REALLY? DEATH WORK?…
It’s ok, I thought it, too. How did I make it here & how can I be so passionate about something that most people don’t want to talk about? Half of the answer to this is in the question itself. I’ve never been one to shy away from learning about subjects that most find difficult & I’ve always been an advocate for informed decisions. In this particular area of life, especially if you’ve lost a loved one, finding out about other options that you may have wanted to know about, after-the-fact, can be incredibly difficult. Most of us have wondered if we did all we could or did the right things or if we honored our loved one in the way they would have wanted. I would love to be able to change this landscape & try to minimize these regrets as much as possible. Grief is hard enough without worrying about whether or not the arrangements were enough, as well.
How did I get here? Almost 11 years ago, we lost our father in a tragic accident while we were on our first family vacation, but let’s back up though because I’ve experienced many deaths before his. Most of these losses were hosted in a modern, conventional setting: visitation or rosary at a funeral home or church, followed by a memorial service & burial at a cemetery. The occasions went seamlessly but I usually left feeling like there was something missing, even though all the boxes were checked. Not until all these years later, did I learn about all the options we didn’t know about at the time of dad’s death. The one thing that I always wished could have been different about my father’s services was that as wanted more time with his body.
Back to Dad. The only time I truly felt I was with him was cut short & it was the last time I saw him. They had opened his casket for the last time for us to view him before the memorial service. I was holding his hand in mine, speaking to him in my thoughts. His hand began to warm from the warmth of my own & it seemed like he was there with me. No sooner did I feel this, I was told that it was time to close the lid to the casket as we needed to begin the service. That was the hardest goodbye of them all for me. Knowing what I know now, I wonder how my early grieving process, & my current state of grief (as it never truly leaves us), would have gone if I had been allowed more time with him, in a more comfortable setting, like his home. I remember my dad telling me about the “Irish wakes” they had in the farmhouses he grew up in & he seemed at peace when he spoke about them. I never knew those were still a possibility, as I know now. I’m very passionate about passing information along to my community that can help them, especially in a time of need.
The more I began to learn, while becoming both an End-of-Life/Death Doula & a Home Deathcare Guide ( AKA a Home Funeral Guide), the more voracious I became to know more. I passionately believe it is our privilege to support each other during these times in life, as it is sure to come to all of us. Sometimes it’s unexpected, like my dad’s accident, a miscarriage, stillbirth, suicide, a stroke: so many ways we can’t anticipate. Other times, we may know that death is coming by way of a terminal diagnosis, decline of a loved one or simply the acknowledgement of older age. Whether unexpected or anticipated, death is hard & grief can be even harder. Every time I have explained the knowledge & resources I have in these roles, without fail, the person I’m speaking with tells me that they had little to no idea all of these options were available. It was clear that most of us don’t know what we are fully allowed if we lose a loved one. My intention is to educate my community to understand ALL of the choices available to them in an unbiased, non-judgmental, safe, supportive & compassionate space, while getting them connected to the right people at the right time, whether it is me or one of my esteemed peers.
In closing, let me leave you with a quote that I have found to be true through this practice:
”Many of my patients, as they approached their deaths, told me in one way or another that learning how to die has taught them how to live.” -Jeff Spiess, MD - Dying with Ease
Let’s not wait until we’ve been told that we, or a loved one, is dying & just begin to learn how to live. Let’s change the conversation & learn everything we can about death & dying, & let’s do it together. Let’s plan this life event as if it’s our last hoorah. You will find peace & live life more fully when you become friendly with this inevitable part of it & make it your own. I’ll be right there, walking with you.