Life's Quilt Is Woven Together Through Story Telling
By Marie Herbrandson, RN, and Lauren Loether, LCSW
As hospice workers, we frequently are asked, "How could you work in hospice? It must be so depressing." While there are challenges to working in this field, our team believes in the concept that dying is 'the final act of living' and we want our patients to live their final moments in the most meaningful way.
Our lives are a collection of our stories woven together and overlapping. These narratives ultimately become our legacy and what we are known for and remembered by. Sometimes these conversations can be difficult to initiate, and certainly there is no need to wait until enrolling in hospice to start talking. Lauren Loether, LCSW explains, “Life review is not only helpful for patients, but can be a gift for loved ones left behind. Engaging in dialogue with our loved ones about our lives can cultivate a sense of peace and gratitude. It can also allow time for understanding and healing within relationships that have gone awry.”
Our Chaplain Dave Peters says, "In the Judeo-Christian tradition, storytelling serves an important function in passing on history and values. It is particularly true in the Hebrew Bible with stories of faith and identity. In a similar way story telling provides us with a sense of personal and family history, adding meaning and value to our lives. Our skilled nurses, social workers and chaplains incorporate this practice with our patients and families in the daily care we provide. The imminent death of a loved one often provides an opportune time to join in intimate moments of storytelling. The richness and variety of the stories give us unique and personal glimpses into the lives of our patients. This is a part of our work that provides pleasure and insight for us, often in the midst of much sadness. In the same way, we provide our patients and family relief and perspective as they deal with profound loss and grief. The methods and practices we employ are simple but profound. We listen more than talk, seek to find our patient or loved one where they are and help them understand what they need to say or do. As we do so, we engage in ancient and proven methods that provides meaning, belonging and value to our lives."
We frequently engage in a Life Review, which is a process of collecting stories about life and examining the phases we have been through. Hospice Supervisor Marie Herbrandson explains, “For my sons’ Christmas gifts last year, I gave them a life review scrap book. The scrapbook included snippets of family stories, journal entries from my pregnancy diaries and information about our family history to help ground them and give their lives deeper context. It surprised me how much they didn't know about our shared past or the ancestry of their families. We assume our family knows about our lives, but unless we tell the stories, a lot of that can be lost, especially in today's world of rapidly changing technology.”
Storytelling can be compared to making a quilt. Each story acts as a panel of the quilt, which is woven together to provide comfort and a lasting legacy to get wrapped up in.
For more information about the Hospice program, please call 310-784-3751.