estimated annual 20,000-30,000 widowed fathers raising dependent children. Maintaining jobs to provide for their families, many widowed fathers suppress their own needs while struggling in silence as everyday dads fostering well-being of their children.

Widowed fathers’ perspectives are important in determining positive end-of-life practices for families living with terminally ill loved ones. Their views help establish effective coping strategies after mothers have died leaving dependent children. This study, which focuses on those outcomes, included 344 men who identified themselves through an open-access educational website as widowed fathers. They all indicated that their spouses had died from cancer and that they were parenting dependent children. Participants completed surveys including their wives’ cancer history, end-of-life experiences, and their own depression and bereavement. Their views on how parental status may have influenced the end-of-life experiences of mothers with advanced cancer were emphasized. These were the results:

1) Fathers stated that 38% of mothers had not said goodbye to their children before death, and 26% were not at peace with dying.

2) Among participants, there were 90% reporting that their spouses were worried about the strain on their children at the end of life.

3) Fathers who reported clearer prognostic communication between their wives and physicians had lower depression and bereavement scores.

These data clarify the need for more family assistance related to terminal illness and death impacting widowed fathers and their children. Additional research and helpful resources such as books, videos, support groups, counseling, etc. can assist them further in untying knots of grief as they create their new normal.

1) The National Widowers Organization website provides a list of men’s support groups and other resources.

2) Single Fathers Due to Cancer is located at the University of North Carolina- Chapel Hill. Dr. Donald Rosenstein, director of the UNC Comprehensive Cancer Support Program, started the support group a few years ago with his team, including Dr. Justin Yopp. They meet monthly with child care provided by students. The following video titled “Support for Single Fathers Due to Cancer” features Bruce Ham, a widowed father who shares his story.

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.

Sunday, December 23, 2018

New Year’s Eve Party in Long-Term Care (Alzheimer's Dementia Poem)

As a hospice volunteer in Detroit, MI nursing homes for many years, I learned a lot from quietly listening, observing and analyzing residents. Many had dementia, and I valued their thought-provoking interpretations of reality and unique forms of expression. 

I wrote the poem "Mealtime Party" after participating in numerous mealtimes and parties with residents. This carefree poem includes combinations of actual scenarios that took place. What do I know for sure? I know I visited weekly an Oz I respected and became a better person. Join Lurania and her nursing home friends right now. Today she gives someone else her name and hosts an imaginary party for herself.

Mealtime Party

“Come to your party, Lurania! Have some tacos!
We’re singing in Spanish!” Lurania exclaims.
Her two-part conversations go back
and forth like a tennis match with one player.
Today Lurania gives someone else her name
and hosts an imaginary party for herself.

Next to Lurania sits sleeping Mary.
A purring snore drifts from her open mouth,
a canon too tired to fire. She searched
all morning for her slippers
until she found them on her feet.
Now she salsas in her dreams.

“10, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5...!” yells John, who thinks
Lurania's party is on New Year’s Eve.
He holds up his milk carton and shouts,
“Happy New Year!” John knows
the wish everyone wants to hear
as 12:00 noon begins a new year.

Grace still wears the glow of a woman
who’s been in love. Her so-called boyfriend,
a nurse aide sixty years her junior,
blushed when told of her romantic fantasy.
Even though she “dumped” him,
their friendship will be a lasting flower.

“You know, Olga has been my sister
all my life,” Miller announces. I remind him
that yesterday Olga brought him
a chocolate chip cookie. Miller flaunts
a grin, satisfied that the streetcar
of his life looks great, rides just fine.

“Everybody can come! Lurania's parties
are wonderful!” Lurania hollers, intoxicated
with laughter resonating like a trumpet.
Everyone should come and marvel
at the magnificence of minds that dance,
turn somersaults to create happy realities.

© Frances Shani Parker (poem excerpt from her book 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 and e-book editions in America and other countries at online and offline booksellers. Visit Hospice and Nursing Homes Blog and Frances Shani Parker's Website.

Monday, December 17, 2018

Word Power (Video 2:00)

I love words. I crave their different sounds and meanings, the challenging way they confide in me or refuse to speak. I savor tasting their life and death spices as they yield to my interpretations, inspire me to fill a page with truth. I consider them friends and appreciate how they remind me of who I am, help me make sense of nonsense, surrender, evolve.

Words matter, and it’s not necessary to have a way with words to experience their power. When we think about their impact, we realize they can heal, celebrate, encourage, and make many positive changes. Without thoughtful consideration, they have the power to hurt, confuse, and destroy. Making words really matter comes with effort.

Ironically, this video below has very few words. It reminds us that the power of words depends, not on the quantity used, but on the energy, meaning, and motivation they bring. Consider the power of words. While actions may speak louder, words can still change lives.


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.

Monday, December 10, 2018

Alzheimer's Dementia Emotional Communication (Research)

Have you ever seen an uplifting movie or heard a passionate song that stirs up rousing emotions when you experience them years later? Those remaining feelings are wonderful scars that continue to heal us as we age. Maybe you can’t remember the names of the movie, the song, the actors, or the singers. But the feelings they generated in a sacred place inside you still resonate.

I thought about this powerful retention of feelings when I read Alzheimer’s research about emotions that people with the disease have long after memories that caused them have disappeared. A sample of 17 participants with probable Alzheimer’s disease and 17 healthy comparison participants underwent separate emotion inducing procedures in which they watched film clips. The clips were intended to induce feelings of sadness or happiness. An evaluation of the emotions later revealed that participants with Alzheimer’s had severely impaired memories of both the sad and happy films. But they continued to report high levels of persisting sadness and happiness beyond their memory of the actual films. The sadness associated with the films lasted more than 30 minutes. This research reminds us that the emotional lives of individuals with Alzheimer's dementia can be greatly influenced by experiences, people, and places they may not recall later.

Caregivers and others must be sensitive to making pleasant emotional memories when managing, interpreting, and responding to behaviors of those with dementia. Loved ones who avoid visiting them because “She doesn’t know who I am” or “I can’t deal with his confusion” must be mindful that the purpose of their presence has nothing to do with anyone's ability to remember anything or anybody, including them. People with dementia should not be greeted with a memory test (What’s my name?) they will probably fail. Names and relationships can easily be told to them.

Interactions with people who have dementia can refine our mastery of thinking outside the box by taking us to an Oz we can learn to respect. We should focus on spending quality time generating emotions that help them feel better and experience love even after our time with them has ended, and we have gone. And there is something in this quality time for us. We can leave with satisfying personal memories of pleasant emotions we inspired and can recall later, too.

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.

Hospice and Nursing Homes Blog

Monday, December 3, 2018

End-of-Life Care: Doctors’ Political Views (Research, Video 3:01)

Are your primary care doctors Democrats or Republicans? Do you think their political affiliations will impact your end-of-life care? Political affiliations of people we know can often impact how we relate to them or how they relate to us. With so many biases already researched in healthcare, can politics also influence healthcare we receive during terminal illness?

This research compared the delivery of end-of-life care given to U.S. Medicare beneficiaries in a hospital by internal medicine doctors with Democrat versus Republican political affiliationsPatients included random samples of Medicare beneficiaries who were admitted with a general medical condition to a hospital and later died in a hospital. Patient demographics and clinical characteristics were similar between groups. The proportion of patients discharged from a hospital to hospice did not vary with doctors' political affiliations.

Conclusion: This research provided no evidence that doctors' political affiliations are associated with the intensity of end-of-life care received by hospitalized patients. Were you surprised? Why?

Regarding terminal illness, many doctors struggle with what to say to patients who are dying. This video shows how they can have these hard conversations with emphasis on four important questions they should ask patients.

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.

Monday, November 26, 2018

Grant Writers and Researchers (Research, Video 2:22)

Early Career Grant Writers and Researchers

I have been attracted to research most of my life. I like the credibility it can add, the focus on detail, the high discovery possibility of the undiscovered that research brings to a given topic. But the playing field of grant writing and research has changed through the years. Junior tenure-track faculty who have embraced this field are reporting high levels of stress and low satisfaction. Some have even considered quitting. 

Data from a program evaluation of an interdisciplinary research mentoring program in an academic medical center reflects this. View this surveyed research about adults considering quitting research: Mentees were asked if they had considered quitting research in the past year. There were 39 out of 44 mentees who answered the question with 17 (44%) answering in the affirmative. Factors associated with thinking about quitting included lower confidence in research skills, reduced job satisfaction, and higher levels of burnout.

Early career researchers are encouraged to develop habits and skills that keep them excited, curious, successful and, of course, employed. This video titled “Seven Habits of Successful Early Career Researchers” can help them through the maze of collaboration, research skills, and academic publishing.

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.

Monday, November 12, 2018

Holidays Your Way

What's best for you during the holidays? Many people associate holidays with particular traditions that may include familiar people, places, rituals, foods, music, and more. They may even internalize that if all or most of these components are not present, then their holidays are lacking, not whole, maybe even a failure. These feelings can lead to depression, helplessness about too much of their personal needs not being met.

Particularly troubling for some may be their adjustment to holiday customs after the loss of loved ones. In cases where memories remind them of traditions that are difficult to do without people no longer there, mourners may want to consider other ways they can better embrace the holidays. One option is to create new holiday practices. If holidays were celebrated as a family, new traditions can be planned as a family with input open to everyone. This will give them opportunities to discuss their feelings about the deceased loved ones and possibly include something in the new traditions that will commemorate the deceased in an uplifting manner. This could be a type of memorial that adds pleasure to holidays in the future.

Caregivers have special considerations and should not totally neglect their own needs. With a focus on the positive, they should create a workable plan to have holidays as stress-free as possible. They can consider including the essentials of what they hope to accomplish and eliminating activities that are not really needed. They should encourage assistance from others and be mindful of balance in their own lives. AARP suggests these 10 holiday tips specifically for caregivers.

Whatever situations the holidays bring, remember that there is no one way of participation for everyone. There are different ways that work well for different people. Their choices should be respected and not judged negatively because they are not the norm. For those who find the holidays frustrating, phony, or too commercial, they may want to redirect their holiday focus and participate in activities that are calmer and more meaningful to them. One example could be volunteering at places where they can be helpful to others. Some may want to celebrate alone or socialize with one or two friends. Another choice could be taking a trip to a location they love or want to experience.

Whether celebrating the holidays alone, with others, or not at all, people should follow their hearts and do what feels best for them. Person-centered holidays can include activities that may not have anything to do with the holidays at all, but everything to do with their own quality of life.

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.
Hospice and Nursing Homes Blog

Monday, November 5, 2018

Emotional Intelligence: Haiku Poetry Improving Health (Nurse Research)

When you think of healthcare, what do you envision? Is your focus mostly on physical heath in terms of food, exercise, or illness? What about your  spiritual health? Are your concerns mainly about improving personal growth through religion or other practices promoting a more meaningful life? What do you think about when the topic is your emotional health? Are you as conscious of that part of yourself and what you can do to improve it?

Emotional intelligence is the ability to identify and manage your own emotions and the emotions of others. Improved self-esteem and decision-making are two bonuses when emotional intelligence is addressed. In fact, research in nursing and other disciplines has demonstrated that emotional intelligence abilities “improve communication, support constructive conflict resolution, and improve individual and team performance.” These qualities can also improve safety of patients.

I facilitated a poetry workshop focused on the improvement of emotional intelligence with adult student participants (ages 20's through 70's) and volunteer tutors at Siena Literacy Center in Detroit, MI. I thought using haiku poetry would work particularly well for them because several are African immigrants becoming more familiar with 
the English language.


Haiku is a form of traditional Japanese poetry focused on thoughts that capture special moments in time. Meaningful feelings are written in a small space. Haikus vary, but our workshop focused on including three lines with 5, 7, and 5 syllables. These are examples of haiku poetry:

 My oldest son died. (5 syllables)                             My daughter Fatou, (5)

 His sickness made me feel sad. (7 syllables)           I am proud she is reading. (7)

 I feel better now. (5 syllables)                                 She works hard in school. (5)

Arthur Cogshell                                                        Tamsir Ndow


Adding the emotional intelligence theme combined with haiku in a supportive environment was ideal for us. Successfully expressing in poetry their heartfelt emotions and reading about emotions of others were great ways to engage everyone in win-win conversations with empathy. 


We created healthy haikus about our joys, sadness, fears, and hopes. Poems were published in a wonderful anthology, which students proudly display in these photos. You can read a few of their haiku poems on this post. This project was done in partnership with Poets and Writers, Inc.
When I was a child,                                                  Working is much fun.

a man scared me with a knife.                                  I like being a cashier
That was horrible.                                                    making good money.

Nzi Kouadio                                                             Aletha Lewis

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. 

Monday, October 29, 2018

Hospice Volunteer Magic

I have been a hospice volunteer 20 years, many in service as a bedside volunteer in Detroit, MI nursing homes. I often view those experiences as magical because there were always mind-blowing surprises that I had not anticipated. For example, Jim, who had dementia, thought I was his deceased wife and gave me opportunities to share stories I made up about our old-school dates when we were young and in love. There were unexplained victories that revealed hidden sides of myself when my solutions finally unraveled mysteries. Sometimes I even enjoyed fascinating fun that seemed to come from nowhere on earth when patients explained their supernatural visits to a spirit world with family and friends.

One illusion of hospice volunteer magic is the common belief among many who are not hospice volunteers that this form of service must be depressing, even insisting that is the reality. Do they really think I would go somewhere weekly to embrace gloom? They don’t understand the magic beyond the curtain of appearances. They don’t know that I disappeared to a place of enchantment they cannot see, a place where I became a better person and a gratified magician after I picked the lucky hospice volunteer card.

Consider taking a chance on the magic of hospice volunteering. You might even discover that this service chooses you. Congratulations, if you have already made the commitment and want to continue your lucky streak. I recommend the following 10 charmed maneuvers for making more hospice volunteer magic:

Hospice Volunteer Magic in 10 Steps

By Frances Shani Parker

1) Remember why you serve.

There’s a reason you feel compelled to enhance lives of the terminally ill. Cherish that inspiration. Move forward committed to an amazing and rewarding healthcare adventure.

2) Believe it’s all win-win.

Providing end-of-life service is a privilege, not a calling to be a savior. You and those you support come together in relationships of mutual healing and growth. Honor your win-win journey.

3) Be present.

By all means, show up. But be present with patients after you arrive. Evaluate appearances, behaviors, surroundings, and interactions with others. Listen with your heart. Even silence speaks. Really try to understand living from their perspectives. Focus on advocacy for improving their quality of life.

4) Try other doors.

Patients will have challenges such as dementia that may not respond to your usual front-door communication. Try other doors and even windows. Obstacles are enrichment opportunities in your partnerships with patients. Touch, music, pictures, stories, and fantasies are a few entry points. Let patients help you navigate your way into their world.

5) Know your piece in the puzzle.

Adherence to rules of protocol and professional ethics should be routine. Be aware of boundaries such as confidentiality regarding yourself, your patients, and their loved ones. Follow guidelines of your hospice organization and seek help when needed.

6) Untie your knots.

There may be times of doubt, confusion, sadness, and guilt. These are normal knots of the caregiving process. Untie them by seeking support for your total well-being. Maintain proper rest, nutrition, exercise, and balance in your life. Do your best. Don’t be surprised when you discover reasons to kiss yourself.

7) Spread the word.

Be knowledgeable about hospice and palliative care. Share information so others can benefit from these specialized areas of healthcare. Encourage involvement in hospice and palliative care career and service activities.

8) Pick up a turtle.

If you see a turtle sitting on a fence post, you know somebody helped to put it there. Be on the lookout for turtles aiming for fence posts. Be a role model for other volunteers. Participate in organizations, conferences, workshops, and discussion groups where you can share best practices while learning new ideas.

9) Write death sentences.

Death will come no matter how often you avoid it or wrestle it to the ground. Have your advance directives, finances, and property in legal order. Urge others to do the same. Don’t burden loved ones later with important decisions you can record now. As you unfasten yourself from this life, be satisfied knowing your death sentences will be carried out according to your wishes.

10) Expect rainbow smiles.

Rainbow smiles hug you so tightly you can feel ribs of joy press against your essence. Hospice volunteering provides ongoing moments for you to positively impact lives. When you make those connections happen, rainbow smiles will come.

© Frances Shani Parker

You can read about my personal journey in becoming a hospice volunteer without even realizing I was one here:

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.