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Acts of Kindness

Ralph Segall's way with words may have led to his career as a corporate and technical writer. But his feeling for people helped determine his post-retirement vocation: ghostwriting memoirs for Hospice of Naples' patients. His work is part of the organization's expressive therapy program, which uses art, writing and music to help patients and families confront their feelings.

Hospice therapist and program originator Mariliese Vogel turned to him when one of her patients, an 86-year-old veteran, wanted to share his experiences with his son.

Segall says the normally taciturn patient became animated when recounting his battles in World War II's African theater; Segall, who fought in Normandy, was amazed at his recall for dates, places and names. After each session, he spent up to five hours turning the discussion into a narrative "without changing the feeling or the language."

After the man passed away, Vogel presented the work to his family. Vogel says there is a rising interest in this sort of legacy or historical memoir, particularly among the very old.

Segall, whose latest co-author is 103, spent seven weeks with his first memior writer. He says that with more time they might have moved to more deeply personal material. But maybe not.

"He was an old-fashioned, practical man," Segall says, someone who gave his bride-to-be a coat instead of a ring during a winter when he was too poor to afford both.

Segall's ghosting is guided by one question: Does it help the patient die more peacefully? "I believe it does," he says. "As long as the person is willing to open up and talk, I'm ready to listen."

For more information about volunteer opportunities at Hospice of Naples, call (239) 261-4404 or visit www.hospiceofnaples.org.

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