by Olivia Loukas
Legacy writing – also known as biography or life writing – is a way of documenting someone’s life story, in their own words, before they die. It can take various forms and is, by its nature, a deeply personal and spiritual process.
Our article about the legacy writing program run by Robyn Swanson and Julie Gissing the Sacred Heart Community Palliative Care Team Biography Service at St Vincent’s Hospital, Sydney, is one of our most popular. It’s led to queries from all over Australia about how people can participate in similar programs.
For many people at the end of life, sharing their life story is part of a process called ‘life review’. It’s a process people seem to naturally go through, as they attempt to make sense of the life they have lived and work out what their life meant to themselves and other people.
Legacy Writing services in other parts of Australia
To help you find legacy writing services across Australia, we’ve started compiling a list of hospitals and organisations and the services they offer. For more information about their work, please contact them via the telephone number we’ve included.
But if you’ve got additional information about what’s available in your area, please get in touch. We’d also love to hear from our overseas readers with the stories about what projects are available in your community.
- Rockhampton Hospital offers a ‘memory box’ program, an idea which was inspired by the Brisbane Royal Children’s Hospital
- The service is designed for palliative patients with young children/grandchildren to leave mementos for future generations
- The box is filled with a candle, photo frame and teddy bear, and patients are encouraged to contribute trinkets and memorabilia to the box. Additionally, patients are given the opportunity to fill the boxes with cards or letters to their loved ones. For example, a patient may wish to write birthday cards for their children’s future birthdays
- This program is offered in conjunction with the Cancer Care Children’s Library, which offers books to help parents talk to their children about cancer, death and dying
- For more information, contact Rockhampton Hospital at (07) 4920 6211, or speak to Social Worker Wendy Emmerson, who oversees the program.
- Redcliffe Hospital offers limited Legacy Writing services, which are delivered on a needs-basis
- There is no explicit Legacy Writing program, although the Social Work Department and Recreational Officers can support patients who require this type of assistance
- To learn more, contact the Redcliffe Hospital Palliative Care Unit at (07) 3049 2393.
Karuna Hospice Services
- Karuna is a free, Buddhist-aligned community service for those in end-of-life care
- It is available to people of all religious (and non-religious) backgrounds, and offers a Biography Program whereby a person’s biography is compiled for their family and friends
- To contact Karuna Hospice Services, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 07 3632 8300. The biography service is administered by Carmel Williams.
New South Wales
St Vincent’s Hospital
- As previously reported by GoodGrief!, St Vincent’s Hospital offers life writing through their Sacred Heart Community Palliative Care Team Biography Service
- Trained volunteers interview end-of-life patients in order to collate their stories into a hard-copy and digital biography
- To speak with the Sacred Heart Health Service at St Vincent’s Hospital, contact (02) 8382 9444.
Australian Capital Territory
Palliative Care ACT
- Palliative Care ACT receives referrals from the various hospitals in Canberra to write life stories free-of-charge
- A patient is interviewed by a volunteer, usually for an hour per week over the course of 10 weeks, to create their life story
- The service is offered to people of all ages with a life-ending illness and they produce different formats of stories based on the age of the patient. For example, picture books with comments are often made for the young children of parents with life-ending illnesses
- For more information, ring Palliative Care ACT at 02 6255 5771, or look on their website: https://www.pallcareact.org.au/life-stories/
Eastern Palliative Medical Care Melbourne
- Eastern Palliative Medical Care partners with St Vincent’s Hospital Melbourne to offer its award-winning biography program
- 6–10 hour-long visits are conducted between volunteer workers and the patient, in which their story is transcribed
- In cases where a palliative patient has young children, age-appropriate picture books are created.
The Queen Elizabeth Hospital
- The Queen Elizabeth Hospital is currently developing their own volunteer biography service to replace a previous private service no longer available
- Social workers at the hospital undertake biography and legacy work as appropriate, which varies depending on their capacity
- For more detail, please ring (08) 8222 6000 and request to speak with the Palliative Care Unit.
Calvary Wakefield Hospital
- Patients in the private hospital’s ‘Mary Potter Hospice Centre’ receive end-of-life biography services thanks, in part, to the work of the Central Adelaide Palliative Services
- For more details, ring 1300 130 813 or visit https://www.epc.asn.au/biography
Alice Springs Hospital
- The hospital does not offer formal life story services, but plans to start training volunteers shortly
- These services have been extensively disrupted due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Launceston General Hospital
- Trained volunteer writers assist patients in palliative care to write their life stories. It usually entails interviewing the patient and collating anecdotes and photographs for their family
- The service is available to all palliative care patients and the life stories can be turned into a variety of items, such as a book, photo album or other document
- To learn more, contact Launceston General Hospital’s Palliative Care Unit by ringing 03 6777 6777.
For our article about the St Vincents Hospital, Sydney Legacy writing program, go to Biographies – a legacy and also a therapy for the dying.