Writing at the End-of-Life

Sep 12, 2011 | 1 comment

NPR did an interesting story this morning about an end-of-life exercise that can help both the living and dying.

For several decades, psychiatrists who work with the dying have been trying to come up with new psychotherapies that can help people cope with the reality of their death. One of these therapies asks the dying to tell the story of their life.

This end-of-life treatment, called dignity therapy, was created by a man named Harvey Chochinov. Chochinov decided to create a formal written narrative of the patient’s life — a document that could be passed on to whomever they chose.

The patients would be asked a series of questions about their life history, and the parts they remember most or think are most important. Their answers would be transcribed and presented to them for editing until, after going back and forth with the therapist, a polished document resulted that could be passed on to the people that they loved.

For the past 10 years, Chochinov has used dignity therapy with the dying. And one of the things that has struck him about the process is this: The stories we tell about ourselves at the end of our lives are often very different than the stories that we tell about ourselves at other points.

“When you are standing at death’s door and you have a chance to say something to someone, I absolutely think that that proximity to death is going to influence the words that come out of your mouth,” said Chochinov, a psychiatrist at the University of Manitoba in Canada

To read or listen to the entire fascinating story, visit this link at NPR’s website.

A Good Goodbye