In this episode I share an interview I did with Joanna Penn on her podcast for authors “The Creative Penn.” We talk about why it’s important for authors to address death and grief in their writing and I’m sharing it with you to illustrate how we can talk about death with other people who don’t necessarily share our knowledge or interest. Learn more about Joanna’s awesome podcast here: www.thecreativepenn.com/podcasts/
This episode is sponsored by generous contributions on my page at Patreon.com/eolu. This week I’d like to thank my new patrons Mary Wilkinson, Joan Bretthauer, and Diane Adams! Your support means everything to me! To join the team and receive special bonuses go to Patreon.com/eolu.
Today I’m sharing with you an interview Joanna Penn did with me for her podcast The Creative Penn. A few weeks ago in Episode 156I discussed about how to talk to strangers about death and dying. My point was that we need to be bold enough to strike up conversations with people about death.
My interview with Joanna is an example of talking with someone not well-versed in end-of-life issues to show that it can be productive and inspirational at the same time. Joanna let me know that many of her listeners wrote to saw how much they enjoyed our interview and that it was very helpful to them personally and as writers. So let’s go have more conversations about death with people in all walks of life!
Lessons learned from working with those close to death
Paying attention to our inner passion for writing
Tips for dealing with death and grief in our characters and our writing. Joanna talks about some of the issues she tackled in her book Desecration.
Why we are able to write about grief that we might not have experienced personally
Why it’s okay to be comfortable with the subject of death
Changes in death culture as boomers age
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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 how to create a pilgrimage to help you process the grief that follows the trauma of war.
In this episode I share my own story of traveling to Normandy to retrace my father’s footsteps during World War II. This was part of a grief pilgrimage I took to help me understand the factors that led to my father’s suicide many years later.
You can still sign up for A Year of Reading Dangerously and join our online reading group for 2018. Read more about it here.
This episode is sponsored by my supporters on Patreon.com/eolu who contribute a little each month to keep this podcast and the End-of-Life University Interview Series on the air! Thank you to my latest patron: Martha Johnson! I appreciate your support more than you can ever know. To become a patron go to Patreon.com/eolu and receive some special bonuses.
One year ago I featured a special 8-part series titled Suicide: Surviving the Aftermath about my own journey of healing following my father’s suicide death. This week is the anniversary of his death and I’m focusing in today on part of my journey.
In order to learn more about the impact of World War II on Dad’s emotional health I took a grief pilgrimage to Normandy to explore the location of some of his traumatic experiences. That trip was a powerful experience that helped me understand Dad better and grasp the burden of grief and guilt that he had carried with him since the war.
Here are my tips for anyone who wants to plan a similar pilgrimage (listen to the episode for more of the details and to hear how my own journey unfolded):
Do your homework before you go: Learn all you can about your loved one’s wartime travels so you can choose the places you’ll visit carefully. Check the National Archives for information and military records for your loved one.
Visit a museum: You’ll learn a lot of history in a short time by starting your journey at a war memorial museum. You’ll find some of the recommended World War II museums in Europe listed here.
Enlist a guide: A local guide with a solid knowledge of history and the area can save you time and show you places you wouldn’t have discovered on your own. Find a guide that speaks your language fluently and is willing to go to the places on your list.
Meet a local: One of the benefits of traveling to the location of the war is the opportunity to meet people who personally experienced the war and its aftermath (or their offspring.) Local citizens will have stories to share that will help broaden your perspective.
Take your time: The emotions that arise on grief pilgrimage are intense so allow time for reflection and processing. Don’t rush through the sites but stop and take it all in. Let your feelings rise to the surface so that they can be witnessed.
Participate in a ritual: Rituals provide a powerful opportunity for healing during grief travel experiences so plan ahead to create your own special ceremony. Or you may have a chance to take part in a scheduled ceremony with other travelers as I did when I visited the Normandy American Cemetery.
Learn more about how travel helped my grief by listening here.
Learn how travel can provide a “safe container” for healing grief and loss.
In this episode I’ll share my own insights into how the experience of travel can help with the process of grief. This is also the subject of the new book I’m writing (I did research for it on my recent trip to Italy) … I’ll share a brief overview here!
You can check out all of my Italy photos onInstagram!
Each month I host a “Virtual Death Cafe” with fascinating conversations about death, grief and the end of life. Anyone can join by telephone or online. You can learn more about it at www.eoluniversity.com/death-cafe.
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During several of my travel experiences in the past I have been dealing with grief and have found the process of travel to be helpful. On one trip to Italy, my husband and I learned of the death of our brother-in-law on the day we arrived in Venice. Unable to cancel the rest of our trip and return home immediately, which we wanted to do, we stumbled through the remainder of the vacation and managed to make peace with our pain.
Here are some of my “takeaways” about how travel can help with grief:
Permission to wander aimlessly. On our Venice trip we canceled all of our sightseeing plans and activities. We started each day with a totally clean slate and just wandered the streets and canals of the city all day long. By following our intuition and our broken hearts we were able to enter into our grief without distraction or attachment. Had we been at home with family we would have felt obligated to “do something” and “be somewhere” but because we were traveling we were free of all expectations.
Seeing the big picture. Because we were freed up from the details of our daily life at home, we found more space to explore grief from a “trans-personal” perspective, as something bigger than just our own individual lives. Experiencing grief in another country allowed us to:
Recognize that all people, everywhere, experience the death of loved ones. Our mortality and the grief it causes us is the interconnecting thread that binds us to all of humanity.
Go deep into history. By visiting ancient ruins we can see that all of humankind, throughout history has dealt with the pain of loss and struggled to make peace with death. Our experience of grief is just one part of a vast “whole” picture of human loss.
Surrendering to grief to find joy within. As travelers “stuck” in another country even though we wanted to be home, we had no choice but to surrender to the pain that engulfed us. When we allowed grief to find a home within (and even “became” a living embodiment of grief) we also discovered a startling capacity for simple joy over the beauty of being alive. I’ve written this before: suffering hollows us out so that we can contain an even greater measure of joy … and also love.
Understanding impermanence. Strolling through cemeteries, relics and ruined structures of the past illustrated to me perfectly that everything that exists in the physical realm is impermanent and will one day dissolve away. Only love and the energy of life persist eternally. And it is the depth of the love we experience for others that causes the magnitude of pain we feel upon their deaths. Grief is one of the visible manifestations of love in the physical realm.
Learning how to navigate in unfamiliar territory. On our “grief trip” in Venice we simply wandered every day until we were hopelessly lost. We took in everything around us along the way–noticing all the colors and sounds and fragrances of life. And when we felt ready to return “home” we studied our maps to figure out where we were and to slowly find our way back to more familiar territory. This skill of navigating in the unknown will prove to be very helpful to us throughout life and especially during our own dying process as we struggle to get back to a home we can’t remember.
I hope you will take the opportunity to travel some day, even when you are experiencing grief, to experience the profound benefits it can offer!
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