How Life Stories Can Benefit The Dying.

old lady

I’ve had the opportunity over the past 15 years to be involved with people at the end of their lives, first as a documentary filmmaker and more recently as a personal historian and hospice volunteer. What I have learned from first hand experience and the growing body of academic research is that telling life stories can have a therapeutic effect on the dying. The process of recording and preserving life stories provides the terminally ill with:

  • Affirmation: I’m more than my disease. Those caring for me have acknowledged all of me.
  • Legacy: Something lasting will transcend my death. There’s hope that I will be remembered and that my story will provide some comfort to my family in their bereavement.
  • Purpose: By doing this work there is still meaning to my life. I am contributing to others.
  • Pattern: I see more clearly a purpose and meaning to experiences that often seem random and discontinuous.
  • Support: Having a care provider, friend, family member or personal historian listen to my life story bears witness to who I am and the significance of my journey.

For any of you working with palliative care patients or caring for a dying family member,  I strongly encourage you to consider introducing some life story activity into your care.

Photo by jaded one

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7 Responses to How Life Stories Can Benefit The Dying.

  1. Thanks, Dan, you have laid out the therapeutic benefits clearly and succinctly. Thank you, too, for referring openly to death.

    I am troubled that we appear to be less and less willing to acknowledge honestly this natural and inevitable stage of life – everyone in the obits has “passed away,” “passed on,” just plain “passed,” or “gone to meet” somebody or other. It seems nobody dies any more; except, of course, we all do.

    Your post reinforces the understanding that we live until we take our last breath, and provides support for an open conversation about an approaching death.

    • @Pattie. Thanks for dropping by and your comments. I agree that there is a good deal of denial about our inevitable death. Facing it clear-eyed is the best way to lessen our fear of death.

  2. This is wonderful. So often by the time people reach the stage where they need constant care, they feel their lives are nothing but a burden to those around them.

  3. @Digital Dame. Thanks for your comments. What you say is so true.

  4. Dan, Saw you today on Island 30. I have 2 reasons for contacting you. The 1st: I’ve always wanted to interact with moribund patients in hospices. I’m a young 67 whose philosophy is: Talk to people, you always learn something. I collect the Toronto Star Weekly and most people over 65 and having lived in Canada usually remember it fondly. If you go to my YouTube site you’ll get to know me better. Keep Smiling!

    • @Ian Campbell Sexton. Thank you for watching Island 30 and your comments. It’s a privilege to work with people to enable them to tell their stories. I’m glad that you have some interest in this work. Drop me an e-mail if you’d like more information. Thanks.

  5. Pingback: Delmeza Hospice care for Children

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