Conducting A Life Review Before Dying

Life reviews can be very beneficial for someone who is dying

It’s fair to say that realizing and accepting that we will all die is very difficult for most people. As we go through our day-to-day activities, it’s not something we are constantly thinking of. However, terminally ill people are constantly aware of the fact death is approaching. And one beneficial tool they can use to improve their mental state is a life review, or life reconciliation.

Elderly person's hand clutching a young person's hand symbolizing a life review.

A life review will be different for everyone who chooses to go through the process. One way to think about a life review is as a “recasting of the past in the context of the present.” When thinking about one’s life, certain questions will inevitably arise: “How did I do?” “What did I accomplish?” “Who am I?” “Did I live the best life I could have?” So there is an important distinction to make between a life review and simply reminiscing.

As no two humans are alike, no two life reconciliations will be the same. Angela Morrow, RN, lists five steps that terminally ill patients can utilize to conduct a successful life review: expression, responsibility, forgiveness, acceptance and gratitude.

A dying person must be free to and feel comfortable expressing the wide range of emotions they are experiencing. Intense feelings such as anger and sadness are inevitable when someone is faced with their impending mortality. Some people may feel that they can’t fully express themselves for fear that they will offend or alienate loved ones. And so their loved ones must create an environment conducive to freedom of expression. Allowing the dying person the opportunity to truly express all their anger, sadness, and other emotions can improve their sense of inner peace.

The next important step in a life review is for the dying person to realize that they were responsible for virtually everything that occurred in their life. Their actions were their own doing, and the life they lead was entirely up to them. Most people find this to be a freeing revelation, i.e. that dying does not mean they have failed in life.

It is also important for people at the end of life to go through the stages of forgiveness. It’s not about accepting bad behavior; more so, it is a way to let go of pain and feelings of hostility that prevent a person from living their final days in peace. To forgive others for wrongs they may have committed is relatively easy, in one way or another.

Elderly woman and nurse holding eachother's hands in a hospice center

Credit: allegiancehealth.org

However for most people, learning to forgive themselves for wrong things they may have done, no matter how large or small, is by far more difficult. The dying person may wonder, “What if my loved ones won’t forgive me?” That would be a very troubling feeling. And so it is important for the person to ask for forgiveness, and also offer their own forgiveness to people who have wronged them.

Acceptance and Gratitude

To truly accept that they are dying is a vital realization for terminally ill people. Death is a natural process, the final threshold through which we all will pass. Many people try to fight or deny the inevitable, which is not beneficial. When a dying person accepts that they will die, it’s not that they are giving up on life. They are simply allowing the final stage of the life cycle to occur. This acceptance in and of itself can permit them to live their final days in a state of peace.

Rounding out a successful life review will, ideally, bring the dying person a sense of gratitude, that their life was one of fulfillment. He or she will be grateful for the people in their lives, and will cherish the memories and experiences they gained throughout the years. A tremendous sense of joy can be obtained by expressing this gratitude to their loved ones. Living one’s final days with a sense of peace, fulfillment and happiness is certainly how most people would like to die.

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One Response to Conducting A Life Review Before Dying

  1. avatar Ellen Stokinger says:

    Very useful even for those not on hospice care.

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