When the future is running out, narrating the past helps to prepare

By Dhruv Khullar

How should you live when you know you’re going to die?

It is perhaps the ultimate, eternal question — one we all have to grapple with, but mercifully, don’t have to, until the end is crystallized by our own illness or that of a loved one. Humans may be the only animal capable of grasping mortality, but it’s usually not something on our minds — until it is.

It’s a question I confront frequently as a physician caring for seriously ill patients. One morning some months ago, I met an older man with an aggressive cancer that had turned an avid runner into a voracious reader. He glanced up from his newspaper as I entered the hospital room.

“It’s [a] strange feeling, you know, reading about a world you’ll never get to see.”

After several rounds of chemotherapy — each more toxic than the last — he decided he had had enough. He could go long stretches without contemplating death, he said, until the sight of a far-off date or curiosity about some newly proposed legislation would bring into sharp focus the unavoidable reality: His days were limited.

“I mostly read biographies now,” he told me. “Reading about other lives helps me make sense of my own.”

I began to wonder whether the secret to a good death wasn’t looking forward, but peering backward — whether retrospective examination might be more therapeutic than prospective preparation. I thought of how often I’d focused solely on helping patients navigate the future: how many weeks or months of life they might expect, which procedures they should or shouldn’t consider. These discussions, while important, fail to address what research has revealed about the deeper wants and needs of seriously ill patients.

Nearly 20 years ago, a seminal study in the Journal of the American Medical Association explored what patients and doctors feel is most important at the end of life. Many responses were predictable and consistent across groups. Both doctors and patients, for example, thought it was important to maintain dignity, control pain and other symptoms, and have one’s financial affairs in order.

But where physicians and patients diverged is telling — and suggests both a missed opportunity and a path to progress.

Patients were far more likely to express that it was important to feel that their life was complete, to be at peace with God and to help others in some way.

In other words, to feel that their lives mattered.

A growing body of work suggests that a powerful but underused method of creating this sense of mattering is storytelling — reflecting on the past and creating a narrative of one’s life, what it has meant, who you’ve become and why.

Humans are natural story­tellers. We have tremendous power to frame a narrative. The same series of events — becoming a parent, getting a divorce, losing a loved one, finding a job — can be a tale of resilience and restoration or misfortune and regret. The process of bringing coherence to one’s life story is what psychologist Dan McAdams calls creating a “narrative identity.” People get better at identifying important life themes as they age, and those who are able to find the positive amid the negative are generally more satisfied with life.

Physicians are also storytellers by profession. But we’ve traditionally focused on narrating the course of disease instead of helping patients make sense of their lives with it. Creating opportunities for patients to reflect on life experiences, however, could offer an important avenue for healing — whether at the end of life or somewhere in the middle.

In a 2018 study, researchers assigned veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder to engage in either five 30-minute writing sessions in which they reflected on traumatic experiences, or a rigorous 12-week program of cognitive processing therapy (CPT), a first-line treatment for PTSD. The study found that the short writing sessions were just as effective at reducing PTSD symptoms as the resource-intensive CPT program.

Other work suggests that the particulars of storytelling matter. Simply looking back and listing life events doesn’t seem to help. It is the constructing of a narrative — exploring linkages, formulating a plotline — that’s critical for arriving at a coherent sense of self.

And even the pronouns seem to matter.

Using the first-, second- or third-person when reflecting on past experiences can each have strategic advantages. Using the third-person, for example, seems to allow us to better appreciate how we’ve changed over time, while the first-person primes us to look for continuity. Reflecting on challenges by using the generic “you” — “you win some, you lose some” or “what can you do?” — can help create psychological distance from a tough situation and universalize the experience. “I” makes the focus your response; “you” tethers it to the human condition.

When the future is running out, can we make more of the past? I often struggle with my role as a caregiver for patients at the end of life. I know the most healing things I can offer aren’t the things I usually do: pain medications, laxatives, intravenous fluids. Rather, they are at once more challenging and more elementary. To sit. To listen. To explore what it’s all meant.

“I tell myself,” my patient said. “Even if I won’t be around to see it, I helped shape the world of the future. At least my little part of it.”

Complete Article HERE!

Living Well…

Embracing the natural stages of the dying process through hospice care

By Lauren Glendenning

When patients need hospice care, family members and other loved ones often feel overwhelmed with emotion. A caring and supportive hospice team can help alleviate some of these feelings.

We asked Kristine Cooper, executive director of Home Health and Hospice at Memorial Regional Health, to help readers understand more about hospice care at MRH and how it affects patients’ families.

What are some ways that hospice care can relieve stress for those who may be in charge of an elderly loved one?

Kristine Cooper: Hospice really provides support not only to the patient but also to the caregivers. We have nurses that spend time with caregivers, educating them about the disease and dying process. We also have our LCSW (Licensed Clinical Social Worker) who spends time with the patient and caregivers, discussing end-of-life planning. She also works with caregivers and families to address anticipatory grief.

Are there any myths about hospice care you’d like to clarify?

 

One myth would be that hospice hastens death. Hospice really embraces the natural stages of the dying process and neither intends to hasten or prolong death. Our team partners with the patient and family on the journey. Another myth is that hospice is expensive. Medicare actually covers the cost of hospice, including medications to treat symptoms related to the patient’s terminal diagnosis as well equipment needed to care for the patient safely in their home.

Why is it important for families to know about hospice care?

Hospice is not about giving up hope, it’s about refocusing hope. With hospice, there is hope that pain and other symptoms can be managed so that loved ones can live their best life in their final days. Hospice also offers hope to families and caregivers by providing support during this difficult time.

When is hospice care is necessary?

Hospice is here for patients who have been diagnosed with a life limiting or terminal illness with a life expectancy of 6 months or less to live.

What kind of care do hospice patients receive?

Hospice provides nursing, emotional and spiritual support. Hospice can also provide support from physical, occupational and speech therapy with the focus of helping patients move safely. We also have volunteers that can provide companionship and assist with light housekeeping and cooking. All these different services make up the patient’s care team that works closely with their doctor. The overarching theme about hospice is that it is really about what the patient or family needs.

Complete Article HERE!

This is what it’s like to be a death doula

The founder of Going With Grace, Alua Arthur, shares how she found her way into death work and how she manages not to take her work home with her.

Alua Arthur

By Anisa Purbasari Horton

For many people, the thought of being surrounded by death (and have that be a central part of how they earn their living) can seem quite morbid. But for Alua Arthur, the founder of the end-of-life planning service Going With Grace, it feels exactly the opposite.

Arthur is a death doula—also often referred to as a “death midwife.” Arthur’s journey to becoming a death doula is a profoundly personal one, but she represents a number of professionals who are active in the growing “death wellness” and “death-positive” movement. As Fast Company‘s Rina Raphael previously reported, this movement rests on the notion that having a good death is “part of a good life.”

Fast Company recently spoke to Arthur about her motivations for becoming a death doula and how she copes with work-life balance as she helps others through the grieving (and often stressful) administrative process that comes before and after a loved one’s death. The interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Helping people become clear on what death looks like

A death doula is a non-medical professional who provides holistic support for the dying person of the family and the family members. I help the people who are close to death on what it looks like. After that, I help family members deal with their affairs.

I also work with healthy people. The way I conceive it, as soon as someone comes into any recognition that one day they’re going to die, that’s the time to start preparing for that, so I help them with an end-of-life plan. It’s where we write down all the stuff that’s going to be a pain. We get clear for what their desires are for life support, and who’s going to make the decisions for them. We walk through important information and documents, like where’s their birth certificate? Where is their retirement account? Where do they bank? 

I also help people who are terrified of death. I find that people are more afraid of the dying process than death itself, so with them, I do death meditations. This looks like us going through the eventual decline of the body, their systems shutting down, and their breathing becoming ragged. It’s an opportunity for the person to lay there with whatever it is they experienced. A lot of times, people experience a sense of peace after going through this process.

The desire to build a career around death

Growing up, I wanted to be lots of things. I really wanted to be an astronaut. I loved to read and immerse myself in another world. I also wanted to be a conductor. I applied to a music conservatory, but I ended up in a liberal arts school that had an okay music program. I got involved in student government and decided to go to law school. I worked in property law, starting with government benefits, and then I moved to domestic violence and then not-for-profit development. I fumbled around for 10 years and started getting really depressed, so I took a medical leave of absence. That’s how I found death work.

I met a woman in Cuba. She had cancer and was traveling, and we bonded. We spent 14 hours on the bus together, and I asked all the difficult questions. What would be undone in her life if the disease killed her? What does she think happens after she dies? Did she live with the recognition of death constantly? They were questions I never really had myself. That was the first time it hit me that death was very real and that we don’t talk about it enough. It became clear that I wanted to spend my career talking about death.

That was solidified when my brother-in-law got sick and died. It showed me how all the ways that we do it now are broken. We had so many questions—how do we transfer the title for his vehicle, and what should we do with his leftover medication? There was nobody to answer them.

A day in the life of a death doula

A typical day always includes a lot of emails. So many emails. The part of my job that stresses me out is the business part. God, it’s the worst! I need to go back to my vision of helping people feel less alone to keep me in clear focus.

I start my day checking on various things—with the people who are dying, how things were over the course of the night. I’ll also check on plans for any funeral procession. I do a lot of phone calls and talk to therapists who work with people that are dying. If I do have clients that are dying, I see them in the afternoon, or I will see my end-of-life planning clients.

These days, I also do a lot of education around death and dying. I’m doing a lot of talks to reach people about how to do this work because we’re all going to have to do it for somebody in our lives.

When it comes to work-life balance, I do things like meditate daily, exercise regularly, and drink a gallon of water every day. I just got my nails done. I don’t deny myself pretty things.

On death and relationships

I talk about death all the time with my friends and family. I think sometimes I can be a little bit annoying because I want people to be authentic in their decision-making. I tend not to tell people what to say or do, and I listen actively. My best friend and I, we always have challenges because she always wants to tell me what to do. It is a struggle for my friends who have a hard time with the concept of their own mortality, because I’m talking about it all the time.

I don’t push the issue with my friends who are uncomfortable, but with my family members, I do. For my dad, he first had to come around to the idea that I wasn’t going to be practicing law anymore. Being an African parent, he wanted me to be either a lawyer, doctor, or engineer. I was like, how about death? He was like, how about what? That was a little tricky. But eventually, we got around to talking about it. After all, I’m the one who’ll have to deal with it when it happens.

I think people actually want to talk about death, but they feel like they don’t have permission to do so because it’s “heavy.” Well, it’s a regular part of living. Without death we wouldn’t have life. It’s funny: when I meet someone for the first time and I tell them I’m a death doula, so many of them say, “Oh, when x died, I wish that you had been there.”

Complete Article HERE!

How ‘Death Doulas’ Are Helping People at the End of Their Life

They’re changing how we approach end-of-life care.

by Kristen Fischer

To many people, the word “doula” refers to a childbirth coach. But doulas aren’t only available for when life begins — they can help when life ends too.

An end-of-life doula is a nonmedical professional trained to care for a terminally ill person’s physical, emotional, and spiritual needs during the death process. While you may never have heard of this position in the healthcare field, there’s quite a market for “death doulas.”

The role is also referred to as an “end-of-life coach,” “soul midwife,” “death midwife,” or “transition guide.”

Searching for a way for patients to have a “good death” has become increasingly important in the medical community. Last year the medical journal Behavioral Sciences devoted an entire issue to communication over end-of-life issues to ensure patients’ end-of-life wishes were realized.

“In the American culture, where the majority of people die in hospitals, death has been routinely denied, sterilized, and/or removed from view,” said Maureen P. KeeleyTrusted Source. Keeley, who is director of graduate studies at the Department of Communication Studies, Texas State University, wrote in the journalTrusted Source. “Talking about dying with the person that is terminally ill can relieve anxiety for both participants in the conversation, and it can help ensure that final wishes regarding treatment at the end of life are honored.”

Currently there a few organizations that administer credentials for death doulas, including the International End of LifeDoula Association (INELDA), International Doulagivers Institute, and Lifespan Doula Association (LDA).

Jeri Glatter, vice president of INELDA, said her organization has trained about 900 end-of-life doulas in the United States since 2015. The organization provides personal certifications as well as training to hospital staff members including hospice workers. In addition to popularity in the United States, there is a significant interest for training in Asia.

Individuals who seek a personal certification often go on to run their own businesses. An INELDA certification involves attending a training session and then applying for the credential. Several requirements, including hands-on work, must be completed to become certified, which takes the average person six to nine months and is quite rigorous, Glatter said.

Life as a death “doula”

For those who embark on the career, it’s quite a personal choice.

Kelly Sanders, RN, an end-of-life doula from Michigan, worked as a nurse in the long-term care field for many years before becoming a death doula.

“I saw people die without any control over the process,” she recalled. “It seemed as soon as the terminal diagnosis came, the patient became invisible to family and friends. They would talk as if the patient was already gone, even while the patient was in the room.”

She said that hospice cannot provide all of the services a person needs — especially the emotional help — when they have a terminal prognosis.

“Hospice does a great job taking care of the medical aspect of dying, but due to the changing nature of healthcare compensation, little time was left for the other aspects of dying that are just as important for a peaceful passing,” she said. “End-of-life doula services fit that need.”

She said there is a big misconception that hospice provides the same services as a death doula.

“I think it was the overall idea of hospice, but because of Medicare/Medicaid cuts, hospice only has time to deal with the medical needs. They do not have the training to even do the work of a doula.”

Death doulas can fill a gap in care. People can work with a death doula before they reach a point where they qualify for hospice. And an end-of-life doula is able to devote themselves to a single person, going in without an agenda to fulfill that person’s needs.

What a doula does

Sanders said a huge part of the job is to establish trust and build a relationship with patients and their families. It’s important to respect their wishes and not influence their decisions, she said.

As part of her services for Peaceful Journey Home, LLC, Sanders is often asked to take family photos or assist patients in writing letters to ask for forgiveness. Some patients hire her to plan their funerals.

“The more time that you have with a person, the more you learn and it is easier to learn their life story and advocate for their wishes,” she said. Sanders said it’s important to be flexible during the process. When she notes a patient’s wishes and they change, she gently reminds them of their initial preferences but allows them to change their minds.

“It is their death, so they can certainly have the right to change focus,” she said. “Sometimes we don’t always know what we want, and we mold the idea as we go along.”

Some family members rely on the doula to remain present and keep them informed on the patient’s status while they take a much-needed break.

A death doula can also answer questions about the dying process and empower family members to create the kind of environment that the person dying has requested, said Christy Marek, an end-of-life doula from Minnesota who sees patients locally and offers her services via phone and video conference.

“We help family feel competent and central to the process and less afraid of the unknown,” Marek said. “It is a true partnership, and I think that’s the best support we offer for families — assuring them they are not alone.”

Typical services include helping patients create legacy projects or planning a person’s final days and moments. Mostly, Marek said she focuses on creating a safe space for clients to do the emotional and “soul” work needed to help them prepare for their death.

“I help the individual who is dying to stay close to what is most important in the time that remains, to focus on what is possible rather than on limitation, and to support their loved ones in staying as involved as desired as things progress,” Marek said.

One of the biggest advantages of having an end-of-life doula is the continuity of care and consistent support. Patients often transition from actively seeking curative treatment to no longer receiving treatment. Some are put in hospice, and some “graduate” from hospice before their death, Marek explained.

“These are all circumstances where care teams change and support systems get disrupted and lost. Having an end-of-life doula throughout the process of end of life ensures that there is a consistent supportive foundation that remains the same,” Marek said.

Family ties can help lead to a ‘good death’

Sanders said it is best when family members are actively involved with the doula to respect the patient’s wishes.

“I try to encourage and engage families to participate in the process, especially if they are not in agreement with the process,” she said. “All input is valuable, but I like to politely remind families that this is not their death. So, the dying person’s wishes and needs come first.”

“Many times, a patient is not able to articulate their wishes, such as cases of dementia, but the patient still deserves a lasting tribute,” Sanders said.

Marek said her goal is to serve the patient even if they forget they hired her, don’t remember what they initially asked for, or have different wishes than family members.

She said her ultimate goal is to get what the patient wants — even if she is hired by family members.

Aside from bedside manner, death doulas have to run their business. Their services might be too costly for some patients, and insurance is unlikely to cover their work.

Sanders said an individual package may cover 20 hours for $700 plus an additional fee if the patient wants more time with the doula.

Marek said that prices typically are flexible and can include a weekly or monthly retainer or individual sessions and packages. An end-of-life vigil, which takes place during the active dying process, can range from $1,500 to $3,500 or so.

Leaning ‘into’ the fear

Anyone who is struggling with their diagnosis or wants to leave something behind for family, may want to seek out a death doula.

Sanders loves her job but admits that it’s hard when a patient passes away. “That part never gets easy,” she said. “I take comfort that I was able to help them transition on their terms.”

“Our culture holds so much fear around death that when we find ourselves face-to-face with it, either our own mortality or that of someone we love, we typically don’t know what to do,” Marek added. “It’s incredibly scary to face into the unknown, so most of us do our best not to.”

But Marek said ignoring real life can be harmful.

“It affects not only the person who is dying, but the entire circle that surrounds them,” Marek said.

The presence of an end-of-life doula helps people “lean into” the pain and fear of the unknown. That frees up space and energy so they can experience the emotions including actual joys that come with death. She said the doula’s experience helping others through death can ease the process for both family and patient.

“The comforting presence of a doula enables opportunities for the dying to connect more deeply with loved ones and to enjoy the time that remains, focusing on possibility rather than only on limitation, on what they can control rather than on what they can’t,” Marek said.

She said she believes that many people would benefit from having an end-of-life doula because they can help foster connections even during an emotionally painful time.

“I believe a death doula — the openhearted presence of someone who won’t turn away in the face of suffering and will offer support to help us work with it rather than fight against it — would benefit everyone at end of life.”

Complete Article HERE!

Planning Your Own Funeral & Memorial Service

by Anthony Martin

Planning your own funeral is not something anyone gets excited about. In all honestly, who would?

But you know what? There is great value in doing so.

Before we jump into the nitty-gritty, how about a funeral joke to lighten the mood?

Here’s a good one…

I was a little taken aback when I got my receipt from the funeral parlor. On the bottom of the receipt after the bill, it read, “Thank you. Please come again.”

In all seriousness, if you are considering planning your own funeral ahead of time we sincerely commend you. It takes courage to do so, and you will find it’s very rewarding once it’s done.

To help you on your quest, you’ll find in this article why you should plan your own memorial, how to do it, and discover four different ways you can ensure your funeral is paid for.

Why You Should Be Planning Your Own Funeral

The reason why you should plan your own funeral is quite simple.

If you don’t plan your own funeral, your family will have to while in their darkest hour.

Here’s the cold hard truth of it.

When you pass away, your family will be going through an incredibly dark time full of grief and sadness. They will miss you terribly.

Your loved ones having to make tough choices via planning your funeral only adds to the emotional stress they are enduring due to your passing.

Nobody likes to think of their own mortality, let alone plan for it. You should take the time to do it for your family, so they won’t have to while under the greatest emotional stress of their life.

Here’s some really good news.

Planning your own funeral is actually very easy! Not to mention, it won’t take as much time as you’d think to knock it out.

All you are really doing is documenting exactly how you would like to be remembered.

The best part is, once you’ve done it, you never have to do it again!

Taking a little time planning this ahead of time will pay huge dividends in the future. You’ll save your family from a lot of grief, and they will know how much you cared because of what you’ve done.

You Have To Document Your Plans Or They Do No Good

You could literally just use a blank piece of paper and that would suffice.

No matter how you do it, you must document your final wishes, or all your preparation is worthless.

Not to mention, however you choose to transcribe your funeral plan, you need to store them in a place where they are easily accessible by your family.

The idea is upon your passing, your family will naturally locate your final wishes, so they can follow your instructions. This will alleviate them from having to make these tough choices while they are grieving.

There are lots of free funeral planning guides online such as this one or this one, if you prefer to have something that pre-outlines everything.

Ultimately, it does not matter exactly how you document your final wishes. All that matters is that you do it, so your family can put it to use.

How To Plan Your Funeral

Planning out your own funeral has a process that will actually be very familiar to you.

No seriously, it will be.

Think of it this way.

Have you ever bought a vehicle? You likely have at some point in your life.

Think back to your last car buying experience. It probably went something like this…

  1. Calculated your budget
  2. Decided if you want a car, truck, van, etc.
  3. Identified which makes and models you were interested in
  4. Compared those models to see which one(s) you like most
  5. Selected a model
  6. Chose the color, interior & exterior options, etc.
  7. Bought the vehicle

The procedure to plan your own funeral will be just like that. The only real difference is A) You won’t take delivery of your product right now 😇 (at least we hope not), and B) you will be selecting options related to a funeral rather than a car.

Burial, Cremation, Or Donation

By far the biggest choice you will make is choosing to be buried, cremated, or donating your body to science.

Your budget may play a role in deciding which one of these you go with.

Remember, the cost of a funeral varies greatly among these three options. On average, a typical burial service will cost anywhere from $7,000-$10,000. At the same time, a cremation service will cost between $1,500-$5,000. Donating your body to science will usually cost nothing.

With the availability of affordable funeral life insurance plans to cover end-of-life costs, most people can adequately insure themselves for an amount necessary to cover whatever sort of memorial they prefer.

What To Do With The Remains If You Choose A Burial Or Cremation

If you choose to be buried, you then must select what you want done with the casket. If your wish is to be cremated, then you must choose where the urn or ashes are placed.

Believe it or not, there are quite a few options. There are pros and cons to each, so decide which one you think best suites you.

In Ground For A Burial

This is the stereotypical burial so to speak. The casket is placed inside a burial vault that is roughly six feet underground.

In Ground Lawn Crypt For A Burial

A lawn crypt is a pre-made tomb that is typically comprised of concrete and steel whereby multiple caskets can be stacked upon one another.

Lawn crypts are sometimes referred to as in ground mausoleums because they are essentially a completely enclosed shell that preserves the casket(s) far better than a burial vault will.

Above Ground Lawn Crypt For A Burial

This is identical to an in-ground lawn crypt, except that it’s above ground. It provides the proper water drainage to ensure the enclosed casket is preserved.

In A Private Mausoleum Above Ground For A Burial Or Cremation

A mausoleum is an above ground structure that is built specifically to hold the remains of single family. Private mausoleums are quite costly, but if you desire exclusivity and privacy for your whole family a private mausoleum is the way to get it done.

In A Community Mausoleum Above Ground For A Burial Or Cremation

Many cemeteries have mausoleums built that are public. This means anyone can elect to have their remains placed there. Usually those who elect this feature just don’t want their remains placed underground.

The most important thing to understand about a community mausoleum is that it’s public, so other people unrelated to you will also be stored alongside you.

Natural Burial

In this situation there are no embalming fluids, caskets, or burial vaults used. Instead, the remains are placed directly into the ground allowing the body to naturally decompose.

Sometimes with a natural burial, they will utilize some sort of biodegradable casket or shroud just as long as they don’t impede the decomposition of the remains.

Green Burial

This is almost identical to a natural burial with one key difference. For it to be a green burial, the cemetery where the remains will be buried must not use pesticides, and there must be no other bodies buried in the cemetery when embalming fluids or caskets were used.

Spreading Ashes For Cremation

For those who wish to be cremated, one of the most popular options is to have their ashes spread in a location of great significance.

Spreading ashes is certainly an option, but be sure to mind local and state laws. Every state is different, so don’t assume anything. Basically, some states and local ordinances allow it, and some don’t. In addition, those that do allow it often have restrictions regarding where you can spread the ashes, so be sure to double check before pursing this option.

Memorial Reef For Cremation

A memorial reef is a unique option whereby the ashes of the body can be infused with concrete and shaped into a statue of something (could be any shape you like) and placed on the ocean floor.

You will need to work with a business that provides these kinds of services. It’s not something you would want your family to do on their own.

Viewing Or No Viewing

Do you want your loved ones to have one final chance to visit your body? Some people do, and some people don’t. The choice is certainly yours, but it’s definitely something you must decide upon.

Viewings can take place at a funeral home, church, synagogue, or any other location of your preference (assuming the owner of the building agrees to it).

One thing to keep in mind is that if you prefer to donate your body to science and you want a viewing, you will be required to pay for the cost of the viewing.

Now Choose The Details To Round Out Your Plans

At this point, you’ve chosen between a burial, cremation, or donation. You’ve selected what to do with the remains, and you’ve decided whether or not to have a viewing.

All you have to do now is finalize the details such as location, flowers, music, etc.

Look the list below and decide which ones (if any) apply to you. Then document your preferences along with all the other stuff.

  • Memorial service location
  • Where the remains will be placed
  • Type of casket or urn
  • Flowers
  • Music
  • Attendees
  • Name(s) of those who you wish to make your arrangements
  • Open or closed casket for a service
  • Clothes, glasses, & jewelry to be worn for a viewing and/or final resting
  • Any military preferences for veterans
  • Marker/headstone preferences
  • Pallbearer suggestions
  • Obituary preferences (key points you want addressed in your obituary)
  • Post funeral reception preferences

4 Ways You Can Ensure Your Funeral Is Paid For

At this point, you’ve fully planned out your entire funeral which means your family won’t have to make these tough decisions while grieving your loss.

Now all you’ve got to do is put together a plan to ensure the expenses of your funeral don’t fall on your family.

Here’s the deal.

The greatest burden you can pass on to your loved ones is to saddle them with your unpaid funeral costs.

The truth is most families don’t have the cash needed to pay for the funeral outright. As a result, loved ones will resort to taking on debt in order to ensure you receive a respectable memorial service. Very often the debt they agree to takes years to pay off.

If you do nothing else, please make sure you financially prepare for your funeral to ensure your family doesn’t have to take on debt to do it for you.

Having said all of that, you have four basic options to pay for your final expenses.

1) Life Insurance

Life insurance to pay for burial expenses is a very popular option mainly because it affords immediate protection.

There are even life policies available that were designed specifically to cover end of life costs. They are often referred to as “burial insurance for seniors” or “final expense life insurance”.

They are small policies meant to provide just enough coverage to pay for final expenses. These policies are particularly helpful for folks over 80 who likely cannot qualify for a traditional life insurance policy. The cost of burial policies is generally affordable since the face amounts are low.

2) Save Money

This option should only be considered by those who are financially disciplined. In essence, you are electing to set aside a set amount each and every month until you have enough needed to cover all your final expenses.

The obvious drawback to this option is the fact that if you pass away before you’ve saved enough, your family will have to come up with the difference.

3) Pre-Need Contract

A pre-need policy is contract between you and a specific funeral home. Basically, you completely design your funeral service with them, and they tell you how much it will cost.

The policy is backed by a form of life insurance, but it’s a different kind of life policy compared to the one you obtain on an individual basis. The main difference between a pre-need life policy and an individually purchased life policy is that one day you will stop making payments on the pre-need policy.

Funeral homes that sell pre-need policies will try to get you pay off the balance of your funeral over the course of 3-5 years. Because of this, the monthly payments on a pre-need policy can be costly. They frequently end up being $100-$500 per month depending on the total cost and how long you give yourself to pay it off.

4) Funds From The Deceased’s Estate

Although not recommended, you could rely on your family liquidating your house, investments, or other valuable property as means to pay for your final expenses.

There’s no question that this is an option.

However, it should honestly be off the table for the most part.

Here’s why we say that.

It takes a lot of time for your family to be able to liquidate your estate. For one, the probate process can easily take months. That alone will condemn your family with having to temporarily generate funds to pay for your funeral.

Even after the probate process is complete, they would still need to sell off whatever valuables you own which takes even more time.

Again, this is an option, but because of the time involved, it should be a last resort.

Put Together A Will Or Living Trust

A will or living trust will address the legal matters associated with your death which is why it’s important you not leave this step out.

Now, whether you go should go with a will or living trust is purely a personal preference that will likely be determined by the complexity of your estate. This article gives a good outline about the pros and cons of each one.

The best thing to do is to consult with a wills and trust attorney, and let them help you decide which is best for you.

However, if you are the independent type and want to set up a will on your own that’s perfectly okay. Truthfully, a lot of people do with much success.

There are many online resources available to help you setup a will. If followed properly, it can be relatively simple and accurate.

If you do elect to setup a will without the assistance of an attorney, at least use a guide to ensure you do it properly.

On the other hand, a living trust is far more complex, and should be done with the assistance of a professional. From implementation to structure, they are very different and subject to different laws which is why professional legal help is suggested.

You might be wondering… Why do I need a will or trust anyways?

The reason is simple.

You want a will or trust to shore up the legal matters associated with death.

Just like all the other elements of your funeral, if you don’t prepare for the legal ones, you condemn your family with having to deal with them.

Complete Article HERE!

Life, Death and Dignity (Part 3)

Solace in a trying time

Robert Fuller did not want to spend his final days suffering, so he turned to Death with Dignity.

by Ashley Archibald

As Robert Fuller lay dying, he knew he was not alone.

His husband, Reese, stood by his head, crying into a pink towel. They’d been married that morning. A soprano sang over the mezzo piano melody of a violin, soft, but enough to fill the small, crowded room. Those closest to him laid their hands on his arms, torso, thighs and shins.

Downstairs, in the common room of Primeau Place, the affordable housing complex in which Fuller lived, the atmosphere was jovial, full of memories, food and music.

But later, in the bedroom as Fuller’s eyes closed, the gravity of the moment was palpable — to be there was an honor beyond grief.

Perhaps a few people in the room had watched a person die. It seems unlikely any had ever received an Evite to a combination wedding/death-day themed with Hawaiian shirts, courtesy of the host. But there’s a first for everything.

There are those by profession or by predilection who choose to stay with the dying until the dying is done, to comfort the loved ones left behind and ease the souls of the deceased into whatever comes next. They sit in calm vigil so that others, like Robert Fuller, need not be alone.

These are their stories.

Nancy Rebecca

Nancy Rebecca performs a marriage ceremony for Reese Baxter and Robert Fuller.

At 10:30 the morning of Robert Fuller’s death, Nancy Rebecca joined Fuller and Reese Baxter in marriage.

She anointed them with nag champa oil, rubbing the scent of magnolia and sandalwood into their hands and asked each to take the other in lawful and spiritual marriage. They obliged.

For nine and a half hours, the two were wed. And then, at roughly 8 p.m., Fuller exhaled his final breath.

To Rebecca’s eyes, it wasn’t the end of Robert Fuller. This was simply a new beginning.

Rebecca isn’t just a marriage officiant. That happy task was more of a favor than a calling.

Rebecca is a healer of conventional and unconventional methods. She practiced as a hospice nurse for eight years, caring for people as they groped blindly toward the eventual conclusion of life. That work takes a toll on the living as well as the dying. In 1994, she bought a book on meditation and gave the calming practice a try.

Everything changed.

“I went to bed and I had a spontaneous out of body experience,” Rebecca said. “When my spirit came back to my body I could see energy fields and I could see spirits.”

Initially, Rebecca found the experience overwhelming, she said. After all, she was a registered nurse, trained in Western medicine. Seeing spirits and energy fields simply wasn’t done.

“In some ways, the energy fields I see around people are quite beautiful. That is not what was disturbing me,” Rebecca said. “It didn’t fit with what I thought to be the truth.”

Rebecca decided to consult professionals.

Rebecca’s mother was a psychiatrist, her father a medical doctor. Afraid of going to an outside physician with her concerns, Rebecca went to her parents. Her mother reassured her.

“There’s nothing wrong with you,” her mother said.

It took time to process her new, perceptive abilities, to parse what and who she was seeing. But it afforded her the capacity to stay with people under her care, observing the angels that came to visit them and helping them understand their own brief glimpses into the beyond at the end of their lives.

Rebecca works mostly with the living these days, helping them to heal their bodies by righting their energies through meditative practice. However, her wife had known Fuller for years, and although he didn’t feel that he needed her healing talents, the pair did have discussions about what came next.

One day, she asked him what he thought the afterlife would be like.

“He said, ‘Well it’s a realm of judgment and grace. For me I hope it leans a little more toward grace,’” Rebecca recalled.

“I said, ‘Based on my experience, it does,’” Rebecca said.

Sile Harriss

Sile Harriss, a music-thanatologist by training, played harp for the dying and their families for nearly 20 years.

The harp in Sile Harriss’ apartment is roughly 22 pounds and rises to the level of her chest when she stands next to it. The burnished gold of the maple wood glows in the low light — though she’s had it for decades, the instrument looks as though it was purchased the day before.

It’s small for a harp, Harriss said. It’s a Celtic harp, not an orchestral version, meaning it lacks pedals and has fewer strings, a deficit made up for in part by small levers at the top of each string that allow her to adjust the note produced by a half step.

That’s OK, though. She could hardly bring a larger instrument into hospital rooms.

For nearly 20 years, Harriss worked as a music-thanatologist, employing ancient melodies and lyrics to respond to the needs of the dying and their families. It’s a unique profession — Harriss estimates there are only 100 of her colleagues in the United States.

Music-thanatology is more than beautiful music, Harriss said. It’s about using the cadences and meters of musical traditions from the Middle Ages to support people through the process of dying.

“Actively dying can be hard work,” Harriss said. “We’re using the music as support, able to observe and discern the sense in the room.”

While there is a repertoire of music, every session is individualized to the needs of the patient and their families. Music-thanatologists react to the breath of the patient, their heart rhythms pumping through the monitors and to the emotions of those watching them go.

Metered, comfortable lullabies might give way to unmetered plain chant as the body systems fail and the vitals weaken, requiring a piece with less structure. Some sessions involved a single phrase or bars of music used repetitively. Sometimes, relatives would request a loved one’s favorite song, or need care themselves.

If family dynamics got tense as the end neared, it was Harriss’ duty to tend to their unspoken emotional needs.

“The work at that time is to work with the family before I get to grandma,” Harriss said. “They need to let go what their hopes have been.”

Harriss trained at the Chalice of Repose, a school located near Missoula, Montana. She found herself looking for a new purpose after her marriage of 30 years ended, and a friend mentioned the school. The idea captured her, and she began preparing to move from Seattle before she was even accepted.

“The letter came 10 days before school started,” Harriss said.

Harriss would spend two years training with 14 classmates, memorizing the repertoire, learning Latin and ultimately signing on as harp faculty. When she began craving life in the city again, she moved to Portland and was hired at Providence Portland Medical Center. If her beeper went off, even in the wee hours of the morning, she would take her harp in its case, go to the bedside and begin to play.

Over time, Harriss developed neuropathy in her left hand — she can no longer feel the strings underneath her fingers and plays the harp through muscle memory. Still, the music emanating from her instrument is warm and calming.

“I’m just in awe and grateful for the opportunity to have been with people this way,” Harriss said.

Arline Hinckley

Arline Hinckley believes in doctors and medicine. She also believes in the right to die.

“We have a wonderful medical care system. It can work miracles,” Hinckley said. “Unfortunately, the tendency with all of this great medical care is to continue to treat people even when it isn’t going to benefit them.”

Hinckley is a board member and volunteer with End of Life Washington, the organization that helps patients like Fuller navigate the complicated road to dying with dignity. In the book “Extreme Measures: Finding a Better Path to the End of Life” by Dr. Jessica Zitter, Zitter compares the medical community’s response to terminal illness as a “conveyor belt,” Hinckley said.

“If you are very ill and get put on a respirator, that’s one way to get on the conveyor belt,” she said. “Artificial food and hydration is another way to get on it. Aggressive chemotherapy, and that kind of thing.

“Once you get on that conveyor belt, it is hard to get off. It is hard to say, ‘This is not what I want, please let me die,’” Hinckley continued.

Her experience in an oncology department after she graduated college convinced Hinckley that people needed a legal right to get off that conveyor belt. She saw many people die, sometimes horribly — the treatment was worse than the disease, she said.

Hinckley worked to get the Death with Dignity initiative on the ballot in Washington, more than a decade after the first of such laws passed in Oregon. She helped educate people on what it meant, and found that even those who did not want to use the law themselves saw value in affording others the opportunity.

She has also assisted people through the process herself.

“People are so full of grace and bravery at that time. They’re very determined,” Hinckley said. “The medication tastes terrible and some people have difficulty swallowing it, but I’ve seen 85-year-old, 95-pound ladies just chug that stuff. They’ve made up their mind, taken care of unfinished business, mended fences, come to a spot religiously where they feel this is OK. They’re just ready.”

End of Life Washington volunteers stay after the person has fallen asleep to help family and friends with the passing. The process can be healing for the living as well — the planning of the death allows people to come to terms with it more totally than a sudden loss, she said.

“They’ve done the work. So, of course they’re sad, but in some ways they’re relieved as well because the person they love is not going to be suffering any longer,” Hinckley said.

Only eight states allow people the option to take their own lives. The most recent law passed in New Jersey in March. Organizations like End of Life Washington are working to maintain the momentum so that everyone, regardless of their location, has an option at the end.

“People deserve a choice,” Hinckley said. “It’s not a choice everyone might make, but options are important to people.”

Complete Article HERE!

‘Death doulas’ assist people before and after death

Death doula Christy Marek talks with Mark Quinlan at Our Lady of Peace in St. Paul, Minn. on Friday, May 10, 2019. They discussed the specifics of funeral planning and the nuances of the end of life. She has followed him from the hospital to a transitional care unit, and now to the hospice.

By BOB SHAW

In the dimly lit room, Mark Quinlan struggles to be heard.

His voice box has been silenced by his thyroid cancer. He tries to whisper, but the hum of his oxygen machine drowns out the sound. The voice of the bone-thin 67-year-old barely carries to the edge of his hospice bed.

But Christy Marek is listening.

Marek, an end-of-life assistant called a death doula, leans forward to catch every word. She asks him about funerals, the afterlife and memories of happier times.

“Do you want last rites?” she asks.

The whisper: “I suppose.”

She has been with him for months, in a hospital, transitional care unit and a hospice. Every step of the way, she has guided him through a dark and scary wilderness.

In many cases, death doulas are redefining how people approach death. They are breaking away from traditional generic funerals, and pioneering approaches to grieving, memory and death.

“Death is being reimagined at this moment,” said Anne Murphy, owner of the death-consultation business A Thousand Hands.

In the past, doulas were women working as midwives to help the process of birth. “Death doula” is a term for people who help with the other end of life. They also call themselves celebrants or soul midwives.

“They all do the same thing — companioning for people dying,” said Jane Whitlock, a St. Paul death doula.

The National Doulagivers Institute reports that its training has quadrupled in two years. President Suzanne O’Brien said she has now trained 402 certified doulas in a six-month course. The cost is $997, Twin Cities Pioneer Press reported.

“I just got back from a month of training in Thailand,” O’Brien said in April. “This is needed around the world.”

Doulas-to-be are drawn to a job that that pays up to $100 an hour in Minnesota. The trainers are proliferating, with names like Doulagivers, Lifespan Doulas, Soul Passages and the National End of Life Doula Alliance.

The traveling doula schools are arriving in Minnesota.

One session starting May 31 offers a three-day program by the International End of Life Doula Association for $750. Or you could get training from the Conscious Dying Institute, which is offering three-day classes starting June 22 and September 26, for $2,995 and $1,895, respectively.

The inconsistency makes some uncomfortable.

“I look at the programs where you get certified after a weekend. It is not doing the people you work with justice,” Marek said.

“It is frankly a little bit messy.”

Doulas sometimes overlap the services of a hospice — causing some friction.

“Hospices frankly do not know what to do with the end-of-life doula role,” Marek said.

Susan Marschalk, director of the Minnesota Network of Hospice and Palliative Care, said they do not compete but must learn to work together.

“Doulas are newer, and there is some trepidation about them,” Marschalk said. She said hospices provide medical care and emotional support for dying people.

Doulas are flexible, hired by the hour. They can be employed before or after the dying process begins, helping with funerals and commemorations.

The training for death doulas is sketchy.

It’s a new vocation, with no regulations or standards. With no training whatsoever, anyone can start working as a death doula.

Sometimes they are hired months before a death, and work for months afterward. Some are called at the last minute and may help only in a person’s final hours.

“This is so new. We are all finding our way,” said Marek, of Lakeville, owner of Tending Life at the Threshold.

Being a doula is not a full-time career — yet.

“Right now there are no full-time death doulas,” said doula Whitlock. But she predicts that as baby boomers age, the demand will increase along with the number of deaths.

Doulas seeking full-time work sometimes branch out into related areas — paperwork, aging in place, consulting, or doula services for pets.

“Dying people want to put things in order,” she said. She helped a woman arrange for her ashes to be dropped into the Mississippi River from a pedestrian bridge.

Death doulas encourage doing whatever is meaningful — which can often mean breaking the rules.

For example, one dying man recently requested a wedding and an end-of-life celebration — in the same service. He was engaged, said doula Murphy, and saw the dual-purpose ceremony as meaningful.

What was meaningful at Susan Showalter’s funeral was utterly original.

Showalter, 71, of St. Paul, died in December of diabetes complications. End-of-life adviser Murphy suggested a home vigil, displaying the body for visitors to see.

About 175 mourners were served white wine and Doritos — Showalter’s happy-hour treat.

Respecting an ancient ceremony, they washed the body with washcloths and pans of water. They anointed her with oil, dabbing it on her face and hands.

The group spontaneously sprinkled rose petals to make a pathway between the body and the funeral-home van.

Once the body was gone, they shaped the petals on a table into an outline of her body. Where her feet had been, someone placed hockey socks — which she wore when her feet were cold.

The personal touches enriched the process, said her husband, David.

“This allowed us to be in charge,” he said. “We were participants, not just observers.”

“I swear at least 20 people thanked me for such a wonderful way to say goodbye.”

At other times, death doulas help celebrate the lives of the deceased — before and after they die.

On May 10, Marek hovered at the bedside of cancer victim Quinlan in Our Lady of Peace hospice in St. Paul.

She reminded him of the impact he had on his students, from 40 years of teaching at Centennial High School in Circle Pines.

One of them — Chris Roskowinski — flew from his home in Sherman Oaks, California, when he learned that Quinlan was dying.

The night before, he was taken to the opening-night play at the high school, which he had helped direct until the cancer left him incapacitated. The cast and the audience honored Quinlan — which made the occasion both happy and sad.

“Tell me, did that make it easier for you?” Marek asked. “Harder?”

After a pause, a raspy whisper rose from the bed: “Easier.” The word seemed to hang in the air.

At his bedside, Roskowinski could barely hear Quinlan speak, but nodded appreciatively.

“She can be his voice,” he said.

Complete Article HERE!