What is a Death Doula?

***  Time for this post? Reading…5 minutes. Viewing…8 + 57 + 13 minutes. Exploring the highlighted resources…ongoing.

A doula is a non-medical person who provides support and nurturing to a person in life transition. Birth doulas provide information and nurturing care before and during birth, and death doulas do the same in the days and months leading up to death.

Death doulas generally have a holistic view that encompasses the physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual aspects of end-of-life experiences, working with the family as well as the individual.

Other terms used to describe this work include end-of-life doula, end-of-life coach, end-of-life guide, death midwife, soul midwife, transition guide, death coach, and doula to the dying. Practitioners may have completed a certification course for death doulas, and usually bring a rich background of other training and skills that help them guide people through the end-of-life experience.

Who is a death doula?

A lawyer, a psychologist, a nurse—all are death doulas. In the videos that follow, you’ll hear each of them describe how she approaches her work with the dying.

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Alua Arthur is a lawyer and one of her specialties is advance planning documents. But her services encompass much more, as you will see. You can find out what she does at Going With Grace.

In her video, Alua refers to “memento mori.” I had to look that up. Here’s what I learned from Merriam Webster: 

Memento mori literally means “Remember you must die.” The early Puritan settlers were particularly aware of death and fearful of what it might mean, so a Puritan tombstone will often display a memento mori intended for the living. These death’s-heads or skulls may strike us as ghoulish, but they helped keep the living on the straight and narrow for fear of eternal punishment. In earlier centuries, an educated European might place an actual skull on his desk to keep the idea of death always present in his mind.

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Sarah Kerr has a PhD in psychology and additional training that has led her to focusing on non-religious ritual and ceremony. Her purpose is to help people naviagte death, loss, and transformation.You can find out more about the scope of her work at Soul Passages.

Sarah’s website is highly educational. She says, “We’ve forgotten how to meet death well, and we need to develop a wider literacy in the culture.” To that end, she posts short videos that I highly recommend. You can find them here and here. And you’ll probably want to download her Free Holistic Death Resource Kit.

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Suzanne O’Brien is a registered nurse with extensive experience in palliative care. She’s the founder of a training program who those who wish to be certified to work as end-of-life doulas. You can find out more at Doulagivers.

You don’t have to want to become a death doula to benefit from Suzanne’s work. I highly recommend the 90-minute free webinar she offers regularly. You can register by  scrolling down the home page on her website. Anyone who might one day be dealing with a dying family member will benefit from the detailed practical information she covers in this webinar, including what to expect as the body shuts down and how to help when the person is in the last stages of dying.

I’m not sure if I would hire a death doula when the time comes. But right now, I’m glad to know they are an option. And you?

More to dying than meets the eye—two researchers talk about what they learned.

***  Time for this post? Reading… 3 minutes. Viewing… 12 + 59 minutes. 

I loved the gentle way that Dr. Kathryn Mannix, in a previous post, described how the body shuts down as we approach our end of life.

I’m also interested in what happens as my soul meets death. In a way, I feel as if I actually know, but just haven’t quite remembered yet. So I’ve been looking into it in hopes of jogging my memory. Today I’m sharing what a couple researchers have found out about deathbed phenomena.

Martha Atkins is a death researcher and educator. In this TED talk, she describes deathbed phenomena based on what she learned from both the dying and bedside witnesses. It’s her view that this knowledge can bring comfort to patients and caregivers by helping them understand what they are experiencing. Her book is Signposts of Dying: What you need to know.

Dr Peter Fenwick is also a researcher in end-of-life experiences. He’s a British neuropsychiatrist who worked in hospice care and documented many fascinating phenomena including premonitions, clocks stopping at the time of death, relatives seeing light in the room of the dying and shapes leaving the body, visions of the dying and terminal lucidity. He is co-author of The Art of Dying.

This next video is a long one, but interesting for those wanting to know more. He starts out describing neuroscience and a theory of consciousness based on his research into near-death experiences. End-of-life discussion starts at 15:25 if you want to skip ahead. At 19 minutes he begins talking about what you might expect.

Dr Fenwick concludes by saying that the way we medicalize death, sweep it away, don’t talk about it, is producing a culture  in which we deny our responsibility. Yet, what we really should be doing is starting with the children. Bring death into the open, discuss it, teach them that it’s a normal part of living.

When children know about death…

Be prepared. When they know, they might say surprising things. This is one of my favourite grandchild stories.

When my older granddaughter was about seven, we were looking through a photo album. As she oohed and aahed over her mother’s wedding dress, I said, “I made that dress, you know.”

“Ohhhh,” she said with wide eyes. “Will you make mine?”

Before I could reply, she paused and I could almost see the wheels turning in her head. Then she quickly added, “If you’re still alive then.”

Matter-of-factly. No drama. The way it should be.

Your thoughts about end-of-life phenomena or about teaching children about death?

Footwear too cool to dispose of.

***  Time for this post? Reading…7 minutes. Thinking about why you keep what you do…optional.

I know people who feel they must purge their living and storage spaces before they die. Their intention is to make it easier for their family to wrap up their affairs. What a shame!

True, it might help the family dispatch the estate efficiently. But what will they miss out on?

My take on that…

I think there’s something to be gained when others go through what we leave behind. They may learn things about us that they didn’t know, remember long-forgotten events, and gain perspective on who we were.

The way I see it, this is part of our legacy—and we are shortchanging our survivors if we leave a stripped-down version of our life.

To be clear, I’m not advocating for leaving an unholy mess. Like Margareta Magnusson, I think I should take responsibility for what I keep. And part of what I want to keep is those things that illustrate my history. For example…

Footwear too cool to dispose of…

When my kids clean out my place, they’ll find a couple boxes of shoes that have never been on my feet. They’re from my days as a wardrobe designer for community theatre productions.

Shoes were a challenge on a low budget, especially for period shows. I did a lot fo sourcing in thrift stores. When I saw something unique, that I’d be unlikely to find again when it was needed, I made the purchase on speculation. Most of them cost $1, or half that on a sale day.

What my family will find in the boxes…

For those who love shoes like I do, here’s a closeup look…

These women’s shoes remind me of what grownups wore when I was a child.The black rain boots and oxfords were used in two shows. Probably no one noticed but me, because they were subtle additions to the costumes. But to me, they were like icing on a cake—the finishing touch that makes it special.

The two shoes in the next photo make my heart sing, and I was very happy to find they were useful more than once.

The red sling-backs are my absolute favourite. I think it’s because the six-year-old that still lives in me thought they were soooooo elegant when she saw them in magazine pictures. Of course, no one she knew ever wore anything that stylish!

Anyway, I keep these out of the box, on display so she can enjoy them daily. (If I had room, I’d keep all the shoes on display. But I don’t, so that’s why my kids will find the boxes. Now that I think of it, I’m going to put a copy of this post in the box, so they’ll know why I kept such things.)

The men’s shoes also have stories. Like the red shoes, brown leather slippers were never worn by people I knew, automatically making them intriguingly exotic in my mind.

The felt boots behind them, just like those my Grandpa wore, were perfect in “Of Mice and Men.”

I created the spectator shoes for “Guys and Dolls” by painting light shoe dye on the main part of basic black brogues. A small touch, but soul-satisfying!

These two pairs of oxfords are custom-made shoes that would never fit anyone but the intended wearer.  The pair on the left is the narrowest pair of men’s shoes I have ever seen! It’s hard to convey in a photo. The shoe is size 11, and only 3 inches (7.6 cm) wide. That’s 25% narrower than the average width for a size 11 shoe.

The pair on the right is HUGE, which is why I set them on a ruler. To the toe cap, minus the protruding sole, it is 13 1/2 inches (34.3 cm) long. North American shoe size charts go up to size 17, which is 13″ (33 cm) long. At 1/2 inch (1.3 cm) longer than that, this pair of shoes is size 18.

Other things they’ll find in my storage room…

  • Archive of my work ~ Printed materials I produced over the years, including books, pamphlets, food photos, and project proposals. They saw bits and pieces of these things as they were growing up, but this gives them a big picture of the body of my work.
  • Memorabilia of my kids ~  Artwork, cards they gave me, notes sent when they were away, and miscellaneous bits. I think that discovering these will connect them with their younger selves and reinforce how special they are to me.
  • Empty boxes, because you never know when you’ll need them. And besides, they’ll be useful when they pack up my things to move them on.
  • Milk jugs filled with water, which could be essential in an emergency. A bit of a nuisance for them to dispose of, but water can easily be poured out and the empty jugs can go into my recycling.
  • Some junk, but not too much.

What are you storing?

Things with stories? Things you think your family might want? Stuff-and-junk? What will your family learn about you as they go through it? What will they learn about themselves? Please share…

What does normal dying look like?

*** Time for this post? Reading…2 minutes. Viewing…4 minutes. Revisiting the video…as often as you need to.

I’ve never seen someone die. I probably will in the next while. I don’t know what to expect. So I’ve been looking into it and have found some reassuring information.

Dying is not as bad...

Kathryn Mannix is a medical doctor, who has worked as a palliative care consultant in hospices, hospitals, and in patients’ own homes. From this experience, she has written With the End in Mind. Here’s an excerpt from her description of it:

Dying is a bodily process. Just like pregnancy and birth, it has recognisable stages of progression. We can recognise the progress of life-limiting illness; we can predict, less reliably early on yet with increasing accuracy as death comes closer. It’s usually possible to gather the right people in time, and help them to prepare, because for most of us, dying affects not only the dying person but also their dear ones. Whether or not we are related to the people we hold most dear, dying is a ‘family affair.’…

My life in palliative care has shown me that the process of dying is made less frightening and more peaceful, the better prepared we are. Knowing what to expect, and knowing what our dear ones will see as we die, helps people to plan, to speak to each other openly and honestly, and to relax. It also helps people to enjoy each day as it arises, instead of fearing a sudden and unexpected onset of dying, because usually, death approaches us gradually.

I usually write a conclusion, but I think she’s said it all. I hope you found this helpful.

What not to do when decluttering…

*** Time for this post?  Reading…3 minutes.  Viewing…8 minutes. Figuring it out…I don’t know. What do you think?

Decluttering weighs heavy on many minds—and a lot of us get stuck there. In spite of the good advice from organizing experts like Marie Kondo and Margareta Magnusson.

There’s a lot of decision-making involved in clutter clearing—first in determining what stays and what goes; then in working out how and where to store what remains. It can be overwhelming. It often is.

Laura Moore is a home organization coach and move manager who comes at her work from an emotional-behavioural perspective. She says clutter clearing is not about the stuff, it’s about you. And she has insightful ways of helping people get past what’s stopping them. She says she’s sometimes called a “clutter therapist” because her clients “feel better soon, even with a lot of work ahead of them when organizing, right-sizing (downsizing) or moving.”

Key thoughts…

If you’re having to force yourself to do the job, you are not ready. In that case, the first thing to do is figure out how you can do it to feel relatively good. Aim for ease and enjoyment.

Putter through your clutter. That’s much more effective than attacking it.

Be realistic in your expectations about how much you can do in an hour. Remember to include prep time and cleanup time when planning to declutter.

When you don’t know what to do…

Remember that you don’t know what to do…yet. And you can figure it out.

  • Slow down.
  • Think.
  • Pay attention to your feelings.
  • Figure it out.

More from Laura Moore…

Her YouTube channel has many short segments you might find helpful if you’re grappling with the decisions that decluttering requires. Here are a few samples…

Next week, I’ll wrap up this clutter clearing series with my take on all of it. See you then!

Swedish Death Cleaning

*** Time for this post?  Reading…7 minutes. Viewing…10 minutes. Thinking about letting go…who knows?

Living as we do in a culture of excess, the concept of clutter clearing is familiar to most North Americans. The first time I really thought about it was when I read Karen Kingston‘s little book Clear Your Clutter with Feng Shui in 1999. Feng Shui, a traditional Chinese concept, deals with energy. According to the description on amazon, 

 Kingston reminds us that clutter is stuck energy that keeps you stuck in undesirable life patterns. Therefore, you can “sort out your life by sorting out your junk.” Kingston covers the reasons we keep things as well as the amazing stories of people who have cleared their clutter away.

In the years since it was published, there have been many more books about clutter clearing.

But…death cleaning?

Yes, death cleaning. Swedes have done it for years, and now the rest of us are learning about it from The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning: How to Free Yourself and Your Family from a Lifetime of Clutter by Margareta Magnusson.

The cover states it’s an international bestseller, and that’s not surprising. Aging adults are contemplating how to leave this planet gracefully. And their adult children are wondering how to tactfully encourage their parents to clean up their mess before they depart.

[tweetshare tweet=”Don’t collect things you don’t want. Someone will have to take care of it some day. ~ Margareta Magnusson” username=”LauranaRayne”]

The book is peppered with Margareta’s charmingly sensible Swedish philosophy and family stories. These combine to make interesting and motivating reading as we take on the age-old problem of cleaning up after ourselves. As you would expect, she shares advice about how to get started, some of the systems that can help you get things out of the house, and ways to better organize what you’re keeping.

“Death cleaning is not a sad thing,” says Magnusson. “I want it to be joyful and interesting. It can be that. And people should start early. If your things are in order, then you don’t have to waste time looking for them.”

Who is Margareta Magnusson?

She’s an accomplished artist, mother of five and grandmother of eight, who gained much life experience through seventeen moves within Sweden and abroad. I find her realistic, thoughtful, and down-to-earth. See for yourself in her short video about döstädning (death cleaning).

Margareta Magnusson is “between 80 and 100,” and the value I found in her book is that she talks about issues unique to being in the late stage of life.

If you don’t read anything else, look at the section called “How to discuss the topic of death cleaning.” This is equally valuable for aging adults and adult children. As she points out, children are in a tough spot because they see the amount their parents have accumulated and know that dealing with it is going to fall to them if their parents don’t look after it while they can.

Suggestions for adult children…

She offers sensible advice to adult children, including sample questions to get the conversation going in a gentle way.

  • You have so many nice things, have you thought about what you want to do with it all later on?
  • Could life be easier and less tiring if we got rid of some of the stuff that you have collected over the years?
  • Is there anything we can do together in a slow way so that there won’t be too many things to handle later?

My only quibble is her choice of words. “Stuff” and “get rid of” carry a judgmental tone and could be off-putting to the owner of those things. It may be a cultural thing. It may just be a translation choice if the book was written in Swedish. But I think the questions are sound, and the language can easily be adjusted.

She goes on to say…

Old people often have a problem with their balance. Rugs, stacks of books on the floor, and all items lying about the house can be safety hazards. Perhaps this can be a way to start your discussion: Ask about the rugs. Are they really safe?

Perhaps this is where tact is still important, to ask these questions in as gentle and caring a way as you can.

It is possible that the first few times you ask, your parents may want to avoid the topic, Or change the subject. But it is important to open the discussion. If you were unable to get them to talk with you, then leave them to think and return a few weeks or a few months later and ask again, perhaps in a slightly different way.

Letting go…

There are many aspects to taking responsibility for our possessions and cleaning up our space. Marie Kondo (see last week’s post) teaches us how to decide what to keep by testing each item to see if it sparks joy in us. For items that don’t, we are advised to thank them and let them go.

What she doesn’t address is the difficulty of letting go. Some objects have emotional hooks in them, and these prevent us from letting them go even when we know there’s no joy in having them. Who doesn’t have at least a few things we don’t want to use but can’t get them out of the house?

The experience of Swedish death cleaning…

The main question to help you let go of things…

  • Will anyone be happier if I save it?

Emotional hooks keep us from dealing with some objects, so they get tucked out of sight and ignored.

  1. Find those out-of-sight items.
  2. Identify what’s holding you back from letting them go.
  3. Take appropriate action.

I think Margareta Magnusson would say, “Do something!” I agree.

But hers is not the only approach that’s helpful to elders cleaning up after themselves. Next week: Laura Moore on what NOT to do when decluttering or downsizing.

Keep what you love.

***Time for this post?  Reading…8 minutes. Viewing…2 minutes. Sifting and sorting…as much as you want to.

Last week I wrote about knowing when enough is enough. That post was about medical treatments at the end of life. However, the concept of “enough” also applies to our possessions, and that’s what I’m addressing today.

In either case, determining what is enough—and what is excess—challenges us to think about our values, what’s important to us, what we cherish.

What to keep?

In an earlier post about what to do with your things, I suggested a mind shift…

What if, instead of focusing on what we will get rid of, we look for the treasures in what we have. The point is to keep the treasures and move the rest along in appropriate ways. …Another time we’ll talk about approaches and logistics for lightening your load of excess things.

Well…now is that time!

Curating my surroundings has been high on my mind recently. It started when I had to clear everything except six large pieces of furniture out of my living room and dining room so the ceiling and two walls could be repainted. Because the picture hooks were removed and filled in, I started thinking about how to arrange art and accessories in different ways. That gave me ideas for tweaking the furniture arrangement. Before I put anything back, I assessed what would stay in the space. My criterion was “Does this say something about me?” And the result is perfect for me!

Sifting and sorting…

I have a long-standing interest in the idea of knowing ourselves to shape our environment. My first aha moment came more than twenty years ago, before clutter clearing and downsizing were in our vocabulary. I was living for a few months at Schumacher College, a centre of transformative learning for ecological and social change in the south of England.

I know! I’ll keep only what I can care for exquisitely.

So said Jeanne, who had spent a week grappling with what was, for her, a very big problem. Too much stuff, accumulated in the six years she had spent in the same flat. A gypsy at heart, she’d lived most of her adult life in a caravan (travel trailer). She felt weighed down and didn’t know how to sift and sort her things. When the solution hit her, it was clear—keep only what she could care for exquisitely.

The current version of the same principle is expressed beautifully in Marie Kondo’s books, in which she talks about keeping what sparks joy and thanking our things as we let them go.

Marie Kondo is Japanese, and these attitudes are embedded in her culture. Not so for Westerners, who are generally less tuned in to invisible energy. The following video gives a flavour of Marie Kondo and her approach, starting with a demonstration of what it feels like in your body when something “sparks joy.”  You also get to see her signature method for folding clothes, which includes an energy compnent.

Despite finding it odd when she talks about showing respect for your space, feeling how your belongings affect your energy, and putting love into your clothes as you fold them, North Americans embraced Marie Kondo’s Netflix series (January 2019).

In Spark Joy, her most recent book, she offers a lot of practical tips in addition to explaining the rationale behind her approach. Below are a few key ideas, but I recommend reading her book to get the whole picture. It’s a quick read and available in most libraries.

A few Marie Kondo principles and tips…

Having spent most of my life looking at things of every description, including those in my clients’ homes, I have discovered three common elements involved in attraction: the actual beauty of the object itself (innate attraction), the amount of love that has been poured into it (acquired attraction), and the amount of history or significance it has accrued (experiential value).

  • Tidy by category, not by room. Categories are clothes, books, papers, miscellaneous, sentimental items (includes photos). Bring all items from a category into one room and sort them all at once.
  • Tidy in the order listed in the previous point. Clothes are the easiest and you can gain experience by starting with them. Sentimental items have the most attachments so it works best if you tackle them at the end.
  • Finish discarding first, before you organize what remains.
  • When tidying papers, a “pending box” is essential for all papers requiring action (bills, letters, etc). Put them in it as you find them and forge ahead with the main job of tidying. Your papers will be safe there until you can get to them.
  • “As with clothing, you must begin by taking every single book off the shelves and piling them on the floor. Then take them in your hands and keep only those that spark joy. Whatever you do, don’t start reading them.”
  • “If you have too many books to choose all at once, sort them by categories, such as general (for reading), practical (references, cookbooks), visual (coffee-table books) and magazines, and do the joy check for each category.”
  • Tidy before moving. Note for elders who may be anticipating moving to smaller quarters: This is very good advice.
  • Do not keep something because “it might come in handy.” It never will. (I plead guilty, and she is mostly right. But I’ve been vindicated once or twice!)
  • If you have trouble telling if something sparks joy for you, compare it to other items in the same category. Find your top 3 in the pile in 3 minutes. This will help you hone in on what it feels like when something sparks joy in you.
  • “I’m convinced that things that have been loved and cherished acquire elegance and character. When we surround ourselves only with things that spark joy and shower them with love, we can transform our home into a space filled with precious artifacts, our very own art museum.”

For more of Marie Kondo, I suggest this delightful interview for further insights into her approach. Of course, she isn’t the only person with advice about dealing with your belongings.

Next week: Swedish death cleaning. See you then!

When is enough enough?

***Time for this post?  Reading… 8 minutes.  Viewing…12 minutes. Exploring what is deeply satisfying to you…as long as it takes.

It’s not easy to know when to call it quits, to speak up and change course when we’ve had enough.  This bold action requires us to think deeply about what’s important, and to take a stand for it…even when those around us have a different opinion about what we should do.

We are not enculturated to live—or die—on our own terms.

How much is enough?

… “enough” is not a number—it’s what is deeply satisfying.

The above quote is from Conscious Spending, Conscious Life, my book about using our resources intentionally. It helps us all navigate the consumer culture without being consumed by it.

As I learn more about the way we die in the West, I keep seeing parallels between consumption of consumer goods and our engagement with healthcare services. In both cases, we can end up being used by the system rather than served by it.

One of the primary skills for making our way through the consumer culture is the ability to discern when enough is enough. Conscious awareness is what saves us from being used by the system.

We must become clear about what we consider fundamentally important for a good life. In most cases, this is found in our values—not in things or pills.

Medicalization…

Healthcare is highly driven by consumerist values.These days, many treatments are possible and we can be swept along a long road of suffering just because there’s something more to try.

Medical professionals are trained to save lives, which is exactly what’s needed for dealing with emergencies. But different thinking is required when the medical issue is a chronic condition, terminal illness, or the frailty of old age. Our doctors may encourage us to try everything they have access to in hopes that something “will work” even when rescue from our conditions is not possible.

Pharmaceutical and equipment manufacturers have a vested interest in keeping  us looking for the next new thing. We, as consumers of healthcare, can get caught in the thrall of doing anything and everything to buy more time—without thinking about the price we might pay in unintended consequences.

Rarely are dying people invited to think about what’s important to them and helped to determine which available options will let them live out their lives in alignment with what they really value.

Here’s an exception…

Dr. Atul Gawande is a surgeon, public health researcher, and author of the #1 NY Times bestseller, Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End. Here’s a description from notes about his book:

Modern medicine has transformed the dangers of birth, injury, and infectious disease from harrowing to manageable. But when it comes to the inescapable realities of aging and death, what medicine can do often runs counter to what it should do.

Through eye-opening research and gripping stories of his own patients and family, Gawande reveals the suffering produced by medicine’s neglect of the wishes people might have beyond mere survival.

To find out what those wishes are, we need to ask. We haven’t been asking, but we can learn. Riveting, honest, and humane, this remarkable book, which has already changed the national conversation on aging and death, shows how the ultimate goal is not a good death but a good life—all the way to the very end.

This is not a helpful question…

  • What do you want at the end of your life?

Helpful questions…

The following are better options because they get at a person’s priorities. Medical professionals should be asking them, but we can ask them of ourselves , and adult children can pose these qustions to their parents.

Ask these questions repeatedly over time, because priorities change as a person’s condition changes.

  • Well…what’s your understanding of your condition?
  • So….what are your fears and worries for the future?
  • What are the goals you have if your health should worsen?
  • What trade-offs are you willing to make—and not willing to make?

Let them have the damn cookies…

  • Suffering = No one asking you what matters to you, but telling you how they’re going to treat you.
  • When doctors don’t ask what matters to people, what they are doing to them is out of alignment with their priorities.
  • Medicalized nursing homes do not serve us well. Instead, they should create the freedom for people to make bad choices, talking to them about those choices when necessary.

For a fuller version of Atul Gawande’s approach, watch this lunch-hour presentation at Google. I found it well worth the time.

A good life…all the way to the very end.

Isn’t this what we all want? The tricky part is nurturing the mindset—individually and collectively—that will create a climate for our end of life to be humane instead of medicalized.

This brings up issues of quality of life that we should all be thinking about. Knowing what a good quality of life looks like to you will help you decide when you want to get off the treatment train.

It’s not a question of either fighting or giving up. The way through is for you to decide what is worth fighting for…and it may not be a longer life. It may be a life that best suits you in the time you have left. And only you can know what that will be.

Reset as things change…

Your condition will change and so will treatment options. As new treatments are presented, take a moment—or a day—to reset. Remember what you value most and consider how each option will align with it…or won’t align.

Give yourself permission…

I hope this perspective has given you things to think about, and permission to take a stand for what is right for you. We all deserve that.

Your thoughts?

Alternate Death Traditions

***  Time for this post? Reading …1 minute. Viewing …19 minutes. 

Enculturation is the process by which individuals learn their group’s culture—through experience, observation, and instruction. It is how traditions evolve.

We all become enculturated, that is, steeped in the way things are done in the society in which we live. It’s what we know, what we get used to, what we think is normal.

How WE do death isn’t the only way…

Caitlin Doughty is a licensed mortician and death acceptance advocate. She is founder of the nonprofit The Order of the Good Death, author of three books, and operates Undertaking LA, an alternative funeral home.

And here’s what they do in South Carolina when someone “has passed”…

Enough said!

Die Wise

*** Time for this post?  Reading… 5 minutes. Viewing…you’ll be surprised how quickly the time passes.

When I wrote my first blog about dying, reader Barb Morin posted this comment…

A master of this subject [thinking about dying] —a self-described dealer in the “death trade” for over 20 years is Canada’s own Stephen Jenkinson. He has written a number of books – the last one called Come of Age and an earlier one entitled Die Wise.

He has a website called orphanwisdom.com and he is currently on tour through North America doing a presentation called “Nights of Grief and Mystery” with a musician named Greg Hoskins.

We recently attended this in Calgary—me and 5 family and friends who were not really looking forward to an uninterrupted 2.5 hours where entry was not allowed after the doors closed, with no intermission . About all I can say is that no one moved for the fastest 2.5 hours in my life and none was “unmoved’” by the content. My husband, who has a reputation for being able to sleep through ANYTHING shortly after it begins and wakes up as the clapping starts, was awake for the entire thing! He even said, “that was really good”!

I’d certainly encourage you to look at him as a resource. He has an NFB film about him and his work called Griefwalker which you can find on YouTube. He also teaches on occasion at Hollyhock Retreat Center on Cortes Island and teaches at his farm in Ontario.

As it happened, Stephen Jenkinson had not yet crossed my path—and I could hardly ignore such a compelling recommendation. Having listened to him on video, today I’m sharing an excellent interview that gives you a sense of what he’s about.

Notable aspects…

This is such a rich conversation, it’s impossible to summarize. Here are some things that leapt out at me…

  • The palliative care system is technologically driven and it shapes our credo of end-of-life care, which is—If you can, you should. It’s a philosophy that has no upside.
  • The “more-time” bargain we make to avoid the end of life has consequences we never imagined.

  • We have messed with the idea of “your time to die.” And so, we don’t die when we are dying…
  • Pneumonia used to be called “the old man’s friend.” Now it is treatable—and treated in the elderly—so we can’t even die from pneumonia anymore.
  • Our description of a “good death” is dictated by the attributes of the death phobia of the culture…
  • We should be asking, not what can we do about dying but what does dying ask of us?
  • Your obligation as your body’s trustee is to learn its ways, including its limits and, later, its dying too…
  • The Balinese tend to their dead in a morning ritual. The evidence of it is everywhere. I encountered this young woman on an early morning walk in Bali, holding a tray of beautifully prepared food that she was about to put out.

What caught your attention?

Stephen Jenkinson does not give us the same-old same-old. What caught your attention? Did you find things to think about?