The power of language

Explaining dying and death to kids

When we told the kids that we lost grandpa last night, our 5-year-old immediately jumped up and started trying to find him.

Adults tend to use euphemisms, or “code words,” to talk about illness, dying and death. They often do this to soften the news they’re sharing. This can be confusing for children in ways that you might not expect. Because their experience of sickness is usually minor like a cold or ear ache, they may not understand the illness is serious. Or they may not understand the person has died and won’t move or breath again.

This table provides suggestions of clear words and phrases to use.

Explaining life-limiting illness

I explained to the kids that even though I really wanted to play with them and walk them to school the way I used to. I can’t because of the cancer.

More than a cold
When adults explain that someone is sick or ill, children might think this is much the same as an everyday cold or flu. For this reason, it’s important to name the illness or condition. 

Name the illness
Use the words cancer or heart attack. This:

  • Helps even the youngest children understand this is different from a cold or flu.
  • Gives children a name for the changes they are seeing in the person.

My dad is much more tired than usual because of the cancer.

  • Decreases the opportunity for misunderstandings.

Uncle Rob has an illness called cancer. It started in his lung so it’s called lung cancer. Cancer isn’t like getting a cold or the flu. It doesn’t spread from one person to another. Cancer doesn’t work that way. You can still touch mom, hug mom, share food with mom, and you won’t get cancer from her.

Explain the impact
Use clear language to explain how the illness is affecting the person. For example:

Aunt Barb has an illness called ALS. It’s causing her body to not work properly.

If the illness is affecting the person’s thoughts and behaviours, let your child know this:

You may have noticed that your grandma has been acting differently. I’ve noticed that she gets angry more easily. This is because the cancer is in her brain, and this changes her mood and behaviour.

Outline how to behave
Let them know if they need to behave differently than usual when they are with the person who is ill:

I know one of your favourite things is to get in my lap and read stories. Because of the cancer in my bones, I can’t hold you on my lap like I used to, which I feel sad about. Let’s try lying beside one another instead.

Explaining dying

Telling Emma that I’m dying was so hard, but it was important to me that she was prepared for the changes she’s going to see in me as I get closer to death.

When the body dies, it never works again
Your aunt has a lot of cancer in her body, which is causing her body to not work properly. The cancer is stronger than all of the medicines that can be used to try to get rid of cancer. Eventually your aunt’s body will stop working, and her body will die. When the body dies, it never works again.

Address common misunderstandings

  • Sometimes children worry that talking about dying makes it more likely that the person will die. Reassure them that this isn’t so.
  • Let them know that the person who is ill isn’t dying because they didn’t “fight hard enough” or “try hard enough” to stay alive.
  • If it’s true, explain that they very much want to stay alive, but unfortunately the illness is too strong.
  • If the illness is one that not everybody dies from, explain this to your child. For example, Grandma may be dying from cancer but Aunt Shahina also has cancer but is not dying from it.

Explaining death

We totally confused our kids by trying to explain the afterlife without first explaining what happens to the body when someone dies.

We worried about how much to tell the kids. We didn’t want to scare them with too much information.

Where did he go?

It’s important to use the words dying and death. Passed away or passed on can be confusing and too abstract for young children to understand. If we say that we lost grandpa or mom is gone, children often wonder:

Gone where?

Why aren’t we looking for him?

Did I do something to make her leave?

When is she coming back?

Explaining to young children

Start by explaining what happens to the physical body.

When a body dies, it stops working and can never work again.

The body doesn’t think or feel anymore so it doesn’t get cold or hungry and it can’t feel pain.

The body can never come back to life.

It’s best to explain that “the body” includes the person’s head. Young children often think that “body” means from the neck down – and so they may mistakenly imagine the body of the person who has died with no head.

To show them the difference between being alive and dead, ask them to jump up and down, breathe in and out, and feel their own heart beating.

When a person dies, they can’t jump around, they stop breathing and their heart can’t beat or work anymore.

Discussing cause of death

If your child asked what caused the death, give an honest and simple explanation.

Your sister was hit by a car. Her body was so injured that she died.

Your uncle had a heart attack. This caused his heart to stop working and he died.

Unless they ask, you don’t need to describe what happened in detail. If they do ask, let their questions guide which information to give, and answer them honestly.

How these conversations help

As difficult as these conversations were, they’ve actually brought us closer together. I feel the kids trust that I’ll include them when hard things are happening in our family.

  • When you’re willing to discuss difficult topics, your children learn that:
  • Hard conversations can happen safely.
  • They’re a valued member of the family.
  • They can talk with you about life’s most challenging experiences.

Complete Article HERE!

What to Say (and What Not to Say) to Someone Who’s Grieving

By David Pogue

Do you laugh when someone’s grocery bag bursts? Do you find yourself stealing cabs? Have you shouted at puppies?

If you answered yes to any of these, then you may have Empathy Deficit Disorder.

For this Crowdwise, I asked you to recount some helpful things people said or did when you were in mourning — and to share some things that were decidedly unhelpful.

Your responses make it clear that Empathy Deficit Disorder (not a real condition, but maybe it should be) has reached epidemic proportions:

  • “After our daughter was stillborn,” wrote Wendy Thomas, “a colleague told me I shouldn’t have used the photocopy machine.”
  • “My first husband died of cancer when he was 35 and I was 26,” recounted Patrice Werner. “I still recoil when I think of the number of people who said, ‘You’re young; you’ll find someone else.’”
  • “My only child, Jesse, died by suicide at age 30,” Valerie P. Cohen recalled. “A friend wrote, ‘I know exactly how you feel, because my dog just died.’”

To be fair, knowing the right thing to say doesn’t come naturally. We’re neither born with that skill nor taught it. Our society generally avoids talking about death and grieving. Many of us haven’t had much experience with people in desperate emotional pain, so it’s not always obvious when we’re helping and when we’re hurting.

May the following pointers be your guide, brought to you by people who’ve been on the receiving end.
Rule 1: It’s not about you

Too many friends and acquaintances want to talk about how your loss affects them.

When Linda Sprinkle’s husband died, for example, she encountered many people who wanted to share their own grief stories. “They thought that it showed that they understood how I felt — but their grief is different from my grief,” she wrote. “I ended up dredging up emotional energy I didn’t have to comfort them.”

In her own mourning, Natalie Costanza-Chavez endured a parade of similarly self-focused remarks.

  • “Oh my God, I could never handle what you are going through!” (Costanza-Chavez’s mental reply, “Yes. Yes you could. You just do. And, you would. Don’t further isolate me with your own projecting.”)
  • “I didn’t call because I figured you wanted to be alone.” (Her: “Even if I did, you should always call, write, email, or text.”)
  • “I didn’t visit because I hate hospitals. I don’t do hospitals.” (Her: “No one likes hospitals, no one, unless perhaps you are visiting a new baby. Do it anyway.”)
  • “I’m so sorry for your loss to lung cancer. Did he smoke?” Or, if it was a heart attack, “Was she overweight?” (Her: “You are just trying to find reassurance that this scary, scary thing won’t happen to you. Stop it.”)

Ann Weber, a social psychologist who specializes in loss and grief, has identified another well-meaning but frustrating platitude, “Let me know if you need anything.”

“That suggestion seems like an innocuous promise,” Weber wrote, “but it’s often an exit line, just a way of escaping after the service or condolence call. And it puts the onus on the bereft person to be the one to ask for help.”

Rule 2: There is no bright side

You’ll hear many remarks that are intended to soothe you or lighten your mood. In principle, it’s a kind gesture. In reality, it’s never welcome.

When you’ve lost someone you love, you’re in a dark, raw place. Nothing anyone can say is going to cheer you up, especially observations that begin with the words, “At least.”

“At least she isn’t suffering,” was a particularly unhelpful line submitted by Beth Braker, who had to hear it. “At least you have other children,” recalled Margaret Gannon. “At least she didn’t die of AIDS,” remembered Jill Falzoi. “At least now you can have your own life,” Mary Otterson heard. (“I always had my own life,” she added. “Now I just have it without her in it.”)

And, from Emma St. Germain’s financial adviser, “At least you can move to another state now, with a more favorable tax environment.”

Crystal Hartley summed it up like this: “If you’re going to start off with ‘At least,’ just stop. It’s not going to be helpful. You’re trying to force them to look at the positive when they’re feeling terrible. Just acknowledge that the situation is bad enough exactly as it is, and validate their feelings.”

Humor, on the other hand, is tricky enough under the best of circumstances; when someone is in emotional agony, it can be excruciating. Don’t be the cousin who approached Frances Rozyskie at her father’s funeral to blurt out, “So! You’re an orphan now!”

Rule 3: Be careful with religion

Offering your beliefs about God and heaven to a nonreligious person can land with a thud, too. If the recipient doesn’t share your beliefs, you’re likely to add offense to the insensitivity.

When she learned that she had lost identical twins to a miscarriage, Donna Hires was devastated. “I ran into a friend who said words I will never forget, ‘Oh, I heard it was twins. I guess God didn’t think you could handle two at once.’ It took me years to forgive her.”

“In support groups for parents, ‘God never gives you more than you can handle’ is universally known as one of the cruelest comments for devastated parents to receive,” added Wendy Prentiss, whose 6-year-old nephew was diagnosed with a deadly cancer. “It suggests that the parents are weak for being crushed. It comes across as judgmental and tone deaf.”
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It also suggests, wrote Kathryn Janus, “that God had a hand in the death, and that’s just awful. And, P.S., sometimes the death is more than the bereaved can handle.”

Unless you’re certain that the bereaved shares your faith, then it’s best to avoid these remarks, passed along by readers like Nancy Field, Kathryn Janus and Kirsten Lynch: “She’s in a better place now,” “It was God’s plan,” “God wanted him up in heaven” or “You’ll see her again someday.”

Rule 4: Let them feel

One final bit of advice, “Don’t tell a grieving person how to feel. They may need to be vulnerable. They may need to cry for days on end,” wrote Kathryn Janus. In other words, don’t say things like, “Stay strong” or “Be strong.”

Indeed, the most helpful thing anyone said to Teresa Brewer in her time of loss was, “Whatever you are feeling, and whenever you are feeling it, it’s O.K.”

“I can’t tell you how liberating that was for me as I grieved,” she wrote. “There were times when many would think that I or my family should be somber, but we were howling with laughter. So it helps to be given permission for the feelings you have.”

What you can do, and should say instead

That list of what not to say includes many people’s go-to lines. So what should you say?

“If you knew the person, tell the mourner a story about that person — ideally in written format, because the family passes these around. There is no greater gift than a story about the loved one at the very moment it seems there will never be new stories,” Leslie Berlin wrote.

And if you didn’t know the person who died? Ms. Berlin suggests: “I didn’t know your [mom/dad/friend/sibling/child], but based on who you are, s/he must have been [nice adjective here].”

If you have only a moment to interact with the bereaved, like in passing or at a funeral, here are some of your best suggestions:

  • “I know how much you loved her.” — Beth Braker
  • “I wish I had the right words for you.” — Kathryn Janus
  • “I can’t imagine what you are going through, but I am here to listen if you need me.” — Wendy Loney

For Karen Hill, “‘I’m so sorry’ is still the simplest and best.”

Finally, if you really care, do something practical to help. Launch into action.

“There’s a huge range of support. A hug in that moment, bringing food, listening when the person needs to talk, checking in, reaching out during the holidays,” wrote Patrice Werner. “Just do something. You will feel worse in the long run if you do nothing.”

The key, advised Margaret Gannon, is, “Don’t offer, just do it. Show up with lunch (or dinner). Drop in and do my laundry. Take the kids out for a few hours. And most importantly, talk about the person who died. I don’t want him to be forgotten.”

Christy Goldfinch summed it all up in her recollections of her husband’s death two years ago at 57. “The main things I remember were lots of hugs, and ‘I am so sorry,’ and personal anecdotes about Frank’s intellect, his wit, his compassion, his skill,” she wrote.

“Oh, and one other very helpful thing, folks bringing barbecue and beer to the memorial. This was Texas, after all.”

Complete Article HERE!

A cartoonist drew a touching tribute to his dying dog.

His readers gave him an outpouring of sympathy.

Stephan Pastis’s tribute to his dog, Edee.

By Michael Cavna

Stephan Pastis ducked into an Arizona coffeehouse last September and began to grieve. He sketched and cried as he wrote the words, “We put our dog to sleep on Wednesday.” The plot twist was, about 800 miles away, Pastis’s dog was still alive, though her time drew near.

Edee, a loving and gentle springer spaniel, was the only dog Pastis had ever had. Now here he was, a cartoonist who uses drawing as a coping technique, on a personal trip far from his Northern California home, unable to comfort Edee and say goodbye to her one last time before she was put down.

The resulting art was not the sort of sentiment that readers usually expect from Pastis, a former lawyer. As the creator of the popular comic “Pearls Before Swine,” he entertains millions of fans by often trafficking in darker and snarkier human emotions, as channeled through a gallery of animal characters, including the self-serving Rat and the wide-eyed innocent Pig.

Although some comic-strip creators draw upon events from their personal lives for inspiration, most cartoonists don’t share their experiences directly through their work, free of fictive elements or filtering techniques. But on that emotional day in Phoenix — where Pastis was visiting his father, who has Alzheimer’s disease — the cartoonist decided to get as directly personal as an artist can get. “I’ve always run to my creativity to cope with life,” Pastis says.

The main characters in “Pearls Before Swine,” by Stephan Pastis.

So he wrote that Edee had cancer. He wrote that she was so sweet that “even kids that were afraid of dogs would pet her.” He wrote that she would “protect” him from squirrels and a stuffed mallard duck while he worked in his Santa Rosa studio. And he wrote of the “hurt” in the hearts of his family, including his wife, their 21-year-old son and 17-year-old daughter.

The punchline-free purity of that comic strip, published in December, struck a chord. Hundreds of readers contacted Pastis. And this week, his syndicate, Kansas City-based Andrews McMeel, announced that the Edee strip was its most buzzed-about comic of 2018, with nearly 500 comments and almost 1,200 “likes.”

That speaks, his syndicate says, to the power of going personal.

“It connects the readers to the comic at a whole different level,” says John Glynn, president and editorial director of Andrews McMeel Syndication. “It can, however, be jarring if the audience isn’t used to it.

“Stephan has done it well and regularly enough over the years,” Glynn continues, “that his readers know that they see a version of the cartoonist that you don’t see in most comics.”

A recurring character in “Pearls Before Swine” is an avatar of Pastis, comedically depicted as a beer-bellied, stubble-faced, overambitious and pun-happy hack whose work is insulted by the very characters he has created. But on occasion, Pastis the avatar will share an honest, true-life slice of himself.

When those genuine ideas come, Pastis says, he typically tries to draw them, even if he ultimately doesn’t publish them — because he doesn’t want to gum up the creative flow.

“When I sit down to write,” he says, “what’s there is there. When something tragic has happened” — from the death of a relative, say, to the enormity of a terrorist act — “the ideas seem to have a narrow spigot, and what’s there is something you have to get out — you have to write it.”

Last September, though, Pastis was feeling especially emotional. He had just come from being on set for a Disney film adaptation of his kids’ book series, “Timmy Failure.” Now here he was in Phoenix, where his father did not recognize him, and then his wife called to say that Edee would need to be put to sleep within hours to minimize the pet’s suffering — much sooner than they had expected.

“I was all by myself out there,” he says.

Edee, the family pet of “Pearls Before Swine” creator Stephan Pastis.

The cartoonist walked to the Lux Central cafe, pulled his ball cap down low and got lost in his art, listening to such mournful music as “To Build a Home” by the Cinematic Orchestra. He was trying to communicate through pictures both his love for his pet — he never had a dog as a boy and had come to fear dogs after once being bitten — and the degree to which Edee had become a part of the family over six years.

Edee was due to be put down at 11 a.m. Pastis finished drawing and headed to the Phoenix Art Museum — where he gazed at Frida Kahlo’s 1938 painting, “The Suicide of Dorothy Hale” — before calling his wife to hear how Edee’s final moments went.

Pastis had touched many readers in 2003, when he created a heart-wrenching comic after watching a news report about a bus attack in Jerusalem that killed six children. And the cartoonist got especially personal in 2012 when a poignant “Pearls” strip eulogized his father-in-law.

For Edee, Pastis let that creative spigot again flow.

“Sometimes when you write from the heart, in a moment like that, it has a way of distilling the essence of what is in you in a very straight, direct way,” Pastis says. “What comes out is sometimes pretty meaningful.”

When the strip ran Dec. 9, the immediate response was strong and uncommonly large, the cartoonist says. Many of the readers who contacted him had recently lost their pets.

Wrote one commenter on the syndicate’s site: “Your comic is really hard to read. I can tell because my eyes are starting to sweat.” Some readers offered thanks and condolences and spoke of a pet’s afterlife across “the Rainbow Bridge.” Another commenter said: “Sometimes the best comics are the sad ones.”

A comic strip like that, Pastis says, “provides a sort of release of emotion — it becomes this thing they can connect to.”

And comics have the ability, he continues, “to comment on your life in a way that helps you and the people around you.”

Complete Article HERE!

How to die the way you want

Tackling the tough questions over a cup of tea or coffee


We’re all dying, every one of us.

But we learn early on that despite the fact our lives are universally finite, most people don’t want to talk about it.

We’ll talk sex, we’ll talk drugs, we’ll even talk money—but not death.

That could be changing with the proliferation of so-called Death Cafes, informal get-togethers in cities across America, Europe and Asia, where people eat a little something, drink some coffee maybe and talk about, well, the inevitable.

The mission is to revamp typically depressing and urgent end-of-life discussions to more leisurely “Everything-I-Wanted-To-Know-About-Death-But-Was-Afraid-To-Ask.”

The conversation ranges, and depends on the group of people who’ve gathered: anything from how much a funeral costs to the details of a “green” funeral (think: corpse as compost) to tips on how to talk to your family members about your own funeral.

There’s a range of people who attend, too, from someone who had a death in the family and wants to be better prepared next time, to health care providers who want a different perspective on dealing with death. They range in age from 20-somethings to 90-somethings.

The object: to turn death from a feared end to something that is part of life.

“Death Cafés change the way you live in the most profound and wonderful way,” says Kim Mooney, 67, who runs monthly meetings in Longmont, Colorado.

Mooney even held a few events in a mortuary. “I like to say it’s the only time you will walk in and walk out of one, so you might as well take advantage of it.”

Death café hosts tend to have a sense of humor.

Death on twitter

If you want to confirm the popularity of the death positive movement, just go on social media. There’s The Death Café Facebook group, which lists times and dates of meeting and has more than 50,000 likes and followers. 

Or you could follow Death Café on Twitter

Advocates say the meetings allow people a low-pressure way to express fears about the Great Unknown; to chat about the way other cultures handle death; and to share practical information, such as learning the nuts and bolts of filling out end-of-life forms.

Talking with strangers, hosts say, is often an easier way to broach the topic before launching a conversation about death with loved ones.

Lizzy Miles is a hospice social worker who hosted America’s first café in 2012 in Westerville, Ohio. She baked cookies in the shape of tombstones with grey icing and “Death Café” where the epitaph normally goes.

She is one of more than a 100 Death Café hosts in this country. She’s still hosting—and still making treats—for nearly a dozen people who show up each month.

Yes, these are the cookies Lizzy makes for her Death Café guests in Ohio.

“No one ever comes to a Death Café already uncomfortable talking about death,” she says. “If you are, you’re not going to come. We have a lot of sandwich generation people, who are taking care of their parents.”

Miles is so committed she even traveled to a Death Café in Hong Kong—“on my own dime!”—to see what it was like. 

“It was amazing, people were speaking English and Mandarin and Cantonese,” she says. “And I thought ‘Oh my gosh, all these different languages. This is pretty cool but almost exactly the same.’” 

Dos and don’ts

Anyone can be a host, but there are guidelines. The Death Café website has a set of guidelines and Miles herself was a co-author on an article that included a list of dos and don’ts in the Omega Journal of Death and Dying: 

Do: Allow a space for folks to share their ideas respectfully and openly. 

Do: Offer the opportunity for everyone to speak but allow those who want to remain silent to do so. 

Don’t: Charge an admission fee. 

Don’t: Sell death-related products. 

Don’t: Turn the group into grief support. 

Miles and others believe that confronting our mortality will prompt us to the make the sorts of life changes that some folks do only when confronted with a fatal disease. Why wait? 

Shellie Balogh, a 61-year-old hospice nurse attended one of Miles’ cafés in Ohio.

 “It wasn’t what I expected; it was more upbeat,” she says. “It’s a fun thing to do if I have a free Saturday. You go and meet people you may never see again and just have this conversation, opening up this forbidden area of discussion.” 

A midwife for dying

Suzanne O’Brien hosts a New York City group that meets at a public library on the Upper West side. She’s a nurse turned death doula.

Death doulas—part of this burgeoning “death-positive” movement—provide the same sort of bedside care, comfort and companionship that birth doulas offer to pregnant women but at the other end of the life cycle. 

O’Brien said monthly conversations tend to fit into five buckets, sometimes all five covered in one 90-minute session: 

The physical: How do I make sure I’m comfortable during my dying hours. What do I want to happen to my body? 

The financial: What forms do I need to fill out? Or how much money do I want to spend on a funeral versus, say, end-of-life care? 

The emotional: How do we deal with potential regrets or forgiveness? 

The mental: Reasoning and acceptance  

The spiritual: How do beliefs about death inform the way we live.  

One woman wanted to know how to donate her body to a medical school anatomy class. She also wanted to make sure her family would not be given the leftovers when the students are done picking her apart, something she had heard can happen. 

She told the group: “I’d rather just be flushed.” 

Banishing the secrecy

The idea of a group of a random community members chatting about death over refreshments was the brainchild of Swiss sociologist Bernard Crettaz. He launched a “Café Mortel” in 2004 in the lakeside town of Neuchâtel, Switzerland. A dozen mortal members attended. 

The point, as he once told a reporter for the Independent, a British newspaper, was to remove death talk from its “tyrannical secrecy.” 

The first cafe outside of Switzerland was held by John Underwood,  who hosted in his London basement in 2011. He’s given credit for helping the movement go global; he died last year, at the age of 44, from undiagnosed leukemia.

Today, there are death-with-food meetings in about 55 countries—including the U.K., Italy, Hong Kong, Finland, the Netherlands and New Zealand.

Becoming a regular

Those who are regulars say that while the subject matter is death, the meetings are not sad. Hosts emphasize that they are not grief support groups, more death-curious groups.

Jane Geller, a retired schoolteacher in New York City attends the Upper West Side meeting nearly every month.

“It’s a misnomer to think it’s depressing,” she said. “Death Cafés are really about life.” 

Shatzi Weisberger, an 88-year-old retired nurse from New York City is a regular, too. 

 “I was always especially interested in how we come into this world and how we leave it. When I got into my eighties, I got personally interested for my own edification.” 

Last fall, she hosted her own “FUN-eral” (pronounced Funn-eral) in the common room of her apartment building. More than 100 attendees came to the event. It sounded like a macrabe-themed birthday but she said it was a death, not a birth, party. And a way to attend her own funeral. 

She said she has planned her own green burial. “I’m going to be wrapped in a shroud and buried in the woods upstate and my body will deteriorate and something will grow.  I don’t know if it will be grass or flowers or a tree so I feel my dying is bringing life into the world. That’s not depressing at all.”

Complete Article HERE!

I’m 33, Healthy, and Planning My Own Funeral

By Susie Bearne

I was 33 when I decided to plan my funeral. I was healthy, and I would describe myself as a glass-half-full kind of person. In other words, I’m not morbid, and I don’t have a death wish.

But over the years, the thought of my own funeral constantly popped up in my mind. Who would turn up? What music would be playing? And — with a good degree of narcissism — which ex-lover overwhelmed with grief would be lingering in the back pews? While friends planned their weddings, I had a different milestone that I wanted to plan for: the end of my life.

The more I started to think about the funeral, the more I wondered how my funeral might play out outside of my daydreams, given I wouldn’t be there to orchestrate it. If I were to die, how would my family know whom to invite? And as an eco-vegetarian, would my funeral reflect the principles I’d lived by? It dawned on me that my final soiree might actually be my own worst kind of party, with me wanting to jump out of the coffin and scream, “FFS, James Blunt?” as “You’re Beautiful” played softly in the background and everyone quietly wept into plates of frozen, beige party food.

One day, I read about Louise Winter – an editor turned funeral planner – online. According to her website, Winter founded Poetic Endings, a business dedicated to creating bespoke funerals, ensuring that send-offs could be stylish, meaningful and unique. I was intrigued. Could she help me plot out my big day?

I met Louise at The House of Saint Barnabas in Soho in London. Over a pot of green tea, she gently asked about my experience attending funerals. The funerals I’d attended were quite traditional and stuffy — black limousines, black clothes, and mostly somber, never really reflecting the spirit of the person who’d died.

Then, Winter quizzed me about every aspect of my future funeral.  Would I like to be buried or cremated? What I would like to be dressed in? Did I want to be embalmed? She explained that funerals didn’t always have to be held in a church, as I’d previously assumed. She also enlightened me on things I never knew, including the fact that I didn’t have to have my funeral in a church, and that it’s actually more environmentally-friendly to have a woodland burial than a cremation.

The cost of Louise’s services came to just under $400. For that, I got three hours of what is essentially event planning, guided by an industry expert. Following the one-to-one, Louise sent me a document which outlined the practical arrangements of my funeral such as keeping my body in a natural state and making sure people wear whatever clothes they want — color is encouraged. The document, which Louise sent to me, is a loose plan of how I’d like my big day to pan out. It can be updated by me at any time, and I’m not legally bound to any of it.

I decided on a candle-lit service in a historical house in London, where friends and family will be welcomed with glasses of Champagne for during the service and be encouraged to stand up and share anecdotes (note to friends: be funny). The after party is set to be in the same venue or a nearby pub, with guests encouraged to bring a vegetarian dish for a huge buffet. Other requirements include no embalming, a bamboo coffin, and a woodland burial near my parents’ home, complete with a tree planted nearby.

I get that it all sounds a little bit…intense. However, I’m not the only one preparing their funeral.

Over the past decade, there’s also been increased interest in dedicated spaces where people can discuss death and grief. For example, more than seven thousand Death Cafes, where strangers are encouraged to talk about death over tea and cake have been held across 68 countries since the social network was founded in 2011.

“When it comes to end-of-life planning and our relationship to death and dying, avoidance doesn’t work; it doesn’t prevent a person from dying, but it may prevent them from dying a good death,” says Lennon Flowers, co-founder and executive director of The Dinner Party, which encourages those who experienced loss to join others for a meal.

The rising societal urge to speak up about death and celebrate life has led to Reimagine, a non-profit which hosts events in San Francisco and New York across spaces ranging from hospitals to comedy clubs. “By bringing death out of the shadows and repurposing public spaces where all types of people are invited not just to talk about death we’ve seen a process of personal and community-wide transformation emerge,” says founder and executive director Brad Wolfe.

Amy Cunningham, owner of Brooklyn-based funeral directors Fitting Tribute Services, believes that millennials are far more aware of their own mortality — perhaps because of the current political climate and the rise of mass violence. “Death can strike at any moment,” she says. “This causes younger people to contemplate it and even get creative with what’s inevitable – as sad as that is. Young people want to break more of the old funeral rules and customs and make the funeral work for them.”

Danielle Ripley-Burgess, 35, a freelance communications consultant living in Kansas City fine-tuned her funeral plans on her own as part of her 2019 New Year’s resolutions. “I was diagnosed with colon cancer 18 years ago and I’ve thought about death a lot ever since,” she says. “Attending funeral services for friends, family and fellow cancer fighters has given me a lot of ideas.”

She describes her funeral as a “pop-music filled, colorful celebration of life full of faith-based Bible verses and songs that allude to the hope I find in death” – and with a taco bar serving up food. “When we pass away, our loved ones will be those suffering the most, yet they’ll also be tasked with handling our affairs. Making funeral plans is a small way to lighten their load,” says Ripley-Burgess.

It was following the death of her mother that motivated Alica Forneret to consider her own funeral. “I realized that there’s a lot of damn work involved with planning a funeral, especially when you’re grieving,” says Forneret, 30, from California. “I eventually realized that it was super important for me to start thinking and talking about this stuff with my family and my fiancée, because I didn’t want to put any of them in a situation where they weren’t prepared to execute on what I want done when I die.”

Forneret, a writer who now lives in Vancouver, says her funeral plans so far includes “good food” because “grieving is hard work and our bodies need to be nourished during those times” and ensuring someone tells jokes. “In short, I want my funeral to be positive and sad, to help people connect in their lives that’ll continue after I’m dead.”

“We are all going to die,” Forneret continues. “Preparing your family and friends in advance is really, really important. Then they can just ride the waves of grief without having to pick out fillings for the tiny sandwiches that’ll be served at your wake or what celebrant is going to MC your funeral.”

As for me, my environmentally-friendly and simple but stylish funeral looks set to be a beautiful and meaningful day, reflective of who I was — or rather, am. Knowing that my grieving family, doesn’t need to frantically worry about what songs I would have wanted to play, who to invite or if I wanted to be cremated means I leave knowing there’s one less headache for them. But one thing’s for sure, if it turns out to be quite the party and I’m in the heavens looking down, I’ll be absolutely gutted that I can’t be there.

Complete Article HERE!

Is This How We Conquer Our Fear of Death?

It is both absolutely possible and absolutely necessary to reframe the national dialogue around death, and make it a more open and honest discussion.

By Sarah John

Sarah John

It is a well-documented fact that few topics are as taboo as death. According to Psychology Today, current American society sees death and dying “as profoundly ‘un-American’ experiences” because they force us to confront our own lack of control. In a society that prizes individualism and forging one’s own fate, the finality of death threatens the way that many Americans choose to view themselves. Normally, we choose to avoid discussing the subject. “Instead of confronting their own mortality, many Americans tend to label such talk as ‘morbid’ and try to stave it off — along with death itself — as long as they can,” author, anthropologist and Brandeis University professor Anita Hannig said.

For most Americans, there is never a good time to talk about death — and that includes the times when they or someone they know has been touched by it.

When I lost a parent, several people in my own life were extremely uncomfortable with the vulnerability that surrounds death, mourning and tragedy. Throughout that period, I felt that my job was to recover as quickly as possible from grief so as to be “normal” again as if grief was an unnatural or perhaps inconvenient process. It took time for me to realize it is neither of those things. Even today, mentioning loss can be stressful, as I worry about how best to explain my situation without “killing the mood.” In my experience, I find that most people would prefer to never think about death, even as it affects people around them.

Can we conquer our societal fear of death? Given the strong aversion most people have to the topic, I have spent some time grappling with that question.

In the end, I believe the answer is yes. It is both absolutely possible and absolutely necessary to reframe the national dialogue around death and make it a more open and honest discussion.

The first thing that is essential to understand is that our national beliefs regarding death are inextricable from a number of other issues. Our thoughts on death, widows and widowers, hospice care, national tragedy, suicide and the rights of the terminally ill are all tangled together. If we cannot discuss tragedy at an individual level, then we are also unable to discuss how to better the lives of those affected by it.

Initiatives to open up dialogue around death have already begun. In January 2011, after finishing mortuary school, Caitlin Doughty started The Order of the Good Death. The Order describes itself as “a group of funeral industry professionals, academics, and artists exploring ways to prepare a death phobic culture for their inevitable mortality.” The Order encourages creating a conversation about the topic of death, partially so people can ensure their end-of-life wishes are met. The Order also highlights the importance of legal protections for the dying and dead, and the importance of equal access for everyone to have their death rites fulfilled. We can also look to when in 2016, noticing the lack of conversation around death, Hannig designed the class “Anthropology of Death and Dying.” After taking the class, students reported numerous gains, including more respect for the elderly. One student decided to intern at a hospice over the summer. Another said the class helped her process her grief for a loved one.

Today, you can even download the WeCroak app, which sends you five daily reminders that everyone, well, croaks — so we all better choose to live well.

Death is a sad and tragic reality of life, and one that can’t be ignored. It is never something to be glorified or celebrated. But it eases death’s pain for everyone when we can, at the very least, calmly acknowledge mortality. It is true that discussing death is extremely uncomfortable in most circumstances. But living in fear of death — and isolating those that have experience with it — is a much worse fate.

Complete Article HERE!

The Game Of Death: You Win By Talking About Yours The Best

By Gabrielle Emanuel

It’s game night on the top floor of a bank building in Medford, Mass., and 25 people have divvied themselves up around the circular tables. Four women, none of whom know each other well, are seated near the snacks busily discussing their future burials.

Katie Wallace, a native of nearby Somerville, is confident she wants to be cremated. But it’s a bit more complicated for her. The urns are accumulating. “I have a room in my house where I have the ashes of six different people,” she says. “So I have to figure out what to do with all of those people.”

As a lavender dusk settles outside the floor-to-ceiling windows, the women chuckle about whether Wallace should pass this “inheritance” on to a younger relative or, perhaps, invest in a columbarium.

This isn’t just small talk. It’s part of the game. These woman and men, all of whom are older, have gathered to play a card game — one with chips, a deck of cards, and a winner and losers. But this isn’t poker or blackjack.

Question 15: What music do you want to be listening to on your last day alive?

The game, called My Gift of Grace, aims to facilitate conversations about the end of life. It’s part of a growing trend: efforts aimed at encouraging talk of death well before it is imminent. From The Conversation Project to Honoring Choices and another card game called Go Wish, all seek to find ways around the usual distaste for facing death in advance, so that people can better control the care they receive at the end.

“I think we are on the early cusp of what I hope will become a groundswell of change,” said Dr. Lachlan Forrow, director of the Ethics and Palliative Care Programs at Boston’s Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, in a phone interview.

The idea for this game started when The Action Mill, a Philadelphia-based design firm, was interviewing a hospice nurse, remembers Nick Jehlen, who ultimately led the game’s design team.

“She said: ‘The most important thing you could do to make my job easier would be if you could make sure that everybody who shows up for me has had one conversation about the end of their life with their family, just one.’ ”

Dr. Forrow says that having that one conversation is a lot harder than it sounds; for most people, talking about death is incredibly difficult. “It is like the biggest, existential, overwhelming, huge issue for anybody: that we are mortal.”

But Jehlen and his team weren’t deterred. They set out to make that conversation a little bit easier.

A Game About The End Of Life

The first step for the design team was thinking about everything they wanted for the end-of-life conversation: they wanted it to be done in person, with a family sitting around a table together, and everyone having a pleasant time.

A card game checked all the boxes. “Nobody gets together with their buddies to play poker just to pass some cards and some chips around,” Jehlen says. “They actually go to tell stories and share insights.”

Susanne Wilkinson, one of the women sitting with Katie Wallace in Medford, says the idea of a game about the end-of-life made her “a little dubious,” but, she says, “I am more curious to see what comes out of this.”

Wilkinson, of Somerville, is willing to withhold judgment. She believes that “as a society we haven’t done this very well yet, so I am looking for any angles that might provide some avenues.”

Jehlen and the rest of his design team had the same thought. So they designed a deck of cards with a different question printed on each card.

Question 3: Write your own epitaph in five words or less.

Question 5: If you needed help going to the bathroom today, who is the first person you would ask to help you? Who would you never be able to ask?

Question 11: In order to provide you with the best care possible, what three non-medical facts should your doctor know about you?

Question 15: What music do you want to be listening to on your last day alive?

Every person answers the questions, and the other players decide whether an answer deserves a ‘thank you chip.’ The blue poker chips are meant to express gratitude for a thoughtful answer, and it’s those chips that end up determining the winner.

Jehlen says the design team wanted everyone in the family participating. The goal was to avoid focusing solely on the one person that might be nearing the end of their life.

Wilkinson particularly appreciated this element of the game. While death can be a lonely experience, she thought “the fact that it allowed you to connect with other people makes it satisfying.”

The game also sought to focus on life as well as death, since having a good death experience is often about understanding what one values in life.

Jehlen says he struggles to capture the game in words. “The problem we always run into is explaining the game is a little bit like explaining a joke.”

But he can’t remember a My Gift of Grace game where there wasn’t laughter. Recently, he was with a group of health care professionals, “in the middle of these 25 people playing the games,” he remembers. “I closed my eyes and it was just like rolls of laugher.”

Dr. Forrow was not involved in the development of the game but when he checked it out he found it to be “a wonderful blend of serious and humor.” He says that’s important but he tempers his enthusiasm.

Is The Game A Winner?

Dr. Forrow believes the jury is still out. He says there is one ultimate test for this game and for all the other efforts to facilitate an end-of-life conversation.

“We’ll find out whether it’s helpful or not by seeing people using it,” Dr. Forrow says.

The Action Mill has sold about 2,000 games since it went on sale in December.

Dr. Forrow thinks a lot more people need to be having this conversation. And, despite seeing progress, he says, “I don’t actually think anybody is yet doing a good job.”

In an effort to get more people playing the game and having the conversation, Jehlen and his colleagues had the idea of public game nights. Wallace and Wilkinson attended one of the 10 games nights that have been held across the country so far.

While the game was designed for families to play during the holidays, Jehlen says, “the feedback we started hearing was that actually playing the game, talking about end-of-life issues with strangers seemed like it was easier than maybe having this conversation with your family.”

Wallace would agree, but she has a word of warning. She says it’s comfortable either with “complete strangers or very close friends.” But when these game nights happen in small communities, there is the possibility of seeing “people you know in a very casual way,” and that, she says, is “a little odd.”

Jehlen has been viewing these public game nights as something of a warm-up for a family game night. But it’s not just families and strangers, it’s health care professionals too.

Where Does Medicine Come In?

To Jehlen’s surprise, “many of the people who are buying and playing the game are actually health care professionals.” About a third of their sales have been to hospitals, hospices and other health care groups.

On the one hand, this could be a vote of confidence for the game. But on the other hand, Dr. Forrow says, it’s helpful to have this end-of-life conversation in a non-medical context. He worries that when sitting in a doctor’s office, medical concerns dominate the conversation.

“I adamantly, firmly believe that for the conversations to be really about what really matters that they should start maybe even as far away from the hospital doctor’s office as they can,” Dr. Forrow says, “because these are much more fundamentally human issues than medical issues.”

Despite that fundamental nature of the topic, Dr. Forrow believes that it can be helpful not to think about it in such broad terms. “I think focusing on some simple concrete task that you did or did not do, like designating a health care proxy,” can make it easier, he says.

Jehlen admits there aren’t yet clear, concrete steps to take after playing the game. While many of the questions in the deck have a medical undertone, right now there isn’t a guide to help people translate game answers into a Living Will or an Advanced Care Directive. Although, he says, the game’s maker is considering putting downloadable end-of-life care forms on the website.

Regardless of what the next official steps may be, Susanne Wilkinson knows her next move: Before leaving game night, she said she wanted to borrow the game and play it again.

Complete Article HERE!