Former judge Bill Unwin has been spending his retirement recording the stories of those at the end of their lives. Photo: Charles Anderson.

Hearing stories of life and death

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As a district court judge for almost two decades Bill Unwin was used to hearing stories.

But nothing quite prepared him for the voluntary job he took up in retirement – hearing from those who were at the end of their lives.

Bill signed up to be a life writer for the Nelson Tasman Hospice seven years ago and in that time, he has interviewed about 30 people from all different backgrounds.

“A lot of people are reticent. Some say they have nothing to say but they always have but everyone has a story.”

And Bill says it has been a privilege to hear and record them.

“The dignity of people that have been told they have less than 12 months to live, and come to terms with that and then share it, is extraordinary.”

The process is beneficial to the patient, as the conversation and recollection is therapeutic, but it also gives family members a chance to hear stories that would have been lost too.

To prepare himself for the job Bill had to go through an extensive interview and then training to make sure he was a good fit.

He spends about an hour a week with a patient but much of the time is spent transcribing interviews.

“One of the best moments is reading the story back to them and watch them lie back and smile,” Bill says.

Bill was made companion of the Queen’s Service Order for services to the judiciary in 2010.

“It is something that you have to give back to the community. If you’ve had a life like I have, you have to. It’s a wonderful scheme.”

Nelson Tasman Hospice is embarking on its most ambitious project in its 30-year history – a new $11.5 million hospice at Suffolk Rd.

It is due to be completed by the end of 2018 but is fundraising to help reach that goal.

To donate visit www.nelsonhospice.org.nz/donate.