Life Story Writing

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AUGUST 21, 2022
Life Story Writing
Death in Print: Finding True Connections by Gareth St John Thomas, Meet: Krisca Gould and Mary Garner from Nelson Tasman Hospice, Death on Screen: Te Kahu Pairuri o Aotearoa Hospice New Zealand website
Listen to Episode 8 on the following podcast platforms
Or, if you've already listened to the show, scroll down for more info and links . . .
Finding True Connections by Gareth St John Thomas
Photo by Jacob,_(1961_%E2%80%93_2006).jpg#/media/File:Richard_Carlson,_(1961_–_2006).jpg
Finding True Connections: How to Learn and Write About A Family Member’s History by Gareth St John Thomas encourages you to explore your personal history beyond the family tree or a DNA report. It’s essentially a guide to finding out more about family myths and legends or, if your family history is a bit of blank slate, it provides suggestions about how and where to start in documenting the lives of your tūpuna or ancestors.

This detailed, hands-on manual provides comprehensive guidance and instruction, from getting started to the end result. There’s also a boxed card set you can buy to use alongside the book. This set includes 100 key questions you can ask someone to prompt them to expand on their life.

Both are structured around four key life stages – the early years (childhood and teenage years), adulthood, marriage and parenthood, and the retirement years, which St John calls the wisdom years – as well as four key areas for contemplation: reflections of self, the cultural world, the future and leaving advice. Examples of the latter include, “What would you like to tell your grandchildren?” and “Is there anything in particular you’d like to tell the President of the United States?" And, in the book, each question also has a follow-up question.

I’ve used these cards in creative workshops and they double as great writing prompts you can use, not only for life or memoir writing but even for fictional character development.

The book is also a bit of a DIY kit for aspiring authors and in some ways services as a sales funnel for Exisle’s Emotional Inheritance business.

Thomas is the CEO of Exisle Publishing, which has been publishing books for about 25 years. Finding True Connections was published in 2019 by Emotional Inheritance, one of Exisle Publishing’s imprint.

Emotional Inheritance is essentially a life storytelling service provided by Exisle Publishing — they set up a structured interview with an experienced writer who interviews and then transcribes the story. The result is published as a limited edition book.
Meet Krisca Gould and Mary Garner
Krisca Gould and Mary Garner both work at Nelson Tasman Hospice.

After moving to New Zealand in 2018 with her Kiwi husband, who lived in the USA for 25 years, and her two boys, Krisca joined Nelson Tasman Hospice in 2020 as the Volunteer Programme Manager. She currently oversees around 500 volunteers that preform many different roles to enhance Hospice's service, including volunteers who work with patients in the community, those who perform task-orientated roles and those who help Hospice raise the funds it needs.

Mary Garner is Hospice’s Patient Care Volunteer Coordinator. She started working with Hospice in 1987 – almost 35 years ago. For 29 of those years, she was the Volunteer Programme Manager. Her role for the last (almost) five years has been Volunteer Coordinator for Patient Services, which means she coordinates and supports Hospice's volunteers who work with patients in the community.

Mary says: 'My interest in the hospice movement was sparked initially around 1980 when I attended a talk by a visiting UK nurse. That RN had worked in St Christopher’s Hospice in London. I became a firm convert to the value of hospice care for patients at the end of life. Society already poured many resources into the beginning of life; how logical it was to also support patients at the end of life as well.

'We were living in Whanganui when I attended the talk and when we moved down to my home area of Nelson to live, my mother – who was an RN – had trained as one of Nelson’s first hospice nurses for the new “Hospice at Home” service. RN’s "recommended reading” at the time included Elisabeth Kubler-Ross’s book On Death and Dying. Reading that further reinforced my interest and conviction in the huge value of the hospice movement.

"When Hospice advertised in October 1987 for a Volunteer Coordinator, I applied for the job. At the time, there were around six volunteers working in two different roles. Today there are around 500 volunteers working in 40 different roles."

In 2017, Mary was awarded the QSO for services to Hospice and the Community.

Together, Mary and Krisca make some amazing things happen but in this episode we discuss, in particular, the Life Story Service.

The Life Story Service gives people supported by Hospice the opportunity to record and preserve their memories. It also allows them to leave behind something for their loved family and friends. The purpose of this service is primarily an activity for their enjoyment, a therapeutic diversion that offers them something different and interesting to focus on, especially if their illness prevents them from doing other leisure activities.

Life Story writers are volunteers who are trained and work under a Hospice Protocol that ensures each person's story is confidential. The process depends on how much the individual wants to share and can take from a few weeks to several months, depending on their strength and ability at the time. The Life Story writer will lay out the text, gather together photographs and other interesting material, and will often find historical pieces or photos that will enhance the final document.

Nelson Tasman Hospice provides services for those with any advanced, progressive and life-limiting illness. Services are provided at no charge to the patient and their whānau; however, it does cost to provide them. At present Hospice receives 52% of its annual running costs from Nelson Marlborough DHB, with the remaining 48% generated by fundraising. It could not continue providing its services without the generosity of the community.

Mary nominated 'What a Wonderful World' by Louis Armstrong and Krisca nominated 'Closing Time' by Semisonic as songs they would like played at their funeral or wake. Listen to the songs in our 'Farewell songs' playlist.
Hospice: Sharing our life stories
In episode 8, I introduce the wonderful series of videos on the Te Kahu Pairuri o Aotearoa Hospice New Zealand website.

The series comprises four 2-3 minute videos featuring the stories of various health professionals and support workers, including music therapist, Keryn, fundraiser and volunteer, Simon, clinical services manager, Lea, and of course a biographer called Ann who does very similar work to the team of volunteer life story writers at Nelson Tasman Hospice, who we heard more about earlier in the show.

You can watch the video featuring Ann below.

Please help spread the word and encourage your friends and family to support the wonderful work hospice does in the community.

Meet Hospice biographer, Ann
Listen to previous Season 2 episodes
  • OUT APRIL 24, 2022
    Death in Print: Death and its Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Beautiful Lessons by Becky Aud-Jennison, Meet: Deathwalker and author Becky Aud-Jennison, Death on Screen: 'Good Grief'
  • OUT MAY 8, 2022
    EPISODE 2 
    Death in PrintWhat Days Are For by Robert Dessaix, Meet: Septuagenerian climate activist Bill McEwan, Death on Screen: Nelson Poetry Map featuring Bill Manhire's poem, 'Kevin'
  • OUT MAY 22, 2022
    Death in PrintAn Hour to Live, An Hour to Love by Richard Carlson, Meet: Storyteller Tanya Batt, Death on Screen: Imagined Worlds website
  • OUT JUNE 5, 2022
    Death in PrintWild Darkness by Eva Saulitis, Meet: Natural burial pioneer Dawn Jones and her daughter Sylvia Bauer Death on Screen: NZ Natural Burial directory
  • OUT JULY 3, 2022
    Death in PrintActions & Travels: How Poetry Works by Anna Jackson, Meet: Singer/songwriter Nick Feint Death on Screen: 'Good Bones' by Maggie Smith
  • OUT JULY 24, 2022
    Death in Print: 'Thanksgiving in Mongolia' by Ariel Levy, Meet: Christchurch Death Cafe and Death Matters NZ founder Melanie Mayell Death on Screen: Baz Luhrmann's 'Elvis'
  • AUGUST 7, 2022
    Death in PrintThe Eulogy by Jackie Bailey, Meet: Funeral director, interfaith minister and author Jackie Bailey Death on Screen: The Beautiful Lie
Catch up on Season 1 episodes
  • OUT OCTOBER 3, 2021
    Death in Print: Before You Knew My Name, Meet: author Jacqueline Bublitz, Death on Screen: 'Dead to Me'
  • OUT OCTOBER 17, 2021
    Death in Print: Listen: How to Find the Words for Tender Conversations, Meet: author Kathryn Mannix, Death on Screen: 'Phone of the Wind'
  • OUT OCTOBER 31, 2021
    Death in Print: No Pressure, No Diamonds, Meet: legal executive Marie Austin, Death on Screen: 'I Told You I Was Ill: the Life & Legacy of Spike Milligan'
  • OUT OCTOBER 31, 2021
    Death in Print: No Pressure, No Diamonds by Teri Dillion, Meet: legal executive Marie Austin, Death on Screen: 'I Told You I Was Ill: The Life and Legacy of Spike Milligan'
  • OUT NOVEMBER 14, 2021
    Death in Print: H is for Hawk by Helen Macdonald, Meet: poet & playwright Donna McLeod, Death on Screen: 'Living with Ghosts'
  • OUT NOVEMBER 28, 2021
    Death in Print: Mortals: How the Fear of Death Shaped Human Society by Rachel & Ross Menzies, Meet: psychologist and author Rachel Menzies, Death on Screen: Lisel Mueller on 'The Marginalian'
  • OUT DECEMBER 12, 2021
    Death in Print: No One is Talking About This by Patricia Lockwood, Meet: author Bonnie Etherington, Death on Screen: 'My Beautiful Broken Brain'