Poem: Of Errands

By Rick Barot

The older we get, the more life and death tangle. In this poem, the speaker occupies the liminal space of transition, where the child and the parents begin to switch roles. This poem toggles among birth, life and death seamlessly — it starts with objects remaining after a recent death, and eventually turns to the speaker running errands with his aging parents. This final unannounced shift is what gives this poem gravity — changes are always happening, and time’s movement is constant, but our awareness of these changes arrives at the most mundane moments: buying cupcakes at a bakery, or picking up cold medicine at the pharmacy. Selected by Victoria Chang

Of Errands

By Rick Barot
On a table in the living room
there is a gray ceramic bowl that catches
the light each afternoon, contains it.
This is the room we turned into
the room of her dying, the hospital bed
in the center, the medical equipment
against the walls like personnel.
In Maine, once, I rented a house hundreds
of years old. One room had been
the birthing room, I was told, and I sat
in that room writing towards the bright
new world I am always trying
to write into. And while I could stop
there, with those two recognitions
of endings and beginnings, I’m thinking
of yesterday’s afternoon of errands.
My father and mother were in the backseat,
my sister in the passenger seat,
and I driving. It was like decades ago
but everyone in the wrong places,
as though time was simply about
different arrangements of proximity.
Sometimes someone is in front of you.
Or they are beside. At other times
they are behind you, or just elsewhere,
inconsolably, as though time was
about how well or badly you attended
to the bodies around you. First, we went
to the bakery. Then the hardware.
The pharmacy, the grocery. Then the bank.

Complete Article HERE!

In end-of-life care, hospice can ease angst

Knowing what to expect and when to begin will benefit patient and caregiver

By Lisa Kanarek

In fall 2020, my 94-year-old father was discharged from a hospital with orders for hospice. I didn’t know what to expect. Although over three months, his appetite had diminished along with the strength in his legs, I avoided researching end-of-life care. It turns out I’m not alone.

“People stay away from discussing hospice because they feel like it means they’re giving up and can’t do anything further,” says Diana R. Kerwin, chief of geriatrics at Texas Health Dallas Presbyterian and president of Kerwin Medical Center.

Hospice services were introduced in the United States in 1974. The goal of hospice is to keep someone as comfortable as possible when they’ve decided to stop seeking further medical treatment. With hospice, a team of health-care professionals — including a physician, a nurse, a social worker and a spiritual care provider — work together to minimize patients’ pain and focus on their needs.

Unfortunately, the confusion and misconceptions surrounding hospice can keep a family from seeking the service for a loved one and cause them to suffer needlessly. Knowing what to expect and when to begin hospice can help alleviate the anxiety and uncertainty surrounding end-of-life care, experts say.

“Everyone in this country is entitled to hospice,” says Dawn Gross, attending physician of Palliative Care Service at the University of California San Francisco, and medical director of ANX Hospice.

“To be eligible,” she says, “two physicians must agree that the person has a prognosis of six months or less to live, should the illness run its natural course without intervention. That does not mean the person must die within those six months.”

In 2018, 1.55 million Medicare beneficiaries in the United States used hospice. But according to a study in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society, each year, nearly 1 million individuals who may be eligible for hospice die without using it.

According to a 2018 study in the Journal of Pain and Symptom Management, “a significant cause of low overall hospice utilization and intractably low median lengths of stay, reflective of late admissions, can be attributed to” difficult and variable prognoses “for most of the leading causes of death among Medicare beneficiaries.”

So, when should a patient or their family talk to their physician about starting hospice care?

“You should think about hospice when your daily quality of life is significantly impaired and when the treatments are not going to change the outcome,” Kerwin says. “That includes a person’s ability to stand up and walk around, eat, feed themselves, get up and go to the bathroom, communicate, and recognize others.”

Hospice falls under the umbrella of palliative care, but some people confuse the two. Gross says hospice focuses on maximizing the patient’s quality of life using all treatments necessary to relieve the symptoms of a terminal illness, including physical (such as pain, nausea and shortness of breath), psychosocial (anxiety, depression and insomnia) and spiritual (existential suffering, which need not be connected with a religious belief). On the other hand, palliative care is designed to support quality of life at the same time a person is receiving cure-focused/disease-modifying treatments.

Gross emphasizes that hospice-care professionals do not move into a person’s home. If someone has worsening symptoms that are out of control, a licensed vocational nurse, a registered nurse or a home health aide could stay for eight-hour shifts until the patient is once again comfortable.

“The hospice benefit covers all care provided by hospice,” she says. “This includes medications that are treating symptoms as well as equipment intended to improve quality of life, such as an adjustable hospital bed, bedside table, an oxygen compressor, and all hospice team member visits.”

During my father’s time in hospice care, nurses stopped by my parents’ home twice a day and were available by phone to answer questions. But I was responsible for administering medication — morphine and a small amount of Ativan to relieve anxiety — and ensuring that my father was comfortable in between visits.

Payment options for hospice care include Medicare and Medicare Advantage, Medicaid (benefits vary by state), Tricare (which provides health benefits for active military personnel and retirees and their dependents), and CHAMPVA (Civilian Health and Medical Program of the Department of Veterans Affairs). Most private insurance obtained through employers or state exchanges also pays for hospice care.

“It’s important to know what your private insurance covers related to hospice costs,” says Amy Tucci, president and chief executive of Hospice Foundation of America. “Some policies will cover all hospice-related expenses, while others may cover much less.”

Tucci says that for those without insurance, hospice providers will often work with families and may charge on a sliding scale according to what the family can afford, or they may use charity funds if available to reduce out-of-pocket expenses.

My father, Joseph Kanarek, couldn’t wait to come home from the hospital. Without the help of hospice services, we would not have been able to provide care at home, where he was surrounded by family.

While 71 percent of patients prefer to be at home receiving hospice services, not everyone has family or friends available to tend to them, according to a 2016 survey. A nursing home, a hospital with a floor dedicated to hospice and palliative care, or a hospice facility are all options for receiving hospice care. Custodial care such as housekeeping or private caregiving, which hospice team members would not provide, is not covered by the hospice benefit.

“Before deciding on a particular agency, shop around,” says BJ Miller, a physician, co-founder of Mettle Health and co-author of “A Beginner’s Guide to the End: Practical Advice for Living Life and Facing Death.” “Hospice is a service like any business; there are different qualities. So if you live in a place where there are multiple hospice agencies available to you, interview them.”

Hospice is a two-way street; people can come and go as needed. Miller explains that sometimes people sign onto the service, feel better and are discharged from hospice. If patients do not like it and decide to try a new treatment that’s coming online, with the stroke of a pen, they can sign off legally, he says. This process is called revoking hospice care.

“It’s an administrative burden, but it’s no big deal,” he says. “Then your old insurance will kick in.”

Predicting the exact day of death can be challenging, but there are a few indications of when the end is near.

“We’ll see people have very distinct changes in the pattern of breathing,” Gross says. “They take pauses, or what is medically referred to as apnea, in their breathing. They seem to be holding their breath, leaving those at the bedside wondering whether they are going to take another breath.”

As the 2019 study in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society found, hospice services are underused, especially among those with non-cancer illnesses. As more people learn about the benefits of hospice, they may be less hesitant to request the service.

“Hospice is not something to be afraid of,” Kerwin says. “It’s taking steps to be sure yourself and your loved one is provided comfort and compassionate care as well as support at the end of life’s journey.”

Less than four months after my father passed away, I helped my sister-in-law give her dying father morphine and other medication throughout the night. Instead of feeling anxious, as I did when I was in her role during my father’s final hours, I felt a sense of calm.

This time, I knew what to expect.

Complete Article HERE!

A skate geezer ruminates on death and dying

by Michael Brooke

There are literally millions of articles, books, videos, podcasts, and pieces of art dedicated to the ideas surrounding death and dying.

But I’d wager a large fortune that very few of them give a perspective of death and dying through the lens of a skateboarder.

The book “The Endless Wave: Skateboarding, Death & Spirituality” aims to do just that – or at least start a conversation or two.

Firstly, I am by no means an expert in skateboarding, but I enjoy it immensely.

I’ve been joyfully riding since 1975 and pride myself on riding all types of terrain with all types of skateboards.

I enjoy street, vert, transition, longboarding, freestyle, and I’ll even run slalom cones.

My journey writing about skateboarding started in 1995 with this article: dansworld.com/michael.html

Dansworld was one of the first websites on skateboarding, and I was fortunate to be able to write about my experiences.

Full disclosure: I got the date wrong. I started riding in 1975, not 1976, but everything else is pretty much spot on.

The site inspired me to create my own website. I called it The SkateGeezer Homepage.

Its aim was to publicize older skateboarders and get them thinking about the nostalgic side of riding.

Visit the page – interlog.com/~mbrooke/skategeezer.html – if you dare, but I warn you, the graphics are pretty brutal.

Then again, what do you expect? It was created over 25 years ago!

The SkateGeezer Homepage led to a book contract and, in 1999, “The Concrete Wave: The History of Skateboarding” was published.

It sold 42,000 copies and launched a 52-part TV series.

After this, I launched International Longboarder Magazine in the summer of 1999. This magazine eventually became Concrete Wave, and I published and edited it until the summer of 2018.

Here’s a collection of issues: issuu.com/concretewave

The Concrete Wave: The History of Skateboarding: a book by Michael Brooke

From Publisher to Funeral Director’s Assistant

When I decided to sell the magazine, it was because I felt that it was time to do something else.

Originally, I thought I’d move into working at a non-profit. It turned out that my life was going to go in a different direction.

I wound up answering a job advertisement at a local funeral home. I had done some volunteer work at a nearby hospice and retirement home.

After my interview, they asked me to come in for a day to try things. This was late June 2018, and something about the job felt right.

So, for the last three years or so, I’ve been working as a funeral director’s assistant. It was quite a transition from publishing.

I pretty much do everything but arrange funerals.

From premature babies to those over 100 years old, I’ve experienced death up close and personal.

I’ve done dozens of house calls to transfer the deceased back to our funeral home and assisted at well over 500 funerals.

It’s been over three years since I wrote about skateboarding and over 25 years since I connected with Dansworld to write my first piece.

It feels wonderful to be writing again.

I want to thank my family, my wife Michal, daughter Maya and sons Jonathan and Ethan. They have been incredibly supportive of everything I’ve done.

They’ve also been monumentally patient and understanding too. Without them, I’d be nowhere.

I’d also like to thank Nathan Ho for inspiring me and being a catalyst for me to start writing again.

My hope is that this book inspires my fellow skateboarders to think about death and dying from a different perspective – a perspective that is uniquely ours.

Skateboarders: they value the time put into riding a skateboard | Photo: Shutterstock

1. Balancing the Risk vs. Reward

Think about the first time you stepped on a board. Were you a little bit scared or anxious?

Chances are you might have had some trepidation, but it was mitigated by the sheer joy and freedom you saw other skaters experiencing, and you wanted some of that!

So, you took a chance, jumped on the board, and were hopefully rewarded.

It is not just a question of balancing on a skateboard, but how you balance the risk vs. the reward.

Skateboarders know that falling can produce painful and sometimes lethal consequences.

But all those worries and fears are cast aside for the reward that is riding. Now think about the first time you learned to drop in on a mini-ramp or bowl.

Again, you probably felt a little anxious but knew instinctively that the reward would be truly worthwhile.

It is the combination of risk vs. reward that forms the first part of a skater’s lens, and we carry this throughout our life.

What I have learned in my 57 years of living and 46 years of riding a skateboard is that sometimes you have to jump right in, despite the difficulty or risk.

Built into the DNA of skateboarding is risk, and I know for a fact that it has changed the way I look at death and dying.

While it can be risky to skateboard, I feel that the greater risk is not living a fulfilling, joyful life.

The countless hours spent with friends skateboarding create a unique bond.

Sure, there are times you are competing in a game of skate or who can go the fastest down a hill, but mostly the ride is the reward.

Think of the road trips you’ve been on with your fellow skaters. That first push can lead to a lifetime of freedom and exploration.

For me, skateboarding was a catalyst to lead me to people, music, art, and ideas that I normally wouldn’t have discovered.

The more you commit, the greater the reward.

Skateboarding tricks: the more you commit, the greater the reward | Photo: Shutterstock

The Formula for a Joyful Life

Skateboarders know all about quality time – especially if you’re living in a climate that is not sunny all the time.

We cherish the opportunity to ride with friends. But most importantly, we value the time put into riding a skateboard.

We know that at any moment, a pebble, car, or crack in the pavement could stop us in our tracks.

When I attend a funeral, I can tell almost immediately what kind of eulogies I will hear.

If the family is tight-knit and supportive of one another, the eulogies will often be about the time the person put into people.

While hearing about a person’s business or academic accomplishments can be impressive, it is the anecdotes about the time spent with family and friends that really leave an impression on me.

I have never once heard, “I wish my father would have spent less time with us” or “I wish my mom would have spent more time at the office.”

Ultimately, life is about balance.

If you are obsessed with skateboarding to the point that it leaves you penniless, you’ve gone too far.

Conversely, there are so many millions of people afraid to take that first push or to drop in.

They firmly believe that life is scary and meant to be cautiously navigated. Their fears can lead to frustration, anger, and depression.

It makes for a joyless life.

Skateboarding has a magical way of creating a sense of freedom in your mind. Once your mind is free, anything is possible.

After all, you have a 100 percent chance of dying. The question is: what are you going to do about it?

Skateboarding: like life, a balance between risk and reward | Photo: Shutterstock

2. Reality Doesn’t Just Bite – It Spits!

Before I start this next chapter, I wanted to preface things with a small warning. The truth is that discussing death and dying can be very difficult for some.

Nathan and I are going to hit on some very challenging and somewhat painful ideas over the course of this book.

But if you picked up on what I was writing about in Chapter One, I think you’ll do just fine.

The following incident happened about three years ago, but I remember it like it was yesterday.

I had been at my job as a funeral director’s assistant for less than a week.

It was a blazing hot day in July, and I was getting to know my fellow co-workers. At the cemetery, we had spied someone lurking about 200 feet away.

We were told that it was an estranged brother who was not invited to the funeral but had somehow found out the time and place and was making his presence known.

It created a little bit of intrigue, but none of us were concerned that he would do something to disrupt the funeral.

As this was literally my second or third time attending a funeral at a gravesite, I wasn’t really sure if having a lurker was a normal occurrence or something completely uncommon.

It turned out to be something else – it turned out to be completely off the rails. The funeral service took about 30 minutes to finish.

The family left the grave, and slowly the brother walked up to the grave.

He stood in front of the grave and spat on it. Then he said, “I’m glad you’re dead, you f*****g c**t.”

He promptly left, and I stood there with my jaw dropped. As he left, I could feel the tension and anger just swirling around him.

I was literally stunned into silence.

Skateboarding: your skateboard will outlive you | Illustration: Brooke/Ho

Gaining Appreciation for Life

I am happy to report that a scene like this is not a common occurrence. The amount of visceral hatred that seethed in this man’s veins was both intense and shocking.

While I will never know what led up to this moment, it is forever seared in my brain.

A fellow staff member remarked that he’d been working in funeral services for over 25 years and had never encountered something like this before.

I guess in some crazy way, my timing was pretty good.

There is no doubt in my mind that you gain an incredible appreciation for life when you are surrounded by death.

It seems oddly counter-intuitive, and yet I encounter it constantly. What can we learn from my story about this man?

I think you could spend many years trying to unpack a scene like this, but I think it boils down to just one crucial thing.

“You gotta handle your shit, or shit will handle you.”

Clearly, this man (who appeared to be in his mid-60s) and his mother (along with the rest of the family) needed help.

He clearly carries a burning resentment that was overwhelming. Whatever history is between the family, it would appear that it was never dealt with.

This man needed help. Maybe he got it, but I sense it never really helped sufficiently. Or maybe, in the last three years, he did receive some help.

I can only hope that he did. Sadly, I will never know.

Skaters come from a variety of backgrounds. Some are rich, some are poor, and some are middle class.

I would venture a guess that a number of skaters turned to skateboarding because it was a path to freedom from an issue.

These issues or problems can range from mild to severe.

No matter what a skater tries to leave behind (i.e., an abusive home, inattentive parents, abusive sibling, or some other problem), the fact remains that skateboarding can’t fully erase the problem.

Coming to terms with this can be both alarming and painful, but it is necessary.

Make no mistake – I am glad I had skateboarding when I was younger. It wasn’t just a creative outlet; it provided me with a great deal of support.

But in truth, I never dealt with certain s**t until I reached my 50s.

Of course, things change with time, and nowadays, people are a lot more open to dealing with mental health issues.

But the reality is that if you use skateboarding as your only path to freedom, you aren’t dealing with the problem.

This can have a substantially negative impact as you move through life.

If you carry with you hatred against people who don’t look like you or skate like you, it is you who has the problem.

Skateboarding: if you use it as your only path to freedom, you aren't dealing with the problem | Photo: Shutterstock

Skateboarding Will Never Love you Back

Skateboarding promotes the idea of freedom, but if you are running away from an issue that needs to be dealt with, you will never be truly free.

This is a hard truth, but it is critical to accept.

As much as we love skateboarding or any other activity, it can’t truly replace family or close friends.

A skateboarder knows instinctively to value each moment riding – whether alone or in a group.

But as you start to move from adolescence to middle age and beyond, you realize that skeletons in closets have a peculiar way of rearing their heads.

Whatever demons you may carry, skateboarding has proven to be a great way to keep them at bay.

But the demons won’t fully be exercised until you face reality.

I have tried yoga, cooking, gardening, and conversing in another language.

At some point or another, these activities have let me down, oftentimes with ridiculous and embarrassing results.

I used to say that skateboarding never let me down. But the fact is that skateboarding is an activity, not a person.

No matter how much you love your skateboard or the act of skateboarding, it will never love you back.

It can’t because a skateboard is an inanimate object. An object that certainly improves your life, but it is only an object.

Skateboarding will be the catalyst for you to have experiences that you will love.

Often, it will bring you people who you might grow to cherish (and respect).

But the fact remains your skateboard will outlive you. A hundred years from now, your descendants might know that you skated.

But one thing is for certain: if you don’t handle your shit eventually, your descendants will have to.

Complete Article HERE!

How Preparing for Death Makes Life More Meaningful

by Tom Rapsas

Is there ever an appropriate time to contemplate your own death? Like grief, death is a topic most of us prefer not to talk about or even think about. Most of us assume our own deaths will happen at some point in the distant future. Yet, as Wayne Dyer once said, the future is promised to no one.

Most of us will wait until we are at the brink of death’s door to contemplate death. It might happen after a terminal medical diagnosis, a sudden heart attack or illness, or an automobile accident. Or you might live in a warzone, where the specter of death visits you on a daily basis.

But the fact is, no matter your station in life, death is a constant presence. We are nearer to death this year than last year, closer to death today than we were yesterday. During our whole lives we are moving inextricably closer to death. We are not allowed to stop the clock or to go more slowly. Old and young, rich and poor, all are propelled toward death with equal speed.

There are some who regularly practice for their own death.

They are not suicidal—in fact, just the opposite. They contemplate death so that they can better appreciate life. It’s part of an ancient Christian tradition called memento mori (translation: “remember your death”). It has received renewed attention thanks to Sister Theresa Aletheia Noble of the Daughters of Saint Paul, a Catholic religious order.

Noble has written a book titled Remember Your Death, where she asks us to become aware of our impending death so that we can become better focused on what is real and important in our lives. In her words, the practice “is more about living than it is about dying.” It’s about living each moment not knowing if it’s our last.

Sister Theresa believes that the practice of memento mori is essential because “only God knows when each person will die.” That does not mean going about your day thinking you will die, but recognizing “the possibility that this could come to pass. One day will be our last, and the great majority of us do not know when.” She continues:

No matter how many surgeries we undergo, how much we exercise, or how many vitamins we take, our bodies will break down slowly over time. Indeed, no matter what we do, our bodies will succumb to old age and die.

Spring is an appropriate time to remember our death.

Noble calls out the Christian observance of Ash Wednesday. It kicks off the 40-day season of Lent which ends three days before Easter Sunday. During Ash Wednesday, a priest or pastor dips their finger into a tray of ashes and spreads it on a congregants’ forehead in the shape of a cross. While doing this, they quote the Bible, saying “from dust you came and from dust you will return.” Dust is a metaphor for death.

Sister Thersa tells us that “as Christians, when we contemplate our own death, we also enter into the death of Jesus Christ. We remember death not from our own perspective, but from Christ’s perspective.” And from that perspective, death has been conquered. With the resurrection of Jesus, he has shown us that we all have the ability “to rise with him” and in essence, survive our own death.

You don’t need to be a Christian, for this work for you. Noble informs us that “even if one does not believe in the Christian message of salvation, the rich ancient tradition of remembering death can bring joy, focus, and fruitfulness to anyone’s life.” What follows are three compelling notions pulled from Remember Your Death.

3 Reasons to Prepare for Your Own Death

  1. It can cleanse your soul. When we remember death “it can motivate us to clear grudges, anger, and a desire for retaliation for our souls.” When we are able to forgive others, it can “heal relationships but most importantly, our souls. Forgiveness clears away what stands in the way of our union with God.”
  2. It can lead to greater humility. When we remember our death, we “truthfully admit we need God’s help,” and are more apt to accept God’s grace. By contrast, when we puff ourselves up with pride, we push away this grace. “Remember, you are dust and to dust you will return.” ~Bible, Genesis 3:19
  3. It can give you greater focus. Through the knowledge that the gift of life can be taken from us at any time, we gain a greater appreciation for our lives. As Sam Harris reminds us in a podcast titled The Lessons of Death, no one knows how much time they have left. “We’re all going to lose everything we have—and we don’t know when.” Since we don’t know how many moments we have left, it makes sense to be mindful of the limited amount of time we do have—and treat these moments like the treasures they are.

Complete Article HERE!

On Death, Dying, and Disbelief


by Nicole Carr

As humans, most of us—especially after the last couple of pandemic years—have experienced the loss of a loved one. As humanists, we know how difficult it can be to grieve as a nontheist in a world that is designed for the religious. Many of the rituals our society uses to mark the end of life are built around belief in the afterlife, and that can leave nontheists feeling stranded and alone at a time when they especially need support. Candace R. M. Gorham offers that support with her book On Death, Dying, and Disbelief, published last year by Pitchstone Publishing.

When my mother died (much too young), I was still a believer. I had already stopped regularly going to church, but I believed in god and the sentiments that the people around me uttered were actually comforting: “She’s in a better place,” “You’ll be together again someday,” “She’s looking down on you.” I knew the rituals and they worked for me.

Twenty-five years later, when my husband died (again, much too young), I hadn’t found humanism yet, but I definitely considered myself a nontheist. Grieving was different this time, and I needed to find new ways to mark his death and find a way to live without him. I wish I’d had this book then.

As a licensed mental health counselor and a former ordained minister turned atheist activist, Gorham is uniquely suited to write this book. She also draws on her personal experience with grief. As she writes in the book’s introduction,

The ten tips I offer in this book were selected based on common questions and conversations I have had with nontheists and are things that have helped me personally. In this regard, I combine my personal awareness of issues unique to nontheists with my professional expertise in mental health counseling, and I try to address this deeply personal subject with the tenderness of one who can fully commiserate with the target audience.

And she succeeds. The book is deeply personal and yet still applicable to the reader’s own situation and experience. The chapters are organized as ten tips, and each one begins with a poem written by the author when she was coping with her own grief.

On my own journey from religion to nontheism, the idea I found hardest to let go was that loved ones who had died were in some other—better—place, where they were somehow watching over me. I held on to that idea tightly after all my other religious beliefs had fallen away. In fact, I held on to it for quite a while after I called myself non-religious. Gorham’s first chapter deals with just that concept, and how to reconcile a sometimes deep desire to believe that a loved one is still with us with our understanding that there is no heaven.

There’s a lot of important advice included about taking care of yourself physically, psychologically, and emotionally. There are the basic things, of course: eating, drinking, sleep, exercise. But there are also tips about things you might not think about in the midst of grief, like the importance of establishing new routines to help you move forward.

Gorham also includes information about when to seek out a therapist, the beneficial possibilities of medication, how to identify when grief has passed into a danger zone of potential self-harm or pathology, and the healing qualities of nature to help create a “restorative environment.”

And there’s a whole chapter on the need to “Cry. Cry. And then cry some more” which the author describes as “the most cathartic activity I have ever done.” Since humanists tend to like science and evidence, Gorham details, for instance, studies that point to the beneficial hormones and proteins that crying produces, along with the stress-relief and cathartic effect of the physical act.

In the same chapter, however, she reminds readers to “embrace the times when they are not crying” and find moments of enjoyment in the midst of grief. After all,

As a nontheist, you very likely do not believe that your loved one is watching you from the great beyond. So, it is not like they are there judging the extent of your grieving. And you are not competing with friends and family to see who can grieve the hardest and longest.

One powerful chapter is Tip #8: Do something in their honor. Gorham sets out several options for rituals that one can create to remember and memorialize a deceased loved one. In some humanist circles, “ritual” can be a bad word, but many people do feel a need to mark an important loss. As Gorham writes,

As nontheists, we might not like the word “ritual” because of its close ties with religion. However…synonyms include custom, fashion, habit, pattern, practice, and second nature. As you can see, a ritual is certainly more than just a religious activity. Rituals are extremely powerful tools that, when controlled and properly applied—as opposed to letting them control us—can provide the most healing of all of the activities, tips, actions, and recommendations I discuss in this book.

Her suggestions range from “Visit the Gravesite” to “Complete a Project.”

This is a compact book at just 152 pages, and its structure is perfectly suited to dipping in to find just the right tip for where you are in the process of grieving. With a final chapter devoted to advice for people who want to support those who are grieving, the book covers a lot of ground.

Everyone will find sections of the book useful to them. For instance, Gorham stresses the restorative power of nature, but not being an “outdoorsy” person, that advice doesn’t really speak to me. Instead, the sections that resonated most with me were Tip 8 (on ritual) and Tip 9 (on crying), described above. For others, it might be the opposite.

For me, the best passages are the ones that remind the reader that, though we must grieve, grief is not all there is:

You are alive and you must keep living. If you wake up crying, cry while you are getting dressed, cry while driving, cry when music is playing, cry anytime you are alone, cry in the shower, cry in bed, cry at meal time. If you cannot help yourself, then cry, cry, cry. However, it is also absolutely critical that you let yourself experience joy whenever possible….When you are able to break free from its hold and peek your head above water for even ten minutes to breathe the pure air of laughter and smiles, you must take it in as fully as you can.

Most importantly, Gorham stresses that each journey is unique and each person grieving is on a different timeline. The most repeated advice in the book is to be patient with one another—and yourself.

Complete Article HERE!

Lively conversations about dying


Death Café opens up difficult dialog

Things at the Death Café were cheerier than one might think. There were tears, of course, but there was also laughter, regret, gratitude, questions and advice. Above all there was wonder and awe — a sense of reverence for a process that all of us will experience, yet few of us talk about.

Longtime Mazama resident and “death doula” Bo Thrasher recently collaborated with Methow at Home to host a Death Café, inspired by the model developed in England in 2011 by Jon Underwood and Sue Barsky Reid. Based on the ideas of Bernard Crettaz, a Swiss sociologist and anthropologist who debuted the first “café mortel” in 2004, a Death Café is a social gathering designed to stimulate frank conversations about taboo subjects, including death.

Thrasher’s own interest in becoming a death doula — a person who helps others navigate end of life assistance from logistical, spiritual, emotional, physical and practical perspectives — stems from the hospice workers who helped her mother die peacefully at home. Through her work as a death doula, Thrasher “is striving to help make the idea of dying and death a natural part of our culture within the whole life cycle.”

“When my mom passed away I was amazed by the beauty and care with which she was treated by hospice,” Thrasher said by way of introduction in the Death Café. “I decided I wanted to work with people in the end of life. We’re all born and we’re all going to die. I wanted to be a part of that, to think about how we think and talk about death, and how that affects life and how we want to live.”

Reclaiming the word “doula” from its origins — “doule” in ancient Greek means “female servant” — Thrasher and other death doulas around the globe are reclaiming the process of leaving life behind, shuffling off our mortal coils not in sterile environments attended by strangers but in sacred spaces and homes, surrounded by loved ones.

Thrasher said that she and her fellow death doulas are “non-medical professionals who advocate for the dying, give comfort and emotional support, work with hospice and medical professionals, and work with aftercare resources like funeral homes and cemeteries.”

Opening the conversation

A Death Café doesn’t have an agenda or a theme; it’s designed simply to open the conversation about death. And like any gathering without a theme, the recent Methow Valley Death Café covered a range of topics. Some attendees shared their own stories with death, ranging from a “horrific experience” of removing a father from life support to getting to hold a mother’s hand while she took her last breath to reminiscing with siblings while sorting through parents’ belongings after both had passed.

While the overwhelming message from those who have experienced the death of a close loved one and who have had to navigate dealing not just with the body of the deceased but later the possessions of the departed is to “talk about end-of-life concerns so you’re on the same page before death arrives,” suggestions were intensely personal and represented opposing perspectives.

One attendee noted the gratitude she felt for her father’s attention to his possessions before his death; his children will not be left with a house full of things to distribute and dispose of. Another agreed: “When you die, you’re already leaving your loved ones with a lot of stuff. If there’s anything you can do to make it easier for them to say goodbye without overwhelming them, you should do it.”

But others said that going through their parents’ possessions after they died was cathartic and bonding: “It helped us acknowledge the end of an era,” one said. “We had so much fun putting stickers on things that we wanted in my parents’ house,” said another. “It was just another way of connecting with my siblings.”

Another participant shared the experience of attending a funeral that had been planned by the deceased prior to death, down to the music, the speeches, and the readings. “Every bit of it was orchestrated, and it seemed stilted to me. People weren’t as engaged as they would have been had they had a part in planning it,” she said. “It made me rethink my own eventual memorial service. I have this favorite song that I always imagined would be playing. But maybe that song won’t resonate with the people there. Maybe part of dying is letting go, leaving it to others to decide how best to celebrate and grieve with those who are left behind.”

The same participant shared that at her mother’s funeral, an aunt told her “Honey, life is for the living; you gotta move on.” She took that to heart and it reframed her thinking, not just about her own funeral, but also where she might be laid to rest.

“My family always does cremation and spreading ashes and my grandparents are in urns in a fancy mausoleum in Seattle,” she said. “But I was recently at Beaver Creek cemetery and I was very moved — it was such a lovely place to go and contemplate someone’s life.”

“Cremation is quite toxic on the environment,” she continued. “I had always thought that was the best option, environmentally, but now I’m more interested in a truly green burial.”

“Ashes to ashes, dust to dust,” another participant said. “I have an arrangement with a carpenter friend to make me a wooden box. I want to return to the earth.”

She was echoed by another: “It’s important to me that all of my molecules go back into life, and that doesn’t happen in a vault.”

Expanded choices

Although options for body disposition are fairly limited in Washington state, the range of choices has expanded to include aquamation (biocremation using lye and heat) and natural organic reduction (human composting). The People’s Memorial website (peoplesmemorial.org) offers educational workshops that provide information about avenues for body disposition, as well as other death-related challenges like transporting bodies and coordinating at-home funerals.

The aftermath of death is a necessary part of the process, not for the deceased but for those left behind. Organizing memorials, laying the body to rest, combing through possessions, wrapping up paperwork — all can be cathartic and help bring closure. But advance planning not only makes this process smoother, it also helps “spur good thinking about how we want to live our lives,” one participant said.

But not all of the dialog at the Death Café centered on the logistics of death and the legal and administrative consequences. At the core of the conversation was the agreement that journey between life and death remains mysterious, unknowable. Thrasher said, “Like birth, there’s this moment where you’re not really here or there, you’re between. It’s important to recognize those moments.”

Several participants described their parents’ passing — all of whom were surrounded by family and friends — as “unbelievably beautiful,” “fairytale,” “profoundly loving,” and “wonderful.” One participant said that she felt so fortunate to have experienced both of her parents’ deaths at home that she would like to help others have similar experiences. “We took back childbirth,” she said. “Now we need to empower people to take back death, to take control of the end of their lives.”

“There’s something about the last breath,” said another participant. “It sounds strange, but that last exhalation is a magical thing. It’s the transition to the unknown, the unknowing. It’s just fascinating.”

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