Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Book Reviews- 2fer

I have finally begun hospice volunteer work. I was excited to hear that I had been cleared and was given my first assignment. I went to a convention mostly having to do with finances and taxes and passed out information on what HOM does. I have pretty much decided to speak very generally about any assignment I am on and only convey experiences that have/will affect my grasp on grief and the loss of my father. As a volunteer I am supposed to be open to the individuals I am working with and not project my loss in any way. I know that what I have gone through with my dad affects everything I do in life, but I am resolved not to “make it all about me.” So this assignment was great practice for that. It was an odd place to have a hospice booth, this convention, and I was reminded by a few people how bleak hospice is contorted in people’s minds. So I lightened the mood by reminding everyone that death is as inevitable as taxes.. that went over well because the mass majority of people I talked to were accountants of some kind. So I pushed pamphlets like my life depended on it, to people who dared make eye contact with me. Then there came the practice I mentioned. Some people sought out the booth. They came to me simply to tell what a wonderful experience they’d had with hospice, and one not so great experience. They wanted to tell me about their mother’s, sisters, fathers, brothers, wives and husbands. I listened, said that I was glad that “we” could be there for them. Some left a little misty eyed but most left with huge grins on their faces. Most people relate to others with two simple words, “me too.” So when one man told me about his mother in law using hospice, I could have interjected/related that my dad also used hospice. But what would that have accomplished? A whole lot of nothing, for him. He walked across the convention floor to tell me about HIS experience, not hear about mine. And it was nice to allow him that. I w

as worried that doing this would bring up all kinds of unresolved or even perfectly resolved issues with grief. I no longer have that worry. Me doing this has nothing to do with my dad. I am doing this because I know that I can. For the same reason I teach special education. I could teach anything but I focus on special education because I can. I can talk to the living all day, but I chose to give my time to the dying, because I can. And wouldn’t it be a shame to waste that on reruns of Oprah. As much as I love my Oprah time, it can be spent more impactfully (yes I make up words now). Ok.. getting off my soapbox.. I have a couple of book reviews if you are interested:

In preparation for my journey as a hospice volunteer I have a stack of books to read. A list was sent from HOM and I ordered a couple from my library.. as well as a few that came up in the search. The two books that I am reviewing today are written by hospice volunteers. Each writes about patients of whom have make an impact on the volunteer and either offered a learning experience or a better understanding of themselves.

When Evening Comes: The Education of a Hospice Volunteer
By Christine Andreae
St Martin's Press, 2000

All I can say after reading this book is “wow.” Christine’s account of the connection and struggle to connect with her patients was so raw and honest. My first thought was that it was too honest and could be offensive to family members. But I wasn’t reading it from that perspective. I was reading it looking for tips and tools. What I got instead was a look inside a volunteer as she struggled with feelings of inadequacy and the potentiality of crossing the lone with her patients. She writes, in journal form, about finding her “place” within the care team, friends and family of the patient. She worries about her misgivings and slip ups. In one particular passage in which iced coffee squirted out of my nose after reading it, she describes meeting a couple who is a bit too open about the wife’s cancer. The husband openly discusses where the cancer is, how long she’s had it… cancer cancer cancer. As Christine listens to him speak she wonders how his openness with a stranger is making his wife feel. She attempts to change the subject by making note of the brightly decorated Christmas tree. She says “how pretty that tree looks with all the cancer on it.” For days she frets over how to make it better. What could she say or do to take it back.

She also writes about her struggle to find a reason why she is a volunteer. She worries that her volunteering as well as her murder-mystery authorship makes her seem macabre. She gives text- book answers to the “why” question and fears no one believes her as she does not believe herself. She doesn’t dwell on this question but discusses it while trying to say open and receive the “gifts” other volunteers talk about.

Through Christine’s honesty and self discovery, I certainly picked up a few tools but more importantly discovered how important being honest with one’s self is in this journey!

Becoming Dead Right: A Hospice Volunteer in Urban Nursing Homes

By Frances Shani Parker

Loving Healing Press, 2007

I really don’t like to say that I did not like a book. Really each book has something different to offer and the fact that I finished it is a testament to it right? So I didn’t like this book, rather, it was not my “cup-o-lemon-ginseng-green-tea.” I find most poetry pretentious. I love to teach the subject and I love giving kids that alternative way to express themselves. But really, just say what you need to say. I am guilty of a few too many metaphors I’m sure.. but I still tend to roll my eyes when beats and measures are used for emphasis.. just use an exclamation point.. it serves the same purpose. That being said, the author of this book is an acclaimed and note worthy poet and it shows through her writing, which is possibly the reason I found it trying to read.

Back to the book- Frances Shani Parker, a Detroit high school principal decides to become a hospice volunteer after caring for, in an informal way, two men with AIDS. She writes about seeing a need for workers willing to be compassionate for patients with AIDS in particular, and she fills that void for two men.

As a volunteer she visits with the patients she lovingly writes about. She learns how to be “open” (a recurring theme in both books), and how to visit each patient in their reality. I found this the most helpful. Many of her patients had some form of dementia and if she had not been able to relate to them in their reality, time would have been wasted either ignoring them or trying to convince them otherwise. For instance one of her patients claims that there is a man under her bed. The author crawls under the bed and shouts for the man to leave her patient alone. The mental image made me giggle but also made sense. What would most people have done? Try to convince the woman that there was no one under her bed? That would have frustrated all involved. In the patient’s reality there was a man there, and the author was able to quiet and comfort her by playing along.

There were also patients that she struggled to connect with simply because there was no verbal communication between the two. With each patient she found a way to connect, through music, or through speaking to them as though it were a year in their youth.

Although I struggled with some of the author’s writing style I was still able to learn so much through her experiences.

1 comment:

  1. Good luck as a hopsice volunteer! I know they are lucky to have people like you go and just be with them......what a great post!