With the recent passing of Steve Jobs, there has been discussion of why this very private man decided to spend the last months of his life sharing his story for an upcoming biography. Of course, Jobs’ biography will be read my millions of people who want to learn about the genius who improved so many of our lives through technology. His need to share his story reminds me of a new therapy for others who are in the final phase of their lives.
As a former Hospice volunteer, as well as personally losing several loved ones to cancer, I have firsthand experience working with the dying so when I heard about “dignity therapy” I was intrigued by how it can help the dying. With dignity therapy a patient writes the story of his or her life, which addresses one of the biggest concerns with the dying and that is that their story will cease to exist once they die. By working with a dignity therapist, who helps the patient document the life story, the patient writes the story of his or her life and the reflection on the past can heal, as well as leave a special gift for family and friends.
As Dr. William Breitbart, a psychiatrist at Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center says people have the wrong idea about the dying process. “The prevailing mythology is that you die the way you live, and you can’t change yourself in any way,” says Breitbart. “The fact is that the last few months of life — because of the awareness of death — create an urgency that facilitates growth and change.”
We have unique and special stories filled with joy, regret, love and loss, and by sharing our stories at the end, we can help our loved ones use our lives as a guide. As my grandfather said a few months before he passed, “I hope I’ve showed you how to live and now I’m going to teach you how to die”. I just wish I had helped him document his rich and challenging life. That is a regret I shall write about one day.
Learn more about dignity therapy at www.npr.org/2011/09/12/140336146/for-the-dying-a-chance-to-rewrite-life.