"A legacy isn't optional. It's impossible not to leave one. Every day, every choice, every moment, you build your own legacy, little by little. This legacy is what you leave behind when you die, the inheritance you pass along to others." - Paul David Tripp, author of the book "Broken-Down House."
By Amy Fields
The focus of end-of-life care in hospice is usually centered on keeping patients comfortable and pain free. Hospice excels at this, but hospice addresses many needs in addition to medical care.
Hospice also excels in providing emotional and spiritual care. Hospice can help patient and families answer difficult questions such as, "What am I going to leave behind for my family when I am gone?" and "How will I carry on without my husband, wife, mother or father?" Not addressing these questions can lead to a rough transition at the end of a loved one's life.
Seasons Hospice & Palliative Care devised a plan that helps to prepare patients and families for the uncertain future though a program called Leaving a Lasting Legacy. One of the first projects created though the legacy program was for a young father and his two year-old daughter. His biggest fear was that his young daughter would forget him. Although he knew his family would keep his memory alive with photos and stories, he worried the personal relationship between he and his daughter would be lost.
A Seasons Hospice Social Worker brought him greeting cards for every holiday, birthday, and graduation, until her wedding day. The social worker helped him to write a personal note for his daughter in each card. Now, on every special occasion she receives a reminder that her daddy loves her even if he cannot be with her. This young father's legacy became a relationship with his daughter.
Every patient and family is different, so hospice social workers work with each patient individually to answer the question, "what can make your transition smoother for you and your family?" The social worker then helps the family develop a project for them to complete. The projects are usually simple things that leave a lasting impact.
They are a way to say "I love you," "Forgive me," "Thank you," or just "Goodbye." Each legacy project helps a family though the final transition by providing a lasting memory or memento.
A popular legacy project is to capture the voice of a loved one in a recordable story book or recordable stuffed animal. For children and adults, hearing the voice of someone you miss reading you a story, or saying "I love you" can be a powerful way to combat grief.
Other projects include creating molds of the patient holding their loved one's hand or making blankets from a favorite piece of clothing. Many legacy projects are passed down to children and grandchildren, such as family history trees, writing letters or creating recipe books of all the family favorite dishes.
Seasons Hospice's legacy program helps to create closure in an uncertain, confusing and painful time for the families left behind, but the program can also be a reminder for each of us to create our Legacy each and every day.
Amy Fields is a Health Care Consultant for Seasons Hospice & Palliative Care in Des Plaines.