Often we want to do something special for a loved one who has a terminal diagnosis but are at loss for what we can offer. There are many ways that we can explore this worthy endeavor. The dying person needs to feel that he or she has meaningfully shaped the world somehow. One was to make the dying feel this is to encourage them to tell their life story. Retelling the life story, engaging in a candid life review can help the dying person prepare as the end approaches. It can be done by a professional historian or a family member. There can be a list of questions provided to the dying person ahead of time and the interviewer can use a video or just an audio recording. The responses can be formulated into a book presentation which can then be disseminated to family members and friends.
Susan Bluck, a psychology professor who has studied death and dying at the University of Florida encourages the use of a life video. This growing trend can be done with easy to use technology that allows anyone with an iPhone to capture life’s events. “A video fulfills a different, more intimately social purpose, “Bluck said. “It allows the dying person to speak their own words-with their own personality to family and friends.”
End of life parties are growing in popularity. Rather than have a funeral after death, these parties allow the dying to be part of the event. Often done at the home of the dying or their relative’s home, family and friends gather to share memories and stories of the past. Refreshments can be served and the dying person gets to participate in the party. This can help bring closure, especially if there needs to be forgiveness between family members.
In my book Soul Service: A Hospice Guide to the Emotional and SpiritualCare for the Dying (Balboa Press, 2013) www.soulservice.info ,I interviewed Dr. Dwana Bush who is a hospice medical director. Dr. Bush has initiated a non -profit organization for life legacy boxes. These beautiful handmade wooden boxes are provided to hospice patients at no charge. The dying patient can put whatever they want into the box that has meaning to them. These boxes can then be handed down from generation to generation.
Writing letters to your children is not uncommon as a way to share your advice with them. It can prove helpful as well to the family with the grief process after the death of a loved one. After a physical revealed a terminal cancer diagnosis, 41 year old Lt. Col. Mark Weber began writing a letter to his three sons that later became a book called Tell My Sons. As so often is the case, our children appreciate the parent’s wisdom and concern much later in life when they themselves are parents.
More traditional forms of honoring the dead are to plant a tree or put a bench up with their name on it. Gifting to a charity of the deceased’s families choice in lieu of flowers has been a very popular way to show support after the death of a loved one.
Whatever form of honoring the dying you choose, know that it is valued and appreciated by those who are grieving their loss.