Learn about a new online resource for people dealing with the death of a loved one.
My guest Liz Eddy is the founder of Lantern.co, an innovative online resource for navigating the stressful and painful days after the death of a loved one. She shares how she was inspired to create this site and how it benefits those in need of information and guidance with all of the decisions that must be made after a death. Learn more at the website:
Join the team at Patreon.com/eoluand get access to the EOLU mug: “Mind if we talk about death?” (only Patrons can purchase it)
If you enjoy this content please share it with others and consider leaving a review on iTunes! Thanks again to all supporters on Patreon.com/eolu,especially my newest Patron David Stubbers, your contributions mean everything to me!
Learn how culture affects the way people view, talk about, and plan for death and dying.
As we work to promote death awareness and death positivity in society it is important to remember cultural differences that may influence how others view the end of life. We need to have room in our approach for diverse belief systems and traditions in order to best meet the needs of all members of the communities we serve.
Learn about educational planning tools that are available for end-of-life navigators and teachers to use with their clients.
This week I welcome back to the podcast Reena Lazar and Michelle Pante of WillowEOL.com who will tell us about the free tools they offer to assist with end-of-life planning and a new workbook they have created (available to purchase). We will also discuss the importance of end-of-life planning and sharing our wishes with our loved ones. Learn more at their website:
Join the team at Patreon.com/eoluand get access to the EOLU mug: “Mind if we talk about death?” (only Patrons can purchase it)
If you enjoy this content please share it with others and consider leaving a review on iTunes! Thanks again to all supporters on Patreon.com/eolu, especially my new supporter Kathy Breakwell, your contribution means everything to me!
Learn about a feature film that traces the story of a family’s conflict and ultimate resolution as their father reaches the end of life.
My guest Mike Kravinsky is the writer and director of this feature film that was inspired by his own father’s end-of-life journey. He discusses why and how he created the film and the impact it is having on viewers across the country. You can view this award-winning film, Nothing To Do, on Amazon Prime, iTunes and the Dish Network and it is also available for borrowing from local libraries.
Join the team at Patreon.com/eoluand get access to the EOLU mug: “Mind if we talk about death?” (only Patrons can purchase it)
Join me in New York in September!!
If you enjoy this content please share it with others and consider leaving a review on iTunes! Thanks again to all supporters on Patreon.com/eolu, especially my new patron, Jean Berman–your contribution means everything to me!
Learn about a popular new card game that helps people open up about death and have fun while they’re doing it.
My guests are hospice social worker Lisa Pahl and writer Lori LoCicero. They will share with us how they met and teamed up to create the fun new card game: The Death Deck. Learn all about the game and how you might start incorporating it into your work and family conversations. Learn more about the game at the website:
Learn some techniques and tools for having a more effective and productive conversation about end-of-life issues.
In this solo episode I’ll share some great information I’ve been learning recently about the skills necessary to have difficult conversations with the people we love. I hope this will be helpful to you too. You can download a Blueprint for End-of-Life Conversations at the link below:
Learn about the best of EOLU in 2018 and how to catch up if you missed any of these events!
“Death Education for Everyone” was the theme for 2018 and we’ll review all the great educational content that was provided in the past year. It’s not too late to listen in on the best webinars and interviews of the year before we get started on a brand new season of EOLU! Check out the links for the events you’ve missed in the description below.
Happy New Year to each and every one of you!
BIG NEWS!! Starting in 2019 the EOLU Interview Series will merge with the EOLU Podcast – so all the great interviews you are used to hearing on the interview series will now be available as podcast episodes. This means you can subscribe to the podcast and listen to the interviews on your phone while you are on the go! In addition you’ll be able to hear the solo episodes (like this one) where I share my wisdom, inspiration, and ideas for embracing the end of life and living fully today.
You can subscribe to the podcast at one of the following links (whichever podcast app you use):
Thanks for all of your support in 2018! I appreciate you for listening in and encouraging me to keep going. And I’m especially grateful to those of you who have become patrons on my donation page at Patreon.com/eolu: you make my heart sing!
2018 has been a wonderful year for EOLU that began with a goal of supporting “Death Education for Everyone.” In support of that goal the following programs were created:
A Year of Reading Dangerously online reading group; we’ve read one book a month this year and held 9 live book discussions with authors of the books in attendance. Nearly 1,000 readers from around the world have joined together to read the same book at the same time. We’ve all learned a lot about death, dying and the afterlife and have had fun in the process!
The “best” interviews of 2018 (though they were all fantastic!);
Hansa Bergwall talking about the WeCroak app he created for smart phones that reminds you of your mortality 5 times a day. Listen here.
Dr. Bob Uslander who has pioneered a new concierge model of end-of-life care, which could be a game-changer for the medical system and how we help patients navigate their last days. Listen here.
Alua Arthur of Going With Gracetalked about the legal issues that can occur after death and how to prepare for them in advance. Listen here.
Deanna Cochran RN and Suzanne O’Brien RN both talked about the creation of the End-of-Life Doula Council by the NHPCO and the National End-of-Life Doula Alliance, which now provides certification training for doulas. Listen to Deanna’s interview here. Listen to Suzanne’s interview here.
Learn how planning ahead and being ready for the unexpected can be a special gift for your loved ones this year.
During the holidays we all want to find the perfect gift for our family members that will show them our love and bring joy to their lives. But face it … in this age of consumerism most people already have more possessions than they need and we have sadly littered our planet with excessive material goods that no one wants or can use. Here’s an idea for a gift you can give now that will bring peace of mind and relief to your loved ones some day in the future: plan ahead for the end of your life, gather your most important documents, and have a conversation with the people closest to you about your wishes.
Creating an end-of-life file that contains all of your most important documents along with your wishes for healthcare and after-death care is a task that will benefit you as well as your loved ones in the future. You will be saving them from a great deal of stress and frustration if they won’t have to search for your papers or guess what you might want for yourself when you reach the end of life. Why not use the holiday season as a motivator to complete your file and offer as a gift of love to your family!
This episode includes:
Ideas for storing your documents
Why it’s important to gather important information in one place so your loved ones can find it
Why you need to complete your advance directive (or living will) and choose a healthcare proxy now rather than later
The benefits of planning your funeral and burial in advance
How to view end-of-life planning as a gift of love for those who care about you
In this episode I share my thoughts on how to approach the very difficult task of making an end-of-life decision about the treatment a loved one should receive. Many people are called upon to be decision-makers in these challenging situations and this episode serves as a guide for choosing the best option for someone we love.Download the handout below:
This episode is sponsored by Suzanne O’Brien and her training program for caring for others at the end of life at Doulagivers.com and by your generous donations on my page at Patreon.com/eolu! Join the team and receive special bonuses as a thank-you!
Thank you to all of my patrons and sponsors! Your support means everything to me!
Every day families are called upon to make nearly impossible decisions about the type of care a loved one should receive as they near the end of life. Here are some suggestions for how to navigate this challenging situation when there is no advance directive available for guidance:
Gather medical information from all healthcare providers involved in care
Ask direct questions:
What is the diagnosis and what complications have occurred?
What is the effectiveness of the recommended treatment?
What are the chances for recovery or improvement?
Are there side effects from the treatment or will it cause additional suffering?
What will happen if treatment is stopped?
What would you do if this were your loved one?
Get expert advice and guidance from a palliative care team if available in your hospital
Remember past conversations with your loved one that might give you clues as to his or her preferences for the end of life
Consider the statistics that most Americans prefer to die at home and most do not want aggressive treatment to prolong life in the face of an incurable condition
Ask your loved one for guidance by expressing your concern and your desire to make the best decision. Even though your loved one cannot verbalize, they can hear you – listen for any intuitive or “felt” guidance that might come to you about the best choice to make.
Be gentle with yourself and recognize that you have done your best in a challenging situation
Seek support from others outside your family
Tune in next week for another episode! Share this content with others who might it helpful and consider leaving a review on iTunes.
Learn how to leave a written legacy for your loved ones and enjoy a retreat in Mexico in the process!
In this episode I share a conversation with Michelle Pante and Reena Lazar of Willow, a company that helps people express their personal and healthcare wishes for the future and leave a legacy of the heart for the ones they love. They will share their stories and tell us about an innovative retreat to Mexico they are planning this year – just in time for Dia de los Muertos!
You can still join our online reading group A Year of Reading Dangerously if you’re interested in reading a book each month about death, dying and the afterlife. Register here if you want to receive email notifications each month about the latest book selection. Go here to see the entire book list for 2018.
Thanks as always to my supporters on Patreon.com/eolu! Your monthly donations help keep this podcast and the EOLU interview series on the air. This week my thanks goes out to Suzanne O’Brien and Doulagivers.com for their ongoing support over the past year-and-a-half. If you’d like to join our team sign up at Patreon.com/eolu and receive special bonuses.
Today my guests Michelle Pante and Reena Lazar tell us how they started their company Willow and the services they provide to their clients. We talk about:
How the two of them decided to team up and create a vision together
How Reena uses her conflict resolution training in the work she does now helping people with end-of-life planning
Why they chose the name Willow for their company
What are “love letters” and “heart wills” and why they encourage people to create them
Tips for writing your own heart will
Details of the upcoming retreat in Mexico that includes a celebration of the Day of the Dead (you can still get the “early bird” discount of $200 off the price of the retreat if you sign up by August 20th and use the code EOLU)
Learn how answering just one question can simplify your decision-making process for end-of-life planning.
In this episode I’ll share how one simple question helped clarify my Mom’s end-of-life wishes and why I recommend starting there to put your own advance care planning into the proper perspective. This episode is sponsored by my course “Step-by-Step Roadmap for End-of-Life Planning.“
You can still join my online reading group for 2018 “A Year of Reading Dangerously” and read a book each month on death, dying and the afterlife. Sign up here.
Thank you to all of my supporters on Patreon.com/eolu! Your donations mean a lot to me!
Putting our wishes for the end of life into writing is more complicated than it seems. We can easily get lost when we start to consider all of the options available and make decisions about what we do or do not want for care during out last days.
When my mother was trying to complete her living we finally found a simple way to clarify what really mattered to her. I asked her to tell me how she wanted it to be when she was taking her last breaths in this life. And she answered right away: “I want to be in my own home with you taking care of me.”
That one question changed everything for us and her answer guided all of the decisions that we made together as a family for the next five years before her death. I have spent time thinking about the one question myself and it is clear to me that the only thing that will really matter to me when I am ready to die is love. I will want to be as near as possible to the people I love.
You can use this one question too:
Imagine your last moments of life: how do you want it to be?
Describe what you see in positive terms first: Who is with you? Where are you?
Keep it simple to avoid being overwhelmed. Just a few details are all you need to describe.
Finally add your 2-3 absolute DO-NOT’s to the picture. What do you definitely NOT want to have happen during your last moments? Again – limit the number to those things you feel strongest about. Your family will remember 2-3 requests but not 10-12.
Start talking now about your positive vision for your final moments and let your family know what you envision. When you engage them in your vision they are more likely to help you create it. They will have had time to think about your vision and to imagine themselves being part of it.
No matter what start thinking about the end of life now. It’s never too soon to get your plans in order! Consider signing up for the Step-by-Step Roadmap for End-of-Life Planning if you’d like to have a doctor by your side as you make decisions for yourself!
Learn about Molly’s innovative workshops on end-of-life planning that utilize art projects to inspire deep conversations.
In this episode I share an interview with Molly Stuart who is a lawyer, artist, chaplain and hospice volunteer. She teaches a wonderful workshop on end-of-life planning that includes art to help people uncover their deepest values and concerns.
Watch this episode on YouTube to view Molly’s slides:
The month of April features National Healthcare Decisions Day and in honor of that event I am sharing the 10-day S.M.A.R.T. Decisions Challenge – a free challenge that will help you get your end-of-life planning done with guidance along the way by email.
You can still sign up for A Year of Reading Dangerously if you’d like to read one book a month with us about death and dying! Sign up here.
Get the Teaching Guidelines for a Death & Dying Class and you’ll be on the list to hear about upcoming Work Groups and a Mastermind Group for Death and Dying Class teachers. Download the guidelines here.
Thank you to my latest supporter on Patreon.com/eolu: Kathy Lynch and thanks also to Cathy Duke for increasing your pledge! I’m so grateful for your contributions!
My guest Molly Stuart shares information about her innovative end-of-life planning workshops. We discuss:
How she got interested in teaching about end of life issues
The complicated nature of advance care planning
The 3-part workshop she designed, which includes:
Practical end-of-life medical and legal issues
Emotional aspects of living while knowing you’re going to die
Transformation and legacy
How Molly uses art to address:
The creative projects her students create as part of her workshops
How to create a legacy art project after the death of a loved one
Remember to tune in every Monday for a new episode and if you enjoy this content please subscribe and leave a review on iTunes!
Learn how a minimalist lifestyle can help you find more joy and meaning as you approach the later days of life.
In this episode I share my thoughts on why the minimalist lifestyle could help us avoid excessive and unnecessary medical treatment at the end of life. In addition there are many other benefits to living simply and with “less is more” as our goal when we get older.
You can still join A Year of Reading Dangerously and confront your own discomfort about death, dying and the afterlife by reading one “dangerous” book each month in 2018! Sign up here!
Get the Teaching Guidelines for a Death & Dying Class and you’ll be on the mailing list to learn about the next class on creating your own course in death and dying coming up soon! Sign up and download here!
I’m so grateful this week to my latest supporters on Patreon.com/eolu! Thank you so much to Glenda Myles, Malynda Cress, Karen Britton, Mila Martin, and Tami Yinger! Your generosity means so much to me! If you want to join them go to Patreon.com/eolu to learn more about the bonuses you’ll receive for signing up!
The minimalist movement is all the rage right now among millennials and it has a lot of positive aspects we can learn from. The emphasis is on living simply, with less material possessions in order to have more joy and freedom in life. This lifestyle could serve us well as we approach our own end of life. Here are some ways to live more simply:
Clear out possessions that you no longer use or cherish. This idea has been described in a recent blog and book about the Swedish practice of “death-cleaning.”
Comes to terms with mortality. Recognize that life is finite and death is inevitable, therefore it is important to be intentional about how you live each moment in every day, including what kind of healthcare you choose.
Take control over your healthcare – be proactive and question recommendations in these areas:
Medications – Ask if the drugs you are taking are still necessary, if they could be causing side effects or creating negative interactions with one another. Ask if you can try reducing dosages or the number of medications you are being prescribed. Many seniors are taking at least 5 prescription medications according to studies.
Annual exam – studies show that the annual physical exam wastes money and time and might even be harmful. Ask if you can decrease to one physical every 3 yeats.
Health screenings – Over age 70 it is no longer recommended that you have the following screening tests: colonoscopy, mammogram, PSA, pap smear. Studies show that excessive screening can lead to false positive results, over-diagnosis and harmful over-treatment.
Plan aheadand be prepared in order to minimize complications in these areas:
Aging – How will you manage the physical changes of later life? Who will help you?
Housing – Where will you live if you can’t stay in your own home?
Terminal care – What type of treatment do you want to receive at the end of life and for how long?
After-death care – What type of funeral and burial do you want to have?
Learn to live in the moment – so you can enjoy all of life.
As you listen to this broadcast I am currently in Italy–traveling and doing research for my new book on grief (also eating … a lot!) This episode has been pre-recorded (along with several others) so that there will be no interruptions in the podcast. If you want to see photos of my journey follow me on Instagram or Facebook.
This podcast is generously sponsored by donations on my page at Patreon.com/eolu. Thank you to all of my patrons–your support means everything to me!! Submit your questions for the next “Hospice Happy Hour” Q&A Sessionhere and I’ll answer them next month. You can become a patron for just $1 or $2 per month and you’ll receive access to the Q&A recordings, the Top 10 Interviews from EOLU, and the opportunity to have your work promoted on this podcast. Go to Patreon.com/eolu to learn more!
Dr. Ira Byock is a leading palliative care physician, author, and public advocate for improving care through the end of life. He is the Founder and Chief Medical Officer for the Institute for Human Caring of Providence St. Joseph Health.
Tune in every Monday for a new episode of the podcast! If you enjoy this content please take a moment to leave a review on iTunes – it will help other listeners find the podcast.
Learn how to make the best choice for an advocate for your end-of-life wishes.
In this episode I discuss the importance of choosing the right person to be your healthcare advocate. This might be the most important decision you will make regarding your end-of-life wishes, so choose wisely!
Find out how The Conversation Project is helping families talk about planning ahead for the end of life.
In this episode we’ll hear about the work of The Conversation Project from an advisor to the organization, ICU physician Dr. Jessica McCannon. Learn how to utilize this excellent tool to get your own conversations started.
COLORADO LISTENERS!! You can download a special version of The Conversation Starter Kit that has been customized just for Coloradans. This version is a little shorter and includes a place where you can name your Medical Durable Power of Attorney. Visit this website to download your copy now:
You can still sign up for the Death & Afterlife Summit, which takes place March 16-18, 2017. You’ll be able to learn from 10 experts about dying, death and beyond in this series of online interviews–and it’s totally FREE! Go to eoluniversity.com/afterlife to learn more and register.
If you’d like some guidance in completing your own advance directives, check out the Step-by-Step Roadmap to End-of-Life Planning–my NEW online self-directed course that will help you prepare and plan for your later years.
The Huntsville Hospital in Huntsville AL has started a unique pilot program that places a hospice nurse in the Emergency Department 3 days a week. The RN meets with patients and families and educates them about end-of-life options to help in their decision-making processes. She also helps them complete advance directives and other documents needed for their hospitalization.
THE CONVERSATION PROJECT:
Join Dr. Karen Wyatt and her special guest Dr. Jessica McCannon, ICU physician and advisor to The Conversation Project, a non-profit organization dedicated to helping people talk about their wishes for end-of-life care. They will discuss The Conversation Project, the history and goals of this organization, and how their resources can benefit you, your loved ones or your patients when making plans for the end-of-life.
You will learn:
How and why The Conversation Project was started
The value of telling stories about the end-of-life
Benefits of The Conversation Starter Kit and The Pediatric Starter Kit
How doctors might utilize The Conversation Starter Kit
Dr. Jessica McCannon is board-certified in internal medicine, and completed Harvard’s Clinical and Research Fellowship in Pulmonary and Critical Care Medicine. After completing her internal medicine residency training at Massachusetts General Hospital, she began providing care to adults at the Mass General Hospital Down Syndrome Program. Prior to starting medical training she received her BA from Cornell University. Dr. McCannon currently practices clinical medicine as an ICU physician and serves as an advisor to The Conversation Project.
Tune in each Monday for a new episode. If you are interested in supporting the podcast and the End-of-Life University Interview Series you can make a small contribution of just $1 or $2 a month and help keep us on the air! Go to Patreon.com/eolu to learn more!
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.
If you’d like to support this podcast, go to Patreon.com/eolu to donate $1 or $2 per month.
Thank you to current patrons! Your support is greatly appreciated.
Tune in every Monday for a new episode and until next week remember:
Learn how ICU and Palliative Care Physician Dr. Jessica Zitter is changing the culture of critical care medicine in America.
My guest Dr. Jessica Zitter, MD, MPH, is committed to changing the current paradigm of end-of-life medical decision-making. In today’s medical culture, the dying are often put on what she calls the “End-of-Life Conveyor Belt.” They are intubated, catheterized, and die attached to machines, frequently without even knowing they are dying.
In her work, Zitter builds bridges between patients and the healthcare team, striving to offer care aligned with each patient’s values and preferences. She has come to see that patients empowered with knowledge can die well, even beautifully.
Dr. Zitter practices the unusual combination of Critical and Palliative Care medicine at Highland Hospital, a public hospital in Oakland, California. She attended Stanford University and Case Western Reserve University Medical School and earned her Masters in Public Health from University of California, Berkeley. Her medical training includes an Internal Medicine residency at the Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston and a fellowship in Pulmonary/Critical Care at the University of California, San Francisco. She is also co-founder of Vital Decisions, a telephone-based counseling service for patients with life-limiting illness.
Dr. Zitter is the author of the new book, Extreme Measures – Finding a Better Path to the End of Life, published by Penguin Random House in February 2017. She is a regular contributor to The New York Times on these issues, and her writing has appeared in The Atlantic, The Huffington Post, Pacific Standard, and JAMA, The Journal of the American Medical Association. She is featured in the short documentary Extremis, which won top honors at the Tribeca and San Francisco International Film Festivals, has been nominated for an Academy Award, and is now streaming on Netflix.
This 4-module course is like having your own personal consultation with an end-of-life physician (me!) who guides you through completing your paperwork one step at a time!
Check it out!
This podcast is sponsored through the EOLU donation page at Patreon.com/eolu. By contributing just $1 or $2 per month you can help support the podcast and the End-of-Life University Interview Series. If you become a supporter I will happily promote your book, website, cause or organization on a future episode of the podcast! THANK YOU to my latest patron Sylvie and to all current patrons!!
IN THE NEWS:
Facebook announces it will offer employees up to 20 days of paid bereavement leave and 6 weeks of paid leave to care for an ill loved one.
A study done by U of Colorado Anschutz showed that oncologists are reluctant to have conversations with patients about their prognosis and patients seem equally unwilling to discuss the difficult facts about their diagnosis. This demonstrates the need for better preparation for the end of life BEFORE the onset of a life-limiting illness.
Change Happens: How to be Prepared for the Ultimate Transition
What steps should you take now to be fully prepared for later life? I like to break them down into 3 categories: Paperwork, People, and Purpose.
Here are some suggestions for your own preparations:
Make sure you have completed an estate plan and/or will to protect your financial assets
Appoint someone to be your financial power of attorney AND a separate person as your medical power of attorney
Complete your advance directive (or living will)
Plan for your funeral and burial
Gather important documents, account numbers, passwords, etc. into on file where they will be accessible in the future (Check out the BE Ready Checklist for a list of all these documents you should gather)
Tie up “loose ends” in your life by practicing forgiveness
Make amends with the people closest to you
Say “I love you” whenever you have the opportunity
Talk with your loved ones about your healthcare wishes
Talk with your doctors (and also spiritual advisor or attorney if relevant) about your end-of-life wishes
Be prepared to care for an ill or dying loved one at home if that should become necessary
Think about your own sense of meaning and purpose in life–are you living life fully in each moment?
Practice being present in the moment by taking up mindfulness or using deep breathing
Recognize that your purpose is not really something you hope to accomplish in the future; it lies in how you live your life each moment
Face your fear of death so that you can fully prepare and then relax and enjoy all that your life offers to you
Click hereto download the End-of-Life Preparedness Assessment to see if you are ready!
Tune in every Monday for a new episode. Until the next time, remember:
What do you do when a family (your own or a patient’s) is crumbling due to unhealed resentments and irreconcilable differences? Find out now.
In today’s episode I’ll share my best tips for helping families move through conflict toward resolution during stressful times like the death of a loved one. I’ve had lots of experience with this work during my years as a hospice doctor so be prepared for a longer-than-usual episode!
My new course Step-by-Step Roadmap for End-of-Life Planning is almost ready for release (just a few days away as I record this!) The course is simple yet comprehensive and will help you examine your mindset, values, beliefs, and fears about death before you make decisions about your end-of-life healthcare. Go to eoluniversity.com/roadmap to learn more and sign up to be notified as soon as the course is released.
This podcast is sponsored through the EOLU donation page at Patreon.com/eolu. By contributing just $1 or $2 per month you can help support the podcast and the End-of-Life University Interview Series. If you become a supporter I will happily promote your book, website, cause or organization on a future episode of the podcast! THANK YOU to all current patrons!!
Managing Family Conflict at the End of Life:
Families facing the death of a loved one are particularly prone to be divided by the resurgence of old conflicts and resentments. Over my years as a hospice doctor I have seen many families split apart by their differences at a time when they most need to be united.
Most of these families had longstanding grievances that had been buried and ignored over the years, only to rise to the surface under the stress of a loved one’s death. Sibling rivalries, parental favoritism, divorce, and competition for inheritances are the most common reasons for these resentments. In addition many families are also divided over religious and political differences, which is an especially prevalent problem right now.
One of the important functions of hospice staff members and other end-of-life workers is to assist splintered families with healing and resolution of their conflicts, whenever possible. But sometimes we are called to assist our own families when challenges arise. Here are some tips for being a peacemaker for a fractured family:
Remain neutral on the issues of conflict. As much as possible leave your own biases, preferences and beliefs at the door if you hope to help resolve a disagreement. This will be much easier if you are not emotionally entangled in the conflict. But even if you are, you need to learn to become a “Witness” to the situation (a higher state of consciousness that allows you remain detached.)
Listen to all sides of the argument. Spend time with each person involved in the conflict until you can grasp their perspective. If you are part of the disagreement then at least try to understand the point of view of the others involved in the situation. As soon as you begin to understand how and why the others feel the way they do then you have taken a huge step toward reconciliation.
Avoid trigger topics. Political and religious differences may complicate family conflicts at the end of life but are usually not reconcilable. So it is best to “agree to disagree” about these points of view and set them aside so that the focus can be on healing other issues.
Be present. By staying calm and unemotional you can prevent the conflict from escalating into an all-out war. Practice mindfulness to help strengthen your ability to be present so that your own emotions don’t flare up when you are trying to help others.
Find common ground. As you listen carefully to the stories of each opponent in the disagreement you may recognize certain common threads–areas where they actually share the same perspective without realizing it. Gather these threads so that you can remind those in conflict that are some things they have in common. Help them untie around the things that matter most (like doing what’s best for their loved one.)
Learn the wishes of the dying loved one (if possible.) If you can still communicate with the patient you may find out that she has a wish for her family to reconcile. You can use this wish to help draw the combatants together in their desire to please and comfort the one they love. Let the patient’s wishes become a “magnet” around which the rest of the family gradually comes together.
Have patience. Don’t try to force a reconciliation by rushing into a family conference or intervention. Allow for some separation initially and let the gaps between individuals gradually begin to close.
The bottom line is that families who don’t wait until the end of life to resolve their differences have a much easier time negotiating the challenges of death and dying. But that’s not the case for most families. Most are left to rehash old sibling issues, betrayals, disappointments, and wounds during the last days of their loved one’s life when they should be sitting at the bedside offering love and comfort.