Patients diagnosed with serious illnesses often contemplate their purpose and meaning in life. They frequently mention worry for their family members once they are gone. As individuals face end-of-life thoughts, it is not uncommon for them to question whether others will remember them and if their life or death has had any meaning.
Patients want to know that their spirit will live on. They desire to leave their mark with funny stories and good recollections. They continue to have transcendental hope that their lives will last beyond death in the memories they have created. Existential or spiritual matters tend to have more importance in the face of serious illness. Exploration of life’s purpose brings thoughts about leaving a legacy. These feelings elicit a search for meaning and establishment of one’s reason for being. It is essential to them that they know that their life mattered. We all have a purpose in life, and a life review allows reflection on just that.
A legacy is the need or desire to have others remember you for what you have contributed to the world after you have passed away. Legacy work allows the opportunity for seriously ill patients to tell their stories. A legacy review is somewhat of a new approach to therapeutic healing in palliative care.
Legacy work is a tool to mitigate distress, one that provides a valuable sense of contentment, gratitude, hope, meaning, and resilience for patients. It can address unfinished business and create a sense of connectedness among patients, families, and loved ones.
There are many ways to create legacy projects or a legacy life review. Typical methods can include art, music, photo albums, writing stories, or poetry. Scrapbooking, letter writing, video recordings are also ways to create a legacy gift. Making keepsake gifts, shadow boxes, collages, and even cookbooks will keep memories alive. Planting a memorial garden can be very therapeutic to someone knowing that it will last for years. It can be personalized or professional, based on the individual’s wants and needs. Creating legacy projects can provide shared, beautiful moments for patients, families, and friends even when joyful moments may seem limited.
Most importantly, these legacy projects can remind patients that they are more than just the illness they battle. Assisting in preserving personal memories is essential. Patients process ideas such as their meaning in life, maintaining their sense of control, and fostering acceptance and reconciliation.
Research has noted that reminiscing impacted psychological resources such as social support, control, coping, meaning in life, and self-esteem. This type of work is a form of therapy demonstrated to increase well-being effectively and decrease depression. It promotes social interaction, family communication and focuses on positive times or events in their lives.
Patients create a legacy document that records their most cherished memories, their lessons learned in life, as well as their hopes and dreams for loved ones in the future. For the bereaved, legacy work or tangible objects can be a way to hold onto the memory of a lost loved one physically.
The primary principle in palliative care is the holistic treatment of the whole person and family, encompassing physical, psychological, emotional, and spiritual needs. Interventions such as those described here are necessary for the holistic approach of palliative care to improve patients’ well-being.
We all have a part in helping patients to accomplish this. Listen to their stories, allow them to reflect on their life, and create positive, meaningful experiences in the face of illness.
“The things you do for yourself are gone when you are gone, but the things you do for others remain as your legacy.”