Monday, January 3, 2022

Kinship Care: What is it?

"Kinship care" is a popular term often used in reference to caregiving performed by a family member. I believe non-relatives who serve as committed caregivers during illness should also be included in the kinship care definition and treated as such. This story from my personal experience is one example of many that explains why.

Back in the 70's, the HIV-AIDS virus evolved into an epidemic/pandemic in LGBTQ communities. AIDS (Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome) is a disease with severe loss of cellular immunity and resistance to infections. I was a busy, Detroit, school principal who started helping Jake, a gay man I barely knew. He would come around my school sometimes at the end of the day to talk briefly with me while watching students leave. 

In his thirties, Jake confided that he suffered daily harassment from invisible people. His conversations were often bizarre and heartbreaking. One day, he mentioned his real-life boyfriend had left him. I phoned his family to get him more support. Unfortunately, they had given up on him and advised me to do the same. His mother deeply resented his homosexuality and gay lifestyle. 

Based on his appearance and actions, I suspected Jake had AIDS. I drove him and the "invisibles" to the hospital. He was admitted immediately and later placed with other AIDS patients in an isolated section of a nursing home. A young woman phoned me one day explaining that Jake was her biological father who had not raised her. She said she wanted to see him before he died and that she was busy taking care of her husband, her children, and being a waitress. 

The invisible people finally left Jake. Time passed during his death journey that included ongoing high fevers, chills, sores, weight loss, regular coughing, and breathing problems. This was my first major introduction to hospice care. I wasn't Jake's relative, a close friend of his family, or even a member of the LGBTQ community I supported. But I knew I was kinship.

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I wrote the following poem about Jake that was read at the 13th International AIDS Conference held in South Africa. Jake was there in spirit enjoying all the loving expressions he missed in life.

Remembering Jake

A lonely leper with AIDS,

you existed in a colony of inhumanity,

seldom felt life's caring caresses.

While demons dragged your body

through gutters of deterioration,

you relinquished your confused mind

to unseen terrorists who stalked,

robbed you of much needed rest.

I watched your painful decay,

witnessed abuses by family and friends

treating you like toxic waste.

Rare handfuls of love brought

limited smiles in your leper's life.

Sweet death delivered your only peace.

Frances Shani Parker

Frances Shani Parker is author of Becoming Dead Right: A Hospice Volunteer in Urban Nursing Homes available in paperback and e-book editions in America and other countries at online and off-line booksellers. Visit Hospice and Nursing Homes Blog and Frances Shani Parker's Website.