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Emily Ireland

Susan Rutene believes everyone has a story.

And it’s her job at Hospice Wairarapa to document the life stories of patients.

Susan has been involved with Hospice Wairarapa since before it was officially established.

She trained as a hospice biographer in 2010 and is now the leader of a team of eight experienced biographers.

There are many reasons a patient may want to do a biography.

For some it is a form of therapy.

“A lot of them have some great history they are wanting to pass on to future generations,” Susan said.

“It adds value and significance to their life.

“But, sadly many people leave it too late.”

She said it usually took five to six weeks to record a person’s biography, which is printed by Hospice Wairarapa and given to loved ones in hard copy and on USB.

Some of these biographies end up being just a few pages, but can be as many as 100 pages or more, she said.

It was all up to what the patient wanted to share and how much time they had with the biographer.

“It’s a real privilege,” Susan said about being a hospice biographer.

“Often, the patient will tell you something that they’ve never told anyone before – even the family don’t have any idea sometimes.

“That’s such an honour that they feel they can trust you with that.”

Susan said some patients wanted to share just portions of their lives, whereas others preferred the biography to be chronological.

“The most important part about the biography is that it’s the patient’s story and it’s what they want.

“We’re not after the perfect story — we’re after their story.

“The biggest compliment as a biographer is the family reading it later and saying, ‘gee I can hear dad saying that’.”

Susan said each patient was different, but “everybody’s story is interesting”.

“Everybody has something to share”.

At the beginning of all biographies, which are often referred to as “life reviews”, the patient signs a consent form to instruct the biographers what is to happen with the story if they die before completion.

“Sometimes the patient dies before the story is complete and the biographer will aim to have a draft available to the family if they request it so that it can be used during the funeral service.”

And the job of a hospice biographer doesn’t necessarily mean they will strictly be writing a biography.

Often they are tasked with writing letters to loved ones instead.

“There might be someone who wants us to write a letter for their grandchild’s 21st – and we’ll type those up.

“It’s so rewarding, and it really is a privilege to be given the opportunity to help someone share their story.”

Paper Plus is sponsoring the printing of the patient biographies, which means the savings go directly back into its patient and carer programmes.

This is the fifth in a 10-part Midweek series bringing awareness to the community about Hospice Wairarapa in an effort to increase support for the charity.

Next week: Te Kowhai day programme and fundraising