At Victoria Hospice we’re into the third year of a Life Stories service for patients registered with Hospice. This is a program that I initiated and continue to be involved with as a trainer and a mentor for our Life Stories Volunteer Interviewers.
Among the concerns that have arisen for the Interviewers, one, in particular, has been problematic. What part of a Life Story do you focus on when it appears patients may have only a few weeks or days to live? Patients may initially indicate that they want to talk about the broad spectrum of their lives from childhood to the present. The reality, unfortunately, is that they’re not likely to have enough time to complete such an undertaking.
Here’s what I’ve suggested. The Hospice Interviewer and patient agree to start with contemplative questions first. These are questions that reveal something of who the person is, rather than the details of their life. If time permits, they can always go back to talk about childhood beginnings and the important stories from their life. So what might some of these contemplative questions be? Here are some samples.
- What would you like to say to your loved ones?
- What has been important in your life?
- What are you the proudest of in your life?
- What do you admire most about each of your children?
- What has brought happiness to your life?
- What’s the most valuable thing you’ve learned in life?
- What regrets do you have?
- How would you like to be remembered?
- What is it that most people don’t know about you?
- What are you grateful for?
Even if you’re not involved with palliative-care patients, you may find yourself at times interviewing someone who’s very frail and elderly. There’s no guarantee that time is on your side. In such cases you may want to give some thought as to what’s essential to record. Focusing on more contemplative questions may be the answer.
Photo by Jill Watson
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