After 73 Years of Marriage, This Canadian Couple Chose to Die on Their Own Terms

This is a truly beautiful story about two people dying.

By Hemant Mehta

George and Shirley Brickenden, who are 95 and 94, respectively, decided they didn’t want to wait any longer for death to arrive. They’d been married for 73 years and their bodies weren’t faring so well. Shirley had a heart attack in 2016 and nearly died; she now had rheumatoid arthritis and was in constant pain. George was found passed out, unconscious, on his birthday and his heart was also failing.

Under Canadian law, both of them qualify for what’s known as physician-assisted death. They’re older than 18, Canadian citizens, mentally competent, suffering from a “serious and incurable disease, illness or disability,” and in an “‘advanced state of irreversible decline,’ with enduring and intolerable suffering.” Furthermore, there was no coercion involved. They checked off all the boxes.

And both of them decided to end their lives together, in peace, at the same time last week.

Shortly before 7 p.m., Mrs. Brickenden turned to her husband. “Are you ready?

“Ready when you are,” he replied.

They walked into their bedroom and lay down together, holding hands. The two doctors, one for each patient, inserted intravenous lines into their arms.

Angela rubbed her mom’s feet. [Pamela] rubbed her dad’s. “They smiled, they looked at each other,” Pamela said. Then Mr. Brickenden looked at his children, standing at the end of the bed.

“I love you all,” he said.

This is exactly why the law was passed. Forcing people to live in pain is a form of torture. The Brickendens were able to get their lives in order, say goodbye one last time to their children, and end life hand in hand with the person they love most. If you were to imagine your own perfect death, it would probably look something like that.

And yet there are many religious groups that oppose letting people make that decision because it’s thwarting God’s plan for their lives. They’re so “pro-life,” they would rather see people suffer than die on their own terms. In some cases, like when a dying patient ends up at a Catholic hospital that doesn’t allow the procedure, the result is even more cruelty.

In Canada, however, this is now a legal procedure with sensible hurdles in place to prevent people from abusing it. It was made for situations like these. There may be certain situations where the moral thing to do isn’t always obvious, but this isn’t one of them.

Their mutual obituary is really incredible:

As age and overwhelming infirmities overtook them, on a beautiful spring day, after 73 years of marriage, they toasted each other with family and good champagne, held hands and left this life gently and together, on their own terms. This was their final act of love, hoping their act will pave the way for others who are suffering. They were fully at peace with this decision and had the support of their four devoted children who have always known this was how they wanted it to be when the time came. We are all forever grateful for the compassionate assistance of Dying with Dignity. They have blessed this earth together for 73 years and it’s time for them to bless the stars.

Instead of flowers, they asked for supporters to make donations to Dying with Dignity.

In the United States, death with dignity is only legal in six states and Washington, D.C. That leaves a lot of places where people who are ready to end life are forced to prolong it against their will. That needs to change.

Complete Article HERE!

Why Is Death Left Out Of Wellness?

Here’s How To Start The End-Of-Life Conversation

By Shoshana Ungerleider, M.D.

As an internal medicine physician practicing in a busy urban hospital setting, I care for people of all ages who have never considered their own mortality. Far too often, this results in an experience at the end of life that doesn’t embody the goals and values of the life they have lived. They suffer, and so do the people they love. It’s led me to question, why is this?

For the vast majority of human history, we have been thoughtful and intentional about death. Without the benefits of modern medicine, we cared for our family members at home when they became ill. When people died, they were laid out in the parlor of the home, surrounded by family, and ancient death rituals were performed. Death was an expected occurrence that was accepted and planned for. Our cultural understanding, at least in the West, began to deteriorate about a century ago as death became increasingly medicalized.

Despite our culture’s propensity to share just about everything, the idea of death remains a cultural taboo, keeping us from personal reflection, discussion with those we love, and planning ahead.

Why death is left out of the wellness conversation.

There are only two things we really know for sure: We are born, and we will die. As a culture, we invest in nutrition, exercise, and spiritual well-being as a means to live well—but a critical part of living well is dying well. A recognition of our own mortality can allow us to live an even more fulfilled life. We become better people who feel more grateful for our experiences every day.

While historically many people pondered death and the idea of an afterlife through the lens of religion, the growing number of Americans turning away from organized religion and seeking a hybrid spiritual identity invites us to actively explore other cultures’ practices around death, both past and present. Almost every philosophical and spiritual tradition encourages thinking regularly about death to not only reduce our fears but ultimately, to live a more authentic, meaningful, and even joyful life.

How to bring end-of-life discussions into the wellness movement.

No matter your spiritual or religious beliefs, here are six steps to take action toward living more comfortably with death:

1. Take time for personal reflection about what matters most to you.

Make it count, and make it a regular practice. I like using my birthday as an annual reminder to step back and reflect.

2. Recognize which relationships matter most to you.

Think about the one or two people in your life who you would want to speak for you if you were unable to speak for yourself, AND ask them to serve as your health care proxy.

3. Have a conversation about your values and priorities.

I like the card game Go Wish to help with this conversation. Go Wish has 35 cards with simple prompts about what might matter most if you are seriously ill or at the end of your life. The goal: to facilitate a conversation and prioritize what’s important so those who have to make decisions for you will know your wishes.

4. Document your wishes.

Do this in the form of an advanced health care directive or living will, and make sure your health care proxy has a copy.

5. Discuss your wishes with your health care provider.

You don’t need to wait for them to bring it up. You can start the conversation about your end-of-life preferences with your health care provider at your next visit.

6. Revisit your wishes annually.

As new circumstances arise or your health condition changes, review your wishes annually with your loved ones.

End-of-life wellness looks different for everyone. The goal is to identify what is most important to you, regularly check back in with yourself, and create a network of people who support your values. Give one of these steps a try today, and see how it goes. You might be surprised that by making choices about how you want to live and die, you feel inspired to live life to the fullest.

Complete Article HERE!

The way we die will be considered unthinkable 50 years from now

How we treat dying people needs to change.

By

Fifty years ago, a physician was admitted to the hospital with stomach cancer. He wrote down in his own medical chart that he did not want CPR or to be connected to a breathing machine. His wishes were disregarded — he underwent CPR numerous times and was connected to a breathing machine until he died. Back then, not only were people treated in ways they did not want, many patients were also arbitrarily denied potentially lifesaving therapies.

Doctors decided who deserved to live or not: In one New York hospital, doctors put purple stickers on the charts of patients they determined would not receive CPR or other similar measures without the patients’ or their families’ knowledge. Decisions about life and death were subjective and opaque.

End of life care has considerably improved since then. Patient preferences now help direct physicians and nurses about what type of care they would want to receive. But 50 years into the future, we will look back on today and conclude that medicine was sorely lacking when it came to how we handle death.

Many in medicine, as well as patients and caregivers, continue to equate more procedures, more chemotherapy, and more intensive care with better care. Studies in patients with cancer and heart disease, the two greatest killers of mankind, show that patients receiving palliative care, which is an approach that focuses on quality rather than quantity of life, can actually live longer. While the goal of palliative care is to help people with a serious illness live as well as possible — physically, emotionally and spiritually — rather than as long as possible, some people receiving palliative care might also live longer since they avoid the complications associated with procedures, medications, and hospitalization

In addition, while medical advances have moved forward at blinding pace, the ethical discourse surrounding many technologies has not kept up. Take, for example, cardiac devices such as pacemakers and mechanical pumps that can be placed in the heart. Many patients with terminal illnesses who want to deactivate these devices find resistance from the health system, since some continue to equate deactivating them with euthanasia. We need to continue to make sure that even as technological advances blossom, patients remain at the center, and physicians continue to honor their wishes.

And while the palliative care specialty has greatly improved end-of-life care, too often, palliative care has been used as a way to avoid the culture change needed by all medical specialties to better handle death. Despite its many benefits, many patients and physicians are scared of “palliative care” because of its strong association with the end of life. Some have been compelled to change the title of their practices to “supportive care.” To many patients, the very name “palliative” implies that they will be abandoned, making them very reluctant to accept their services. The fact is that palliative care can, and should, be delivered to patients with serious illness alongside conventional care.

But the issues go beyond the name — one recent study showed that palliative care-led meetings with families of patients in intensive care units led to an increase in post-traumatic stress disorder symptoms among family members. Palliative care specialists are often consulted in tense situations when patients are critically ill, and they often have no prior relationship with patients or their families, who might be unprepared to have serious discussions with them. That’s why most of these difficult conversations should be delivered by the doctors and surgeons primarily responsible for treating the patients. One study estimated that by 2030, the ratio between palliative care specialists and eligible patients will be 1 to 26,000. Palliative care specialists cannot be entirely responsible for end-of-life care by themselves.

To emerge on the right side of history, the entire culture of medicine needs to be turned around. End-of-life care is not just palliative care’s business. It is everyone’s business, from emergency room doctors to primary care physicians. Physicians need to abandon outdated ideas that their role as healers is incompatible with helping patients die comfortably and on their own terms. Helping patients die well is as important as helping them live to the fullest.

Complete Article HERE!

On Living and Dying: A Conversation with a 20-Year Hospice Nurse Veteran


Lori Carter is a nurse for Hospice Care of West Virginia. She’s been working in hospice for 20 years.

By

In the next installment of our occasional series Windows into Health Care, health reporter Kara Lofton spoke with hospice nurse Lori Carter. Carter has been a hospice nurse for 20 years. She said for her and for many of the hospice nurses she knows, the work is a calling. She said some of what she does is straight-up nursing — managing pain, dressing wounds, and addressing symptoms of end-stage disease. But the most subtle part of the job is helping families navigate one of the most intimate and emotional times of their lives.

LOFTON: For you, when you think about hospice and the work that you do and being called to it, what does that mean exactly to you?

CARTER: Just being with the patient and the family in the most emotional time of their life. Helping them give each other that last act of love. I appreciate and I feel honored that I am with that patient and that family during that time.

LOFTON: So some people, and I’ve heard especially in Appalachia, can have preconceived notions about what hospice is and what you actually do exactly. Explain to me what you do. What happens when you go into a home for the first time and how does that relationship form?

CARTER: Well, depending on, you know, what is going on with the patient and how early or late in the disease trajectory that we get them, you introduce yourself and…you listen. The big thing is you listen…You can find out f there is struggle already between what is happening with the patient and how the family is dealing with that. Of course, you know, we treat any symptoms that the patient has. I mean, my job I feel is [to be] the patient advocate and just trying to palliate those symptoms that they have inside [so] that they are comfortable.

I find out, you know, is there any things that they want to do before they die? You know, what are they able to do? And I try to facilitate that in any way that I can. I have a bag of ramps in my car right now, [in] that a patient wanted some ramps. I knew that would be the last time he got to eat ramps, so I went and dug some up.

LOFTON: Some people think of hospice as giving up so, to speak. When you hear that what is your reaction to that?

CARTER: I think it’s very sad. You know, we all are going to die. We all are. And, you know, normally the patients that we get — they have already fought for a very long time. This is the last act of love that you can give and, you know, it’s going to happen whether hospice is there or not. And they are most certainly not giving up. I mean, they’re getting ready to go down a path that they’ve never been down either.

LOFTON: Has this work changed how you think about death?

CARTER: It most certainly has. My family was not the type that, you know, went to funerals all the time…I came into hospice blind, really. And I quickly learned that it is a special experience. You have to believe that quality of life is better than quantity.

And I tell you how I cope with things is I will walk into a home, and I will look…there’s always pictures on the walls of, you know, families. And I will look at those. I always do. And I can see what that patient looked like, and how robust they were, and how happy they were. And then I see the patient now, and that actually helps me know what I need to do and how I need to direct the family into what’s happening. You know where they are in this, this experience that they’re getting ready to have.

LOFTON: One of the things I think is interesting about hearing conversations around hospice, especially from providers in hospice, is that we hear a lot about a nursing shortage and yet, and like nursing turnover in hospitals. But hospice seems to have lower turnover rates. And people who become nurses in hospice tend to stay around despite being around death all the time, essentially. Why do you think that is?

CARTER: I think it is a calling. I think you do realize that it’s a special kind of nursing — you fall so much in love with what you do, and the families, and the patients. And I cannot imagine doing anything else. I don’t think it is for every nurse. I don’t. I think that you have a special belief and you want that special relationship with the patient and the family. I worked in the hospital and some nurses think that’s great, and that’s wonderful for them. But I didn’t feel, for me, that I could give the care — and the personal care, maybe I should say — that I wanted to. I just didn’t feel that I could do that. And with hospice, I can.

LOFTON: Does working with people at the end of life change how you live your life now?

CARTER: It does. You know, I have heard so many times from patients: ‘You know, I wish I would have done this or I wish I would have done that.’ I hear of their regrets. I see families and patients try to get over, you know, maybe they had been estranged, child had been estranged from a parent or, you know, a parent left and now they’re, they’re trying to make amends. I think …it’s taught me that I need to ask for forgiveness, not to have regrets, say what I need to say to my loved ones. So that when that time comes, you won’t have those regrets and those losses.

LOFTON: When you hear about things that people wish they had done, are there any themes that stand out to you that lots of people kind of have regrets with at the end of life?

CARTER: Oh, I think a lot of times it’s ‘I should have took that trip.’ ‘I shouldn’t have worked so much.’ ‘I should have spent more time with children or spouses.’ It’s those types of things that, you know, they wish they would have done. Things that may happen in life and you really don’t give it a second thought at the time. It seems to come back at the end of life, no matter how trivial it is — you, you remember, ‘I should have said this’ or ‘I should have done that.’ But hopefully for the most part, I think, you know, they may say those things. But again, it’s usually not big, huge things.

LOFTON: Over the last 20 years that you’ve been working in hospice, how has it changed?

CARTER: Well, when I first started, no one knew what it was. And now it is more mainstream. I think people are more, they understand more, what is happening. It — death — is not shunned like it used to be, you know. People talk about it more. Unfortunately with our drug problem, it has caused some problems for us. I have to count pills every time I go. I have to watch neighbors coming over to visit — we have to find a [secure] place to put the medicine. It used to be able to sit beside the bed, but it can’t do that anymore.

LOFTON: As more young people leave the state, are you seeing [a] smaller family group surrounding a patient at the end of life?

CARTER: I am. And I’m seeing, you know, a lot of times it’s the 90-year-old spouse trying to take care of the 90-year-old husband or wife. Family seems to live out of state a lot of times, and it has definitely caused some problems. Fortunately, we also have a long-term care team. And if the patient needs to be placed, they can still have hospice care. But there’s definitely a lot of family that are not local anymore…they’re looking to hire caregivers, [but] they might not be able to afford caregivers. In that case, we just try to ramp up our visits, and try to pull in anyone that we can possibly pull in to assist that family.

Complete Article HERE!

Woven coffins and affordable funerals as community-run funeral service breathes new life into the death trade

Funeral director Ashleigh Martin with woven casket available at Tender Funerals.

By Sarah Moss

Creative and emotionally healthy funerals are making waves in communities that value personal choices, resourcefulness and good old wholesome naturalness, but for reasons of expense they also appeal to blue collar workers.

A rejuvenated fire station in Port Kembla, cradled between the Illawarra region’s industrial centre and the sea, is home to Tender Funerals: the first not-for-profit funeral service in Australia.

Ashleigh Martin is a part-time director at the parlour.

“We’re about empowering families to make the choices they need to make to have a beautiful funeral,” she said.

“There’s definitely a need in our community for people to be able to have affordable funerals that are authentic.”

Since its inception in 2016, the community-run organisation has guided over 300 families and loved ones through their losses.

The parlour offers a multitude of services that assist people to have memorable personalised ceremonies, the latest trend in the industry is bio-degradable woven wicker coffins, handmade in the Byron Shire.

The funeral parlour in Port Kembla has up-cycled an old firestation turning it into a morgue and reception area, open to the public.

Dignity in death

The not-for-profit is changing the way communities look at death and dying, empowering families to make the choices they need to make, to have a beautiful funeral.

Founder Jenny Briscoe-Hough previously worked in the death industry for

Tender Funerals is the brainchild of director and general manager Jenny Briscoe-Hough.

many years and conceived a new business model by combining funerals with music and art.

The model looks at affordability and encourages people to “own” the experience, to take back their power in the face of death.

“We empower and guide people to have a meaningful, beautiful, send off,” Ms Martin said.

Malika Elizabeth is a local musician whose involvement with the establishment extends to directing and singing in the organisation’s community choir, and acting occasionally as a celebrant.

“She’s a visionary when it comes to community and bringing people together,” Ms Elizabeth said.

“She’s created a space for people just to be with each other, to be with their emotions, and to join together in commonality.”

The hand-woven willow coffins produced in the Byron region are, “sustainably raised from a renewable resource and then hand woven without glues or metals”.

Grassroots ethos

Unlike wooden or cardboard caskets, the woven caskets offered at Tender Funerals are perfect for hand-decorating with ribbons and other personalised items.

“They [clients] just want something unique and different that they can personalise as well by putting flowers on it or weaving through it,” Ms Martin said.

“We know if it is getting buried that it will break down quickly and won’t leach any harmful chemicals into the earth.”

After working in traditional for-profit homes, Ms Martin said that at Tender Funerals it is not about upselling to grieving families.

“It’s very much about thinking about what we can do differently and what we can do to give meaningful tokens back to our families,” she said.

Textile artist Ms Elliot works with cloth and thread assisting people experiencing grief to create vibrant engaging artefacts.

Art for health’s sake

The grassroots ethos is intertwined through every detail of the business, from the handmade and decorated wicker caskets to a fortnightly community sewing circle run by the group.

Tender’s artist-in-residence Michell Elliot illuminates the cyclical nature of life and death with those in grief using muslin and donated funeral flowers.

The colourful cloth she creates is then used as shrouds for bodies, encouraging creative expression to farewell loved ones.

“I think that if clients choose to shroud somebody with one of our tender cloths that it’s done with love, and I think that’s a really beautiful thing,” Ms Martin said.

Ms Elliot also assists in providing a safe space program at the parlour for people to come together, grieve, share stories and sew.

The parlour facilitates a safe meditative space created through the arts for people to connect with their emotions to heal.

“When people feel that maybe they don’t want to see their loved ones being prepared for burial, or they don’t know what to do, how to feel, just sitting and sewing quietly allows those feelings to come, to be processed and to shift and move,” Ms Elliot said.

Music, art and funerals naturally go together

The organisation is also home to an in-house choir.

On Thursday evenings at the old fire station, people come together to sing songs of life, songs of death and songs of love.

Tender Choir facilitators Malika Elizabeth and Jodi Phillis (pictured) believe that bringing sacred ceremony into funerals, that are not necessarily religious, is a good idea.

Choir directors Jodi Phillis and Malika Elizabeth have sung at grave sides, in memorial services and during intimate preparation times.

They said they feel honoured to be at every funeral they attend.

“These elements go together naturally with us because we are musical people, but I think in a community like Port Kembla, where people just aren’t aware that this stuff can actually be available to them, it might be something people just don’t think of,” Ms Phillis said.

“That they can have live music to celebrate the life of the loved one they lost.

According to Ms Phillis the business model adopted by Tender Funerals relies on two fundamental aspects.

“One, to bring the sacred power of music and art into the community, especially for people who aren’t religious but still want to celebrate the life of the deceased,” she said.

“The other really strong element is supporting the arts.”

Selecting the soundtrack for a particular event can be a collaborative experience.

“Generally, families will have an idea of what music will be best for their loved one, but sometimes we make suggestions,” Ms Phillis said.

“It’s kind of whatever works really.”

Malika Elizabeth in consultation with some of the choir members in rehearsal.

“We all have the feeling that music is a spiritual thing,” Ms Phillis said.

“It comes out of us, it’s linked with the heavens, it’s what fills in the gap in the air.

“If anything is going to reach our loved one, it’s going to be music.”

At this point in time Tender’s business model is focussed on the Port Kembla premises, but having survived two years of operations, their success indicates a community movement towards an organic, not-for-profit model, with plans to expand.

Complete Article HERE!

5 Ways To Live (& Die) With No Regrets

By Remy Blumenfeld

Most of us die with deep regrets about how we spent our lives. It sounds very heavy. But if you’d like to have access to your end-of-life wisdom right now, while there’s still time to do something about it, you can. You don’t need to have faced your own mortality to benefit from my experience, and the end of life experiences of many other people just like you. I feel certain you’ll come away feeling much brighter.

In 1995 I got so sick that doctors at St Thomas’s Hospital in London allowed my partner to bring my dog into the hospital ward. That’s how certain medics were that I would be dead by the morning. Both my then partner, Gavin, and my dog, an Irish Terrier called Sam, slept with me for what everyone thought would be my last night.

I got lucky. 25 years later, I’m still alive, with a new partner and new dogs. What a gift. Despite what you may think, the real gift was being forced to face my own mortality at such a young age, because the experience made it possible for me to understand with life-changing clarity what matters most in life.

Before all this happened, I knew that my partner, family, friends, and dog were more important to me than any achievements or possessions. Of course, I knew this – we all know it, right? Rationally this made sense to me. But I didn’t feel it in my gut. I didn’t live it. Like most of us, I was defined by my job and my home. I thought this was how others defined me too.

In his book A New Earth spiritual teacher Eckhart Tolle writes beautifully about how we are all taught from an early age to identify with “doing” and “having.” “I am this potato print” “I am this doll.” Our parents, who were themselves shown love by our grandparents through “doing” and “having,” take us to the zoo, the movies or the ball game; they buy us toys and treats. What we crave, first as children and later as adults, writes Tolle, is “being” -the intimate closeness we feel in the wordless connection we get from touch and scent and looking into the eyes of someone we love. This is “being.”

When I was first told by Doctors who really knew what they were talking about that it was unlikely I would live more than a year, everything I’d done, all my achievements, and everything I’d accumulated, all my possessions, meant nothing to me. Nothing. None of the other noise – the gossip, the grudges; the rivalry or competition- meant anything to me either.

Suddenly, all that mattered to me was this: Who I love. And who loves me.

This is why I was not at all surprised to learn of the hundreds of profound end of life experiences, witnessed by an extraordinary palliative care worker, Bronnie Ware. The dying people she listened to had experienced exactly what I had experienced.

When questioned about any regrets they had or anything they would do differently, common themes surfaced again and again. Here are the most common five regrets which Bronnie noted:

1. I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.

This was the most common regret of all. When people realize that their life is almost over and look back clearly on it, it is easy to see how many dreams have gone unfulfilled. Most people had not honored even a half of their dreams and had to die knowing that it was due to choices they had made, or not made.

2. I wish I hadn’t worked so hard.

They felt they’d missed out on some of their children’s youth and their partner’s companionship. A lot of men (and some women) talked about this regret. All of the men Bronnie met deeply regretted spending so much of their lives on the treadmill of a work existence.

3. I wish I’d had the courage to express my feelings.

Many people suppressed their feelings in order to keep peace with others. As a result, they settled for a compromised existence and never became who they felt they were truly capable of becoming. Many developed illnesses relating to the bitterness and resentment they carried as a result.

4. I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends.

Often they would not truly realize the full benefits of old friends until their dying weeks and it was not always possible to track them down. It all comes down to love and relationships in the end, Bronnie concludes. That is all that remains in the final weeks, love and relationships.

5. I wish I had let myself be happier.

This is a surprisingly common one. Many did not realize until the end that happiness is a choice. They had stayed stuck in old patterns and habits. Fear of change had them pretending to others, and to themselves, that they were content. When deep within, they longed to laugh properly and have more silliness in their life.

Based on the article she first wrote, Bronnie released a book titled The Top Five Regrets of the Dying – A Life Transformed by the Dearly Departing. It is a memoir of her own life and how it was transformed through the regrets of the dying people she cared for.

The tragedy is that most of us only come to this profound awareness on our deathbed, when it’s too late for us to do anything about it. All we are left with is our regrets.

I can’t tell you how lucky I feel to have been given a diagnosis, mistakenly believed to be terminal, when I was so young. The expected human life span of 83.4 years is 1000 months. Yes, 83.4 x 12 = 1000. Assuming you will live to 100, you can do your own math to figure out how long you have left. However, if you don’t want to die with a lot of regrets:

Live a life that’s true to who you feel you are, not driven by what others expect

Don’t spend so much time ‘at work’

Express your feelings

Keep in touch with your friends

Laugh and be silly

When you too access your end of life wisdom, you will feel that your life is not about your possessions or your achievements. It’s about who you loved and who loved you. So why not get a jump on it and embrace this wisdom and those you love – right now.

Complete Article HERE!

How the Death Positive Movement Is Coming to Life

From joining coffin clubs to downloading apps like WeCroak, here’s how a growing number of people are living their best life by embracing death.

Are you ready to join the death positive movement?

by Stephanie Booth

Taking a dirt nap. Biting the big one. Gone — forever.

Given the gloom and painful finality with which we speak about death, it’s no wonder that 56.4 percent of Americans are “afraid” or “very afraid” of the people they love dying, according to a Chapman University study.

The cultural mindset is that it’s something terrible to be avoided — even though it happens to all of us.

But in recent years, people from all walks of life have begun to publicly push back against that oxymoronic idea.

It’s called the death positive movement, and the goal isn’t to make death obsolete. This way of thinking simply argues that “cultural censorship” of death isn’t doing us any favors. In fact, it’s cutting into the valuable time we have while we’re still alive.

What does that look like, exactly?

This rebranding of death includes end-of-life doulas, death cafes (casual get-togethers where people chat about dying), funeral homes that let you dress your loved one’s body for their cremation or be present for it.

There’s even the WeCroak app, which delivers five death-relevant quotes to your phone each day. (“Don’t forget,” a screen reminder will gently nudge, “you’re going to die.”)

Yet despite its name, the death positive movement isn’t a yellow smiley face–substitute for grief.

Instead, “it’s a way of moving toward neutral acceptance of death and embracing values which make us more conscious of our day-to-day living,” explained Robert Neimeyer, PhD, director of the Portland Institute for Loss and Transition, which offers training and certification in grief therapy.

Death as a positive mindset

Although it’s hard to imagine, what with our 24-hour news cycle that feeds on fatalities, death hasn’t always been such a terrifying prospect.

Well, at least early death was more commonplace.

Back in 1880, the average American was only expected to live to see their 39th birthday. But “as medicine has advanced, so has death become more remote,” explained Ralph White.

White is the co-founder of the the New York Open Center, an inspired learning center that launched the Art of Dying Institute. This is an initiative with a mission to reshape the understanding of death.

Studies show that 80 percent of Americans would prefer to take their last breath at home, yet only 20 percent do. Sixty percent die in hospitals, while 20 percent live their last days in nursing homes.

“Doctors are trained to experience the death of their patients as failure, so everything is done to prolong life,” White said. “Many people use up their life savings in the last six months of their lives on ultimately futile medical interventions.”

When the institute was founded four years ago, attendees often had a professional motivation. They were hospice nurses, for instance, or cancer doctors, social workers, or chaplains. Today, participants are often just curious individuals.

“We consider this a reflection of American culture’s growing openness to addressing death and dying more candidly,” White said.

“The common thread is that they’re all willing to engage with the profound questions around dying: How do we best prepare? How can we make the experience less frightening to ourselves and others? What might we expect if consciousness continues after death? What are the most effective and compassionate ways of working with the dying and their families?”

“The death of another can often crack us open and reveal aspects of ourselves that we don’t always want to see, acknowledge, or feel,” added Tisha Ford, manager of institutes and long-term trainings for the NY Open Center.

“The more we deny death’s existence, the easier it is to keep those parts of ourselves neatly tucked away.”

Death as a community builder

In 2010, Katie Williams, a former palliative care nurse, was attending a meeting for lifelong learners in her hometown of Rotorua, New Zealand, when the leader asked if anyone had new ideas for clubs. Williams did. She suggested she could build her own coffin.

“It was a shot from somewhere and totally not a considered idea,” said Williams, now 80. “There was no forward planning and little skill background.”

And yet, her Coffin Club generated massive interest.

Williams called up friends between the ages of 70 and 90 with carpentry or design skills she thought could be useful. With the help of a local funeral director, they began building and decorating coffins in William’s garage.

“Most found the idea appealing and the creativity exciting,” said Williams. “It was an incredible social time, and many found the friendships they made very valuable.”

Pearl, a New Zealand Coffin Club member, poses with her pet chicken in her decorated coffin.

Nine years later, although they’ve since moved to a larger facility, Williams and her Coffin Club members still meet every Wednesday afternoon.

Children and grandchildren often come too.

“We think it’s important that the young family members come [to] help them to normalize the fact that people die,” explained Williams. “There’s been so much ‘head in the sand’ thinking involved with death and dying.”

Younger adults have shown up to make coffins for terminally ill parents or grandparents. So have families or close friends experiencing a death.

“There’s lots of crying, laughing, love and sadness, but it has been very therapeutic as all ages are involved,” said Williams.

There are now multiple Coffin Clubs across New Zealand, as well as other parts of the world, including the United States. But it’s less about the final product and more about the company, Williams pointed out.

“It gives [people] the opportunity to voice concerns, get advice, tell stories and mingle in a free, open way,” said Williams. “To many who come, it’s an outing each week that they cherish.”

Death as a life changer

Janie Rakow, an end-of-life doula, hasn’t just changed her life because of death. She helps others do the same.

A corporate accountant for 20 years, Rakow still vividly remembers being mid-workout at a gym when planes struck the World Trade Towers on September 11, 2001.

“I remember saying to myself, ‘Life can change in one second,’” said the Paramus, New Jersey, resident. “That day, I wanted to change my life.”

Rakow quit her job and started volunteering at a local hospice, offering emotional and spiritual support to patients and their families. The experience profoundly changed her.

“People say, ‘Oh my gosh, it must be so depressing,’ but it’s just the opposite,” Rakow said.

Rakow trained to become an end-of-life doula and co-founded the International End of Life Doula Association (INELDA) in 2015. Since then, the group has trained over 2,000 people. A recent program in Portland, Oregon, sold out.

During a person’s last days of life, end-of-life doulas fill a gap that hospice workers simply don’t have the time for. Besides assisting with physical needs, doulas help clients explore meaning in their life and create a lasting legacy. That can mean compiling favorite recipes into a book for family members, writing letters to an unborn grandchild, or helping to clear the air with a loved one.

Sometimes, it’s simply sitting down and asking, “So, what was your life like?”

“We’ve all touched other people’s lives,” said Rakow. “Just by talking to someone, we can uncover the little threads that run through and connect.”

Doulas can also help create a “vigil plan” — a blueprint of what the dying person would like their death to look like, whether at home or in hospice. It can include what music to play, readings to be shared aloud, even what a dying space may look like.

End-of-life doulas explain signs of the dying process to family and friends, and afterward the doulas stick around to help them process the range of emotions they’re feeling.

If you’re thinking it’s not so far removed from what a birth doula does, you’d be correct.

“It’s a big misconception that death is so scary,” said Rakow. “99 percent of the deaths I’ve witnessed are calm and peaceful. It can be a beautiful experience. People need to be open to that.”

Complete Article HERE!