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Do You Ever Think About Death? Barbie Asks. Here Are Answers About How to Go With Grace

 

Even our girl “Barbie” thinks about the inevitable.

For me, I love life so very much, I am compelled to think of our mortality.  Death. 

At the same time, I’m befuddled why more folks refuse to even entertain the thought of dying.  After all, it’s gonna happen to all of us. Guaranteed.

I started writing this post a few weeks ago. I admit that even for me, a writer and advocate of dialing up the death dialogue, it’s curious it took me until my father’s death anniversary to actually  complete it.

Karma?

Let’s talk.


One of the reasons I was determined to become a Death Doula was because of my respect for the dignity of dying with grace. 

I long danced around the fact that most of us ~ make that pretty much all of us ~ are in denial about dying; yet I was always bewildered by our lack of confronting the certainty of it. As Groucho Marx said, “Who ya’ gonna believe? Me? Or your lyin’ eyes!”

Coupled with this outright denial, is our universal lack of preparation for the inevitable.

I’m not saying we should be preoccupied or obsessed with the unavoidable but rather to acknowledge it. Prepare for it. And well, honestly, embrace it.  

Few of us do.

I’ll share with you that my own dear father who had been “suffering” for some time and was in and out of the hospital, the topic of getting a burial plot was never addressed or discussed between him and my mother.  When the end was imminent, I asked the priest for the “next steps” and when he itemized what to do, including the cemetery and burial; I looked at my mother who, with hands to her mouth, was shaking her head.  

“We don’t have a burial plot,” she admitted.  

Off to the cemetery, me, my mother and my brother went to purchase one.  

I didn’t want the same thing to happen to us and furthermore, I wanted to be close to my father for the rest of eternity so I too purchased a plot ~ for me and Bill, next to my father.   

Today, we visit my father. I clean and maintain the space. It’s a kind of portal for me… 

My point isn’t that my parents were thoughtless, it’s that moreover, most of us refuse to prepare for our next chapter. It’s all so common.

We know on some level that change is inevitable.  “For everything there is a season.”  

After all, we prepare our gardens. Our homes.  Our taxes.  Our weddings. That “once in a lifetime event.” 

Yet, why do we ignore this certainty (“once in a lifetime event!) with such stubborn resistance?

I do very much understand the utter loss that accompanies death.  It’s definitive.  

I had a professor who told me upon losing her husband, “I didn’t think one could cry that much.”

Samuel Beckett said, “Tears are liquified brain…”

We do feel like we’re losing our minds when we lose someone close to us.


Yet, I personally feel that denial is a kind of lack of respect. 

It’s often said (and incorrectly attributed to Queen Elizabeth,) that “If we love, we grieve.”

Bereavement is an experience we all go through at some point. We need community and ritual and preparation because mourning a loved one is so painful for us to endure, especially if that person is young. So while most of my observations and recommendations are for those who may be looking at what could be considered one’s later chapters, we still need a better way to deal with loss, especially now when our religious and cultural traditions are rather removed from the “business of dying.”

By not preparing for dying, we deny its dignity and our love for those whom we lost or will soon lose. 

By not helping to prepare a Legacy, we deny family and future generations of the spirit of that loved one. 

I believe that regret is a big part of grief that we do not recognize.  

Too often we wish we’d had that last conversation about forgiveness. Or “coming clean” about some transgression, or we regret not telling that person that you will love them unconditionally for all eternity.

Again, if we start preparing for death, we can accept it better… And therefore not have these regrets. 

In Thessalonians it is written: “But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers and sisters, about those who have died, so that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope.” 

My hope and goal is that I can help make this subject more palatable and more resonant so that it’s not so unsavory that it’s creepy to even broach the subject.  

I hope to help us forge and see a way to celebrate a life rather than to merely mourn our loss.

The Language of Loss

The fact that we refer to someone who has passed as a “loved one,” kinda’ says it all.  Words have agency.

Even if one loses a child or a dear friend who is far too young, I believe that if we can change the perception and language surrounding the death, we can not only better cope with our loss, we can also honor and elevate the life of those who have left us “too early.”

Since completing my rigorous, six-month certificate program to become a Doula, I am hyper-alert to news, podcasts, and other media about the topic of death and our preparation, or the lack thereof.

I am heartened to acknowledge there are some advancing conversations about the topic; albeit it’s just a sliver at this point. 

I recently read how, facing his “final chapter,” former President Jimmy Carter has openly welcomed and shared news that he entered hospice care more than six months ago. Publicizing such a choice was labeled a ‘fitting final gift of candor from a former president to an American public that has long been uncomfortable with our own mortality.” 

The article goes on to say how the very word, “hospice” conjures the idea of death and defeat; giving an example of a husband who refused his wife’s wishes to be at home, claiming that “no,” his wife wanted to do everything to fight, to not give up. The critical care doctor reporting the case explained that it was not giving up; rather about maximizing the quality of time she had remaining in this life.

It may not come as a surprise that, according to The New York Times, half of hospice patients enrolled for only 18 days or less; one-tenth for only one or two days before they died.

I urge you to look to hospice and doulas as care that can help you manage what is surely a painful process for caregivers and family. Doulas can assist with end of life planning that is thoughtful and respectful, alleviating you from having to deal with details.

Another series of conversations I have truly embraced is Anderson Cooper’s podcast, All There Is

Anderson presents a very thoughtful and intimate profile of what losing family members has taught him. He talks about the loss of his mother, Gloria Vanderbilt, and the death of his father from cancer when he was just 10-years old, and the tragic suicide of his brother Wyatt.

Anderson also interviews personalities who have experienced death and we learn from their wisdom.  

I especially appreciated Anderson’s interview with Stephen Colbert, who lost his father and two brothers in a plane crash.  

While their deaths remain unbearable, Stephen offers such compelling hope.  

He says “Loss allows you to be more fully human, and it allows you to reach out and have connections with people.”

Furthermore, he says, “If you want to be the most human you can be, that involves loss and suffering.”

I tie this back to accepting the inevitable.

I am pragmatic; therefore, I can best manage situations in a way that recognizes the existing conditions, rather than wishing for something that is a unicorn….

Another guest, Kirsten Johnson, explains how we can still have a relationship with someone who has died. 

This may be a revelation.

She introduces Anderson to the idea that we can get to know our loved ones in new and different ways, even becoming closer to them in death…

Anderson has done a lot of press about the podcast which furthers the conversation about this topic. And its popularity is such that it’s coming back for another season. Yeah.

I can also recommend this podcast ~ Life/Death/Law, End of Life Planning.

it is produced and hosted by a fellow student in my Doula classes, Liza W. Hanks: Estate planning attorney, writer, daughter, wife, mother of two kids.  

What about Legacy? 

To best honor our loved ones, we can create their legacy. Working together, hopefully, to keep their spirit, their memory, and our connection to their incredible life.  

Coming up I’ll share ways to create a Legacy ~ from creating a Meditation Garden to a family Cookbook filled with loving recipes.  Or seeking beauty in nature as one mother did for her family after her 14-year old daughter died and she found no rituals, just a free-fall. 

Death is an uncomfortable fact of life.  That we can all agree upon.

But at the same time, I hope that we can honor our loved ones and the family and friends that remain in this life by talking about our mortality, preparing for it, and in the end, letting them go with grace, respect, and deep love.  

There are good deaths; even in extreme tragedy.

I can’t believe it’s been 15 years since my father died.  It feels like maybe last year.  I communicate with him all the time and talk about him to others; to bear witness. To feel reverence for his life and what he gave to us. 

I truly love how wise folks talk about keeping our loved ones close, to keep that relationship because after all, they are “just on the other side of the veil.”

Please do share with us any stories of your own bereavement, your grief, and how you managed. What advice do you have or experiences that will help us?

We can all benefit just by talking about this shared connection.

* I wrote about steps one can take after our family suffered an unbearable loss a few years ago.  You can read it here: Helping to Mourn a Death: How to Support Someone Through the Stages of Grief

Hope it will help.

In gratitude…

https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/9/93/Angel_of_Grief_at_Stanford_University_profile_view.JPG


2 Comments

  • Anonymous

    All worth thinking and taking about. Thanks for a well written reminder for every age. We should all think and plan for the inevitable.

  • Anonymous

    Great advice, great stories and useful information. Thanks

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"Love of beauty is taste. The creation of beauty is art."
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 I adore plants. Plants are my muse ~ they are my paramour… I’m a garden artist; a nature lover, & horticulturist. I’m an author & writer. My passion for culture & beauty, along with my trait curiosity, brings you an authentic celebration of life. I’m a storyteller ~ weaving the artful gifts of horticulture, garden design, tablescape decor, floral design, cocktail culture, garden-to-glass recipes & their glamorous garnishes, homegrown edibles, food & drink; & cooking, to bring you my flair & what I’ve been told is an avid elan ~ as well as the stories from those who inspire me ~ to pursue an elegant, enduring, & joyful, entertaining lifestyle. It’s an honor & a privilege to do what you love.

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