Giving Dying Patients a Sense of Dignity by Beth Orenstein

Courtesy of Everyday HEALTH | 03.19.2015 | Beth W. Orenstein

Writing about your life for your family can be comforting to you and your loved ones. iStock Photo
Writing about your life for your family can be comforting to you and your loved ones.
iStock Photo

Canada resident Joan Rose, 59, of Winnipeg, Manitoba had been free of breast cancer for nearly five years when it returned with a vengeance. Now she has metastatic disease that has spread to her bones.

When Rose succumbs to her terminal cancer, she’s hoping that the legacy document she leaves her family will bring them comfort, just as creating it brought comfort to her.

In it, Rose speaks directly to her family members, including her two children and two grandchildren. “I spoke from my heart, so they know how much meaning they gave to my life,” she says. “As hard as it will be for them to hear, it just made me feel so good that I have been able to talk about my family and talk to them about my feelings.”

Rose made the document with the help of her social worker at the CancerCare Manitoba Foundation. To make the document, the social worker recorded interviews in which she asked Rose specific questions about her life and what’s most important to her. Then the social worker transcribed the tape and edited it for clarity. Rose’s legacy document is part of what’s known as dignity therapy.

Harvey Max Chochinov, MD, PhD, a psychiatry professor at the University of Manitoba and director of the Manitoba Palliative Care Research Unit at CancerCare Manitoba, developed dignity therapy about 15 years ago to help the terminally ill find meaning and purpose at the end of their lives and die knowing they’ve said what they wanted to those they love.

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