Several years ago, I had a neighbor whose father died and soon afterwards her dog died. When the father died, I never acknowledged his death in anyway to my neighbor. However, when the dog died, I expressed my condolences to her. At the time, I thought it was odd that I did not acknowledge the father’s death, but did the dog’s death. I remember thinking, “I put more emphasis on the dog dying than I did the father dying which seems odd.” Part of this misplaced value was my inability to know how to interact with the death of a human.
Death is an integral part of life. We all live and are appointed to die once (Hebrews 9:27). If we have not had a loved one die, one day we will. As believers in Christ, there is no fear in death for we go to live with the Lord (1 Thessalonians 4:16-18). With the absence of fear, energy can be placed on ending well which includes celebrating the value of someone’s life.
Dignity Therapy is one way to celebrate the value of someone’s life. An article from WebMD describes Dignity Therapy as involving “asking questions about life history and work, and helping patients to define and refine what their ultimate legacy is and what they want to pass down to the generations that follow. This form of therapy also encourages saying things to loved ones that have remained unsaid to achieve closure. The therapist then helps the patient craft a meaningful document based on the 60-minute sessions.” Although Dignity Therapy is a tool for medical professionals, I believe it can be a tool for others as well in celebrating life.
A medical journal article details nine possible questions that can facilitate conversations and/or a written document that can assist in helping others end well:
- Tell me a little about your life history: particularly the parts that you either remember most or think are the most important? When did you feel most alive?
- Are there specific things that you would want your family to know about you, and are there particular things you would want them to remember?
- What are the most important roles you have played in life (family roles, vocational roles, community-service roles, etc.)? Why were they so important to you and what do you think you accomplished in those roles?
- What are your most important accomplishments and what do you feel most proud of?
- Are there particular things that you feel still need to be said to your loved ones or things that you would want to take the time to say once again?
- What are your hopes and dreams for your loved ones?
- What have you learned about life that you would want to pass along to others? What advice or words of guidance would you wish to pass along to your son, daughter, husband, wife, parents, other(s)?
- Are there words or perhaps even instructions that you would like to offer your family to help prepare them for the future?
- In creating this permanent record, are there other things that you would like to include?
The above questions can be used as a springboard to bring out information that can help someone reflect and celebrate the life God has given them to live. Conversations and/or documents involving these types of questions bring meaning and purpose to someone during the last stage of life. Also, they can assist others in embracing the death of their loved one. These types of conversations can facilitate ending well.
Taking the time to help someone end well is a beautiful way to honor God and His image bearers. Who in your life needs help in ending well?
Denise Mann, “’Dignity Therapy’ Gives Comfort to Dying Patients: Study Shows Therapy is Helpful for Terminally Ill Patients and Their Families,” WebMD, 2011, accessed on April 29, 2019, http://www.webmd.com/healthy-aging/news/20110706/dignity-therapy-gives-comfort-to-dying-patients?print=true.
Marina Martinez et al., “’Dignity Therapy’: A Promising Interview in Palliative Care: A Comprehensive Systematic Literature Review,” Palliative Medicine, 2017, accessed on April 29, 2019, https://www.ncbi.nim.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5405836/.