Goodbye conversations can help a dying person put his or her life in perspective and transmit wishes for the future. This is what hospice professionals often call “life review.” It can be done in an informal or structured way (by writing down or recording stories), but the bottom line is the same: the dying person has a chance to reflect on his or her life and its meaning.
That’s what Anne, an oncology nurse in Boston, found out during the last year of her father’s life as he faced the debilitating effects of chronic emphysema.
Traveling from the East Coast to St. Louis several times that year to spend time with him, Anne asked her dad to help flesh out some family history and answer a few nagging questions — like whether he was disappointed that none of his daughters wanted to take over the family business, which sold commercial furnishings and textiles. He assured Anne that he wasn’t let down.
“For me these conversations were a gift, and for him it was an opportunity to look back on things as he was wrapping up his life and impart what he wanted to say,” Anne told me in a recent interview. “I was constantly aware of how lucky I was to be having those talks.”
The two spoke a lot about his legacy. During one of their most memorable conversations, Anne asked her father what he expected of her after he was gone. He responded with one simple request: ‘Be kind.’
“After he died, one of my sisters made little plaques embroidered with those words, and we all have them in our kitchens, above our sinks,” Anne explained. “It’s actually a tall order because he meant being kind in all ways, not just when people are watching you. It comes from the inside. That’s how my father was: so simple in some ways, but so powerful.”
And then Anne added half-jokingly, “In some ways, it would have been easier to take over his business.”
Consider this …
You can help bring a person’s life to a close through a life review.
Bring some photos or music to help someone reminisce about his or her life.
Give a dying person the gift of listening.