This episode is sponsored by my book What Really Matters: 7 Lessons for Living from the Stories of the Dying. This book focuses on the spiritual lessons I learned from my dying patients and how they changed my life!
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 Stephen’s teachings on death phobia in our society and how palliative care and the medical system fail to address this problem.
In this episode I share an excerpt from an interview with Stephen Jenkinson, author of the book Die Wise, founder of Orphan Wisdom and subject of the documentary Griefwalker. Stephen discusses some of the problems with our approach to death in modern society, including the medical system.
Thank you to my latest supporter on Patreon.com/eolu: Bernadette Koch. I appreciate your willingness to contribute to this podcast and the End-of-Life University Series to keep them on the air. If you’d like to join the team, support this work, and get awesome bonuses at the same time, go to Patreon.com/eolu to learn more and sign up!
On July 24th I’m hosting Suzanne O’Brien RN for a free webinar where she’ll be teaching “End-of-Life Doula Training for Caregivers and Volunteers.” If you’d like to know more about the work of end-of-life doulas and learn important skills for caring for the dying, this webinar will be valuable for you.
Click here to sign up for the webinar (it’s free and you’ll receive the replay if you can’t attend live.)
My guest Stephen Jenkinson is a palliative care consultant, teacher, author and ceremonialist who is “revolutionizing grief and dying in North America.” As the author of Die Wise he teaches that “Dying well is a right and responsibility of everyone.”
Dying well is a right and responsibility of everyone. – Stephen Jenkinson
In this interview we discuss:
The origin of death phobia in our society
How the fear of non-existence is the greatest fear of most people
Why “lost” and “loss” are not helpful terms to use when discussing death
The danger of the “fighting illness” mentality of modern medicine
Why dying and grief are things that we “do” rather than events that “happen to us”
Why palliative care should be dying-centered rather than relief-centered
(This is an excerpt from the interview with Stephen. The full interview can be found at Patreon.com/eolu as a bonus for Platinum level supporters ($5 per month.))
Tune in every Monday for a new episode and if you like this content please share it with others or consider leaving a review on iTunes.
Learn how Kelvin Chin has helped people from all over the world look at and cope with their fear of death.
In this episode I share an interview with Kelvin Chin, attorney, mediator, and meditation teacher, who helps people address their fears of death individually and through workshops and lectures. He is the author of the book Overcoming the Fear of Death through each of the 4 main belief systems.
You can still join A Year of Reading Dangerously and spend 2018 reading one book each month about end-of-life topics. We’re having a great time so join us! Click here to learn more.
Thanks as usual to all my supporters on Patreon.com/eolu! I’m so grateful for your donations – they help me keep this podcast and the End-of-Life University Interview Series on the air!
My guest Kelvin Chin is the Executive Director and Founder of Overcoming the Fear of Death Foundation. Kelvin will share his experiences providing free counseling for people from all over the world to help them reduce their fear of death regardless of their belief system or culture.
In this interview you will learn:
How Kelvin started doing this work
The 4 Main Belief Systems about Death that cover all religions and cultures
How to help yourself or others overcome the fear of death
Why inner change is more important than changing external beliefs
How Kelvin’s talks and lectures about the fear of death are helping to reduce that fear for his audiences
The benefits of meditation in coping with our fears
Kelvin’s book is now available on Amazon. (NOTE: If you use my affiliate link to purchase the book I will receive a small commission from Amazon, which will not affect the amount you pay. Thank you!)
Tune in every Monday for a brand new episode! Leave a review on iTunes if you enjoy this content – I greatly appreciate it!
Learn how to awaken to higher consciousness NOW so that you can experience conscious dying at the end of your life.
In this episode I share the secret behind the 3-part tagline I use on the EOL University website and at the end of every podcast. (If you listen regularly you’ll know exactly what I’m talking about!) I discuss the wisdom behind the phrases I repeat each week and how they represent keys to our ongoing spiritual evolution!
My long-awaited trip to Italy begins tomorrow, the day after the original airing of this podcast! You can follow my journey on Instagramand Facebook as I hike, bike, eat, drink, pray, and write my way through the country–all in search of the perfect stories for my new book on grief! I’ve pre-recorded enough podcast episodes to last until I return in one month–“see” you then!
I would like to send a HUGE THANK YOU to my latest supporter on Patreon.com/eolu: Rich Hayes, who is a hospice chaplain. Check out his website at www.richhayes.com and his book God Made Simple. If you would like to join the list of patrons go to Patreon.com/eolu to learn more and chip in $1 or $2 per month to support this podcast and the EOLU Interview Series. You’ll receive a thank-you on this podcast and I’ll also promote your end-of-life related book, website, cause or business. PLUS you’ll receive the monthly Hospice Happy Hour Q&A recordings!
3 Keys to Living & Dying Consciously
(Be sure to tune in to upcoming podcast episode #112 when I will feature an interview with philosopher and sage Ken Wilber about conscious dying and the death of his wife Treya. If you are interested in conscious dying you won’t want to miss it!)
In order to die consciously you must first begin to LIVE consciously right now. Here are my 3 tips for awakening to higher consciousness–they have been hiding all along in the simple tagline I use at the end of every podcast! Now you’ll find out what I mean when I remind you of them every week!
Face Your Fear
You must go through your fear in order to rise above it; the more you hide and run away from your fear of death (which is the ultimate fear) you run away from joy, as well. So begin to accept that Death is inevitable–everything in the Universe dies–and life is full of difficulties. Once you embrace that fact you can begin to work specifically on your fear of death and turn it into acceptance.
Think about death every day. Include contemplation of death as part of your daily practice; get used to the idea that life is fleeting and you don’t know when it will come to an end.
Read about death. Find books (e.g. What Really Matters) and stories that portray death and dying in a meaningful way to help you see that it is not necessarily something to fear. The dying process can be a beautiful time of healing for patients and families.
Write about death. Use your journal to record your thoughts and emotions about death. Observe how they change over time as you continue this practice of increasing death-awareness. (The book The Tao of Death with its companion journal can be a helpful tool for reading and writing about death.)
Learn about death. The more information you have about the end of life, the more your fears will lessen. Knowledge is one of the most powerful antidotes to fear. Tune in to the interviews on End-of-Life University for an ongoing education about all aspects of the end of life.
Work with death. Consider volunteering for hospice to learn how to sit with death and witness the dying process. Hospitals and nursing homes are also good places to volunteer to get closer to death and overcome your fear.
There is no substitute for preparation, no matter what you might face in the future. Once your fear has decreased begin to plan ahead for the end of life and imagine how you would like that experience to unfold. Here are some steps to help you get ready:
Know what really matters to you. Spend some time thinking about what in your life is most important and prioritize those items. You need to know what you value in order to make tough decisions in the future.
Make choices for what you want at the end of life. Use a tool like the Conversation Project Starter Kit to help you decide what type of healthcare you would like to receive in your last days.
Complete your paperwork. You need to appoint a healthcare proxy and fill out an advance directive form in order to give your wishes some legal clout. But you also need to talk to your loved ones and your doctors about your wishes so they will know how to care for you if you can’t speak for yourself.
Tend to your relationships. Learn how to forgive NOW so that you won’t be rushing to complete this important task while on your deathbed. Remember to say “I love you” to those who matter to you whenever you have an opportunity.
Learn to BE in the present moment. Let go of ruminating about the past and worrying about the future–love and joy exist right here, right now in this present moment.
Love Your Life
Once you have learned to manage fear and to BE ready for anything that comes your way, you can begin to learn to love your life just as it is, even if you are surrounded by tragedy and pain. Here are some steps to consider:
Live according to what really matters to you. Let you values guide your choices each day and put your time and energy into the things that are most important.
Practice gratitude each day. Keep a journal and begin by writing down one thing you are grateful for each night before you go to sleep. Even in the worst of times you will be able to think of one thing to be thankful for–you just have to shift your mindset to a more positive focus.
Learn to find love in every situation. After you have developed a gratitude practice you will begin to notice that love is actually present everywhere, in everything that happens. Start focusing on the love and you will find it more and more frequently.
Allow love to fill you. You can become a channel for love to the rest of the world by simply letting love into your life in every possible way. Fill yourself with love so you can share it with others.
Life is an ongoing learning process! No lesson comes easily or without a certain amount of pain, but it’s worth it. If you begin conscious now and begin to live a life of love, then you will remain conscious when it becomes your time to die. You will continue to radiate beauty and joy to those around you–I’ve seen it happen over and over again!
Here are two books to help your learning process and your practice of death awareness: