Learn about studies that have shown the positive benefits of death awareness and why we need more of it in the world.
In this episode I share some recent studies that validate the fact that being aware of death has positive effects on behavior toward others. This is evidence that we need more classes, workshops, books, films, and discussion groups about death in order to promote health, peace, tolerance, and compassion in the world.
Remember you can still sign up for the online reading group A Year of Reading Dangerously by clicking here. Join us to read one book about death, dying and the afterlife each month during 2018!
You can also get the Teaching Guidelines for a Death & Dying Class here if you are interested in teaching a class in your community or for college or high school students. In addition when you sign up for the guidelines you could become part of a work group during the month of March to create a death and dying class.
THANK YOU to all of you who help support this podcast with your donations on Patreon.com/eolu!!
Kenneth Vail and his colleagues at the University of Missouri recently did a review of several studies on death awareness and behavior. They found that increased death awareness was associated with several positive behaviors that could lead to needed changes in how we live our lives and connect with one another. Here are some of the findings:
Helping behaviors increased when people were given subtle reminders of their mortality, such as being near a cemetery. These positive behaviors include compassion, tolerance, empathy and pacifism.
Pro-environmental behaviors increased for people with heightened death awareness
Positive health behaviors such as quitting smoking, starting an exercise program, and performing breast self-exams increased for people who became aware of death
People with fundamentalist religious values who had previously rejected members of other religions were more likely to show compassion toward those of other groups when they experienced greater death awareness
In our world that is currently suffering with environmental degradation, polarization of society, violence, and unhealthy behaviors perhaps increased death awareness could hold some promise for our survival. Join me in improving death awareness this year by reading books and teaching classes on death and dying!
Tune in every Monday for a new episode and if you enjoy this content consider leaving a review on iTunes (thank you – it makes a big difference!)
Learn why the Death Education movement is vitally important right now for our society and get inspired to teach your own class about death and dying!
This week I’m continuing my focus on death education by discussing some important reasons why right now we desperately need more death-ed in every aspect of our society. Learn how you might become a death educator in your own community and start to share your knowledge to help others become aware of death.
You can still join A Year of Reading Dangerously and start reading books about death and dying with 700 other people around the globe! You’ll get to take part in live Q&A discussions with the authors of many of the books we are reading. For February we are reading Smoke Gets in Your Eyes by Caitlin Doughty–and she’ll be joining our discussion at the end of the month! Sign up now by clicking here!
Thanks again to all of my supporters at Patreon.com/eolu! Your generosity and encouragement mean everything to me! Become a patron for as little as $1 per month–where else can you do so much good with just $1? Go to Patreon.com/eolu to learn more.
Today I’m discussing why we need death education everywhere in our society and here are some of the places where it should take place:
Home – parents need to learn how to talk about death and dying with their children rather than shielding them from the reality of death
Schools – high school and college classes are a perfect place to introduce death and dying to young, curious students who can only benefit from learning more about death. (Next week I’ll share an interview on this podcast with Stacy Smith who teaches The Psychology of Death & Dying to college students, and on EOLU at the end of February I’ll present an interview about a high school elective on Death and the Meaning of Life with the teacher and 3 of his students.
Churches – clergy of all faiths need to be educated about death and dying so that they can better support their congregants on end-of-life issues within their belief system
Workplaces – employers need to understand the impact of death and grief on their employees in order to create supportive policies for bereavement leave; workers need to know how to interact with co-workers who are suffering with illness and grief
Medical system – doctors, nurses, and all other providers of healthcare need education in how to get comfortable with death, talk about it with patients and families, guide decision-making, initiate conversations with patients
Hospitals and nursing homes – need education to create sacred spaces for dying, to support patients and families at the end of life and honor patients’ wishes
Some of the reasons why death education is so important right now are:
We are living longer and the incidence of complex diseases like Alzheimer’s is increasing which creates a need for better advance planning. Patients and families need to prepare for the type of medical care and caregiving that may become necessary and understand how they can provide for those possibilities in the future.
Medical technology continues to advance at a rapid rate. Our ability to forestall death and keep a body alive has far outstripped our willingness to grapple with difficult end-of-life decisions. We need education to help people plan and prepare for the future and be pro-active about the care they receive. Studies show that those who think and talk about death are more likely to put their wishes in writing, to talk with others about their wishes, and to stop medical treatment when it is no longer helping.
Ethical and moral dilemmas about end-of-life issuesare splitting our society and families. Debates over physician-assisted dying and discontinuing medical care when it is not helping are going to increase with the aging of the Baby Boom generation. According to Pew Research Center surveys: 47% of Americans favor assisted-dying laws and 49% are opposed; 66% believe that there are times when doctors should stop treatment and allow patients to die a natural death, but 31% believe that doctors should always do everything possible to prolong life. These opposing perspectives are likely to be present in families too, especially if no advance planning has been done.
The high cost of being unprepared for death. Lack of advance care planning can lead to higher medical expenses, especially if the patient receive extreme care that was not actually warranted or wanted. Families unprepared for funeral planning are more likely to choose higher cost options and be vulnerable to unscrupulous marketing practices when they are grieving. Failure to plan ahead and put wishes in writing can cause increased stress and guilt for family members who must make decisions without any guidance.
The emotional and spiritual cost of ignoring death. As described in episode 127, death is our greatest teacher about life. Those who fail to recognize the inevitability of death are less likely to live to the fullest and appreciate the moment because they think they have plenty of time.
If you care about any of these issues and have been learning about death and dying by listening to this podcast and the End-of-Life University Interview Series, you are the perfect person to become a “death educator.” Start by sharing what you’ve learned with family and friends and consider putting together your own class in your community to help educate others.
You can download my free pdf: Teaching Guidelines for a Death & Dying Class and get some tips and tactics for starting your own community death-ed class! When you download the handout you’ll receive an invitation to a special work group I’m putting together in March on brainstorming your class.
Stay tuned to future episodes of this podcast to get more information about death education: next week I’ll share an interview with Stacy Smith about teaching college students about death and dying. On February 22nd I’ll present an interview on End-of-Life University with the teacher and students from a high school death-ed elective.
I hope you feel inspired to become a “death educator” in whatever capacity suits you, whether you simply share your knowledge with family and friends or start a class in your community!
If you enjoy this podcast please consider leaving a review on iTunes – it will be greatly appreciated!
Learn about my Top-10 picks for people, events and trends that have changed the end-of-life movement in 2017.
In this final episode of 2017 I take a look back at the previous year and share my thoughts on some of the events and people that I believe will have a big impact on how our society deals with the end of life.
You can support this podcast by making a small donation of $1 or $2 at Patreon.com/eolu.
Here are my picks for the 2017 Game Changers in the Death-Positive Movement:
The documentary film “Extremis” was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Documentary Short. The film was also picked up by Netflix in 2016. It is a powerful depiction of end-of-life care in the ICU staffed by Dr. Jessica Zitter, which should serve as a wake-up call to people about the need to do end-of-life planning before a healthcare crisis occurs.
Dr. Jessica Zitter’s book Extreme Measures was also released this year. In addition she wrote an article for the N.Y. Times (“First Sex Ed Then Death Ed”) calling for death education classes for all high school students. This novel idea has the potential to change our society’s perception of death and dying by introducing the subject to young people. Dr. Zitter is truly a game changer!
In March and May of 2017 the organization The Dinner Party (a movement to provide community for millennials dealing with loss) convened meetings with business leaders from some prominent US corporations to discuss loss and the workplace. They emphasized the importance of developing workplace policies and protocols for managing bereaved employees and offering them assistance. These conversations are just the first step in changing how grief is recognized and supported in the workplace rather than being ignored.
In April 2017 the 1st International Death Doula Training was held in Maui for the purpose of teaching people from around the globe to serve others as death doulas. This event was a game changer because it validated the death doula movement, increased the number of qualified doulas who can serve their communities, and provided a networking platform for death workers, which helped strengthen and expand the movement. The 2nd International training will take place in 2018!
Also in Apri the National Rx Drug Abuse and Heroin Summit was held to address the epidemic of opioid addiction in this country. Measures have been taken to limit the number of pain pills that can be prescribed and dispensed at one time. This is an important and game-changing step to deal with the overwhelming public crisis of opioid deaths but caution is necessary. We must be vigilant to ensure that all hospice and palliative care patients have access to the medications they need for pain and symptom management.
On June 27, 2017 Jon Underwood, founder of Death Cafe, died suddenly and unexpectedly at a young age. Jon has been a game changer from the beginning by creating the Death Cafe platform for conversations about death that has spread around the world. But the tragedy of his death is also a potential game changer because of the powerful legacy Jon leaves behind and because of the potential for tragedy to inspire growth, creativity and healing. The entire death-positive movement is indebted to Jon for his inspiring and gentle leadership and may his death be a catalyst for transformation.
In July a new smart phone app named WeCroak was introduced. This app is a game changer because it helps people to think about death in a positive manner by sending reminders (“You will die one day”) and quotes on their phones 5 times a day. Technology has the potential to revolutionize our approach to death and dying and this simple $.99 app is just one small step toward the change that is needed.
The film Coco was released in the US by Disney and Pixar in November. Coco tells the story of a 12-year old boy who is transported to the land of the dead on Dia de los Muertos. There he receives help from his departed great-great grandfather to return to his family in the land of the living. The film depicts joyful skeletons who dance and sing and it portrays a positive image of life after death. While it is a children’s movie Coco has a powerful message for adults and is likely to stimulate much conversation in families about death and departed ancestors. It is exciting to see Hollywood begin to address death in a positive manner and this film is a game changer that will hopefully lead to more such productions in the future.
In December the first EndWell Symposium, created by Dr. Shoshana Ungerleiderand her foundation, was held in San Francisco. This groundbreaking symposium brought together thought leaders from healthcare, design and technology to share ideas on how to improve end-of-life care. The synergy of this collaborative event will have a ripple effect across the country and should lead to innovation and creativity around death and dying in the months to come. Dr. Ungerleider is a game changer for her forward-thinking generosity and ingenuity!
Also in December the Northpoint Expeditionary Learning Academy in Prescott AZ held a class for students in grades 9-12 on “Death and the Meaning of Life.” School Director Charles Mentken taught the class, which provided a comprehensive look at death and dying from various cultural and religious perspectives. The elective class also introduced the students to options for hospice and palliative care, death doulas, home funerals, cremation, and traditional funeral and burial services. This may be the first “pilot project” course of the type Dr. Jessica Zitter called for in her NY Times article and it is definitely a game changer. The students in the course have reported that their attitudes and fears about death have been totally transformed, as well as their approach to life, as a result of what they learned in the class. (I’ll be featuring an interview with Charles Mentken and 3 of his students on the End-of-Life University Interview Series in early 2018. Sign up if you’re not already on the list!)
I hope your holiday celebrations have been filled with joy and light and that you feel ready to embark on a brand new year next week! There will be a new episode on New Year’s Day where I will share my “wish list” for 2018.
Looking back and ahead to the future after 100 episodes of the EOLU podcast.
In this episode I’m joined by my own very dear husband, Dr. Larry George who talks with me about reaching the 100th episode of this podcast and offers his insights about the medical profession and end-of-life issues.
Why I started End-of-Life University
What I’ve learned from all the interviews I’ve done
My favorite episodes of this podcast
Goals for the future of End-of-Life University, particularly helping to educate the medical profession about death and dying
Next week I’ll be celebrating the 100th episode of this podcast! I’ll have a special guest on the show so stay tuned!
Upcoming events include:
Friday July 21st: Hospice Happy Hour Hangout for all of my supporters on Patreon.com/eolu
Sunday July 23rd: Virtual Death Cafe – 3 pm Pacific/6 pm Eastern (everyone welcome to join the conversation! Read more here.)
Tuesday August 8th isDying to Know Day and I’ll be hosting a Virtual Death Cafe at 5 pm Pacific/8 pm Eastern. (More information at eoluniversity.com)
“An Evening With Ira Byock MD” to celebrate the 20th anniversary of his groundbreaking book Dying Well!
Monday August 21st
6 pm Pacific/9 pm Eastern
Registration information available soon. (Save the Date for now!)
Here are the benefits I’ve received from my daily spiritual practice of death contemplation:
Gratitude for every moment of life
Taking responsibility for my life
Looking within myself for answers
Finding joy in being alive
Being prepared for anything!
You can use the book The Tao of Death as a guide for a daily practice of death contemplation. Simply read one verse each day, spend some time thinking about what it means for you, then write in your companion journal (available for free download here) about the question that accompanies the verse. When you finish the book you will be well on your way to a daily death contemplation practice that you can continue for years.
I hope you find that his practice enriches your life as much as it has mine! Send me a message and let me know how it’s going for you (email firstname.lastname@example.org or Tweet me @spiritualmd.)
The term “death-positive” is everywhere these days. But what does it mean and how do we spread this mindset through our society?
In this episode I’ll share thoughts from a recent blog post about how to make sure your own death mindset is clear and free of hidden wounds. These simple practices will help you stay on track as you do your work in the world.
The Step-by-Step Roadmap for End-of-Life Planning Course is now available if you need any help with your own advance care planning paperwork. You can learn more at this link:
Register now for the Death & Afterlife Summit, which will talk place on March 16-18, 2017. You’ll be able to hear presentations from 10 speakers on dying, death and beyond for FREE. Replays will be available if you can’t attend live. Learn more and register at this link: http://www.eoluniversity.com/afterlife
IN THE NEWS:
A Dutch nursing home is offering college students free rent in exchange for spending 30 hours per month with residents of the home. The students teach the elders how to use technology and get valuable experience connecting with the older generation. The expected benefits for the residents are decreased dementia symptoms, decreased loneliness and isolation, and increased life expectancy. A similar study is being conducted in the UK where students read poetry to nursing home residents, which has led to improved memory skills. We need programs like this in the US!
In order to help our society achieve a death-positive mindset we must tend to our thoughts and personal awareness of death. Even though we may work with the deaths of others on a daily basis, we can still be in denial of our own mortality. Here are some steps to take to ensure that your own death mindset is as free as possible of denial and fear:
Address your fears of death. Learn to live with your fear but not be controlled by it.
Explore your past experiences of grief. Process your old, unhealed losses and gradually work to release the pain you carry.
Challenge your misperceptions about death. Stop seeing death as sorrowful and learn to see that death can be both beautiful and tragic.
Change your language. Free yourself of “tragic-speak” and use non-negative language when describing death. Beware of overly positive platitudes as well, such as “It’s for the best” or “He’s in a better place.” Allow others to experience their own emotions about death without judging or amplifying their pain.
Think about death every day. Cultivate a daily death-awareness practice to stay mindful of how precious life is and to remember to make the most of every moment.
Do your work with an open mind and heart and help spread a death-positive mindset wherever you go.
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Thank you to current patrons! Your support is greatly appreciated.
Tune in every Monday for a new episode and until next week remember:
In today’s episode we’ll look at some common euphemisms for death and learn how and why they came into use, how to break down our societal taboos against talking about death, and when it might actually be appropriate to use euphemisms.
Remember that this podcast is an offshoot of the End-of-Life University Interview Series, which includes two interviews per month with experts from all aspects of the end-of-life arena. If you are not already registered sign up here to get email notification each time a new interview is posted.
Support for the EOLU Series and this podcast comes from your generous donations at Patreon.com/eolu. When you support this show with just a $1 or $2 per month donation I will mention your name and promote your cause on the podcast as a thank-you!
In a new feature for this podcast I will start by highlighting some recent “death-positive” events in the news:
First a wonderful story appeared in USA Today about Morrie Boogaart, a 91-year 0ld man living out his last days in an assisted living facility in Michigan. While he his mostly bed bound due to his physical health, Morrie spends his days knitting hats for the homeless. So far he has given away over 8,000 hats! Thank you Morrie for being an inspiring example of how to live fully for all your days and use whatever energy and capacity you have to be of loving service to others. You are my hero!
Next a study reported in the Journal of Psychopharmacology and on ScienceMag.orgdemonstrated that cancer patients who were given the hallucinogen psilocybin experienced a significant decrease in depression and anxiety. According to the author, the patients who had a “mystical experience” while using the hallucinogen were the most likely to have a reduction in fear. This compelling finding supports the data from consciousness studies that show that as consciousness develops there is less and less fear of death at each expanded stage of development, which will be significant later in this discussion.
As we turn to look at the use of euphemisms about death I want to explain why I use the term “end of life” in many of my discussions because some people have accused me of “soft-peddling” death when I use that phrase. But here’s what I mean when I refer to the end of life: I see End of Life as the final stage of human development that incorporates the process of dying, death itself, and the time after death.
For me, End of Life describes the phase on our journey through life when our attention finally turns to the fact that we are mortal and death is inevitable. When we begin to prepare for our eventual death we have entered the End-of-Life Stage in our human development. For some this stage doesn’t start until the process of dying is underway, but for others of us it begins earlier, when death may still be many months or even years in the future. So “end of life” is not a euphemism for death – it is a term that incorporates much more than the moment of death or the dying process.
An interesting article from the Journal in English Lexicology describes the functions of euphemisms throughout human history:
To protect from discomfort over a subject that is “taboo”
To mislead or misrepresent (as in some advertising)
To present in a more positive or “aspirational” light (e.g. using “senior living facility” rather than “old folks’ home”)
To reveal the hidden truth of something or remove a stigma
To bind a group together and create a shared identity
To entertain and lighten the burden of something that is difficult to bear (e.g. medical staffs using humorous references to cope with emotionally heavy situations)
To refer to all euphemisms as dishonest or misleading is to miss the fact that they have had a positive purpose throughout history: they allow people to discuss a taboo subject using terms that are less uncomfortable and triggering for them.
Most euphemisms change over time as taboos are confronted and dismantled. But some of the alternative terms for death have survived for centuries:
to “lose” a loved one to death has been in use since the 12th century
“pass away” or “pass on” have been commonly substituted for the word “die” since the 14th century
“deceased,” “departed” and “no longer with us” have been used since the 15th century
Interestingly not only have those euphemisms survived over hundreds of years they still have exactly the same meaning as they did when they first became popular. This is evidence of the fact that the “death-taboo” has not changed or broken down much during all of those centuries.
But we are part of a pioneering group that is trying to dispel the taboo about death so we freely use the words “dead”, “die”, “death,” and “dying.” But the majority of people in our society are still not comfortable with those words.
In fact, the consciousness of most people in our society has not yet evolved to a level that diminishes the fear of death. So they react to direct language about death with fear and rejection.
To break down a societal taboo there are at least two different approaches:
The rebellious approach, where unfair practices are exposed and denounced publicly, while advocating for openness and freedom. This approach brings much-needed attention to the taboo issue and pushes toward change. But it risks triggering resistance and strengthening the taboo for those who are afraid of the issue.
The quiet approach involves using positive language and energy to engage conversations that are not too confrontational. This approach also normalizes the taboo subject and even celebrates it with special events (such as Dying to Know Day.)
While the rebellious approach is needed to draw public attention and to shine the light on areas where change is desperately needed, the quiet approach is equally important to draw people closer to the issue by helping them to feel safe and to verbalize their fears.
This “quiet approach” may require us to use euphemisms judiciously so that we don’t repel or frighten away those who want to talk about death but do not yet feel comfortable with the language. Insisting that everyone use our appropriate and preferred terms for death may actually discourage and alienate them from conversation.
So if someone needs to say “My father passed away last year” or “I lost my father last year”, don’t correct them at that moment. Allow the conversation to unfold on that person’s terms because for now it is better to talk about “passing away” than to shut down the discussion altogether. Remember: that person does not yet have the same consciousness, awareness and comfort level with death that you have attained. Have compassion and meet people where they are so that you can gradually encourage and guide them to grow.
Until next week when a brand-new episode will air, remember to: