The virus is robbing many people of a ‘good’ death.

How do we change that?

COVID-19 has taken away our ability as a society to avoid the topic of death. But we’ve needed to improve our ‘death literacy’ since well before the pandemic hit.

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For years, we kept death at arms length. We awkwardly avoided it, looked the other way, and hid it behind layers of euphemism.

But since January, death has been inching closer, a drum beat in the back of our minds getting louder as COVID-19 spread around the world. Body counts became the focus of every news update. Field hospitals in Central Park. Mass graves in Italy. A gnawing sense that within weeks, this could happen here.

In the United States, deaths started losing their meaning. The numbers quickly dwarfed 9/11, then Vietnam, then every war combined since Korea. While 189 Australians have died, and the numbers keep rising through Melbourne’s awful outbreak, there’s still a sense of distance. People die from COVID-19 in hospitals, and nursing homes, far away places we can easily ignore.

But with COVID-19, the issue isn’t who dies, or where they die, it’s often how they die. And that is something we, as a death-averse culture, might not be ready for.

A death with dignity

For a culture where talk of dying is so taboo, so many of us want the same thing — a death with dignity.

A good death, says University of Wollongong Associate Professor of General Practice Joel Rhee, can be hard to achieve. But what is key is having a sense of control.

“It’s a death where you’re in an environment where you’re surrounded by people you love. You’ve got some dignity about how you’re going through the last few months,” says Rhee.

“It’s when your concerns, fears, psychological and spiritual needs are taken care of.”

COVID-19 takes away all that. The virus robs people, no matter their age, of any sense of control over their final days.

People die slowly and painfully, choking to death in near silence. They die alone, isolated from friends and loved ones, with exhausted health workers draped in PPE. And when they go, the atomising force of the virus disrupts the post-death rituals that give loved ones the closure they need.

Funerals are restricted to just a handful of people. The whole process of collective bereavement, gathering under one roof to hug and cry, is suddenly too risky. When residents died at St Basil’s in Melbourne, their families couldn’t even enter the facility to collect their belongings.

It’s that loss of dignity and control, that isolation from loved ones, that make the cynical calls to let the virus rip seem all the more callous. Deaths from COVID-19 aren’t just numbers on a spreadsheet. They’re real people, with families who are robbed of the chance to do right by them.

Jennifer Philip, chair of palliative medicine at the University of Melbourne, says the pandemic has made the job of supporting people in their final days so much more challenging.

“A big part of what we do in palliative care is communication and supporting families. But that’s all done remotely, behind layers of PPE,” Philip says.

“When you’re doing telehealth, many of the usual gestures we use are not visible. And there’s a lot of work with connectivity — using iPads and technology that older people may not be comfortable with.”

We need to talk about dying

But even before the pandemic hit, what stops people getting a good death, according to Philip, is our inability to talk about it, often till it’s too late.

“We don’t talk about it in a meaningful way, or grown up way. Certainly not in a nuanced way,” she says.

That’s something Jessie Williams wants to change. She’s CEO of the Groundswell Project, a not-for-profit that is trying to change the way Australians talk about death.

Once upon a time, Williams says, death was sudden and it was everywhere. But as we got wealthier, as medical science advanced, we were better able to draw out our final years, and push it away.

“We don’t see death, we don’t touch it and we don’t smell it,” Williams says.

Williams, who works with businesses, and runs public campaigns, to promote what she terms “death literacy”, says she’s felt a bit of a change during the pandemic.

“We’ve been overwhelmed — we’ve seen more engagement from new people coming on board.

“We’ve had more people coming forward for end of life planning workshops, more people are reaching out to access materials.”

In his work as a general practitioner, Rhee says he’s had more patients wanting to talk about death. They’ve seen the numbers, and the pictures. They don’t want to go like that.

“They see people passing away, and they think about it a bit more,” he says.

The pandemic has upended our lives so much in under a year that it’s hard to tell what will stay entrenched. Even habits like social distancing and hand hygiene, so much a part of our conversations in March, seem to have fallen by the wayside a little.

But perhaps this period, where death is everywhere, could start to subtly rewire how we view the end.

When we understand pain

Sometime around the 4th or 5th Century BCE, in what is now Nepal, there lived a prince. Raised amid total luxury, the prince’s parents did everything to shield him from nasty, brutish and short life outside the palace grounds.

If you can believe it, the prince didn’t leave the palace till he turned 29. The first thing he saw when he’d snuck out was a man whose body was crippled by ageing. He’d never seen old age. Next was a sick man. He’d never seen disease. The prince then came across a funeral procession. He’d never seen death either. The last thing the prince saw was an ascetic — a man who’d given up life. The prince returned troubled by what he saw. The next day, the man who would become the Buddha gave up everything. Jarred by suffering and death, he chose to live the life of an ascetic.

One moral of the Buddha’s story is that the experience of death, of realising the depths of human suffering and the limits of our own mortality, can change us. Like the Buddha, many in the affluent West grow up insulated from death. And while grappling with our own mortality doesn’t necessarily produce such a radical transformation, it at the very least produces conversations and feelings we might not otherwise have.

Philip says when people start talking about death, it can be a moving, humbling and relieving experience. Often, the conversations they have aren’t laced with morbidity. Instead, they’re often far more mundane. People talk about what they value, and, at a time when they’re at their most mature, decide what matters to them.

Perhaps this is the way into talking about death. Because so much of our discomfort around dying is part of a larger, more innate human difficulty with talking about things that are inconvenient. We like to sweep uncomfortable conversations under the rug and forget about them.

The sooner those conversations about who or what matters to us happen, the better. As Philip says:

“You have to tell people you love them, or you forgive them, or you thank them. If those things are unsaid that’s a great tragedy for those left behind.”

Complete Article HERE!

Death is part of life, and there is a lot we can learn from it

There are moments when disease and political protest suddenly make dead bodies far more visible, here are five lessons they can teach us.

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I grew up around dead bodies. In fact, some of my earliest childhood memories are of dead bodies in caskets, and I mean dozens of corpses — not the occasional family friend or relative. The reason I saw so many dead people was because my father was a funeral director for thirty-five years in Midwest America.

Fast-forward now through some strange twists of fate, and I am currently the Director of the Centre for Death and Society at the University of Bath, the world’s only interdisciplinary research centre focused on death, dying, and the dead body. Human mortality looms so large in my upbringing and academic career that my younger sister, Julie, is on the record calling me the Overlord of Death.

As a result of these labours, I published a book called Technologies of the Human Corpse in which I cover the history and meaning we living humans assign to dead bodies by using different kinds of technologies: embalming, photography, rail transport, science museums, detention camps, radical life extension, the list goes on.

I have spent many years trying to understand what the bodies of the dead can teach us about the living, and here are some of the lessons I have learnt.

Dead bodies prove a once-living person died

When you see a dead body, you see causation. Some set of events or actions caused that dead body to be in front of you. Dead bodies do not just happen and require either an internal or external force (sometimes both!) to appear. Place a dead body in any situation and that situation automatically becomes far more serious.

One of the great 17th Century human inventions was the autopsy (literally ‘seeing for oneself ’), which stressed peering into the dead body to understand causes of death. The autopsy’s historical success is also one of the reasons we 21st Century humans find it so distressing when a cause of death cannot be determined.

How is an indeterminate cause of death possible, many people ask, with all our advanced bio-medical technology? And it is on this very ship 1,000 different CSI television programmes sailed…

But set aside the impossible forensics portrayed on popular television programmes for one minute, since we are living in a historical moment dominated by very real dead bodies with clearly defined causation.

Dead bodies from COVID-19. Dead bodies from police violence. Dead bodies from lack of access to necessary medical care. Dead bodies from interconnected social inequality that accelerates death, which leads me to lesson number two.

Dead bodies teach us about politics

Human corpses invisibly surround we the living on a daily basis, so much so that under normal conditions approximately 1,700 people die each day across the UK.

But there are moments when disease and political protest suddenly make these dead bodies far more visible. The current visibility of dead bodies due to COVID-19 and the global protests around George Floyd’s death in Minneapolis are examples when human corpses become a catalyst for action.

Whether it is the over 550,000 COVID-19 deaths from across the globe or the singular dead body of one black man in Minneapolis – these human corpses create new political meanings when answering some fundamental questions: why is this person dead and what political dynamics led to the death?

In many ways we have seen aspects of the current COVID-19 dead body politics before. In chapter 3 of my book I focus on HIV/AIDS corpses and the postmortem political changes produced by that pandemic.

So, for example, a key question during the height of the AIDS epidemic was whether or not it was safe to touch the body of a person killed by the HIV virus. It was safe, but it took many years for that answer to arrive.

Historical examples of dead body politics and race also abound. George Floyd’s death is part of a much broader US context captured in the book Without Sanctuary: Lynching Photography in America (2000) that documents how white Americans collected photographs of lynched black people and turned those images into collectible postcards. I highly recommend this book to any white person wondering why so many black communities feel such rage and anger about their dead.

We don’t always see the dead bodies until suddenly we do and then it is difficult to look away… until we do

I describe lesson three as part of a National Death Infrastructure into which dead bodies are absorbed by any nation’s very local but also quite global system for managing human corpses.

Any National Death Infrastructure includes systems such as local cemeteries and city morgues alongside international air transfer companies handling postmortem repatriations. It is when those systems overload that we begin to see the dead bodies and cannot stop seeing them since there are simply too many corpses to store. The dead bodies must be moved somewhere.

The recent COVID-19 experiences in many cities, New York and London in particular, demonstrate how pandemics can produce mass fatality events that quickly overload the everyday death infrastructure and create the need for rapid adaptation. In these moments of emergent adaptation, we begin to see how quickly the dead really do impact the world of the living.

But many of us do eventually look away and forget about the dead bodies. In the not-to-distant-future, I have a feeling that the dead bodies created by COVID-19 will be forgotten about, especially by the people who did not lose someone close to them.

Here is a quick test – how many people have died from AIDS? The answer is 38 million and counting. That is an enormous number of largely invisible dead bodies.

Dead bodies teach us not to hide the dead bodies

Virological determinism is the concept I use to describe the current US and UK response to the COVID-19 pandemic, that is, we humans blame the virus for creating all the COVID-19 dead bodies as opposed to recognising human failures (and here I mean government leaders as much as anything) at mitigating the contagion.

This is similar to the way we use technological determinism to explain human problems by saying, “…the computer did it!” as opposed to accepting responsibility for our own actions.

COVID-19 created a whole new linguistic dynamic for 2020’s human catastrophes – blame the virus. Name a problem and the coronavirus caused it. And while this is correct in some instances, the virological determinist rationalisation only goes so far with dead bodies.

The sudden surge in COVID-19 dead bodies that overloaded National Death Infrastructures everywhere meant hiding the bodies was not possible. Most countries face a real dilemma right now with care homes since the number of dead cannot be easily glossed over.

Governments may try (and some will surely succeed) but here is a key rule: one dead body makes any given situation a tragedy. Twenty-thousand dead bodies make the same situation a mass fatality catastrophe.

Any government that attempts to hide these dead bodies, and here ‘hiding’ can also mean ‘not acknowledging,’ faces an immediate problem – all attempts at obfuscating the dead will only make their loved ones and advocates work even harder to name the deceased.

There is a parallel here, too, with the George Floyd case. The video recording of his death resonated so deeply because it showed his death in clear-cut terms that meant nothing was going to hide his dead body from public view.

Finally….

Dead bodies teach us about grief and bereavement

I opened these five-lessons with my younger sister Julie calling me the Overlord of Death. Julie died on 29 July 2018 from brain cancer and I wrote at length about her death in the preface to my book. She died in Italy (where she lived), and took her final turn while I boarded a Milan-bound plane at Bristol Airport.

When I arrived at the hospice where she died I immediately asked to see my sister and was taken to her body. I spent a long time talking with Julie about how much everyone loved her and how much everyone would miss her.

I also suddenly found myself next to a dead body, similar in so many ways to my youth, but this time it was my sister. And sitting next to her dead body taught me what loss truly felt like, since I couldn’t just call my sister on the phone and tell her what was happening.

She was dead but that experience with her in the hospice meant that Julie would forevermore remain an active presence in my everyday life. And she is.

Complete Article HERE!

BIPOC in Death Care

The voices of Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) need to be amplified so we are going to use our newsletter and social media platforms to aid in their sharing. Here are a few resources for us to explore racism, privilege, and bias in death care:

Sayin It Louder: A Conversation About “A Good Death” in a Racist Society.

A conversation among death care professionals Alua Arthur of Going with Grace, Lashanna Williams of A Sacred Passing, Joél Simone Anthony of The Grave Woman, Alicia Forneret, Oceana Sawyer, and Naomi Edmondson.

 

Watch the recording of their discussion by clicking here.

Goodbye, Grandpa

– An expert guide to talking to kids about death during Covid

By Robyn Silverman

My daughter’s questions started after a family friend got sick with Covid-19.

“If people are sick, they can just give them medicine so they get better, right?” my daughter asked with the hopeful perspective of an 11-year-old. “They can just go to the hospital so the doctors and nurses can help them?”

The questions stemmed from a positive update my husband gave about his martial arts buddy, John R. Cruz, a first responder being treated at Holy Name Medical Center in Teaneck, New Jersey.

He’s one of the lucky ones.

Not everyone is as fortunate. We’ve already surpassed 124,000 Covid-related deaths in the United States and nearly half a million dead worldwide.

For adults, these numbers are shocking. For children, they are unfathomable. Some can’t even conceptualize the notion of a single death.

It’s natural for parents to want to protect children from the feelings of worry and distress we are experiencing during this pandemic, but decades of research underscores that being honest with children is the best way to mitigate feelings of anxiety and confusion during uncertain times.

Even young kids are aware of the changes in the emotional states of adults and will notice the absence of regular caregivers, including grandparents.

So how do we talk to kids about death and dying during the coronavirus crisis? These are tough talks, no doubt about it. Here are six guiding principles, with sample prompts and scripts, to keep in mind.

Assess what’s age-appropriate

While parents should always be honest about death, the information you divulge may differ in amount and depth depending on the developmental age of your child.

How do you know where your child falls? It’s a best practice to follow your children’s lead and answer their questions without volunteering additional details that may overwhelm them. If you don’t know the answer, it’s OK to admit it.

Children between the ages of 4 and 7 years old believe that death is temporary and reversible, punctuated by the fact that their favorite cartoon characters can meet their doom and then come back the next day for another episode.

Even after you explain that “all living things die” and “death is the end of life,” it’s normal for young children to ask, “When can that person can come back?” Be prepared to remind them, kindly and calmly, that “once a body stops working it can’t be fixed” and “once someone dies, that person can’t return.”

Older children grow out of this “magical thinking” as they enter tweenhood, questioning the meaning of death during adolescence, while often seeing themselves as invulnerable to it. They may want to talk with you about why someone has died and need guidance about which resources they can trust for valid information about coronavirus and Covid-related deaths.

Ask your children, whatever their age: “What have you heard about the coronavirus and how someone might get it? What do you know about what happens when someone gets sick from it?” Clarify the difference between the virus and the disease and explain who is at the highest risk for becoming severely ill from Covid-19.

Prepare yourself

A conversation about death, especially when you are reporting on a family member or close friend, is especially difficult. You don’t want to just blurt out the news without carefully considering your words. Give yourself some time to gather your thoughts and take a couple of deep breaths.

Ask yourself: Do I want another supportive adult with me while I deliver this news? Where in my home would be best to discuss this with my child? Should my child have a special toy or comforting blanket with him or her when we have this conversation?

Even though it’s best to discuss what happened with your child before someone else tells them, taking a few minutes to calm yourself down and be present is important for you and for them.

Explain what happened

If someone in your children’s world does pass away from Covid-19, be sure to tell them honestly, kindly, clearly and simply. Experts agree that parents should avoid euphemisms such as “went to sleep,” “we lost her” or “went to a better place” to avoid confusion.

Instead, you might say; “Sweetheart, remember Grandpa got very sick and has been in the hospital for the last few weeks? His lungs stopped working and couldn’t help Grandpa breathe anymore. The nurses and doctors worked so hard to try to make Grandpa’s body healthy again but they couldn’t make Grandpa better. We are so sad and sorry. Grandpa died today.”

Then pause and listen. You may need to repeat your words a second time as distress can make it difficult to digest information.

Give room for the ups and downs of grief

In a time of suffering, it can be difficult to know what to say. Honesty about your own emotions gives children permission to be open about their own confusion, sadness, anger and fear.

You might admit: “This is all so hard to take in, isn’t it? I am feeling sad, and I’m crying because I miss Grandpa.”

Don’t be surprised if some of your child’s feelings come out all at once, while others may peek out days and weeks after the death of a loved one. Be ready for the unexpected and know that, when children grieve, they may be crying one minute and playing the next. This is normal.

“Grief is not a linear process,” said Joe Primo, CEO of Good Grief, in an interview on my podcast, “How to Talk to Kids about Anything.”

Good Grief is a New Jersey-based nonprofit organization that provides healthy-coping skills to children grieving the loss of a family member.

“Grief is like a roller coaster. It’s up, down, all around. For kids and adults alike, every single day is different. And as the grieving person, you have no idea how your day is going to unfold.”

Answer questions

Many children will ask for more information and want to know why their loved ones didn’t survive. Reiterate that your loved one had Covid-19 and the medical team worked very hard but the disease made it so the body could no longer work. You might tell your child about complications such as asthma that made it difficult to breathe even before the coronavirus.

It is also normal for your child to ask if you or others in their life will get sick or die of Covid-19 so be clear about the precautions your family is taking in order to stave off the illness.

“We are doing everything we can to stay healthy. We are washing our hands with soap and water, keeping our home very clean and staying away from others to keep from getting the virus,” you might say.

“We are also wearing masks and gloves when we are at the store to get groceries. And don’t forget, we are continuing to eat nutritious food, exercise and get good rest to keep ourselves strong.”

Provide ways to commemorate and honor

Given that social distancing is making it increasingly difficult, if not impossible, to grieve alongside loved ones as we typically do when someone dies, it’s imperative that we find a way to allow children to say goodbye and remember. Studies have repeatedly found that when children are part of funerals and celebration of life events, they fare better.

“Funerals are about mourning,” Primo noted, “and mourning is a core component of a child adapting to their new norm, expressing their grief, and getting support from their community.” Without these traditional markers, find other ways to honor your loved one.

For example, have a small home-based ceremony and commemorate the person’s life by planting a tree, doing an art project, reading a poem, eulogizing and saying goodbye. You can also collect letters, video tributes and memories from others and share them with your children. Many have used Zoom to remember those who died. Ask your children, “How would you like to honor and remember _______?”

This conversation may be one of the toughest you will have with your kids, and one that, given the numbers, will be part of many families’ reality as we cope with incredible loss from the coronavirus. It’s stressful for everyone involved — for your children and for you, too.

Continue to reach out for the support you need so you and your children can be cared for during this difficult time. Even while we must be socially distant, no one should have to grieve alone.

Complete Article HERE!

End-Of-Life Planning Is A ‘Lifetime Gift’ To Your Loved Ones

By Kavitha Cardoza

Talking about death makes most of us uncomfortable, so we don’t plan for it.

That’s a big mistake, because if you don’t have an end-of-life plan, your state’s laws decide who gets everything you own. A doctor you’ve never met could decide how you spend your last moments, and your loved ones could be saddled with untangling an expensive legal mess after you die.

Betsy Simmons Hannibal, a senior legal editor at legal website Nolo, puts it this way: Planning for the end of life isn’t about you. “You’re never going to really get the benefit of it. So you might as well think about how it’s going to be a lifetime gift that you’re giving now to your parents or your partner or your children. It really is for the people you love.”

Here are some simple, practical steps to planning for the end of life. These tips aren’t meant to be legal or medical advice, but rather a guide to ease you into getting started.

1. Name an executor.

If you’re an adult, you should have a will, says Hannibal. Estate planning is not just for the rich. “It’s not just about the value of what you own. It’s also the feelings that you and your loved ones have about what you own.”

If you own lots of valuable stuff — real estate, trust funds, yachts — you probably need a lawyer. But for most of us, a simple document could do. Your state or county bar associations usually keep a list of lawyers who do this pro bono. Or you could download an online form like Quicken WillMaker & Trust for less than $100. (Full disclosure: Hannibal works for Nolo, which owns Quicken WillMaker & Trust.)

She says the first thing you do is name (in writing) a person whom you trust to take care of everything when you die. In most states that person is called an executor; in some they’re called a personal representative.

Hannibal says it’s a good idea to choose someone from your family. “The most important thing is that you have a good relationship with them — and also that they have a good attention to detail, because it’s a lot of work to be someone’s executor.”

An executor would have to, for example, find all your financial assets and communicate with everyone you’ve named in your will. It’s a big ask, so Hannibal says just be upfront. She suggests asking the person directly, “Would you be comfortable wrapping up my estate when I die?”

2. Take an inventory.

List everything you own, not just things that are financially valuable — such as your bank accounts, retirement savings or car — but also those things that have sentimental value: a music or book collection, jewelry, furniture. Then list whom you want to leave what to.

If you have young children, name a guardian for them. Choose carefully, because that person will be responsible for your child’s schooling, health care decisions and value system.

Hannibal says pets are considered property under the law, so she suggests naming a new owner so that the state doesn’t do it for you.

Digital accounts are also part of your property. This includes social media accounts, online photos, everything in, say, your Google Drive or iCloud, online subscriptions, dating site profiles, credit card rewards, a business on Etsy or Amazon. Hannibal suggests keeping a secure list of all those accounts and the login and password details. Let your executor know where the list is.

Just as you write out specific instructions about your physical belongings, be clear about what you’d like to happen with your online information.

She says it’s better not to have a handwritten will, because proving you wrote it will require a handwriting expert. So keep it simple. Just type out your wishes and have two witnesses watch you sign and date it. Then have them do the same. Hannibal says by signing it, “they believe that the person who made the will is of sound mind, and that’s a pretty low bar.”

You don’t need to file your will anywhere; neither do you need to get it notarized for it to be legally binding. And don’t hide it. Hannibal says just tell your executor where you’ve kept a copy.

Remember that your decisions will change over time. So if you have a child, buy a house or fall out with a family member, update your will.

3. Think about health care decisions.

Your will takes care of what happens after you die. An advance directive is a legal document that covers health care and protects your wishes at the end of your life.

There are two parts to an advance directive. The first is giving someone your medical power of attorney so the person can make decisions for you if you can’t. The other part is called a living will. That’s a document where you can put in writing how you should be cared for by health professionals.

Jessica Zitter is an ICU and palliative care physician in Oakland, California. She says that we’ve become experts at keeping people alive but that quality of life can be forgotten.

She has seen thousands of situations of loved ones making difficult and emotional decisions around a hospital bed. It’s worse when family members disagree about a course of action.

You know the saying “The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second best time is now”? Zitter says with the coronavirus in the news every day, more people are realizing that these end-of-life conversations are important. “That tree was always important to plant. But now we really have a reason to really, really plant it. … That time is now.”

You may have heard of Five Wishes, which costs $5 and will walk you through choices, or Our Care Wishes, which is free.

4. Name a medical proxy.

Pallavi Kumar is a medical oncologist and palliative care physician at the University of Pennsylvania. Kumar says the most important medical decision you can make is to choose a person who can legally make health care decisions for you if you can’t. This person is sometimes called a medical proxy or a health care agent. Naming the person is the first part of the advance directive.

“Think about the person in your life who understands you, your goals, your values, your priorities and then is able to set aside their own wishes and be a voice for you,” she says. You want someone you trust who can handle stress, in case your loved ones disagree on what to do.

5. Fill out a living will.

After you’ve chosen your medical proxy (and named a backup), you need to think about what kind of care you want to receive. There’s no right or wrong; it’s very personal. The document that helps you do that is called a living will. It’s part two of the advance directive.

A living will addresses questions such as “Would you want pain medication?”; “Do you want to be resuscitated?”; and “Would you be OK being hooked up to a ventilator?”

Kumar says she asks her patients what’s important to them and what their goals are. For some with young children, it means trying every treatment possible for as long as possible, no matter how grueling.

“They would say, ‘If you’re telling me that a chemotherapy could give me another month, I want that month. Because that’s another month I have with my 6-year-old.’ ”

Other patients might want the exact opposite. “They would say, ‘I’ve gone through a lot of treatments and I … feel I’m not having as many good days with my kids. So if the disease gets worse, I want to spend that time at home.’ ”

Kumar says even among patients who are very sick with cancer, fewer than half have had conversations about how they want to die. So talk about your wishes. Once you’ve filled out the advance directive forms, share your decisions with your medical proxy, your loved ones and your doctor.

6. Don’t forget the emotional and spiritual aspects of death.

How you want to die is personal and about much more than just the medical aspect. For some, it’s about being at peace with God; for others, it’s being kept clean. Still others don’t want to be left alone, or they want their pets close by.

Angel Grant and Michael Hebb founded the project Death Over Dinner to make it easier for people to talk about different aspects of death as they eat. “The dinner table is a very forgiving place for conversation. You’re breaking bread together. And there’s this warmth and connection,” says Grant.

Some of the emotional and spiritual questions people talk about are “You were just in a big quake and death is imminent. What are you concerned about not having done?”; “What do you want to be remembered for?”; and “If you could have any musician play at your funeral, who would it be?”

Grant says reflecting on death automatically forces you to think about your life. “That’s the magic of it,” she says.

“We think it’s going to be morbid and heavy. But what these conversations do is they narrow down our understanding of what matters most to us in this life, which then gives us actionable steps to go forward living.”

Grant doesn’t believe a “good death” is an oxymoron. “A good death is subjective, but there are some things that I have heard over and over again for many years at death dinners. … A good death is being surrounded by love, knowing you have no emotional or spiritual unfinished business.”

Complete Article HERE!

When a Grandchild Asks, ‘Are You Going to Die?’

With the coronavirus largely affecting people who are grandparent-aged, it’s a good time to talk with children about death.

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My granddaughter was a few months past 3 years old when she first asked the question, as we sat on the floor playing with blocks.

“Bubbe, are you going to die?”

Nobody is as blunt as a toddler. “Yes, I am going to die one day,” I said, trying to remain matter-of-fact. “But probably not for a very long time, years and years.”

A pardonable exaggeration. Bubbe (Yiddish for grandmother) was 70, but to a kid for whom 20 minutes seemed an eternity, I most likely did have a lengthy life expectancy.

My granddaughter, Bartola (a family nickname, a nod to the former Mets pitcher Bartolo Colon), was beginning to talk about the deceased ladybug she found at preschool. Make-believe games sometimes now featured a death, though a reversible one: If an imagined giant gobbled up a fleeing stuffed panda, he would just spit it out again.

So I wasn’t shocked by what a psychologist would call a developmentally appropriate question. I did mention our conversation to her parents, to be sure they agreed with the way I handled it.

Such questions resurfaced from time to time, even before something she knows as “the virus” closed her school and padlocked the local playground. Though her parents talk about hand-washing and masks in terms of keeping people safe, not preventing death, even preschoolers can pick up on the dread and disruption around them.

Long before the pandemic, it occurred to me that grandparents can play a role in shaping their beloveds’ understanding of death. The first death a child experiences may be a hamster’s, but the first human death is likely to be a grandparent’s.

With tens of thousands of young Americans now experiencing that loss — most coronavirus fatalities occur in people who are grandparent-aged — it makes sense to talk with them about a subject that’s both universal and, in our culture, largely avoided.

Parents will shoulder most of that responsibility, but “grandparents have lived a long time,” said Kia Ferrer, a certified grief counselor in Chicago and a doctoral fellow at the Erikson Institute in Chicago, a graduate school in child development. “They’ve been through historical periods. They’ve lost friends.” We’re well positioned to join this conversation.

But that requires setting aside our own discomfort with the topic when talking to children. “It’s symptomatic of our society that we get nervous about what we tell them and how we’ll react,” said Susan Bluck, a developmental psychologist at the University of Florida who teaches courses on death and dying.

“But if they’re asking questions, they want to know,” she added. If we shy away, thinking a 4-year-old can’t handle the subject, “the child is learning that it’s a bad thing to ask about.”

We want kids to understand three somewhat abstract concepts, Dr. Bluck explained: that death is irreversible, that it renders living things nonfunctional, that it is universal.

We don’t need to prepare a lecture. “Only answer what they’re asking and then shut up,” advised Donna Schuurman, former executive director of The Dougy Center in Portland, Ore., which works with grieving children. “Listen for what they’re thinking. Let them digest it. The next response might be, ‘OK, let’s go play.’”

What and how much our beloveds understand depends on their ages and development, of course. Kids Bartola’s age will have trouble grasping ideas like finality.

They also tend to be awfully literal: My daughter, who knew better but spoke in the moment, once explained the Jewish custom of sitting shiva by saying that the family was going to keep their sad friend company because she had lost her father. “She lost him?” Bartola said wonderingly. “Did he blow away?” Oops, take two.

But 5- to 7-year-olds can think more abstractly. “That’s when they start understanding the cycle of life and the universality of death,” Ms. Ferrer said. And kids 8 to 12 “have an adultlike understanding,” she said, and may want to know about specifics like morgues and funeral rites.

What each age requires of us, experts say, is honesty. Euphemisms about grandpa taking a long trip, being asleep or going to a better place, create confusion. If someone died of illness, Ms. Schuurman advises naming it — “she got a sickness called kidney failure” — because kids get sick too, and we don’t want them thinking every ailment could be fatal.

Ms. Ferrer talks about a loved one’s body not working anymore, and medicine not being able to fix it. Even kindergartners know about toys that no longer work and can’t be repaired.

Nature can be helpful here. On walks, I’ve started pointing out to Bartola the flowers that bloom and then die, the leaves changing color and falling. A lifeless bird in the driveway presents an opportunity to talk about how it can’t sing or fly anymore.

Ms. Schuurman endorses small ceremonies for dead creatures. Wrap the bug or bird in a handkerchief or put it in a box; say a few words and bury it. “Let’s honor this little life,” she said. “It sets an example of reverence for life.”

Psychologists favor allowing children to attend the funerals of beloved humans, too, with proper preparation. In some families, religious beliefs will inform the way adults answer children’s questions.

The professionals I spoke with suggested some material to help grandparents with this delicate task. Ms. Ferrer is a fan of Mr. Rogers’s 1970 episode on the death of a goldfish and the 1983 “Sesame Street” episode in which Big Bird comes to understand that Mr. Hooper isn’t ever coming back.

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Website that helps you plan for death finds success with millennials

By Rebecca Ruiz

Liz Eddy has lost track of how many times she’s told the story that led her to co-found Lantern, a website that helps people tackle the complex logistics of losing someone they love and also plan for their own deaths.

That story starts with a phone call on a Saturday morning from a nursing home with news that Eddy’s grandmother had died. Two police officers and a nurse greeted Eddy in the room where her grandmother’s body lay.

“They looked at me and said, ‘What do you want to do?'” recalls Eddy, who was 27 at the time. “I had no idea what to turn to … and really was just thrown into a rapid Google search where I typed in what do you do when someone dies?”

“I was just thrown into a rapid Google search where I typed in what do you do when someone dies?”

Eddy, who lost her father as a child, anticipated this moment. Her grandmother, who was frail, had done some pre-planning. She’d written a will, completed an advanced directive for her medical care, and told Eddy where she kept important paperwork and belongings.

But Eddy quickly learned that there’d been oversights, including how she might close certain accounts, stop auto-refill prescriptions, and find online passwords. Eddy figured she’d rely on a comprehensive online resource that could walk her through what to do but found none. Instead, she embarked on a “scavenger hunt of websites” for answers.

“I fully expected to find something like Lantern,” she says.

In the midst of coping with her grief and trying to settle her grandmother’s affairs, Eddy walked in the door of her best friend Alyssa Ruderman’s home, and said, “We’ve got to do something about death.”

The pair launched Lantern last fall with $890,000 in pre-seed funding. The website offers free checklists for users who need to plan a funeral, help dealing with logistics that follow a funeral, or assistance sorting out their last wishes in advance of their own death. The site has thousands of users, and to Eddy’s surprise, 40 percent of them are 35 and younger.

Lantern’s appeal to millennials speaks to a number of trends. They may help older parents plan for what happens when they die and then decide to make similar arrangements for themselves. Accustomed to having everything in their lives optimized or organized by a digital tool, the 35-and-under crowd may view online end-of-life planning as a helpful service like any other they use.

In general, talking about dying seems less taboo to many millennials. They encounter the “positive death” movement online, which aims to make conversations about death normal and routine. But millennials also live in a world that seems beset by crisis, whether that’s mass shootings, climate change, or coronavirus. Contemplating what the end looks like is part of being alive.

Anita Hannig, an associate professor of anthropology at Brandeis University who studies death and dying, says people — not just millennials — increasingly want to express their unique selves in death as in life.

The challenge is getting people comfortable enough to consider what that looks like. Eddy and Ruderman have designed Lantern to sound like a compassionate friend who knowingly takes your hand. The site isn’t morbid but instead offers practical information about the choices we can make before we die, like hiring a death doula and how to write a will. Users can compare different burial options, learn how to select life insurance, and explore how they want to be remembered online.

“A lot of people still think that if you’re talking about death too much, there’s an eerie way you’re bringing it about,” Hannig says. “In some ways, having a website like this [is] making death so much more manageable so that you can focus on the actual process of death and dying when it happens.”

Viana McFarland, a 25-year-old New Yorker, discovered Lantern after an employer-sponsored financial planning workshop prompted her to think about what might happen to her belongings and modest savings after she died. After searching Reddit and Google for resources, she found Lantern.

“There were small things I didn’t think about,” McFarland says.

That included the specifics of her burial. McFarland learned that she could let her body decompose in a “mushroom suit,” which hastens the breakdown of a corpse using mushroom spores and other microorganisms. She explored how to donate organs and leave money to the ACLU and Planned Parenthood. Most of all, McFarland wanted to spare her loved ones stress, confusion, and conflict. The time she spent on Lantern felt useful and productive.

“I guess younger people, with more resources at our hands, might become informed sooner or in a different way than our parents and grandparents were,” says McFarland.

More than three dozen articles on Lantern offer advice and insight on common questions. Its checklist offers a step-by-step guide to managing your last wishes. Tasks include making a funeral financial plan, safely storing financial information so it can be accessed by a loved one, and writing a last will and testament.

Lantern is also sentimental. The checklist prompts users to reflect on their legacy, asking about the three best decisions they ever made, what advice they’d give to their younger selves, and what they’d want their grandchildren to know about them.

“These questions were really developed because we started to realize that people don’t ask these questions of their loved ones, and it’s often the thing you think about when they’re gone,” says Eddy, who personally longs to know stories from her father’s life.

While it’s crucial to record the practical and sentimental information, Lantern must also deliver on keeping it secure. The site uses encryption and currently doesn’t collect information it doesn’t feel equipped to protect, such as passwords, wills, and Social Security numbers.

Instead, its business model is based on referring users to services that specialize in certain products, and which Eddy and Ruderman have personally vetted. For estate planning, Lantern recommends Legal Zoom. To help loved ones close online accounts, it suggests the password manager 1Password. Lantern can receive a referral fee when its customers sign up for such services. Eddy and Ruderman are also exploring pitching Lantern to organizations, like life insurance companies and hospitals, whose clients need the information the site has to offer. They’re making the same case to human resources departments who could use Lantern as a benefit for employees who, like McFarland, don’t know how to start end-of-life planning.

Though Lantern will probably offer a premium subscription to users in the future, Eddy and Ruderman are adamant that its basic how-to content and checklists will never be paywalled.

“We don’t think people should not have access to this information because they do not have means,” says Eddy. 

The company can take that stand because it’s a public benefit corporation, which means it plans to pursue a mission-driven approach while also seeking a return for investors. 

“Our vision is to be the central resource that any one person uses to navigate their life before and after a death.”

Nancy Lublin, an entrepreneur who is the founder and CEO of Crisis Text Line and the former CEO of DoSomething.org, made an angel investment in Lantern. Lublin knows Eddy and Ruderman from their previous roles at Crisis Text Line and DoSomething.org, respectively.

She said in an email that Lantern is poised to serve a “huge untapped market. Millennials, in particular, are bound to find Lantern appealing.

“How the heck are people going to deal when their parents and grandparents (fyi: enormous boomer generations) pass away?” wrote Lublin, noting that millennials use digital tools to find everything from roommates to lovers to marijuana. Of course they’d want something similar to help them manage death.

Eddy and Ruderman are aiming to become the first thing anyone turns to when it’s time to grieve a loved one or plan for the end of their own life.

“Our vision is — and always will be — to be the central resource that any one person uses to navigate their life before and after a death,” says Ruderman. “That is our North Star.

Eddy is buoyed by the possibility that she’s helping others avoid what she experienced following her grandmother’s death: “You don’t have to be forced to pick the first thing you see on Google,” she says.

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