A study published earlier this year surveyed the benefits of “dignity therapy” for the terminally ill.
In dignity therapy, patients with six months or less to live share their life stories, memories, and/or regrets with a therapist who then compiles them into a novel-like document. Patients who underwent this type of therapy experienced less sadness in their final days. Click here for more information
They were also able to leave their testament to their loved ones and “rewrite” the incidents or periods they were unhappy with or ashamed about.
Named by Dr. Harvey Chochinov, psychiatrist at the University of Manitoba, dignity therapy has been practiced in hospices for decades, according to hospice volunteer and geneticist Ricki Lewis.
Image Courtesy of NPR
In the face of death, people are able to reassert their lives, leaving behind the facets and moments by which they want to be remembered.
According to Dr. Chochinov, dying patients have a need to feel closure and more importantly, make sure their deeds and experiences—their legacy, so to speak—live on.
Some documents produced in dignity therapy are memoirs, some are apologies, and some are long-hidden family secrets that cry out to be revealed as their keepers face the long sleep.
This way, by narrating their own life stories from their deathbeds, people can arrange details in a way that will make them feel at peace, or complete. While they may feel stripped of their dignity as they lie sick and unable to control the changes of their bodies, they can still control their self-image, which they can then share with others.
Image Courtesy of The Last Lecture
Dignity therapy is also helpful in leading people to accept their own mortality.
In an odd way, by preserving their stories for eternity, the dying prepare for death. The closure dignity therapy provides enables individuals to feel they are not leaving any business unresolved, and so embrace the end of their lives.
Take Randy Pausch, the Carnegie Mellon professor who toured the country lecturing about death as he suffered from terminal pancreatic cancer. The Last Lecturehas affected millions of people.
By sharing his insights on his own death, he was able to turn his condition around from a devastating illness to an inspiring way of appreciating life and loved ones.
Today, people like Harvey Chochinov help the dying to do the same.
By leaving something tangible and so personal to their bereaved, the dying not only bring their family together in remembrance, but aid them in their grieving.
Maria Murriel is a serious writer for serious publications. Her past endeavors include the Consequence of Sound, The FIU Beacon and she is currently News Editor of Arketipo 187 Magazine. Aside from an inextricable interest in music and culture, Ms. Murriel is mesmerized by issues of gender, power, and the role of religion in tying these together. Ms. Murriel has just finished a Bachelor of Arts in religious studies with a certificate in women’s studies and a minor in journalism. Currently, she devotes her nights and weekends to her job in the restaurant business, where even income is lackluster, while working on a growing portfolio. In her spare time, Ms. Murriel reads convoluted literature on the nature of sex and religion in the collective consciousness and watches Gilmore Girls DVDs. Her aspirations are high and her path is open. If you’d like to contact Ms. Murriel or have tips on stories, please leave a comment or write to [email protected]