Learn how a death doula started a business coaching doctors to address end-of-life issues with their patients.
My guest Rachel Giger is a death doula and hospice volunteer who responded to a need in her community by offering to teach local doctors how to talk about death with their patients. She now has physician clients from around the country who are eager to learn how to help their patients deal with the end of life. Learn more at her website:
Learn some tips for starting important conversations about death with people you are meeting for the first time!
In this episode I’ll share with you some stories about my recent yoga retreat and the many amazing conversations I was able to have with strangers about death and dying. I’ve got a few tips for you about starting up your own conversations about death with random strangers. (Here’s a photo from a sunrise hike I took during the retreat!)
Stay tuned to the end of the podcast as I’ll play her song Evocation as the Outro today!
A HUGE THANK YOU to my latest supporter on Patreon.com/eolu: Karen Van Hoof! I appreciate your support very much. Thanks also to all of the other patrons – sign up and join the team for as little as $1 per month at Patreon.com/eolu!
Today I’ll tell you about my recent 5-day retreat at a yoga center where I went to relax, do yoga and finish revising one of my books. While I was there I had the pleasure of talking with many other visitors to the retreat center about death and dying, which was fascinating. Normally I don’t find many people out in the general public who want to talk about death. And while the people I conversed with weren’t necessarily interested in death before our discussion they each seemed to come away with a new understanding or sense of peace.
In order to confront our society’s fear of death we need many more conversations like this to happen every day with people who are not already tuned in to death awareness.
Each of us needs to step up and reach out to others to start a dialogue about death that might prove very helpful to our conversation partner and very informative for us.
Here are my tips for talking with strangers about death and dying:
Choose the right time and place: my conversations generally took place at the table while I was sharing a meal with various strangers. Breaking bread together creates an automatic sense of connection and safety since we usually associate mealtimes with positive feelings. There is also often some free time between courses where conversation can happen naturally. It may also work well to talk about death during other shared activities like hiking, gardening or cooking. Watch for the right opportunity to arise.
Find common ground first: make sure you have established a basic connection by talking about the meal (or the garden, or the hike, etc.) Since my conversation partners were also there for yoga classes we had an automatic common subject to begin chatting about while we established a connection.
Perfect your “elevator speech” which is a very brief story you tell whenever someone asks “What do you do?” The idea is that your answer is so brief you can complete it during a short elevator ride from one floor to the next. So think of one or two sentences you can use to answer that question and give another person an idea of your work. My answer at the yoga retreat was: “I’m a retired hospice physician who now writes books.” Tell them enough to garner their interest and curiosity and lead naturally to more questions. I purposely avoided mentioning death and dying in my initial introduction so that I wouldn’t frighten anyone away before we even got started. But most individuals I encountered were intrigued and asked more either about the hospice work or about the books I’m writing. Both of those questions led directly to a talk about death and dying. On several occasions the other person immediately brought up a story of a loved one or friend on hospice. Many times it was a story that desperately needed to be told and also came with questions about death, dying and hospice. I was amazed by the quality of conversation that occurred in these instances and the need for accurate information. I’m convinced that many people out there really do need to talk about death and dying but rarely encounter anyone they can speak to, which is where you come in!
Hone your listening skills: for these conversations focus on listening rather than telling your own story. Watch for cues from the other person that there is a need to say something and encourage them to talk by asking a question or two and stopping to listen attentively. We are all passionate about our work and other endeavors and there will be opportunities to share that at some point in the future. Initially it’s more important to just listen and hold space so that the other person can ask questions and get the support they need. Rely on your intuition to tell you when that person is ready for a little nudge or encouragement to go deeper into their feelings.
Share just enough information: again it is important to be a good listener so when you do describe your work don’t go overboard. Use simple and accurate terms to convey what you do but pause and allow the other person to ask for the information they need.
As you’ll hear when you listen to this episode I was able to have meaningful conversations with different people every day while I was at the retreat. These are some of the most important discussions we can be having right now so take a chance and strike up a conversation with a stranger about death and dying!
There will be a new episode every Monday so be sure to tune in again! And if you enjoy this content please share it with others and consider leaving a review on iTunes.
In memory of Jon’s contributions to positive conversations about death through Death Cafe.
This episode is dedicated to the memory of Jon Underwood who died suddenly and unexpectedly at the age of 44 on June 27, 2017. I share an interview with Jon from 2015 about Death Cafe, why he started the movement, and his dreams of creating an actual Death Cafe in London. Thank you Jon for changing how the world talks about death! Learn more at DeathCafe.com.
Please consider making a donation as a way of thanking Jon posthumously for his work!
This podcast is supported through generous donations at Patreon.com/eolu. Thank you to my latest supporter John Wadsworth who is the founder and creative director of Art of Dying Magazine (go to ArtofDying.net to learn more.) If you would like to become a donor go to Patreon.com/eolu to learn more.
About the 2015 interview with Jon Underwood:
When Jon Underwood and his Mom, Sue Barsky Reid, hosted the very first Death Cafe in his home in London in September 2011, they had no idea they were creating a movement that would sweep across the world.
In this interview Dr. Karen Wyatt and Jon Underwood will talk about the past, present and future of Death Cafe. You will learn how you can be part of the Death Cafe movement whether you would like to attend a Cafe, start your own, or support Jon’s future dream of opening a real Death Cafe in London!
We can learn from Jon’s story that it is possible for one person with a simple idea to create big changes in the world!
Thank you Jon creating those big changes for all of us! We wish that we had more time to be inspired by you but you have always taught that life is fleeting. You enjoyed each moment just as each of us must learn to do.
Marggie Hatala – author and teacher of a writing class related to end of life; her books are “Sally: A Memoir” and the forthcoming “Life as Prayer”; learn more at www.marggiehatala.com
Next she begins the Update for September by talking about the new documentary film currently streaming on Neflix: Extremis, which won 1st place at the Tribeca Film Festival. Please see this film which takes place in the ICU at Highland Hospital in Oakland and features Dr. Jessica Nutik Zitter. This is a must-see film that brilliantly depicts the conundrum that exists at the end of life when painful decisions must be made. By showing the real-life conversations that take place in the ICU between staff, family members and patients, a case is made for everyone to complete their advance directives and prepare their loved ones to honor their wishes at the end of life. But the painful process of decision-making becomes apparent as each individual struggles with the unknown and the unknowable in these dire situations.
The other topics covered this month include:
BMJ Online report that patients who receive hospice care for the last 6 months of life have better pain control, fewer hospital days, and are less likely to die in the hospital or ICU.
Researchers at John Hopkins found that their palliative care program led to savings of ~ $19 million over 5 years in addition to improved quality of care and patient satisfaction.
Study originally published in Health Affairs and reported on Reuters online showed gaps in palliative care in the US. Read the article.
“What it feels like to die,” an article in The Atlantic discusses the active dying process from the patient’s perspective. Read the article.
Friends and Family Letter Project by Dr. VJ Periyakoil at Stanford includes 7 prompts for letter writers to leave messages for their loved ones. Read the article.
“7 Songs for a Long Life” documentary from Scotland that depicts how terminally ill patients use singing as therapy. Read the article.
The Friendly Atheist Julie Stahl reminds us not to impose our own religious or spiritual beliefs on those who are grieving and may not share your perspective. Read her blog.
Thanks for tuning in to the podcast! I hope you enjoy this information. If you feel inspired to offer a little support go to Patreon.com/eolu to join the community!
In this episode Dr. Wyatt thanks her newest Patreon supporter, Elaine den Hoed. If you’d like to make a small donation to help cover the expenses of this podcast and the EOLU interview series go to www.patreon.com/eolu. Your help is greatly appreciated!
This episode includes:
Nebraska’s plan to improve services for Alzheimer’s and dementia patients
“Memory Cafes” taking place in Minnesota
Study that looked at the utilization of Assisted Dying laws and found that none of the feared consequences have occurred: usage has been very low and there has been no “slippery slope” decline to euthanasia
University of Vermont study showed significant disparity between physicians’ estimations of prognosis and patients’ understanding of their own prognosis, pointing out the need for better doctor-patient communication
Survey of Hem-Oncology MD’s showed that they feel patient’s unrealistic expectations of cure or prolonged life are the most common barrier to quality end-of-life care
Study that found Palliative Care conversations about patient prognosis created PTSD for family members has been widely criticized for the way it was set up
Seniors are the fastest growing group of social media users
Article discussing mourning rituals among animals
Stephen Hawking declares “There is no afterlife.”
Photo of fatal motorcycle crash site in Kentucky shows what some believe is a “spirit” hovering over the site
Elderly couple in San Antonio who both have dementia died within 3 hours of one another while holding hands
Thanks for tuning in to the EOLU podcast! Be sure to come back every Monday and share these episodes with someone else who might find them helpful!