Monday, July 29, 2019

Grief Support: School, Workplace (Video 3:57)

We all know that death can and will come at any time. However, many times we don’t expect it and may not be prepared for how to respond. When I was school principal of a PK-8th grade school, a speeding car drove over the curb during student dismissal time. This massive nightmare of steel plowed through a group of giggling students heading for home. Staff, students, and I witnessed a boy’s body fly into the air and land with a life-destroying thud in the middle of the street.

Time stood still as we endured the horrific sounds of our rapidly beating hearts absorbing what had happened. This young member of our school family was tragically killed before our eyes. We joined together as a community untangling the tremendous grief, a first time for most, through heartfelt expressions of painful feelings. Ongoing healing included counseling support, a school memorial service, and many classroom conversations about death, a topic that is too often ignored until a crisis comes.

As adults in the workplace, our co-workers also die in expected and unexpected circumstances, leaving us with similar experiences of grief and loss that impact us as a work community. For many, the workplace staff becomes a family grieving in various ways as they experience a shared loss.

Comforting co-workers who are struggling with grief symptoms can be uncomfortable for some people. While they may have good intentions, they often lack confidence regarding what to say or do that will help mourners adjust. At the workplace, many staff members may feel that only experts should handle grief support. Worried that they might cause hurt feelings, they may remain distant from those mourning openly. Holding back their support, however, can negatively impact colleagues who are suffering and looking for healing.

Although counselors and others trained in grief management play an important role, colleagues can also make beneficial contributions. Before tragedies occur, individuals of the organization should have workshops and meetings at workplaces and include time for sharing strategies everyone can incorporate to alleviate grief as a community. Implementation of these strategies can help create workplace cultures where everyone feels inspired to support one another in whatever ways they can during times of grief. Managers should plan to have an open forum where employees feel free to discuss their emotions, offer assistance to the families of the deceased, and understand that people grieve in different ways.

This video provides suggestions for coping with workplace grief. It focuses on death of a colleague in the workplace. Jessica Barton of R3 Continuum reviews the different reactions to various types of death in the workplace and offers reminders of positive teaching points.

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, July 22, 2019

Hospice Book Reviewer Faces Death Fears

For some people, death is a terminally ill taboo that should be feared. They avoid talking, hearing, writing, or even reading about the end of life. A hospice volunteer for 20 years, an author, and eldercare consultant, I have been told on several occasions that death is just too depressing and final to welcome on any level. 

This reluctance to examine mortality visited a friendship of mine. I had given her a copy of my book BecomingDead Right: A Hospice Volunteer in Urban Nursing Homes. After reading the book with a mixture of curiosity and hesitance, she shared this book review with me. I’ll call her Alice. She approved my writing this post.

Because Alice works in a hospital, I was somewhat surprised to discover that she felt strongly that death, a scary stalker of her dreams, is her enemy. She explained that death has stolen too many of her loved ones, including pets. She worries about losing even more. My own positive acceptance of death, which comes across clearly in my conversations and writings, seems too accepting of her persistent adversary. While she says she would consider hospice care for herself in the future, she admits being a hospice volunteer caregiving terminally ill patients would be frightening.

What is her feedback regarding Becoming Dead Right, my non-fiction book? She cares deeply about the residents’ interesting stories and my interactions with various people in the nursing home world. My original poetry, which concludes each chapter, also pleases her. She finds the discussions on hospice, nursing homes, caregiving, dementia, death, and bereavement very informative. She appreciates that, while the book is appealing on a universal level, it includes the often-missing voices of urban dwellers, including people of color. She finds the intergenerational school-nursing home partnerships through service-learning uplifting. The ideal nursing home described in the last chapter is particularly impressive. Basically, she loves the book, but not the premise that there is a “right” way to die.

I am glad that this book meeting with her dreaded death demon impacts her so positively. Those of us who embrace the topic of death will continue to be viewed with dismay by people who cope with mortality through avoidance and resignation of themselves and loved ones as victims of death’s imagined malicious powers. Alice’s death revelations  remind us of the significance of promoting death as a natural part of life that should be experienced with dignity by everyone. 

Death conversations that we initiate can enhance lives of fearful naysayers one person at a time. These efforts empower them slowly with death acceptance even as they resist the message. I value Alice’s frankness in sharing death’s distressful presence in her life and in giving me positive feedback on my book. Most of all, I commend her willingness to become a ball of courage rolling into the high weeds of her life where the death demon 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.
Hospice and Nursing Homes Blog

Monday, July 15, 2019

Alone, But Not Lonely (Research, Personality Traits Video 5:21)

Older adults and others who live alone are often viewed as having adverse health conditions and/or poor social networking skills. Some observers assume that those who are viewed as loners are unhappy with their lives and live with sad feelings of isolation from others. While this possibility exists, it is important to remember that many people who enjoy aloneness are living lives that they find satisfying and socially fulfilling.

A research study was done on the perspectives of older adults regarding their time spent alone. Participants lived in a retirement village or lived independently in the community. The three themes noted from their responses were having balance in activities, keeping busy, and experiencing nights as the worst times. This study highlights the importance some older people place on their need to manage time alone so that it is a positive and nourishing experience and to avoid extended periods of boredom. Enabling older adults to balance time spent alone by addressing barriers to participation in the community in addition to finding engaging ways to occupy time has the potential to prevent loneliness and improve well-being.

Like people of all ages, many older adults enjoy their alone time and do not view their aloneness as loneliness. Spending quality time alone can have many advantages when people have developed interesting activities that add purpose  to their lives. A lifestyle in which aloneness plays a major role may not suit everybody. But, for those who enjoy longer periods of alone time, it can be a positive addition to their overall healthy living.

The luring road to solitude promises countless adventures that enhance life journeys. Who are the people who savor this aloneness time with passion? This video explains 12 of their special personality traits.

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, July 8, 2019

Healthcare Cleaning Staff - Patient Communication (Research, Video 6:17)

Whenever I hear an employee say, “I’m just the _________________( a job title that they clearly don’t see as too important in the fulfillment of a company mission ), I know that the leadership should begin working on making inclusive changes to end this kind of thinking. Often, even other staff workers think that colleagues at a certain level, such as the cleaning staff, have no real connection with operational success. It’s little wonder that cleaning staff members may assume their contributions are not too important if they are never recognized.

A former school principal, I always emphasized the significance of every employee’s contribution to the success of our school. Instead of celebrating Secretary’s Day, Boss’s Day, or Teacher Appreciation Week, our entire school celebrated Staff Appreciation Week and included all staff, including custodial staff, aides, cafeteria workers, volunteers, and even the street crossing guard and our regular mailperson. A few “higher level” employees were somewhat uncomfortable with this concept when I first presented it to the staff. But they eventually came to understand as our school improved that we were all valued links in a strong chain in which everybody’s contribution mattered.

Healthcare organizations can also benefit from such a culture. In this post, research focuses on the hospital cleaning staff experiences “tidying rooms and tending hearts with seriously ill and dying patients.” Perhaps you have had such an experience yourself when you were hospitalized. While cleaning staff communication is seldom recognized, many opportunities are presented in hospitals and long-term care facilities where cleaning staff members, not only interact with very ill patients, but also cope at personal levels with their dying and deaths.

This research included cleaning staff participants in interviews and in focus group discussions. They described interactions with patients as an important and fulfilling aspect of their work. About half of participants indicated that patients talked with them every day on average for one to three minutes. While conversations included casual topics such as weather and family, patients also discussed their illnesses and thoughts regarding death. When patients addressed illness and death, cleaning staff members said they often felt uncomfortable and helpless. More training on how to handle these sensitive discussions would be helpful for them in supporting patients when patients want to speak openly with them about illness and death.

This wonderful video titled “I am Essential” focuses on staff members of the New York-Presbyterian Hospital Support Services and emphasizes that all members are truly essential to hospital operations, not just cleaning rooms. They have stories about supporting patients in important ways as part of a team with a common mission. They are often the eyes and ears that can add significant information about what goes on in the total environment. Every job has a component above a basic job description. All staff members are essential and should be praised for their input as team members serving with a common mission.

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, July 1, 2019

Older Adults Honored Through Dance (Research, Video 2:02)

I have witnessed outstanding young people displaying great kindness toward older adults on many occasions. But I have also viewed lots of young people on the Internet in so-called funny videos mimicking older adults in the most insensitive ways. Stereotypes were used in the extreme with language and graphics defying human decency. In addition, some young adults are guilty of mistreating older adults in terms of crime, service, and general courtesy.

If young adults really appreciated the sacrifices that were made for them by previous generations, not just in their own families, but society in general, perhaps they would understand that many of these older adults are entitled to far more respect than they are receiving from them. Unfortunately, when many older adults who are treated unfairly due to their aging, they develop negative views about themselves. A study on aging “reflects the importance of positive views on aging as a resource for a healthy old age despite aging in precarious circumstances.”

This amazing video with young adult dancers celebrates the love and vibrancy of older aging. Keone and Mariel Madrid, dance choreographers who are a young married couple, perform a routine as an older couple to Bob Marley's "Is This Love?” Like the song says, older adults just want to be loved and treated right.  Who doesn’t?

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