How to Establish a “Life Stories” Hospice Program. Part Two

In Part One, I wrote about the need to be familiar with the academic research on life stories and palliative care. In Part Two, I want to highlight five other factors to consider when establishing a life stories program at your local hospice. If you want to be credible and succeed, here’s what to do:

  • Become a hospice volunteer. This is the route I took. If you’re going to work with people at the end of life, it helps immeasurably if you’re trained as a hospice volunteer. First, you gain experience and a level of comfort being with people who are dying. Second, it  signals to the hospice administration that you are serious and committed to helping patients in palliative care. Third, and most importantly, you become a familiar and trusted part of the hospice care team.
  • Keep your hospice “life stories” work separate from your personal history business. It’s critical to your success in establishing a program to assure hospice administration that you’re not using the hospice to recruit clients for your business. I’ve been scrupulous in not mixing my business with my hospice work.
  • Find a hospice manager who’ll champion your idea. In most cases this individual will be the person responsible for volunteer services or it might be the manager of psychosocial  services or spiritual care. This will be the person you’ll need to convince that a life stories program is worthwhile and complements other hospice services. This manager will also have to bring other members of the hospice management team on board with your idea. It’s important that you establish a good rapport with your “champion”.
  • Keep it simple. You want to keep the time and costs involved to a minimum, especially because you’re providing a free service. This is why the program I initiated at Victoria Hospice only offers unedited audio recordings of patient interviews. Do make sure that the Hospice covers the cost of any materials you provide.
  • Build in a program to train other life story volunteers. It’s inevitable that you’ll soon find there are more requests than you can handle. Besides, you’ll not be able to devote all your time to offering a free service unless you’re fabulously wealthy! Here’s another point to take into consideration. Ideally, you should be planning for a program that will continue even when you’re no longer involved.

Photo © Dušan Zidar |

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4 Responses to How to Establish a “Life Stories” Hospice Program. Part Two

  1. Great article, I would just add that while the academic research supports the therapeutic benefits of reviewing ones life at the end, the philosophy of what we do and why we do it does not change. Whether we’re dealing with someone who has been given a terminal diagnosis or not, our objective as personal historians remains the same. The end product should represent the philosophy of our industry by presenting the story in an enjoyable manner for family, friends, and future generations. This differs dramatically from our simply providing an abbreviated (unedited) service for its medical benefit.

    Your blog is one of the best! Very professional, thought provoking, and informative. Thanks!

    • @Katheryn. Thank you for your comments and kind words. Much appreciated.

      I agree with what you have to say. I would add that from my experience with the Victoria Hospice service, patients and families find the unedited recordings invaluable. In many cases patients are too ill to be able to do more than a few minutes or hours of interview. They can’t sustain the effort required to do an extensive series of interviews required for a book. Victoria Hospice does provide a list of personal historians in the region if people wish to have the interviews edited in some form. The opportunity for palliative-care patients to record their thoughts, feelings, memories, wisdom, and special messages provides a level of comfort to them that is more than simply a “medical” benefit.

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