Sacred Sundays

No doubt due to my Catholic upbringing, I hold Sundays as sacred even though I no longer subscribe to an organized religious dogma. In my youth, Sundays meant attending Sunday mass and getting Dunkin’ Donuts afterwards.

As a young wife and mother we made it family day and either went out for crepes or we brought them home. No matter the tradition, Sundays have always felt special. Like they were the one day of the week when All Possibilities were palpable.

Even as a college student at St. Teresa’s, in Winona, Minnesota it was a day to stay in pajamas, be cozy, and share with friends. We often took a walk around the lakes.

Sundays feel like clean slates.

Today, I reserve Sundays as Sacred Self-Care. There is no one particular tradition, other than I don’t work unless entirely inspired to do so. There’s no agenda on Sundays. What gets done, gets done. All the rest can wait until Monday.

Sundays are for resetting.

Monday through Saturday are work days. Whether it is working for your employer, your self, or keeping up with the household chores. Sundays should hold little to none of that. Sundays should be about fueling our souls. Connecting with our highest selves and recharging.

I find limiting my television watching on Sundays has spilled over into the week. Even ‘having it on in the background’ seems to take energy from the environment. Replacing that background noise with soothing new age music positively charges the air and nurtures the Spirit.

Reading books for leisure, and not work or research related, also is a nice activity for a Sunday. Especially those cold snowy Sundays, here in lower Michigan. I include in this category, pulling out old photo albums or scrapbooks and taking a stroll down memory lane. Double bonus points if you can find someone who will sit with you while you do it.

I work with Oracle Cards as well as other card decks and often do a reading for myself using one of my many decks. Journalling about each card, it’s message and how it pertains to my life is a very therapeutic use of a Sunday.

I rarely do small screens on Sundays. No computer. No internet. It is so freeing. No drama to get caught up in. No rabbit holes to go down. Just peace in my world.

I know it is Monday at the time of this posting, but perhaps you can think this week on how to make your Sundays more Sacred and let me know if it makes a difference next week!

Peace Be With You,

Jade

Why Throw A Living Memorial?

My husband turned 70 this week and the pre-Corona plan was to throw him an Honor Dinner (or Living Memorial) to celebrate his life. Now you might be asking what is the difference between an Honor Dinner and a birthday party. Quite simply it is the sentiment expressed.

Let’s think about a regular memorial for a minute. A loved one has died, the family is grieving, there are pictures of the loved one set out. At some point there is conversation beyond awkward condolences and people start to reminisce. People share stories of the first time they met the loved one, and they share what this person added to their life.

For me, during a loss, this last part has always been my favorite. My favorite because it is here my healing begins. The knowledge that my loved one was loved by others is reassuring, consoling and comforting. I often find myself wondering though, “did she know they felt this way about her?”

I come from an English, German, Irish and Croatian cultural background. Take a look at those again. Not a single solitary culture that is known for expressing emotion! Stoic x4. On top of that our people tend to die suddenly in car accidents or from sudden illness. We aren’t prone to long term illnesses. While that is a good thing, the drawback is there is no anticipatory grief period, no forewarning that death is around the corner. Which means there is little time to prepare and say goodbye. So many loving thoughts remain unsaid until after death. Although that is very healing for the grieving loved ones to hear, the true power of those loving words lay in sharing them with people while they are alive.

Because of my history with these sudden losses, I am one to not leave things unsaid. My friends and family are accustomed to it, but for new friends it takes some getting used to. It is for this reason that I love Living Memorials. Not just for those who know death is around the corner, but for anyone! It’s not something you do at every birthday, but it is good for those big numbers.

Due to CoVid we had to do my husband’s Living Memorial online. I created a Facebook group and instructed people to create a video expressing their sentiments, toast him, roast him or share memories/stories. The point was to express more than simple birthday wishes. I wanted this man to know exactly what he contributed to the lives of others. I wanted him to see the expression on their faces and hear the inflection of their voice; not just read words on a screen. Having it in a group rather than on his page would enable him to use it like a memory book he could refer back to frequently.

While not everyone was comfortable being extremely sentimental, we had quite a few contributors. The look on his face as he watched each video and read each post was priceless. There are no words to accurately describe it. If I had to, I would say it was a mixture of appreciation, love and pride. He was truly touched that anyone would take the time to do this.

In retrospect I think a slightly modified structure would have rendered a result closer to what I intended. I think asking people to share their favorite character trait of my husband, along with their birthday greetings would’ve been less intimidating for guests. I also think that had we been able to do it in our initial format – an honor dinner – with similar instruction, it would’ve been easier for people to really share some more sentiment.

My husband is filled with joy for the experience and that was truly my goal. I highly recommend this for anyone wanting to provide a meaningful celebration for a loved one’s birthday.

In the end it doesn’t matter if it is called a Birthday Party, a Living Memorial, an Honor Dinner or a Hoe Down. If it is making memories, sharing emotion and making people feel loved then it is part of the living well path and that path leads to dying well.

Peace Be With You,

Jade

Best Death Possible (part two) – A Daughter’s Mission

The Difference A Doula Makes

An experienced Death Doula is someone familiar with many faces of death. While death is universal in its presence, it is individual in its experience. In my situation, a Doula would’ve been outside the grief circle, someone who could hold space for me as I expended my energy fighting for my mother. He or she would be able to offer perspective and guidance to spark ideas like bringing my mom’s personal items into the hospital, taking pictures, and bringing in music. A Doula would’ve been grounding for me.

It all happened in a week; Tuesday to Tuesday. When my mom was admitted no one suspected she wouldn’t be coming home. It was too fast for any of us to catch up, we only had a week; but that week will be with me the rest of my life.

We think of Death Doulas, or End of Life Doulas or even hospice as being appropriate only when death is imminent. Our most important work, however, happens long before that time. I chose to refer to myself as a Sacred Attendant, simply because that is what it feels like to me – attending the Sacred. Acceptance of death needs to be woven throughout our lives. It is not a final chapter of our story, but more like a character in the background without the knowledge of its time of arrival, nor the circumstances of it. Conversations about death cannot be reserved for some imagined time in the future when death appears imminent. They also need to include more than just the ideal circumstances because that just isn’t probable. Weaving death positive awareness into things like birthday celebrations, traumatic events, or illness could help remedy experiences like ours.

Thing 6 I’d change is doing a death plan. That first night when she said was scared, I would’ve stayed at the hospital. I would’ve pulled out a notebook and written down all the things she would want at her funeral. I would write a letter she’d dictate to whomever she wanted. I would’ve asked what songs she wanted at the service and what readings she wanted. I would’ve updated her living will with Health Care Representative (Proxy) designation. I would’ve asked her important questions regarding what she wanted to leave behind for all of us. I wouldn’t have hesitated to discuss this because we didn’t think it was time.

As a result of my experience with my mother, and with so many others, I created LIFE’S Book, an opportunity to create a death plan and so much more. Completing something like this with my mother would’ve not only established her wishes, but it would’ve been a bonding time for us. It would’ve also provided some guidance for others who didn’t know what to say while visiting. My mother could’ve asked them to simply pick up the binder and pick a page.

The Gift Of Time

Working in hospice I saw the Gift of Time in action. In a death denying society, the Gift of Time is bestowed upon those who chose to acknowledge time for letting go and embrace it. Peace comes with the embracing of death. Understanding that it is no longer a time to fight against the disease or circumstance, but to fight for magic in the last days. It is here that the term ‘good death’ was coined. A death free from suffering and in the comfort of their own home or home-like environment, surrounded by friends and family.

However, there are so many other types of death happening at any given time, don’t they deserve magic too? People die in car accidents, from falls in their homes, from assaults, and from sudden illnesses like stroke or aneurysms. Where are the good deaths for these people? Where is the dying-specific emotional, spiritual, and soul support for these folks? And what of those who lie down to nap one day and never wake up? Where are the goodbyes for their families? Their last words? And what of those who live alone with no one to ‘surround’ their bedside and care for them in their own home? What of them? Where are their good deaths?

They say there are no do-overs in life, and yet I see Life as one big do-over. Every day I get the chance to do things differently than the day before. I learn from my past experiences, I do not view them as insufficient or lacking in any way. The things I wished to do differently led me right where I am today, offering my support to others to reduce these events, by having conversations earlier than ‘imminent’. By doing this differently, I am honoring my mother’s death.

I was just getting my feet wet in the local community network groups talking about dying and death and…

Then CoVid19 Hit

The deathbeds now are even more sterile and are missing most or all family and friends. Fear of death hangs in the air like grey clouds in the Michigan winter sky. Still there is no acknowledging it. No preparations. No magic moments within conversations. Not even while quarantined together have there been conversations about death wishes. There’s just been blaming, conspiracy theorizing and more denial.

What’s emerged is a grief crisis. Compounded complicated grief where before there would be straightforward grief. On top of losing loved ones, we are losing our traditions for grieving. No matter your spirituality, religion or culture every aspect of grieving has been affected. Everything from not being able to be at the bedside to hold a hand, to not being able to have a funeral, with a million things in between.

This results in bereavement counseling being more important than ever. A counselor or a group to hold space to offer comfort and support. There will be more turbulent feelings. More uneasiness. More anger. More regret.

We will shortly be coming upon the first death anniversaries and the grief crisis will hit people unexpectedly. How we honor those anniversaries will be most important and if we do it right, will spark new traditions by creating meaningful ritualistic ceremonies to honor that date. We can only hope that by the time the first of the death anniversaries from this pandemic time roll around that the pandemic has subsided enough to allow more ritualistic ceremonies.

This is something I am preparing. This is something most end of life consultants are preparing.

My Mission

Ask 100 people what their idea of a ‘good death’ is and statistics say that 80 of them will say ‘at home surrounded by family and friends’. Some might even choose a facility with a ‘home-like environment like a hospice house, surrounded by family and friends’. Perhaps because they don’t want their family to have to live in the place where they died, or maybe they do not wish to burden their loved ones with caring for them. Whatever the case most people will not say ‘in a hospital’ and yet that is where 60% of deaths take place.

Why?

Some of it is due to death phobia. The medical community, in particular, has a hard time considering death, as was evident with my mother’s team. They are taught that death is an enemy to fight against at all costs. That cost is too great however, when it robs people of precious time with loved ones.

My mission is to offer the ‘best death possible’ for everyone. None of us can change the circumstances surrounding our death or that of our loved one. However, within the scope of that circumstance we can offer the best death possible.

The best death possible means embracing the circumstances as they are and doing it ‘your way’. It doesn’t mean giving up, so much as it is giving in to the flow of life. I have had the privilege of witnessing many magical life-changing moments that took place at a bedside. I want to bring that to anyone who wants it.

Unlike a hospice referral, to employ a Death Doula there is no need for a terminal diagnosis and 6 months natural life expectancy prognosis. The decision rests solely with the individual or family to initiate at any time. It can be initiated years before the actual death, making preparations, having conversations, and creating legacies. This starts building a relationship with someone who is then familiar to you at the end of life, providing all that much more comfort.

Embracing a best death possible philosophy provides opportunity for patients and families of trauma victims the same Gift of Time as hospice patients and families. It offers the same post-death follow up and support as well. It offers something more than what has been offered to date. A Sacred Attendant or End of Life Doula isn’t meant to replace Chaplains or Social Workers, it is something additional that offers a broader blanket of comfort care to a patient and their families. The service isn’t paid for by insurance or Medicaid/Medicare, so it isn’t restricted by regulations for reimbursement. The Attendant is free to provide whatever non-medical service is right for the individual and the family unit, and to provide it as long as necessary. She or he is not limited to a ‘justified’ one hour visit once a week.

Think what peace of mind this service could be to a son who lives 1,000 miles away from his mother who has dementia and lives in a facility. That he can have someone trusted to be there as many times a week as he wants.

What comfort it could be to a daughter from out-of-town to have in-town support as she lovingly cares for her father in his home.

What clarity it could bring a family whose members all seem to be on different pages.

What a difference it would make in the hospital to have compassionate end of life support available to individuals with sudden illness or decline, or traumatic injury and their family units.

And what of this…what if hospitals offered this service to family units right now, BECAUSE of CoVid protocols and restrictions? Why not give families something to replace a small bit of what has been taken away? It’s the right thing to do.

The services of Death Doulas, End of Life Doulas, Sacred Attendants, etc… will be unique to the individuals that provide them. In overview terms, they provide non-medical support to clients and families. Specifically, they might make a well-timed phone call or text; Be a visitor who is comfortable sitting in silence; Ask just the right question at just the right time; Or offer a listening ear you are not afraid to bend. These are the tangibles every End of Life Doula (EOLD) might offer. The innumerous intangibles are impossible to list here though because they are less about doing and more about being.

Peace Be With You…And May You Be Peace

If you or anyone you know feels they would benefit from this service please speak up to your doctors, your medical team or locate your nearest End of Life Doula through the End of Life Collective https://collective.round.glass/End-of-Life/about or the National End Of Life Doula Alliance https://www.nedalliance.org/ or reach out to me personally at healingritesofpassage@gmail.com or via the contact form on this site.

Attachment To Things Has Gotten A Bad Rap

In a country where hoarding is an epidemic, while simultaneously Marie Kondo has become a celebrity for downsizing, it’s important to understand the reason behind our attachment to possessions and the therapeutic value ‘things’ have in grieving.

“They paved paradise and put up a parking lot,” 🎶 a popular lyric and a popular trend when I was growing up in the midwest. Beautiful, architectural, and historical buildings bulldozed, then replaced with parking lots and structures. The trend remains the same, it’s just a different kind of parking structure today…storage facilities.

When people’s attachment to things is such that they require separate housing for their belongings we have to start asking, “why?” It isn’t enough to just roll our eyes and say, ‘commercialism’, or ‘materialism’, or ‘gluttony’, as so often I’ve heard.

When people live in homes that have become unhealthy and deteriorated because attachment to their possessions has become unmanageable, we have do to more than give it a name and slap it into the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Health Disorders.

In a culture that denies death’s inevitability; that has sterilized death and dying care, by allocating it to institutions rather than family members; and has created fantasy worlds on television bombarding people with false notions and images of impossible idyllic life standards, it’s no wonder “things” become important.

Things don’t die and they don’t abandon us.

It’s no secret we don’t do death well in this society, but what is a secret is why we feel so attached to family heirlooms, gifts and mementos, sometimes to the expense of our wellbeing.

It’s more than just ‘sentimentality’. Objects hold energy. Our possessions (things we have owned) hold our energy very strongly because it was constantly bathed in our energy.

However, even store-bought gifts hold the energy of the giver even though it might not have been in their possession for very long. The intent or ‘thought’ behind the gift lives in the material of the gift.

Individuals who have strong attachments to people, and have suffered great loss, will often have stronger attachments to possessions than those who do not have strong attachments to people and/or have not suffered great losses. Holding onto belongings is a coping mechanism designed to exert some control over loss. The theory is ‘I love things because things don’t abandon me. They can’t die and they can’t walk out on me.’ Which is why then those individuals will be devastated if something of value gets broken or stolen (material versions of death and walking out).

When someone dies there are many who rush to get rid of the loved one’s possessions believing the things are painful reminders. They mistakenly believe getting rid of the belongings quickly will facilitate faster grieving. The truth could actually be the exact opposite. Holding onto belongings that hold the energy of the loved one keeps their individual signature vibration within daily life. This enables the relationship to reconfigure. Spoiler alert, we don’t have to stop having relationships with people just because they die.

We don’t stop loving someone when they transition to the next life, whatever you believe that life looks like. Love is energy and energy never dies. Our love just has to have a new focus of attention. Hence why some find visiting gravesites to be important and necessary. A focus. A new physical focus of the relationship.

Others choose to embrace personal belongings of the loved one. A healthy attachment to those things would be someone choosing several items of the person’s belongings to incorporate into daily life. An appropriate amount would be what can easily fold into one’s current living situation and serve a purpose. Serving a purpose is largely defined by the individual. A box of personal belongings that is taken out once every other year and brings comfort does indeed serve a purpose. The rest of the belongings then are easily, even joyfully shared with family, friends and the community by way of donations.

In extreme contrast, an unhealthy attachment to those things, of course, would be the inability to release any of the items to new homes and having the possessions overrun the home. The items cannot be incorporated into daily life, because there is no living actually happening when the possessions…well…take possession of the person. Excessive items stored, whether hoarded in a residence or locked away in a storage facility, are possessions in possession of people. Not a single item can be connected with or appreciated on a daily basis because it is not accessible. So you are paying rent for things to take up space in your life that are not adding quality to your life.

Having the deceased person’s belongings allows us to hold onto a physical representation of that relationship, yes, but it also allows us to continue a relationship with our loved one in a new way. Every time we wear that sweatshirt, we first feel the energy of our loved one that still lives in the material. When we feel that energy we are connecting with it, just as we did when they were alive. Then we might recall some memories. We feel again how we felt when they were alive – even if just for a moment. And whether we know it or not, we are making new memories with that person because we are doing new things while thinking of them.

This is so important. Not just right after a death, but for years going forward. After death, love and grief are forever intertwined. Grief doesn’t end. There is no finish line we magically cross. There is a difference between grieving and grief.

Grieving is the expression of the loss we feel for someone who has recently died. Grief is the cloak that love wears post death. Grieving ends. Grief does not.

Grieving is also called mourning. Its symptoms include but are not limited to sobbing, anger, depression, sadness, lethargy, insomnia, rage, and outbursts. Its cause is the loss of something/someone we love. Grief is loving someone who is no longer on this planet. Grief is the missing of someone. Therefore, we don’t grieve or mourn forever, but we feel grief forever. Many people do not understand this distinction and feel guilt when grieving ebbs, having associated their intense grieving with their intense love. Grieving is connected to the intensity of the loss of the love, not the intensity of the love itself.

When we incorporate loved one’s items into our daily life we are honoring them and ourselves. Instead of the empty place setting at the holiday table, we can focus on feeling their energy present at the table in the dishes they used or passed down to us. Someone’s clothes can be worn to provide us with a hug just when we need one. Clothes can also be made into blankets to promote that safe feeling someone gave us. Personal items can be pinned onto, sewn into or carried for a wedding ceremony as way to connect with them on that special day. Jewelry, as well as dishes, can be passed down for generations ensuring that the energy of the ancestors is prevalent and available for generations to come.

In recognizing the importance of personal items we have to understand our reaction then when these things wear out, get broken or lost. In many ways it is like losing that loved one all over again. We made the transfer from loving this person in body, to loving them in spirit with these items as a tangible tool. It can feel like losing that person all over again when these valued items are lost or broken.

It helps to remember that nothing is ever really lost or broken though. Broken dishes can be made into beautiful mosaic garden stones or even jewelry. Once more we need to make a transition from one physical focus to another. When we lose something of a loved one then it is a little harder to adjust, but it’s still a matter of perspective. You can view it as ‘the loss of one thing, makes room for another.’ Or it can be the impetus for you to take an action you otherwise wouldn’t have. Maybe acquire something of your own that holds as much energy for you. The situations are too numerous to go into in a simple blog post, but I hope you get the idea.

In the crystal gems world we believe that when a stone is lost it is either going on vacation for a much needed rest for a job well done, or it was needed elsewhere by someone else. A broken gem implies that someone you love needs the energy of that stone, thus it broke in order to be in two places at one time (or three or four). Something that shatters into pieces that are rendered unusable is considered to have served its purpose and is returned to the earth where it began. Quite often those pieces find themselves in potted plants where they still continue to be of service by nurturing the plant.

In this society we are too quick to judge…ourselves as well as our neighbors. We are too quick to judge someone’s home as cluttered simply because they have ‘more things’ than we choose to. If the things bring them pleasure and are easily incorporated into their living, then they have just the right amount of things for them. Instead of judging ask them about those things and the stories they hold. When they die you might just find that old cuckoo clock they spent the afternoon telling you about brings you comfort too…

A Dialogue About Death

Every story ever written has a beginning, middle and an end. Every author considers the end when first sitting down to write a storyline; However in the greatest story an individual will ever author, the end is often left unscripted.

We can’t write death in on our calendars and begin to plan when it seems ‘timely’. On the day we are born our death is written onto our calendar in invisible ink.

Modern day society chooses to approach death as if acknowledging it is morbid, preparing for it hastens it and accepting it is giving up.

Talking about your end of life care preferences when death is a remote possibility, supports decision making about end of life care when death is a probability, and promotes healthy coping during end of life when death becomes an inevitability.

In December 1974, my uncle was home from his work as a missionary priest in the Amazon, when an aortic aneurysm ruptured and he died in his sleep. I was nine years old, in the kitchen, as the discussion of burial arrangements took place and there was question about where he should be laid to rest. I said I knew where he wanted to be buried.

Every year my uncle hosted our family reunion on the grounds of the Villa Redeemer Monastery in Glenview, Illinois. On this property was a small cemetery and on one of our walks through the grounds that summer, my uncle told me he would someday be laid to rest there.

Because he shared that with me, I was able to share that with my mother. It was a small conversation that made a big difference to my mother in her grief.

Perhaps because my grandmother grew up on a farm where death was recognized as a part of life; Perhaps because my mother’s brother died at four years of age; Perhaps because my mother grew up during WWII; Perhaps because my own father died when I was three…perhaps for all these reasons, death was not a taboo subject in my house growing up, nor has it ever been a taboo subject in my own home as an adult.

Embracing mortality has emotionally prepared me to make life and death decisions in unexpected moments. This preparation does not make decision making easier – it does however, make it less complicated.

When we live in denial of mortality we create an illusion that creates complications during times of crisis. It requires that our psyche do some serious catching up in very little time, and oftentimes there isn’t enough time to actually catch up.

The internal dialogues might look like this:

Prepared: (death is a real possibility) “No. No. NO! I can’t believe this is happening. I knew this day would one day come, but today? I’m not ready. I’ll never be ready. I can’t make these decisions. I don’t want to make these decisions. We talked about what to do, but I don’t want to.”

*breath*

This isn’t about me. It’s about Mom and living life on her terms. It’s so hard to imagine this, but Mom has always been clear about what she wants.”

(death is a probability) “I don’t want to believe that I have to do this, but I know what Mom wants. She’s told me all along. She doesn’t want to merely exist. She doesn’t want to be on machines. She doesn’t want to be a burden. She wants to live life on her terms. If she can’t be an independent active participant in life, she said she didn’t want to prolong her death. She prepared me for this, but my heart is breaking.

*breath*

I don’t want her to suffer for me. I want her to be peace-filled.

(death is inevitable) “I’m sorry Mom for the things I did that hurt you. Please forgive me, hurting you was never my intention. Thank you, for teaching me what friendship means. I forgive you, for all the things I was ever angry about. I love you.”

*breath*

Mom, it’s ok to let go, if you need to. I’m here. I’m right here.”

(death comes)

Unprepared: (death is a real possibility) “No. No. No. No. NO! I won’t believe it! We have to keep fighting. You have to keep fighting, Mom. You are a survivor! You got this! Yes, keep her alive at all costs. Don’t give up on her. It isn’t her time yet. I’m not ready yet.”

There has to be something else we can try. Why is she getting worse instead of better? What are you doing?! Why aren’t you helping her?”

(death is a probability) “Mom, I know you are tired and suffering but you have to keep fighting. This isn’t over yet. You still have so much to do. I need you. Your grandchildren need you. I am not prepared to say goodbye so you have to keep fighting, ok?”

You are not a quitter! Don’t you give up on me!”

(death is inevitable) “I can’t believe this is happening. I knew this day would one day come, but today? I’m not ready.

I’ll never be ready.”

(death comes)

I didn’t even have the chance to say good bye…”

Preparation is not morbid. It does not hasten death. It needs to be seen as the natural order of authoring our lives.

Just as preparation does not manifest death, it also does not guarantee the circumstances of our death. We cannot foresee details, but we can verbalize the atmosphere we’d like it to have. Because at birth our death is already added to our ‘to do list’, it is appropriate to have ongoing open conversations about what we might want to include and exclude from that atmosphere.

Amidst the COVID-19 pandemic our mortality has never been more undeniable. Take this opportunity to begin having conversations, exploring your fears, beliefs and hopes about your own death. Tell your loved ones what your preferences are to ease their emotional burden when the time does come. Your loved ones may not have certain choices regarding your end of life care, but at least they will have your Voice as guidance in making the really tough ones.

It may not come during this pandemic – we all hope that is true – but clearly, death is happening all around us now. We might still live in fear of it, but we can no longer deny the possibility, probability and inevitability of our mortality.

It is in embracing the existence of our death that our best living begins.

The Story Of Hope

I come into people’s lives at times when hope is challenged. I hear phrases such as, “we aren’t giving up hope”, “there’s no hope” and “it’s hopeless”. Individuals often describe feeling hopeless as well.

Hope is not a feeling.

It is something you feel yes, but in and of itself, hope is not a feeling. Think of it like ‘wet’; You can feel wet, but wet is not a feeling.

Hope is a process.

Isabelle found a lump in her breast one day while taking a shower. She noted it, felt a little concern and decided to monitor it before mentioning it to her doctor. She hoped it was nothing.

A couple months go by and Isabelle feels the lump has gotten bigger and seems to be more painful than previously. She makes a doctor’s appointment and hopes it’s nothing.

Her doctor feels it warrants further examination so sends Isabelle for a mammogram. Her doctor and Isabelle hope it’s nothing.

The mammogram indicates need for a biopsy. The doctor and Isabelle hope it’s nothing.

The biopsy comes back malignant. The doctor recommends a lumpectomy and a biopsy of the lymph nodes to determine the extent of the condition. The doctor and Isabelle hope there is nothing found in the lymph nodes and that the lump is removed successfully.

The lymph node biopsy comes back positive for cancer cells. The doctor recommends a radical mastectomy and chemotherapy. The doctor and Isabelle hope this will stop the progression of the disease.

After months of treatment the cancer has spread very aggressively throughout her body. Further aggressive treatments would deplete Isabelle’s quality of life with no likelihood of a cure. Isabelle foregoes aggressive treatment and hopes to fill the rest of her life with quality family time and be comfortable.

Surrounded by her family and friends daily, Isabelle hopes that she has enough time on Earth to leave no words unspoken, no amends not made and no doubt how much she loved life. She wrote letters to be read after her death to special individuals and hopes each one brings a sense of peace and closure to the recipient. She hopes that she made a difference in the lives of those she loves and she hopes that continues on in them long after she transitions to the next place.

Isabelle’s family and friends hope they have enough time to give back to Isabelle all that she has given to them over the years. They hope that she feels loved during the Living Wake they held for her. They hope that she knows she is not alone. They hope that she is not in pain. They hope that they will see her again some day, in some way. They hope.

Hope takes many shapes depending on the evolution of the situation. It morphs and transforms at the direction of its beholder. It relies heavily on perception and mindset. It is undeniably fluid.

Hope is ever present and can be felt by proxy. If you can’t feel it someone else can feel it for you. It is often thought of as contagious for this reason. The mere action another holding hope for you and your situation, can help you feel hope too.

Hope is not tangible. Hope is not concrete. Hope is organic and cannot be defined. It is a dance that cannot be choreographed by a few well spoken words. Hope comes from your soul.

You are either one to experience it or not. In my experience those with hope are more positive, finding all reason to hope despite the situation. Also, in my experience however, I find denial disguised as hope.

Denial is often portrayed as ‘positive thinking’. Denial is the underlying belief that if I ignore something it will not come into being. Denial is considering only the best case scenarios and suppressing the fears of the possibility of an undesired outcome.

Denial isolates and divides, but true hope unites and bonds.

Hope is not holding onto a desired outcome no matter what. True hope is holding the desire for the best outcome in one hand, while holding acceptance of the possibility of the worst outcome in the other – and preparing for both.

It is in this preparation for both that the uniting and the bonding happens.

When I consider things, I always play the what if I’m wrong? game. “If I do this thing and I’m wrong then (fill in the blank)?” And then I weigh it against “what if I do that thing and I’m wrong then (fill in the blank)?”

So, let’s play that game now.

Imagine a situation where you have been diagnosed as terminal and never consider the possibility of death because you are being ‘positive’. You never have conversations about it with others. You never express the things on your heart. You never talk about your fears. You never express your wishes regarding your services. You never make preparations.

You think about dying. You worry about it. You have no one to talk about it with though because you are being positive about it. You lie in bed at night and think of all the things that you will miss. You feel great love but do not express it because it will scare your family to think you are giving up.

At some point the treatment is deemed ineffective, causes severe side effects and reduces your quality of life. You have no energy to visit with others. Treatment is stopped and you are sent home with hospice.

You die three days later with no chance to say a quality goodbye.

How does that feel?

Now imagine a situation where you have been diagnosed as terminal and pursue aggressive treatment while also accepting the possibility of death. As you go through treatment you have open deep conversations with family and friends about your fears and your hopes. You begin to make decisions about the celebration of your life. You make a list of songs for your memorial service, last wishes about care and you even write a letter to be read at your service.

You cry and laugh with your loved ones. The whole experience draws you closer to your family and friends.

Your aggressive treatment is successful and you live several more years with these deeper relationships.

How do you feel?

Which scenario feels more hopeful now?

Heart Break

I support people who are facing their end stage of life and their families.

What does that mean exactly?

It means I provide non-medical services to 1) individuals diagnosed with a life-limiting/altering disease, disorder or condition; 2) individuals who have received a terminal prognosis; 3) individuals age 60 or over; 4) individuals who have had a medical scare; 5) individuals who have suffered a traumatic injury/event; 6) any individual who understands the importance of planning ahead.

Often I am told that my work must be heartbreaking.

I do get my heart broken often, but it is not the work I do that breaks my heart…it is the work I don’t get to do that breaks my heart.

For instance, a social media friend posted this recently and my heart shattered into a million pieces…

“So I find myself speechless, an animal unheard of…my father is now on comfort care, unexpected to live past the weekend. Who prepares you for such a calamity of events? Who prepares you for a hostile mother, wickedness and (un)comfortable in her environment. I’m not prepared, is anyone?”

This was the Friday after Christmas and he died early Monday morning. 

The truth is we can be prepared. I help people be prepared. You will never be ready, but you can actually be prepared

The thing is though you can’t wait until you see it coming. 

The words of this social media post belong to a 65 year registered nurse who had a long career at a well respected hospital and who graduated from law school last year.

She was sure she’d see it coming. 

She is not the average human being. She is highly intelligent, well educated and has intense medical knowledge.

But she didn’t see it coming.

What chance do the rest of us have to see it coming?

I had another conversation with a person who had done all sorts of pre-planning with her 85 year old mother. Very involved and very thorough and yet she was surprised at how quickly her mother died after moving into a foster home. And at 2:00 am she was caught off guard by the call to contact the funeral home they hadn’t even chosen yet because it just fell through the cracks.

I had another conversation with a son who asked, ‘Why didn’t anyone tell us six months ago that this was the beginning of the end for my 81 year old mother? We would’ve made different choices.’

I can’t tell you why the medical community is having such a hard time communicating with the families of those who are in the end stage of life. I can guess, theorize, speculate and ponder but the truth is there is no ONE reason.

There is a culture in our entire society that death will not happen to us. There is an underlying message from the pharmaceutical and medical communities that death is something we can beat with a pill or a treatment unless it is ‘God’s will’. There is a negativity factor assigned to anyone who dares to discuss death as a possibility. There is a label of morbid assigned to anyone who wants to discuss death when it is not imminent. There is a denial that runs like the famed river throughout our culture as a whole.

No one is comfortable taking away hope, yet hope remains always! Hope for a cure may be extinguished, however hope for peace, for comfort, for transcendent experiences, for genuine moments that create lasting memories, for loving kindness, for deep spiritual bonding and for living life to the fullest to the last moment always remain!

Watching people live a life in denial of inevitable death is what is heart breaking for me.

I’ve seen death. Lots of death.

I’ve seen death ignored and shunned and disenfranchised. The results being tortured isolation and devastating loneliness. The bereaved often filled with regret and second guess all decisions.

I’ve seen death embraced and celebrated and unfettered. The results are life affirming and inspiring. The bereaved are filled with peace and no regrets.

Think about this. What would bring the most regret? Living many years despite having conversations about the possibility of death, creating legacy projects and sharing intimate moments? Or dying without talking openly about the possibility of death, not creating legacy projects and not sharing intimate thoughts with the pretense of ‘remaining positive’?

If you answer yes to any of the following questions, then it is appropriate to start emotional estate planning.

  • Have you lost one or both of your parents?
  • Have you, or anyone you love, had a life-threatening medical scare?
  • Have you had a partner die?
  • Have you, or anyone you love, received a life-limiting diagnosis?
  • Have you, or anyone you love, experienced a decline in health in the past five years?
  • Do you have a family?
  • Do you have children?
  • Have you experienced the sudden loss of someone dear to you and were left with the feeling of “I wish I had one more day with them”?
  • Have you had conversations about your wishes for medical interventions or post-mortem services but haven’t documented it?
  • Did you answer no to all of the above?

If you answered yes to any of the above -including #10, it wasn’t a trick question- then it’s appropriate to schedule an Initial Inventory Planning Session with an experienced guide.

The session is 90 minutes long and includes a copy of LIFE’S Book: Healing Rites of Passage End of Life Planner, that has everything you will need to easily create, update and maintain your emotional estate planning.

We even work nationally and internationally with the help of video. Upon receipt of payment we will send your book and conduct a video session after you receive it.

The Importance of Emotional Estate Planning

True or False?

“I’m not sick. I have plenty of time to do my emotional estate planning.”

False.

While it is never too late to start emotional estate planning, it is also never too early.

Emotional estate planning should not be reserved for those suffering a terminal or chronic illness who are nearing death.

Just think back on the deaths you have experienced. How many were unexpected or were the result of a rapid decline in health?

As I reflect back on the many deaths of family and friends over my lifetime not one of them did much, if any, emotional estate planning and with the exception of my grandmother and aunt, all were rather swift and unexpected deaths.

My father succumbed to a brain aneurysm at age 46. My uncle, to an aortic aneurysm, also in his 40s. My aunt died in a car crash in her 30s. My mother died over the course of one week at the age of 74 of chemotherapy poisoning, just six months after a breast cancer diagnosis. My friend’s husband died almost instantly of a heart attack in his 50s. My friend died just a few months after a diagnosis of ovarian cancer in her 40s. My ex-husband, a non-smoker, died at age 56, six months after being diagnosed with lung cancer. While he underwent chemotherapy he developed a rare secondary cancer that spread to his brain.

This is just a sample taken from my own life, but out of eleven deaths only three were a natural result of a long well lived life. Not much time or opportunity for getting affairs in order, much less for crafting last words, goodbyes or making last memories in the last month of their lives.

My mother and my godmother were the only ones who really did any emotional estate planning and that wasn’t all that much, honestly.

My goal is to prevent as much emotional, spiritual and suffering as possible. I know how much suffering emotional estate planning can relieve. Unfortunately, most people still believe they will ‘know’ when their time is ‘about to come’ and have time to prepare.

Here’s something no one seems to remember to mention…

When you’ve received a diagnosis with a terminal prognosis, the life expectancy they give you is not a guarantee.

A prognosis is not a contract.

We’ve all heard those wonderful stories of someone being given six months to live and they went on for another five years. Those are exceptional. Emphasis on ‘exception’. The stories that are not passed along but much more common, are the ones who are given three months and only get three days.

Most importantly though, life expectancy and prognosis refers only to the state of being physically alive. It does not indicate the quality of that life. For instance, one may be given six months to live, however the last two months may be in an altered cognitive state at best, and unresponsive at worst.

The benefit of emotional estate planning is the opportunity to provide your emotional support to your loved ones before, during and even after you’re death.

How many times have you said ‘I wish I had one more…’, after you’ve lost a loved one? One more story. One more “I love you.” One more something? Emotional estate planning enables you the opportunity to set up these sorts of bonus ‘one mores’ by prompting you to make choices, take action and express yourself.

There is so much benefit to your bereaved when you do emotional estate planning, however you are the one who benefits the most!

By accepting our mortality, before it is knocking on our door, we can deepen our experiences of life, gain perspective and even change the trajectory of our lives. We gain insights not otherwise available to us when we are living in denial.

It puts things into perspective and offers us the opportunity to forgive, make amends and even repair damaged relationships. More importantly, it enhances relationships that are already awesome by strengthening our bonds in sharing profound thoughts and fears.

Taking the opportunity at any age to acknowledge death as a constant companion only brings more depth to our living. As we age however, emotional estate planning becomes increasingly necessary because death falls more into our direct line of sight rather than in our peripheral vision.

Ok, great, you now understand how important it is to do emotional estate planning, so now what?

You could begin by scouring the internet for end of life planners.

Some resources are simply books of checklists and blank lines to record where a document can be found. Others have thought provoking topics to reflect on.

A checklist is fine for grocery shopping. It’s great a tool for not overlooking something. Thought provoking topics are better. They prompt you to dig deeper than the checklist so that you are more prepared emotionally than if you simply filled out a checklist.

What neither of them have though is the availability to support you in processing the emotions that come up when you are doing this kind of planning.

And the feels are real, my friends.

There are feelings of failure, disappointment, worry and fear just to name a few. There are also feelings of overwhelming gratitude, appreciation and love. What do you do with all that? How do you process it and not allow it to overpower you? How do you transform those feelings into actions and gifts that will ease the grief of you and your loved ones?

By doing it with an experienced guide.

Initial Inventory Planning Session

90 mins.

That’s all it takes to get a good portion of the basics of the necessary planning completed. Included is your copy of the Healing Rites of Passage End of Life Planner. This planner is not available anywhere else.

The session will quickly identify where you are lacking in legal, financial, social, medical and emotional preparation as well as facilitate and complete some parts of your plan.

The session serves two purposes: 1) To get the basics of emotional estate planning completed. That’s self explanatory. At the end of the 90 mins you will have your advanced directives outlined at the very least.

At most you will have had a deep conversation outlining exactly your intentions for the end of your life care, whenever it should happen to be. You will have laid the first steps to making your family’s job of memorial planning easier.

…and the second goal…

2) To build a relationship with your end of life specialist. This is less obvious. When you build a relationship with an end of life specialist by initiating your emotional estate planning, that specialist becomes an intimate part of your life. That relationship can then be drawn upon down the road when you are in crisis. Because when you are in crisis you are automatically surrounded by professional strangers (or strange professionals, I suppose).

How about a familiar professional with all the experience necessary to help you sort out the jargon and double speak? How about a familiar professional who can remind you of the things that you decided were important when you weren’t under duress? How about a familiar professional who can remind you of those things to relieve your panic? How about a familiar professional who can ‘be the strong one’ while you and your family have that much needed break down?

It starts with 90 minutes, but lasts the rest of your life.

We Aren't Immortal

So I find myself speechless, an animal unheard of…my father is now on comfort care, unexpected to live past the weekend. Who prepares you for such a calamity of events? Who prepares you for a hostile mother, wickedness and comfortable in her environment. I’m not prepared, is anyone?”

This is an actual facebook post of an acquaintance of mine.

As I read it I felt my heart break a little. Yes, Virginia there is a Santa Claus and you can prepare for calamities like this. In fact, preparing for them often prevents them from becoming calamities. (You can prepare, you are just never ‘ready’.)


Let me let you in on something else….that acquaintance? She’s a registered nurse with a law degree. She’s is highly educated and works WITHIN the medical system!


We can’t keep living like we are immortal! The moment we are born we have a date with death. To see that perspective as ‘morbid’ is nothing more than denial at its finest.

Emotional Estate Planning is the forethought of emotional, psychological and spiritual preparation for your transition. Emotional Estate Planning ensures that you leave nothing ‘undone’ and that your loved ones feel supported during and after your passing.

If you answer yes to any of the following questions, then it is time to start emotional estate planning now.

  1. Have you lost one or both of your parents?
  2. Have you, or anyone you love, had a life-threatening medical scare?
  3. Have you had a partner die?
  4. Have you, or anyone you love, received a life-limiting diagnosis?
  5. Have you, or anyone you love, experienced a decline in health in the past five years?
  6. Do you have a family?
  7. Do you have children?
  8. Have you experienced the sudden loss of someone dear to you and were left with the feeling of “I wish I had one more day with them”?
  9. Have you had conversations about your wishes for medical interventions or post-mortem services but haven’t documented it?
  10. Did you answer no to all of the above?

If you answered yes to any of the above -including #10, it wasn’t a trick question- then it’s appropriate to schedule an Initial Inventory Planning Session with an experienced guide.

The session is 90 minutes long and includes a copy of LIFE’S Book: Healing Rites of Passage End of Life Planner, that has everything you will need to easily create, update and maintain your emotional estate planning.

We even work nationally and internationally with the help of video. Upon receipt of payment we will send your book and conduct a video session after you receive it.

The Power of Presence

It was a Monday, like any other Monday and I had a new patient to assess. Talking to the hospice nurse before I made my visit I learned that Violet had been admitted on Friday in stable condition was expected to be with us a few weeks. The nurse thought I would find her delightful. Violet lived in an extended care facility and had no local family.

I brought music cds and a player with me to all visits in extended care facilities. I find that quiet reflective music helps transform facility space into sacred space so that what needs to happen can happen.

When I arrived at Violet’s room I found a very different woman than the nurse described. She was not responding to my voice or my touch. Her face was pinched, grimacing and pale. She was restlessly picking at everything and her breathing was shallow.

I changed gears quickly as I realized that she was actively dying and I notified the nursing staff immediately of the change in condition…then I got to work.

I set up the music and rearranged some furniture in her space so that I could be closer to her. I provided some energy healing to promote physical and emotional comfort and then began to read to her in a soft voice.

I have a booklet of poems that I’ve written over the years about dying, death and grief. They seem to speak to matters deep within that the dying sometimes have a difficult time addressing.

As I read the poems and did the energy work, I saw Violet transform. Her face that was pinched, softened and had a glow to it. Her hands that were restless and picking were now resting calmly at her sides. Her breathing was shallow and slow. Her whole presence had shifted by the time I read the last poem.

I spoke to her with reassuring words of intuitive compassion and support, after which I sat silent and provided energetic support while the music played and she did her internal work.

Suddenly, Violet sat straight up with a smile on her face and outstretched her arms. Her eyes were open and she was definitely looking at someone as she wrapped her arms around her chest as if pulling them in for a hug.

She laid back down and a few short minutes later she took her last breath.

This experience was so inspiring to me that I wrote another poem to add to my booklet. The last line of which reads, “her last breath promising much more than her first.”

When I called to notify the hospice nurse she was completely surprised by this rapid transition.

Death is not just a medical event and we do a disservice when we treat it as such. I read recently that death is a ‘physical expression of a spiritual experience’ and I find that to be very accurate.

I often tell families that dying is holistic: mind, body and spirit. And that all three need to be on the same page to have a peaceful experience. Sometimes two can be on one page and the third be on another and death is prolonged in an agonizing fashion.

My experience with Constance was much different than with Violet. Constance was also admitted on a Friday but was not expected to live until Monday. Monday came though, and she was still with us. When I visited her she was alert, but not eating or speaking. She drank only sips of water through a straw.

The family thought she was waiting for the youngest child to come in from out of town. While everyone was talking about Constance’s death, no one was talking to her about it.

I encouraged the family to begin to share the things on their hearts related to their grief over the impending loss. This was quite difficult for most family members as they had a deep belief that it was morbid to “talk like that.”

I helped them find wording that fit into their belief system, but still allowed the sentiment to be shared. The youngest child did arrive from out of town , but to everyone’s surprise Constance held on.

In fact, Constance even woke up out of her unresponsive state, able to speak just a few words and answer questions with yes or no. This went on for a few weeks before Constance finally took her last breath one night while everyone was asleep.

What was it that finally allowed Constance to let go? We will never know, but I think that by speaking the words on their hearts, Constance received what she needed in order to transition at last.

I know I make a difference in the lives and deaths of those I touch. I don’t have a marketing plan or advertising copy. I just have my heart and my need to be of service. But somehow I need to share my stories so that those who need me know I am available.

What I do as an end of life specialist is not usual, customary, formulated or predictable. I can’t promise you anything other than authenticity and compassion to serve your highest good.

But I do promise to be there every step of the way.