End-of-life Planning

— Why to Start Young

You’re too busy and alive to think about death when you’re young. “It always seems too early, until it’s too late,” declared the National Healthcare Decisions Day a few years ago. You want medical insurance for a sudden illness or injury. You ask our employer and government to offer retirement benefits to retire well. What about your hope to die well? Although you can’t control your future, you can plan for it.

By Sharleen Lucas, RN

End-of-life planning – also known as advance care planning – gives you a powerful voice if illness or injury leaves you unable to speak for yourself.

Hard to imagine, right? A day when an illness or injury steals your ability to make decisions for yourself. When you’re young and buzzing through your days of hard work and fun, death is an abstract, nebulous, and distant concern. Until a pandemic hits. Or you walk away from a nearly fatal motorcycle accident. Or your first child is born. Suddenly, death creeps closer and these moments make you think a little harder about life and death.

In 2020 according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, unintentional injury was the leading cause of death for 15 – 44-year-old Americans. No one knows what tomorrow brings, as the old saying goes.

But wait, isn’t thinking about death harmful to young people?

There’s no getting around it. When you plan for end-of-life care, you have to think about death.

I asked palliative care psychologist Dr. Dwain Fehon if it’s mentally healthy for young people to complete advance directives. As Associate Professor, Chief Psychologist, and Director of the Behavior Medicine Service for the Yale School of Medicine and Yale New Haven Hospital, Dr. Fehon has worked with countless patients of all ages facing mental and terminal illnesses.

His answers were enlightening. “When we can talk openly about difficult topics early in life, it’s just so healthy and helpful,” he expressed in his soft, kind voice. “It allows you to formulate ideas and to take in the thoughts and opinions of others so that you’re not alone or isolated with your thoughts or fears.”

There’s certainly evidence to support his words. When it’s explained correctly, most younger people want to talk about end-of-life issues.

In 2022, the American Journal of Hospice and Palliative Care published a study of young people’s perspectives on end-of-life planning. The researchers talked with 30 white and Black participants. They found that 87% of them were comfortable talking about the subject and wanted to make their own end-of-life decisions. Even though the sample size was small, this research is consistent with other studies.

A study published in 2019 found that young adults welcomed the chance to discuss advanced care planning. They even wanted more information about it. Researchers found a significant improvement in their “self-perception of comfort, confidence, certainty, and knowledge” about death planning. They recommended more end-of-life talks with young people.

When you’re in your 20s and 30s, paving your path and making your own choices are top values. Planning for death empowers you to voice your opinion about the medical care you want if you can’t speak for yourself.

In 2015 researchers published findings from their end-of-life discussions with 56 young people between the ages of 18-30. They found each subject felt death planning was a valuable way to express their individuality. They also liked that advanced care plans can change and grow as they did.

Surprisingly, most young and healthy people are willing and even eager to talk about death planning.

“It’s interesting, thinking about death gets you thinking about life. There’s value in thinking about these things, and when we can think about it, it helps to reinforce a general acceptance within ourselves that death is a part of life. And it’s okay to talk about. It’s not a taboo topic that needs to be kept quiet.” — Dr. Fehon

His words reminded me of the young, healthy mortician Caitlyn Doughty, who founded the Death Positive Movement in 2011. Her goal is to help people of all ages break their silence about death. Topics kept in the dark create more confusion, robbing people of their power to understand the issue and make their own choices about it.

Death planning is actually about life

Dr. Fehon’s wisdom here continues. “In the palliative care world, we have a concept called double awareness,” he told me. “One component is life engagement, and the other component is death contemplation. The idea is to hold these two concepts in our lives. We can contemplate death and still be engaged in life.”

The lightbulb lit up in my head. Death contemplation can engage us deeper into life. This is why many young people like it. The young participants in these studies had the chance to clarify what they want from life now and in the future.

But if we think about end-of-life plans and find ourselves disengaging from life, something’s wrong. We may be overly preoccupied with dark fears or sadness about death. In these bleak moments, we’re likely isolating ourselves from loved ones or others who can help us with the process.

End-of-life planning is a process that involves your loved ones. They need to know what decisions you’d like them to make if you can no longer speak for yourself. So, no one should go through the process alone.

Alright, I’m convinced. But how do I start end-of-life planning?

We can sum up the process into three steps.

  1. Complete your advance directives and make them legal.
  2. Post them openly in your home and give them to loved ones and your doctors.
  3. Talk about them with your health proxy, your loved ones, and your medical team.

What are advance directives?

Advance directives are the documents that make your choices legal. These documents include a living will and a power of attorney for health care.

A living will describe the type of end-of-life medical care you want in certain situations. It directs and guides your chosen decision-maker and medical team to make decisions for you. Your instructions in the living will, can be as creative as you want.

These directives are kind to your family. Instead of agonizing over medical decisions without your input, they can more confidently and peacefully make the right decisions for you.

A power of attorney for health care legally names the person you want to make your healthcare decisions when you cannot. This decision-maker is also called a health proxy. They become your voice when you can’t speak for yourself.

Your advance directives are yours to define and only become active when you are suddenly, by illness or injury, unable to make your own decisions.

Where do I get the paperwork?

For a paper copy, start with your doctor’s office or the closest hospital. They often stock advance care paperwork that meets your state’s standards.

Not surprising, there are many online options to suit your needs. These sites are a great place to start because they help you think about your end-of-life wishes and answer a lot of questions. Some are free, and some cost as little as five dollars. You can get trustworthy free documents at CaringInfo, MyDirectives, and Prepare for Your Care.

But these details only scratch the surface. Planning can feel overwhelming, but don’t let that stop you. Push through for the sake of your life now. For the sake of your loved ones.

If it gets hard to talk about or feels too complicated, consider talking with a local palliative care social worker or chaplain. End-of-life doulas also help people safely talk about death and advance care plans.

Remember, death planning is about life. Let these words from Dr. Fehon guide you. “What does living well mean now [to you]? Whatever your circumstances, whether you’re healthy or not, [end-of-life planning] is a recognition of what’s important and to try to live in a way that is in alignment with your values, your priorities authentically.”

Complete Article HERE!

Death as Life’s Work

In her new book, Hayley Campbell seeks to demystify death by sharing the perspectives of funeral home directors, gravediggers and others

By Robert DiGiacomo

What happens when people die is often glossed over. Yet as the adage goes, death is one of life’s few certainties.

Journalist Hayley Campbell in her new book, “All the Living and the Dead: From Embalmers to Executioners, an Exploration of the People Who Have Made Death Their Life’s Work,” sets out to demystify death by writing about “the naked, banal reality of this thing that will come to us all.”

It’s a subject for which Campbell, 36, has been preparing for most of her life. As a little girl, she recalls death being ever present — she drew dead bodies after seeing her comic book artist father’s graphic novel about Jack the Ripper in progress, questioned the version of death from her Catholic school education and saw her first body at 12, when her friend, Harriet, drowned while trying to rescue her dog. The London-based Campbell has since written regularly about death and related topics for Wired, BuzzFeed, Vice and other publications.

“On an existential level, we have to think about death; not only will we die, but everyone we know and love will die.”

In “All the Living and the Dead,” Campbell spends time with those whose professional lives revolve around death, including funeral directors, gravediggers and an executioner. Warning to anyone who’s squeamish: She provides vivid details of what it’s like to dress the dead, perform an autopsy and process bodies for use in medical education.

“On an existential level, we have to think about death; not only will we die but everyone we know and love will die,” Campbell told Next Avenue. “I can see why people would avoid that topic, but once you start talking about death with people for whom it’s their job, you can see how you can compartmentalize it.”

Here are some key takeways about death — and life — from Campbell and the book:

Death is Never Far Away, Whether We Acknowledge It or Not

As part of her research, Campbell went places where few civilians dare. “We don’t want to think about it, so it’s sort of a secret,” Campbell says of many death rituals. “I love seeing the stuff that as a general civilian person you can’t see. It can be behind doors you pass every day — on every high street, there is a funeral home — but you don’t realize something interesting is happening there every day.”

Even when we must go to a funeral home, whether to plan a service for a loved one or attend a memorial, the experience is usually a fleeting encounter. For those in the funeral industry, it’s their way of being.

“It was a huge privilege to talk to those people,” Campbell says. “The thing they kept telling me was they do this job every day. When families have to use them, the family will be hugely involved and their best friends for two weeks. After the funeral, they will disappear and go back to not thinking that embalmers exist. I wanted to get through the appreciation of the work that has to happen. The world would look completely different if we didn’t have people collecting the bodies.”

There’s a Difference Between Being Desensitized and Detached About Death

As we enter middle age, death becomes ever more prominent, as we face the loss of parents, siblings, close friends, a spouse or partner — and our own mortality. Yet few of us are prepared for major loss. But when death is your reality, you have to develop a way to compartmentalize.

“People think death workers must be desensitized, but there’s a difference between people being desensitized and detached in a way that’s helpful,” Campbell says. “They’re not not thinking about death — they have thought about it a lot and stepped back just enough to do their jobs. They have thought about it so much that they have made peace with it. But I don’t think we as a society have been able to deal with it. So when someone dies, we completely fall apart.”

A New Generation is Rethinking the Funeral Ritual

As a younger generation — including more women — enter the funeral industry, rituals and attitudes are changing. This might mean a more personalized funeral service, a natural burial without a body being embalmed or even loved ones participating in a traditional ritual like dressing the dead, as Campbell did as part of her research.

“The role of the funeral director has changed to more of a counselor role rather than someone who just organizes the hearse,” Campbell says. “I do think women are changing it. Female funeral directors are more into letting families do things the way they want. But if they want tradition, they will organize it with the horse and the cart. I think they are just more open — the thing that is common among all the women in the funeral industry is they want to give people a voice and not force a certain way of doing anything on anyone.”

“The role of the funeral director has changed to more of a counselor role rather than someone who just organizes the hearse.”

Details Matter When Handling the End of Someone’s Life

Whether it’s the funeral director who kept underwear and socks in different sizes because families often forgot to bring undergarments for their loved one and he couldn’t live with someone not being properly dressed in their casket — or a gravedigger who provided a certain type of soil for the minster to throw on a coffin that would land more softly, those dealing with death regularly understand the difference the smallest details can make.

“They all had a sense of compassion and a sense of empathy,” Campbell says. “They all were doing little things in their job that no one would notice but they felt was the right thing to do. It may seem like something small, but when you think about grieving people and how they are so sensitive to everything, they are massive.”

Death Has a Way of Grounding You

Having written about death for most of her career, Campbell is not someone who’s faint of heart. But having immersed herself in death for three years to write the book, she came away with a new appreciation for life.

“It’s not like my eyes have been opened to things that I didn’t know about but the details have been filled in,” Campbell says. “I’ve seen dead babies and old, old dead people. I’m far more conscious of the old cliché that life is short. That is true, but you have no idea how much time you’re going to get. I think I’m more conscious of time.”

Complete Article HERE!

Health Proxy

— Giving Voice to Those Unable to Speak

Choosing a healthcare proxy could be one of your most important decisions. As your medical decision-maker, they’ll be your voice if you become too sick or injured to speak for yourself. They tell the doctor whether to continue lifesaving treatment or whether to stop treatment. They know which family members you want visiting you and which you don’t. They know what you want because they’re someone you trust.


  • A health proxy holds the power of attorney to make health care decisions for you when you can’t because of illness or injury.
  • Choosing a health proxy is part of end-of-life paperwork called your advance directive.
  • The paperwork is simple but choosing the right person can be tricky.
  • You’ll want to pick someone you trust who’s up to the task.
  • People who complete health proxy and living will paperwork are three times more likely to have their end-of-life wishes followed.
  • Learn how to choose a proxy, discuss it with them, and make it legal.

Surprisingly, however, the best proxy may not be your partner or your adult child. Choosing the right person can be more complicated.

A health proxy is your voice

If you’re whisked to the hospital after a car accident, unconscious and traumatically injured, who will speak for you if you can’t talk? A health proxy is your health care agent who voices the type of medical treatment you want if you’re incapacitated, the legal term for being unable to manage your affairs because of sickness or injury.

Another name for a health proxy is a surrogate decision-maker. Your proxy has the power of attorney to make health care decisions for you. Those decisions may affect the hospital bill, but a health proxy can only make medical decisions, not financial ones.

How does it work?

Choosing a health proxy is part of an advanced care planning process. Advance directives are the legal advance care documents describing your wishes for end-of-life care. Part of the purpose of the paperwork is to name a health proxy.

Choosing one is a simple process but can be emotionally trying:

  • Choose someone you trust to make such decisions for you.
  • Talk with them about the role and your end-of-life wishes.
  • Sign the official paperwork together.
  • Give your medical team and loved ones a copy of the document.

How to pick the right person

Rules can vary between states, but generally, your proxy must be over 18, can’t be a part of your current medical team, and shouldn’t be someone who will receive an inheritance or other benefits after you die.

Otherwise, you can pick nearly anyone to be your health decision-maker. Your proxy can be a family member, a partner, a friend, a spiritual leader, a neighbor, a coworker…you get the idea. They don’t have to live close to you, but that can be helpful for some people.

First, think about the people you trust and those who know you best. Second, consider whether they’re up to the task.

Surprising to some, a partner, adult child, or parent may not be the best proxy for you. The task is too painful or daunting for some loved ones.

Your decision-maker will have to make tough decisions in the heat of a traumatic moment involving paramedics or hospital staff. They’ll have access to your medical records and will be the communicator between your doctor and loved ones. Deciphering medical language and asking questions requires someone bold to advocate for you. Who do you want to decide “when to pull the plug?”

It’s also wise to pick a second proxy in case your primary health agent is unavailable.

If you can’t think of the right person right away, you must complete the second part of your advance directives – your living will – and talk with your doctor. This document outlines what kind of medical care you want in certain circumstances that bring you near death. It’s different from the more common will that directs financial and asset decisions after you die.

If you don’t have a personal advocate, the living will champions your wishes.

If you have no one you trust and no close relative, a court may appoint a surrogate decision-maker for you.

With this powerful living will in hand, you are three times more likely to have your wishes followed, says emergency doctor Elizabeth Clayborne in her moving TEDx video.

Isn’t my spouse automatically my proxy?

In most states, yes, including domestic partners. If you don’t have a partner, most states will default to your next closest relative, adult children first and parents second.

Even if you are married or close to your children or parents, are they the best decision-maker for you? The decisions can be too heavy for some people to bear. Instead of choosing a close loved one as your healthy proxy, you could require the proxy to consult with that loved one before making a decision.

How to talk with your proxy

Talking with your medical decision-maker empowers them to make the best decisions for you.

First, discuss the role. Be sure they understand what it means to be your proxy. Allow them to say no if they need to. Take time to answer their questions.

If they agree, start talking about the details like:

  • Your medical history
  • Medications
  • Allergies
  • Medical treatments you don’t want
  • Life-saving treatments you want and when
  • The life-saving treatment you don’t want and when
  • Where do you want to die
  • Who do you want to visit you
  • Who you don’t want to visit you
  • Who you do and don’t want to be updated about your medical situation
  • Spiritual or religious wishes

Write down as many of these details as you can for your decision-maker. A living will is the best way to document your wishes. It could be helpful to give your proxy The Conversation Project’s booklet about how to be a health proxy.

You don’t need a lawyer to complete health proxy documents. Most states do require two witnesses to watch you sign the form. They may also require a notary to notarize the signed form. Each state has different advance directive forms. You can find the right form on trustworthy sites for free.

Once the form is complete, give copies to your health proxy, your loved ones, and your doctors.

Don’t lock the form away in your safe or safety deposit box. Be sure it’s easy to find for anyone in your home.

You’ll want to give copies to loved ones who are not your health proxy, too, so they clearly understand the plan. As for those you don’t want to be involved in your care, tell them, too. They need to know who will be speaking for you.

These can be taxing discussions. Be sure to talk to a counselor, a friend, or a spiritual advisor if needed.

Your health proxy isn’t set in stone.

You can change your healthy proxy at any time. You can also update your living will at any time. Keep the thinking and talking going and update your documents and your health proxy accordingly. Big life changes like having a child, getting married, or facing a serious diagnosis can all affect your end-of-life choices.

Now that you know what a health proxy is and are thinking about your-end-of life wishes, why not take the final steps and complete the paperwork? Just be sure to finish. Don’t let the power of medical decisions slip out of your hands.

Complete Article HERE!

Dia de los Muertos (Day Of The Dead) 2022

More than 500 years ago, when the Spanish Conquistadors landed in what is now Mexico, they encountered natives practicing a ritual that seemed to mock death.

It was a ritual the indigenous people had been practicing at least 3,000 years. A ritual the Spaniards would try unsuccessfully to eradicate.

A ritual known today as Dia de los Muertos, or Day of the Dead.

The ritual is celebrated in Mexico and certain parts of the United States. Although the ritual has since been merged with Catholic theology, it still maintains the basic principles of the Aztec ritual, such as the use of skulls.

Today, people don wooden skull masks called calacas and dance in honor of their deceased relatives. The wooden skulls are also placed on altars that are dedicated to the dead. Sugar skulls, made with the names of the dead person on the forehead, are eaten by a relative or friend, according to Mary J. Adrade, who has written three books on the ritual.

The Aztecs and other Meso-American civilizations kept skulls as trophies and displayed them during the ritual. The skulls were used to symbolize death and rebirth.

The skulls were used to honor the dead, whom the Aztecs and other Meso-American civilizations believed came back to visit during the monthlong ritual.

Unlike the Spaniards, who viewed death as the end of life, the natives viewed it as the continuation of life. Instead of fearing death, they embraced it. To them, life was a dream and only in death did they become truly awake.

“The pre-Hispanic people honored duality as being dynamic,” said Christina Gonzalez, senior lecturer on Hispanic issues at Arizona State University. “They didn’t separate death from pain, wealth from poverty like they did in Western cultures.”

However, the Spaniards considered the ritual to be sacrilegious. They perceived the indigenous people to be barbaric and pagan.

In their attempts to convert them to Catholicism, the Spaniards tried to kill the ritual.

But like the old Aztec spirits, the ritual refused to die.

To make the ritual more Christian, the Spaniards moved it so it coincided with All Saints’ Day and All Souls’ Day (Nov. 1 and 2), which is when it is celebrated today.

Previously it fell on the ninth month of the Aztec Solar Calendar, approximately the beginning of August, and was celebrated for the entire month. Festivities were presided over by the goddess Mictecacihuatl. The goddess, known as “Lady of the Dead,” was believed to have died at birth, Andrade said.

Today, Day of the Dead is celebrated in Mexico and in certain parts of the United States and Central America.

“It’s celebrated different depending on where you go,” Gonzalez said.

In rural Mexico, people visit the cemetery where their loved ones are buried. They decorate gravesites with marigold flowers and candles. They bring toys for dead children and bottles of tequila to adults. They sit on picnic blankets next to gravesites and eat the favorite food of their loved ones.

In Guadalupe, the ritual is celebrated much like it is in rural Mexico.

“Here the people spend the day in the cemetery,” said Esther Cota, the parish secretary at the Our Lady of Guadalupe Church. “The graves are decorated real pretty by the people.”

For more information visit HERE!

Death is a part of life that kids need to understand, no matter how hard it is

Why is it taboo to talk about dying? And how can we talk to our kids about it?

Grief can be hard for kids, let alone adults, to process. But talking about death can make it easier to understand.

by Amy Bell

Death is a fact of life. But it’s one that many people would love to avoid talking about at all costs.

Maybe it’s superstition: somehow, if we don’t speak of it, it won’t affect us. But death is inescapable.

So how do we prepare our kids to confront loss?

‘We are a death-denying society’

Christa Ovenell is working hard to change the dialogue and attitudes around death.

She’s an end-of-life educator and created the Vancouver-based organization Death’s Apprentice as a way to help people and families openly prepare for death and accept it as a natural progression of life. But it’s a hard switch to flip in a society that holds youth and vitality in such high regard.

“Think about, for example, in Mexico, where we would have a weeklong celebration for the Day of the Dead, that we would actually go and make our dead a part of our life,” says Ovenell.

“We don’t do that here. Because we are a death-denying society. And that’s what makes it so hard.”

Use straightforward language

The death of a loved one can be incredibly difficult, but for kids it can be especially confusing.

You could throw on an endless loop of Disney movies where someone’s mother always seems to be dying, or you could simply talk about death — and how it’s a completely natural part of life — before big emotions become attached to it.

Ovenell wants death to be normalized and openly discussed from an early age, just as we’ve become more open to talking about sexual health and addiction, for example.

A good start is using straightforward language, “the way we do in other tough or difficult conversations,” she says.

“Real words like, ‘someone died,’ or, ‘the cat died.’ Just normalizing it, making it just part of what kids hear, instead of funny things like, ‘Grandpa is resting,’ or, ‘so-and-so has passed.'”

Openness toward death needs to extend to all ways in which life can end. There are no “good” or “noble” ways people die. Whether from suicide or an overdose, everyone’s life has meaning and should be mourned when it ends.

Memories last

Once someone a child knows dies, it can be difficult for a parent to help them process their feelings while grieving themselves. Grief is not a linear process and it raises many emotions.

Local mom Megan Cindric says the recent and sudden loss of her father has deeply affected her and her twin daughters, Fiona and Lily. Cindric wants to make sure her daughters know however they choose to remember their grandfather is valid, and that she’s just as affected by the loss.

“I am still sad every single day, and so I think it’s completely normal that Fiona is sad every day,” says Cindric.

“When she does get sad I tell her that I understand because I’m sad every day, too. And this is very normal because we loved Grandpa and we still love Grandpa.”

Cindric found both her girls understood their grandfather’s passing once she explained that he was more than just his body, and that would never change.

“I told them … when his body just couldn’t live any more, I could tell that he was different. I could tell that all of the things that made him Grandpa — his energy and his love and his spirit — I could tell that it was gone.

“I could tell that his body had stopped but all of his ‘Grandpa-ness’ had gone somewhere else,” she says.

Religion can bring many people comfort when it comes to confronting the afterlife, but some find solace elsewhere.

Cindric says she was recently in the garden her father had lovingly tended for years when a little green frog came and sat on the colander she was holding. When she told her girls about it, Cindric says they all agreed on one thing: “Fiona said, ‘I think that was Grandpa,’ and I said, ‘I kind of thought it was him, too.'”

There are two things in life we all experience without fail: being born and dying. While one event is celebrated, the other we spend our lives trying to outrun.

But like many topics that have made us uncomfortable in the past, if we push through that discomfort and openly discuss them with our kids, we take their fearful power away.

No matter who we’ve lost, their lives have affected us for the better — and death can’t ever lessen that.

Complete Article HERE!

What Not to Include in Your Will

By Natasha Meruelo

If you are considering preparing a will, this is a great first step in planning for the future. After reflecting on the basics, such as whom you want to be in charge of administering your wishes, you may wonder if there’s anything you shouldn’t include in your will. The answer is yes. There are some things that you should avoid.

Personal Preferences or Desires

Sometimes it is best not to state personal or specific feelings in your will. To simplify the administration of your will, you should not make very specific requests or engage in discussions about your feelings.

For example, you may wish for a certain religious ceremony to be performed at your funeral or you want a celebration of life event. However, it is best not to address this in your will.

A will goes through a public and court-supervised probate process. This often occurs well after someone is laid to rest. An executor will not necessarily be able to implement these wishes after the fact.

A better option may be to provide your family with a letter of instruction containing these details. If you want your burial to be done in a certain way, you can prepurchase a burial plot and, in some areas, prepay for specific arrangements. Alternatively, you can create a fund for any event you would like, with a payable-on-death designation to someone you trust.

It is also probably best not to elaborate on personal feelings about others in your will, as this can set the tone for the administration of your estate. For example, your executor may feel some trepidation about being part of a situation where there appears to be hurt feelings or potential conflict from the outset.

Organ Donation

If you wish to be an organ donor, you should not use your will as a place to specify this wish. In most states, there are specific ways to document your desire, such as listing it on your driver’s license. By the time your will is reviewed, it will be too late to do anything about your organ donation wishes.

Health Care or End-of-Life Decisions

Your will is not the right place to document what you would like to happen if you have suffered a substantial and irreversible loss of mental capacity or have an incurable or irreversible condition. You should do this in a living will.

You should also have a separate health care proxy that designates an agent to be able to speak with your doctors and make health care decisions on your behalf should you temporarily become unable to do so.

Be Careful About Leaving Inheritance to a Person With Special Needs

If you wish to provide for a person who has special needs upon your death, it is not a good idea to leave them an outright bequest in your will.

This may disqualify them from critical health and other benefits they need to manage their day-to-day life. It can also put them in a situation where they are forced to place your generous gift in a special needs trust that goes to the government upon their death if not used up. Instead, consider creating a first-party supplemental or special needs trust now or through your will.

Non-Probate Property

Another consideration of what not to include in your will is “non-probate” property. This can encompass many things, but some of the most common examples are:

  • Property held in a trust — The main point of placing property in a trust is often to avoid probate. If you have property in a trust, it doesn’t need to be in your will, as there is already a plan for handling it upon your death.
  • Property that already has beneficiary designations — For example, including things like your 401(k), IRA, or life insurance in your will can make things unnecessarily complicated or slow things down when it comes to your beneficiaries getting the funds. The best thing to do is to confirm your beneficiary designations are up to date and in line with whom you want to receive the funds.
  • Property that is jointly owned with right of survivorship — This property will pass naturally to the other person upon your death. An exception is where the other person is no longer living or has given up their rights to the property in a divorce or otherwise.

The above examples are not exhaustive. There may be more items pertaining to your situation that should not be in your will. Since every estate plan is unique, it is best to speak with a qualified estate planning attorney in your area.

Complete Article HERE!

The Enduring Genius of ‘The Craft of Dying’

— More than 40 years ago, Lyn Lofland, who died last month, published a book that changed how I think about death and dying.

By: John Troyer

Lyn Lofland’s 1978 book “The Craft of Dying: The Modern Face of Death” completely changed how I think about death and dying. As I write in the introduction to a special 40th-anniversary edition of the book published a few years ago and featured below, “The Craft of Dying” is truly a message in a bottle, one sent from a decade when death and dying social movements coalesced around end-of-life ideologies that the Western world still struggles with today. Sadly, Lyn died this past September after a long and impactful career. I encourage you to read her obituary, written by one of her final graduate students, Ara Francis, who also contributed an epilogue to the book.

Lyn Lofland’s “The Craft of Dying” (1978) is one of the most important books on post-WWII death and dying practices that almost no one has read. To see Lofland’s largely overlooked, but still relevant, text republished by the MIT Press is both thrilling and deeply gratifying. It is the one book that in my capacity as Director of the Centre for Death and Society at the University of Bath I think every person working on contemporary death and dying issues must read. Indeed, I strongly recommend that anyone interested in understanding how events 40 years ago shaped what Lofland would call today’s “thanatological chic” read “The Craft of Dying” and note the current uncanny resemblances to the 1970s.

This article is excerpted from the 40th anniversary edition of Lyn Lofland’s book “The Craft of Dying“

“The Craft of Dying” is, for me, that death, dying, and end-of-life issues book.

A common response to my adamant recommendation is — why? Why and how is this specific book any different or better than its contemporaries, e.g., “On Death and Dying” by Elisabeth Kübler-Ross or “The Denial of Death” by Ernest Becker (to name two big death canon contenders)? My rapid answer is that Lofland’s book both documents what happened in the 1970s (the formation of new hospice spaces, activist groups encouraging people to accept death, the introduction of college courses on dying, and so on) alongside an invaluable critique of those activities. In fact, it is Lofland’s critique and classification of death-focused groups as social movements creatively constructing a new end-of-life ideology that makes “The Craft of Dying” fundamentally important. Lofland calls these end-of-life groups (similar in structure, she will note, to diffuse 1970s women’s movement and environmental movement groups) the happy death movement and uses the term to connote enthusiastic warriors taking on a challenge. Her critique is both generous and insightful at all times. But Lofland was not content with merely documenting what these death and dying groups did; she wanted to better understand what motivated their new end-of-life politics and thinking. It is her push to clearly articulate what is happening in her own moment that makes her book so valuable today; almost every argument and observation she first presented 40 years ago remains both pertinent and urgently needed now.

Almost every argument and observation Lofland first presented 40 years ago remains both pertinent and urgently needed now.

This book is truly a message in a bottle, and one sent from a decade when death and dying social movements coalesced around end-of-life ideologies that the Western world still struggles with today. That Lyn Lofland accomplished this feat in so few pages is an achievement in and of itself.

Discovering “The Craft of Dying”

For all my praise of Lofland’s work, I am embarrassed to say that I first learned of, and then read, “The Craft of Dying” in summer 2014. My mid-career discovery of Lofland occurred only after my esteemed colleague (and walking Death Studies encyclopedia) Tony Walter asked if I knew her book and the happy death movement argument. I said that no, I didn’t. Tony asked about Lofland, because he understood how “The Craft of Dying” directly related to my (then new) research project on American death and dying discourse during the 1970s.

In a nutshell, this research project examines how the 1970s functioned as a crucial but largely forgotten decade for understanding what motivates today’s death and dying groups, as well as foreshadowing many current end-of-life debates. It is during the 1970s that new death and dying tools and technologies took root, altering the definition of death: things taken for granted today, such as living wills and life-support technologies. Much of the decade’s activity is at a very local level and includes individuals forming groups that emphasize Death Acceptance, the Right-to-Die, and dying a Natural Death — all thoroughly documented in the book.

But the 1970s was also a decade when end-of-life issues extended all the way to the White House and bookended politically tumultuous times. In 1971 President Richard Nixon announced his War on Cancer, and in 1979 President Jimmy Carter formed the President’s Commission for the Study of Ethical Problems in Medicine and Biomedical Behavioral Research, which later published its landmark 1981 report Defining Death: A Report on the Medical, Legal, and Ethical Issues in the Determination of Death during the Reagan administration. Carter’s group would eventually become known as the President’s Council on Bioethics and advise all future Presidents on a wide array of issues, including, but not limited to, death and dying.

Lofland’s research remains a key historical and conceptual anchor for anyone interested in that decade, since “The Craft of Dying” analyzed and critiqued what was happening in the 1970s, during the 1970s. What any reader comes away with from this book, I think, is how death and dying were national conversations related to ongoing events — e.g., the Karen Ann Quinlan right-to-die case in New Jersey (which also went global) — and connected to personal freedoms — e.g., the country’s first Natural Death Act, passed in California in 1976, that gave individuals the right to legally refuse medical treatments even if the refusal meant dying.

After Tony Walter’s helpful nudge, I discovered that “The Craft of Dying” was long out of print (the republishing idea first occurred in this very moment), but I persisted in locating a copy and subsequently devoured the book in one August 2014 sitting. I say in all seriousness that reading this book fundamentally changed how I approached all research on death, dying, the dead body, end-of-life concerns, the politics of death, the historical formation of hospice spaces, current Happy Death groups pushing for what Lofland has called “death talk,” and neoliberal economic “choice” about funerals. I could go on and on. And like any convert with a newly discovered evangelical zeal I wanted nothing more than to excitedly read long sections of “The Craft of Dying” to audiences.

Coincidentally enough, captive audiences were available to me in August 2014, since I was the Scholar in Residence at the Morbid Anatomy Museum in Brooklyn, New York (now sadly closed). I am not kidding when I say that almost all my public lectures during the residency involved me simply reading sections fromLyn’s book, especially the introduction:

It seems likely that eventually humans will construct for themselves a new, or at least altered, death culture and organization—a new “craft of dying”—better able to contain the new experience. I believe, as do other sociological observers … that in the ferment of activity relative to death and dying during the last two decades in the United States we have witnessed and are witnessing just such a reconstruction. Undoubtedly within this ferment, especially that emanating from the mass media, there are elements of fad and fashion—a thanatological “chic” as it were, having approximately the same level of import as organic gardening and home canning among the rich. And certainly one can never underestimate the capacity of American public discourse to transform “life and death matters” into passing enthusiasms. But there is, I believe, more to this activity than simply one more example of impermanent trendiness in modern life. Americans, especially affluent middle-class Americans, have been in the process of creating new or at least altered ways of thinking, believing, feeling, and acting about death and dying because they have been confronting a new “face of death.”

And if you are reading this now and thinking to yourself that these words eerily describe death and dying in your own historical moment (“fad and fashion” always gives me pause), then you begin to see why a book published in 1978 continues challenging everyone to examine how any decade’s happy death movements can possibly be unique, or new, or revolutionary. Lofland wants readers to understand the history of the present, so that the next generation’s death and dying activists might also comprehend the historical relationships to their own current struggle.

Relevance for Today

“The Craft of Dying” also productively intervenes in one of the 1970s’ most unhelpful and unnecessary death and dying arguments, an argument that dogmatically persists today — i.e., that death is a taboo. If the happy death movement functioned like a true social movement, Lyn Lofland reasoned, then that movement needed an enemy, and the death taboo is the perfect foil, since everybody already “knows” that it “exists.”

The fact that we all eventually die becomes that rare universal constant that allows each human the opportunity, should we take it, to experience and think about death and dying in new ways.

Lofland is neither the first author, nor will she be the last, to thoroughly challenge how and why the death taboo argument is used, abused, and greatly exaggerated. The death taboo will always be a productive fiction for various happy death movement groups committed to ideologically transforming the “face of death” in America and the West, but it is a fiction all the same. As she rightly points out in part III, the death taboo argument serves a useful function that is especially popular with death-movement intellectuals (full disclosure: I am a card-carrying member of said group). Her critique of death-movement intellectuals is reason enough to appreciate how farsighted this text remains today. Lofland’s crucial intervention begins:

It has been variously formulated, but essentially the view holds that America is a death-denying society, that death is a taboo topic, that death makes Americans uncomfortable so they run from it, that death is hidden in America because Americans deny it, and so forth. The consequences of all this denial and repression are asserted to be quite terrible: exorbitant funeral costs and barbaric funeral practices, inhumane handling of dying in hospitals, ostracism of the dying from the living, inauthentic communication with the fatally ill, an unrealistic, mechanical, non-organic view of life, and so forth. … As many scholars have pointed out, the empirical evidence for all these assertions is something less than overwhelming (see, for example, Dumont and Foss, 1972; Donaldson, 1972). And one might consider it somewhat odd that the statement that death is a taboo topic in America should continue to be asserted in the face of nearly a decade of non-stop talking on the subject. But if one appreciates the functions these statements serve in enemy evocation, one can also appreciate that their questionable empirical basis is hardly a serious obstacle to endless repetition. The importance of the “conventional view of death”—of the conventional wisdom about death—as propounded over and over again by movement intellectuals, is not its “truth” but its utility.

If making more people rigorously question whether or not they really need the death taboo fiction to advance their own death and dying arguments is the only thing republishing “The Craft of Dying” accomplishes, then all the waiting was worth it. Seeing the taboo argument finally debunked would also recognize Lofland’s scholarly commitment to status quo challenging scholarship both then and now. That said, I have a strong hunch that in the decades to come many death-movement intellectuals and practitioners will still make the death taboo argument to advance both their careers and book sales — a point not lost on Lofland when she states that the death taboo is always about utility, not truth.

Above and beyond the book’s uncanny timeliness (e.g., when reading the preface, replace all the originally listed years with the current year and note the similarities) Lofland taps into another core human experience: we Homo sapiens persist at dying. The fact that we all eventually die becomes that rare universal constant that allows each human the opportunity, should we take it, to experience and think about death and dying in new ways. Part II, Individual Constructions: Styling and Controlling the Dying Role, in particular, focuses on how the dying person becomes something different during the 1970s.

I found myself directly confronting Lofland’s newly articulated experience of death and dying, as discussed in part II, when my younger sister, Julie Troyer, died from terminal brain cancer on July 29, 2018. Watching my sister die made me reflect quite heavily on the book’s key assertions, and in very unexpected ways that accidentally (albeit sadly) coincided with writing this introduction. The MIT Press expressed interest in republishing “The Craft of Dying” while my sister was dying, but I started writing the introduction after she was dead — an interval of approximately one month. My father, Ron Troyer, a long-time grief and bereavement support-group facilitator and retired American Funeral Director, best summed up my death interval experience in very Loflandian language: it is one thing to publicly say, “Julie is dying,” it’s an entirely different experience to state, “Julie is dead.” The former felt active, the latter inert.

I chose to add this section about my recent experience with death and dying, as Lofland rigorously analyzes the role of language and expressivity in encouraging people to discuss precisely these issues. For many days I wondered aloud if it was appropriate for a death studies academic, such as myself, to write a new introduction for “The Craft of Dying” that includes a discussion of such a personal experience. After staring at this book for what seemed like eons, I fully realized the genius of Lyn Lofland’s irreplaceable contribution to contemporary death and dying discourse: that, no matter what any of us do; no matter our personal, professional, or familial relationship with death, everyone still dies. And that Lofland’s always-new-craft-of-dying requires we living humans to critically reflect on these confrontations with mortality in our own meaningful ways, so that we might glimpse, for a moment, what living and dying can become in our technologically advanced 21st century. It is vitally important, I think Lofland would say, to see our personal mortal ends in the modern face of death.

What, Then, for the Future of “The Craft of Dying”?

I see no reason why this book will not remain relevant for another forty years. In surveying how Lyn Lofland’s central arguments evolved over time, connections clearly emerge with the ACT-UP AIDS protests of the 1980s and 1990s, and the contemporary activism of today’s Black Lives Matter groups. Lofland rightly predicts that death and dying social movements will persist at emerging and folding back into each other, precisely because death refuses to phenomenologically disappear. The complexity of what she wrote has never dissipated and will continue to find new audiences for many years to come. Part I, The Situation of Modern Dying: Problems and Potentials, sums up via the chapter title itself what each generation will assuredly confront.

“The Craft of Dying” does come with a cautionary note, however, and it is a point that bears mentioning in the conclusion to this new introduction.

Happy death movement groups (then and now) always run the risk of alienating the very people they so eagerly want to help through non-stop ultra-upbeat expressive death talking that then demands transforming and accepting death/dying/mortality at all costs. The challenge here involves individuals becoming convinced that they are doing death wrong, and in that moment of doubt, Lofland wryly suggests, a “dismal death” movement might emerge:

If expressivity comes to be widely accepted as the only way to achieve a decent death, the emotionally reticent will find themselves under great pressure to “share.” If the idea that death and dying provide new opportunities for self-improvement becomes common currency, the chronic under achiever will find himself facing one more opportunity for failure. Not “getting off” on death may become as déclassé as sexual unresponsiveness. Then perhaps, a “dismal death” movement will rise to wipe the smile from the face of death and restore the “Grim Reaper” to his historic place of honor.

This book will remain relevant for all these specific cautionary reasons, and many more. I hope that in another four decades “The Craft of Dying” is republished for that historical moment’s own happy death movements; especially the ones that still evoke the death taboo enemy in order to evangelize a getting-off-on-death gospel. The irony, of course, is that Lyn Lofland showed us all how easy it is to talk about death and dying without ever transgressing any taboos, and she did this forty years ago in the book that you are about to read.

On further reflection it becomes clear that most happy death movements just can’t help themselves when it comes to constantly talking about this taboo that isn’t actually true. Why? It makes them feel useful. Lyn Lofland would likely say that’s okay.

In the face of dying, Death doesn’t really care.

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