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Published on February 01, 2012

VNA Offers "Telling Our Stories"

February 2012

By Jeanne Sarnosky, director of marketing, provider and community relations, VNA of Cape Cod

“A year ago, I read an article about the US Library of Congress Oral History program and thought, what a great idea for our hospice patients,” says Gayle Johnson, VNA volunteer services specialist. Originally designed as storytelling for war veterans, the program has grown to include all VNA hospice patients.

It’s an opportunity for someone near the end of life to do a “life review” and have it recorded for family and friends by trained volunteers of the VNA Hospice program. Many times, patients don’t talk about difficult experiences in their life with family but in the presence of a neutral listener such as a volunteer, new stories are shared that often explain who this person really was. Such information can be a consolation for family in the future when that person is no longer with them.

Even when the life review process brings up past experiences that were painful, it allows for a reframing of those events, a big picture perspective, which can lead to healing and a sense of peace. At the same time, life review can lead to an intense experience of gratitude as a person realizes the love, beauty and achievements they have experienced through their connections with people, nature, animals and purposeful work.

The volunteers who participate in Telling Our Stories go to the patients’ homes and encourage them to reminisce about those aspects of their life that they want recorded for their loved ones. Sometimes, the interview is only one session and sometimes it is many sessions over several weeks. The volunteers then transfer the recording to a CD. Once completed, the CD is given to the patient and family as a gift from VNA Hospice.

“Often we have only a short time in which the patient is able to work on their project — time in which they can remember and are up to talking about their life,” notes Gayle. “Each of our special patients has their own unique story to tell. We have patients reminisce about buying their first motorcycle, and the joy of getting married and having children. They talk about their war experiences in the European and African theatre in a way that’s never been shared. They have lived interesting lives. They have loved and been loved and laughed and cried and they each have much to share.”

Janet Leo, daughter of a VNA Hospice patient, was moved by the arrival of the CD in the mail after her father’s passing. Janet’s dad came to live with her in his last days and was able to have a volunteer work with him on Telling Our Stories. “The best thing about the CD I received is it doesn’t sound like an interview – just a conversation between two men. And it’s his voice. I love hearing his voice.”

“We get much more than we give when working on this project. It’s really rewarding to have something that touches the hearts of so many,” says Gayle.

For more information about the Telling Our Stories program, contact VNA Hospice at 957-7709.

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