Death Therapy

In the movie, What About Bob?, Richard Dreyfuss threatens to treat his nutty patient, Bob – played by Bill Murray, with what he calls “death therapy.” In that case, the doctor was referring to killing the annoying patient. However, I’ve found a much better (and much less fatal) form of death therapy, and I’ve used it in several support groups with a great deal of success.

I begin by assigning the group members to create their own death notice. Death notices include mostly personal memories and facts about the deceased person. The group members are to choose a person they have a conflict with. This is usually part of the stepfamily makeup, a stepchild, an ex-spouse, etc. Or they may be a parent, a biological child, an extended family member, or even a co-worker – anyone they are at odds with.

Then they are to write two death notices: first what they are fairly sure that other person (often referred to as their enemy!) will say about them if they die tomorrow. This brings statements such as “I never liked my stepdad, he was a jerk,” or “my stepmom never had anything nice to say about me,” or “I’m glad my ex is dead, he was a mean, selfish …” – well, you get the idea.


The second death notice contains what the writer wishes their enemy would say about them. These usually are corrections of the first notice: “my stepdad was a real friend to me,” “my ex started out mean and selfish, but later became a real help with our children and a great person.”

Finally, group members are asked how they plan to move their subject from the first, mean death notice to the second, nicer notice. This is the meat of the exercise. In this discussion, the writer must brainstorm (with the help of the rest of the group) ways they can win over their “enemy.” And it’s here that we almost always gain some great lessons and ideas.

Here are some of the lessons we’ve learned from past exercises with our groups:

  • it’s OK to use a pat answer to an angry chewing out – just say, “OK, I hear you. Talk to you later”
  • it takes a real change of heart to change a person’s mind
  • you can’t spend too much time with your kids or stepkids
  • sometimes it’s OK to let “important” things like bills and chores go in order to bless your kids
  • you’ve got to take the lead in forgiving your ex – don’t wait for them to start it
  • out live them! then they can’t say bad stuff about you!
  • getting the last word in is seldom ever worth the pain it causes
  • just get over it! 
  • forgiving is fun – it is a relief to get over the anger and resentment of past hurts

My suggestion to you is to try this exercise with your mate. Think about what someone will say about you after you die. What kind of impression are you making on the people in your world – or on the world over all? How have you hurt someone, and how can you repair that hurt before you die? Where are you going when you die? What are your travel plans? Who are you taking with you?

What are your kids/stepkids going to remember about you after you’re gone? You know, the memories you are making with them now will last the rest of their lives. Plant some flowers, don’t burn down the garden.

I’ll be happy to talk to you about this exercise or other ways of repairing your relationships. Email me directly at stepcoach@stepcarefully.com

God bless y’all!

STEPcoach Bobby C.

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