Learn how art and the written word can be a powerful tool for confronting our mortality.
My guest Lindsay Tunkl is a conceptual artist and writer who explores subjects such as death, heartbreak, and the apocalypse. Her work has been shown at galleries in the United States, the United Kingdom, and Germany. Today she will talk about her book “When You Die You Will Not Be Scared To Die” and her workshop Parting Practice: Rituals for Endings and Failure.
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.
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.