When the decision is made to pursue hospice care, it signals the end of a person’s life. But it is also a time to reflect and celebrate that life, a time to share memories and photos, a time to ask questions, a time to appreciate.
This process is called a life review, and it can be formal or informal, says Lorna Rice, a licensed clinical social worker with Carroll Hospice. “This is their history,” she says. “They’re more than a disease, more than a person sitting or lying in front of us at that moment in time.”
Questions to start the process could include how they met their spouse, stories about their occupation or memorable family vacations. “It’s very easy to get entrenched in this last part of a person’s life,” Rice says. “We try to get families to celebrate all the life that has come before that.”
Many times, a life review is something that happens naturally. When people make references about their life flashing before their eyes, Rice says, it’s a very real occurrence. “A life review is something people do when they’re preparing to die,” she says.
Rice recalls one hospice patient, a former truck driver, who was asleep but restless in bed. At first it looked like he was just flaying, Rice recalls. But when the family watched his movements more closely, they determined he was going through the motions of driving his truck, complete with his feet pushing the pedals. He was literally going through the motions of an important time in his life.
It’s normal for a person at the end of his or her life to discuss events and memories that happened years ago. “A life review can help validate that person’s life—that their life mattered,” Rice says, “and it’s letting other people in the family give that back to that person.”
Even if the patient is unresponsive and unable to participate in the conversation, it’s still beneficial to complete a life review for the patient and the family. Hospice staff and volunteers can help encourage these discussions. “For the family, it’s helpful to put their collective memories together to make one complete picture,” Rice says.
Families often bring in photographs to look through during this time, and Rice encourages them to tell the stories behind the photographs so that the current generation can learn about their loved one’s personal history.
“A picture is only a picture until someone can put a story with it,” Rice says.