Tag Archives: hospice

Farewell. Adieu. Adiós. 告别. Auf Wiedersehen. Addio. Nрощание. さようなら.


7-year-old Dan on Spring Island, BC, his childhood home.

How lucky I am to have something that makes saying goodbye so hard.  ~  from the musical  “Annie”

I have agonized over this day for some time. I’ve never liked goodbyes. But  they’re an inescapable part of our lives.

To all my readers and in particular my nearly 400 subscribers, I want to say how much I’ve appreciated your comments and support. I’ve always felt your presence as I worked away on my blog.  I feel badly that I must now tell you that this is my last post.

I’ll keep this blog alive for another year so that you’ll still be able to access archived material.  I just won’t be adding anything new.

I’m proud of what I’ve accomplished.  This June marks my blog’s 5th year with   321,643 visitors , 704 posts, and 1,496 comments.

Why am I wrapping it up now? Several reasons. The most important of which is that I’ve pretty well said everything that I’ve wanted to say about personal histories. Increasingly, I’ve felt it harder to generate articles that had substance. I prefer to end on a high note rather than keep churning out stuff that is of little value.

As I rapidly approach my seventh decade, I  want to focus my energies. In this regard, I will continue to mentor and support the Victoria Hospice Life Stories program I founded over five years ago. And in the Fall,  I’ll begin writing a Hospice Life Stories training manual that can be used by other hospices that wish to establish a similar program. I’ll also carry on my weekly volunteer hospice shift. It’s work I find deeply satisfying.

I haven’t lost my interest in personal histories but now my focus will be primarily related to life stories in a palliative care context. I’ll continue my membership in the Association of Personal Historians. It’s a great organization. If you’re serious about being a personal historian, and haven’t yet done so, I urge you to join.

At the beginning of the year I wrote about my intentions for 2013. One of those was to create more spaciousness in my life. More space will allow me to pursue my creative interests in poetry and photography.

In addition, I want to have more time for contemplation and study with my Buddhist community at the Buddhist Insight Meditation Centre of Victoria. As a practitioner for the past 15 years, I feel drawn to apply more effort to my spiritual path. A repository for my creativity and my occasional Buddhist musings is my newly created blog, anicca.

It’s been fun writing for you and  a privilege to share some of the knowledge I’ve accumulated over the years.

These words from Gordon Bok’s song Hearth and Fire express my wishes for you.

My love upon the path you tread
And upon your wanderings, peace.



Top photo:  Dan Curtis personal collection                                                                 Bottom photo:  Robb North

Monday’s Link Roundup.

In this Monday’s Link Roundup there’s so much good stuff to choose from. As a closet designer, I was particularly drawn to The Phaidon Archive of Graphic Design.  This is a must on every designer’s wish list. As someone who volunteers at our local Hospice, I was deeply moved by Hospice Hand Portraiture.  And if your business involves the gathering or tellingof stories, you’ll want to read Telling Your Story: The Secrets To Content Branding.

  • People Of The Bookshelf. “Alpha by subject … or by dinner party seating rules? Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist Geraldine Brooks on a shelving obsession.”
  • Are You Overwhelmed by Marketing? “Does it seem like there are just too many things to do to market your business? It’s easy to get overwhelmed by marketing ideas, plans, and tasks, especially when many of them involve learning new skills. And then people are always telling you about something else to do. But you’re only one person. You can only afford to pay for so much help. Is it really even possible to do everything about marketing that others say you should? Here are four steps to find a clear path out of marketing overwhelm.”
  • Hospice Hand Portraiture. “As a hospice nurse and photographer I have the honor to witness and capture the unwavering expression of love that endures between people living with terminal illness… Hand portraiture preserves this important expression of love. Each hand is different; a symbol of identity that embodies character and tells stories. Hands reveal honest emotion. Hands are for holding.”
  • The Phaidon Archive of Graphic Design. “Every once in a while, along comes a book-as-artifact that becomes an instant, inextricable necessity in the life of any graphic design aficionado. This season, it’s The Phaidon Archive of Graphic Design — an impressive, exhaustive, rigorously researched, and beautifully produced compendium of 500 seminal designs…”
  • Mary Karr, The Art of Memoir No. 1.[Paris Review Interview] The Liars’ Club, Karr’s 1995 memoir of her Gothic childhood in a swampy East Texas oil-refining town, won the PEN/Martha Albrand Award for First Nonfiction, sold half a million copies, and made its forty-year-old author, who was then an obscure poet, a literary celebrity…For a writer who has shared herself with the public in three memoirs, Mary Karr is an extraordinarily elusive interview subject. Nearly two years passed between our initial contact, in July of 2007, and our first session.” [Thanks to Pat McNees of Writers and Editors for alerting me to this aerticle.]
  • 9 Of The Most Beautiful Words In The English Language. “I’ve riffled the pages of scores of old dictionaries and ransacked my father’s old army trunks, which now contain hundreds of my journals and notebooks. More than once during my restocking I’ve thought of the startling line in J. M. Barrie’s Peter Pan, where Captain Hook is described: “The man isn’t wholly evil; he has a thesaurus in his cabin.” Recently, I felt even more vindicated about my ardent belief in the beauty of word books when I heard the deadpan comedian Stephen Wright say on late-night television, “I was reading the dictionary. I thought it was a poem about everything.”
  • Telling Your Story: The Secrets To Content Branding. “Facts are boring but putting facts into a context with emotion makes them memorable. Stories help you connect with people on a sensory level…The late Steve Sabol, the man behind NFL Films, once said “tell me a fact and I’ll learn, tell me a truth and I’ll believe. But tell me a story and it will live in my heart forever.”

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Encore! 7 Essential Questions to Consider Before Offering a Personal History Service to the Terminally Ill.

I know some of you are interested in the possibility of providing personal history services to the terminally ill. I’ve been helping those at the end-of-life record their personal histories  as well as volunteering at Victoria Hospice for the past five years.  I find it tremendously satisfying work but it’s not for everyone. If you’re seriously contemplating working with the dying, here are seven questions to ponder… Read more.

Encore! Life Stories and Palliative Care. When Time Is Running Out, What Do You Focus On?

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…Read more.

Marge Curtis, May 1,1918 ~ December 18, 2011

Mom at twenty-three

Those of you who are regular readers of my blog know that every Monday is devoted to Monday’s Link Roundup. This Monday is different. Yesterday Mom died at Victoria Hospice at the age of ninety-three.

Mom always believed that when she transitioned to that other side, she’d be met by my Dad,  Ed Curtis, who died in 1990. I like to think she was right.  And whether by coincidence or design her death took place on their seventy-second wedding anniversary. They were married December 18, 1939.

Throughout my life Mom was one of my biggest fans and supporters. In many ways she introduced me to story telling at an early age. An avid reader, her favorite activity before going to sleep was to read a few pages from her latest book. Every morning I would eagerly run into her bedroom to sit by her bed. There, she would relate the latest installment – no doubt censoring some of the racy bits for the ears of an eight-year-old.

She also regaled me with stories from her teenage years when her family homesteaded in the wilderness of northern British Columbia.  Eagerly absorbed by a young boy were tales of encounters with grizzly bears, hunting, and snowy winter nights, hunkered down in their log cabin.

People have remarked that it’s sad that Mom’s death came so close to Christmas. In part that’s true. I certainly haven’t had time in the past few weeks to think much about the holiday season. But central to this time of year is the message of peace, comfort, and joy. And I’ve experienced all of those in a personal and profound way. Mom and I were surrounded at Victoria Hospice by loving and compassionate care. Her final days brought her comfort and her death was blessedly peaceful. And we had joyful moments – reminiscing about Christmases past, enjoying cups of her favorite tea from her favorite cup, and laughing at this comedy called life. One of the last things she said to me, opening her eyes briefly was, “Having fun?”

I miss her dearly. My world has changed forever. But surrounded and supported by my loving partner, friends, and colleagues I’ll carry on doing honor to those values she tried to instill in me – kindness, loyalty, grace, and a good sense of humor.

Thanks, Mom.

Encore! Life Stories and Palliative Care. When Time Is Running Out, What Do You Focus On?

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… Read more.

Monday’s Link Roundup.

In this Monday’s Link Roundup two of my favorite items are Tracking Personal Histories Across Time and a Granata essay by Mavis Gallant, Memory and Invention. Gallant, one of the world’s great short story writers, raises challenging questions for all of us involved in helping others recall memories. And Tracking Personal Histories is a meticulous recreation of a present day portrait from one taken years ago. The pictures are shown side by side and the effect is totally absorbing.

  • Hospice patients put life stories on CD, video for loved ones. “David Bishop heard his mother’s voice on the way to her funeral last year. It was coming over the car’s speakers, and she was talking about what a beautiful day it was as she sat in her kitchen…Eileen Bishop told her story to volunteers as part of the “Life Legacy” service offered through Florida Hospital’s HospiceCare. The program, one of several in Central Florida, is free and is offered to all patients willing and able to participate.”
  • Story sharing to educate. “Hoping to foster better understanding of the everyday lives of LGBTI people, the founder of digital story-sharing site Rainbow Family Tree is urging community members to share their tales of “life, love, family and loss” online.”
  • All-TIME 100 Best Nonfiction Books. “Politics and war, science and sports, memoir and biography — there’s a great big world of nonfiction books out there just waiting to be read. We picked the 100 best and most influential written in English since 1923, the beginning of TIME … magazine.” [Thanks to APH member Catherine McCrum of alerting me to this item.]
  • Tracking Personal Histories Across Time. “Sander Koot’s series Back from the Future is a pairing of new portraits of the individual with an older picture of that person from years past.. he only photographs individuals after interviewing them. “In this project, I ask people to find old portraits of themselves, of which they have good memories,” says Koot. “When talking to them about the picture, you see them reliving the happy moment. Only after I know all the details about the past of that picture, (do) we start the shoot.”
  • Life Itself: A Memoir by Roger Ebert [release date September 13, 2011] “I was born inside the movie of my life. The visuals were before me, the audio surrounded me, the plot unfolded inevitably but not necessarily. I don’t remember how I got into the movie, but it continues to entertain me.”
  • Stationery’s New Followers. “Social-media fans are embracing paper. While United States Postal Service sees a decline in mailed letters overall, tech-savvy paper-lovers—in frequent contact via blogs, Facebook and Twitter—are giving rise to a host of small stationery makers.” [Thanks to cj madigan of Shoebox Stories for alerting me to this item.]
  • Memory and Invention: An Essay by Mavis Gallant. “Imagination, all invention, will occur spontaneously – occur or interfere. ‘Interference’ means it is false, mistaken, untrue. Although I have kept a journal for years, I never look anything up. A diary is not a dictionary or the record of a meeting. Sometimes a sharp, insistent image caught in one’s mind, perhaps of a stranger glimpsed only once, will become the living source of a whole story.”

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Monday’s Link Roundup.

In today’s Monday’s Link Roundup, with the New Year days away, you’ll want to check out 13 Tips for Sticking to Your New Year’s Resolutions. If you have this week to relax, why not take some time to feast your eyes on 10 books to inspire you to make art. And for a piece of “blatant self-promotion” ;-)  I’d be remiss in not pointing you to the article A gift that lasts beyond a lifetime. It’s about my work at Victoria Hospice.

  • Lives of the dead come to life on tombstones. “A standard Memory Medallion remembrance package costs $225 and includes a barcode medallion for the gravesite, a website of eight photos and 1,000-word story and a printed biography. Family members also can record a video about the deceased that plays on smart phones that scan the barcode, called a QR code.”
  • The benefits of thinking about our ancestors. ” Anecdotally, there’s reason to believe that such thoughts are beneficial. Why else the public fascination with genealogy and programmes like the BBC’s Who Do You Think You Are? Now Peter Fischer and his colleagues at the Universities of Graz, Berlin and Munich have shown that thinking about our ancestors boosts our performance on intelligence tests – what they’ve dubbed the ancestor effect.”
  • A gift that lasts beyond a lifetime. “A free program through [Victoria]hospice matches volunteers trained in interview techniques with patients for up to five hours of digital recordings — preferably before they enter the facility.”
  • 10 books to inspire you to make art. “When I finish a long project I don’t actually collapse but rather wander around in a state of unfocused activity. When that happened yesterday I decided to settle down and read. Not knowing exactly what I wanted to read, I pulled a slew of books off my bookshelves. And because I love sorting things into piles and classifying them, I eventually ended up with this pile of ten books that never fail to pull me into their beauty.”
  • Vimeo Video School. “Vimeo Video School is a fun place for anyone to learn how to make better videos. Start by browsing our Vimeo Lessons, or find specific video tutorials created by other members.”

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Part One. Life Stories and Palliative Care: Your Questions Answered.

I recently participated in the Association of Personal Historians annual conference in Victoria, BC. One of my presentations was  Life Stories as Healing: Working in an End-of-Life Environment. In the workshop we looked at some of the skills needed and challenges faced in providing life stories for patients receiving palliative care.

Near the end of our session I asked participants to write down one “burning question” they wanted answered. We  had time for only a few. I decided that for those who didn’t have their questions answered I would deal with them here. I thought that those of you who weren’t at my workshop might also appreciate seeing the questions and answers. Next week I’ll tackle further questions in Part Two.

How does one set up a personal history program with a hospice?

There is no one right way to set up a program. Much will depend on the local circumstances. From my experience with Victoria Hospice  I’ve learned a few lessons and passed these along in two articles How to Establish a “Life Stories” Hospice Program. Part One and Part Two. For those of you interested in the possibility of a life stories program at your Hospice, these articles would be a good place to start.

Why not charge for life stories work at a hospice? Why should this work be voluntary?

If you’re a professional personal historian, you can request a fee from your Hospice for your services or provide it pro bono. That decision is really up to you and your Hospice.

As a rule, I don’t volunteer my professional services. What I do at Victoria Hospice is volunteer on a regular shift just like the other volunteers. I’ve been doing that for five years.

With regards to the Life Stories program I established, I trained 12 Hospice volunteers, nine of whom are actively engaged in the work. I designed and ran the training programs and for that I was paid my regular fee. I don’t do life story  interviews with patients unless there is no one else available.

I still continue to do the co-ordination of the program on a voluntary basis but I’m working to hand this over eventually to another volunteer. My goal is to have the Life Stories program be totally self sufficient without my involvement. From the beginning I made it clear to the Victoria Hospice administration that I wanted to see such a service succeed but that I did not want to continue to be involved in its day-to-day operation.

Are your hospice “Life Stories” volunteers paid and do the families pay for the service?

Our Life Stories volunteers, save one,  are not professional personal historians and are not paid. They do this work as part of their contribution to Victoria Hospice. We do not charge families for this service.

I should add that from the beginning we decided to keep the service as simple and as cost effective as possible. We only provide unedited audio interviews transferred to CDs. We also provide a list of resource people in the community that families can hire should they wish to do more with their interviews.

How long is a typical “Life Stories” interview session?

To be honest there isn’t really a typical session. So much depends on the condition of the patient. We don’t schedule more than an hour but sessions can be as short as 10 or 15 minutes if the patient is weak or drowsy.

What is the typical time it takes for your volunteers to complete a personal history project?

Again, there is no typical length of time. We tell patients that they can use up to 5 hours of interview time to tell their story. Some manage that and others become too ill to continue beyond an hour or two. So much depends on the overall health of  a patient  when they start the process.

Given the fact that our patients are frail, it can sometimes take 6 or more  weeks to complete 5 hours of interview.

What if the patient is resistant to talking at all?

Our Life Stories program is only offered to those Victoria Hospice patients who request it. At any time a patient may opt out of the Life Stories program if they find it not to their liking.

Next week watch for Part Two.

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Photo by Kelly Sue DeConnick

Life Stories and Palliative Care. When Time Is Running Out, What Do You Focus On?

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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