Thinking About Dying: Resources
A few years ago I attended my first Death Café and wrote a blog about it: Thinking About Dying – Death Café, Part One. Since then I have attended 4 more cafés. There I found intriguing people and thought-provoking conversations, about an experience inescapable and common to us all.
If you want to find out more about Death Cafés in general, and see a schedule of cafés near you, check out: http://deathcafe.com/
After attending these sessions, I began to think more about what makes a “good death.” I began to think about making choices, being prepared, and doing your research, just as we do with any major life decision.
At the Death Cafés, and in simply conversing with others, I hear a lot of stories about difficult departures from this life—often, sadly, with the deaths of our parents. Yet, because it is so hard to face, we tend to avoid contemplating and planning for our own departures. I decided I would adopt the mindset that is encouraged in the Death Café world: let’s be practical, and let’s have the Conversation. Here are some of the resources and alternatives I learned about in the process.
Death (or End of Life) Doulas:
There is a movement afoot to die better, and on our own terms. This is a reflection of the Boomer Generation’s efforts to live better, and on our own terms.
The term “Doula” is mostly associated with childbirth. A doula helps the mother through the birthing process, and cares for the mother and baby afterward. An end of life doula helps with the dying process, offering advocacy, support, and comfort.
The Death Cafés I have attended in the Richmond, VA area have been hosted by End of Life Doula Shelby Kirillin. Shelby is a critical care nurse who has seen her share of deaths during her career—and more often than not, bad deaths. She began to ask herself why it has to be this way, why the experience could not be a more peaceful, natural end to life’s journey. Shelby became certified as an End of Life Doula, and named her business Peaceful Passings. In an upcoming blog, I present an interview with Shelby and a detailed look at this profession.
County Library Death Cafés: You may be able to find a death café near you at your public library. For instance, at the Henrico County Public Libraries, Alane Cameron Miles, MDiv, Chaplain at the Hospice of Virginia, delivered a series of presentations on various topics related to death and preparing for dying. The theme was preparation. Preparing for end of life is far better than being completely blindsided with illness, death and the accompanying grief and loss. We talked about the need for an Advanced Directive and a Do Not Resuscitate Order, and being otherwise prepared with a Power of Attorney and an up to date will.
Alane also hosts a radio show on WRIR 97.3 called Death Club Radio, Thursdays at 12:30 PM. The description on the site at www.wrir.org says it best:
Death. Everybody’s doing it – and those of us who haven’t yet jumped on this age-old trend eventually will. While death is as much a part of life as being born, our understanding of death, dying and how we do it is limited by social stigmas, culture, customs and fear. Death Club Radio explores the ins, outs, ups and downs of death and dying, demystifying this universal human experience.
On Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/Death-Club-Radio
Alane noted that there are a number of books on the topic of dying, and suggested the following (all descriptions from Wikipedia):
- H is for Hawk by Helen Macdonald: a story of the year the author spent training a northern goshawk falcon in the wake of her father’s death…to help her through the grieving process.
- When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi: a non-fiction memoir about the author’s life and illness, battling stage IV metastatic lung cancer. The book has been made into a movie, currently in theaters
- A Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion: an account of the year following the death of the author’s husband…immediately acclaimed as a classic book about mourning.
- Being Mortal by Atul Gawande: the author tackles the hardest challenge of his profession: how medicine can not only improve life but also the process of its ending…arguing that quality of life is the desired goal for patients and families. Gawande offers examples of freer, more socially fulfilling models for assisting the infirm and dependent elderly, and he explores the varieties of hospice care to demonstrate that a person’s last weeks or months may be rich and dignified.
Also, Frontline on PBS produced the documentary program Being Mortal:
I have always been under the impression that options for burial are limited and mostly delivered by your local funeral home. In fact, alternatives do exist and are gaining in popularity.
Cremation options: I recently had lunch with the Cremation Society of Virginia (CSV) at www.virginiacremate.com. You can find the info on their website or by attending a seminar, but what I came away with are these critical points:
- You can bypass expensive funeral home arrangements completely. If you pre-plan with the CSV, they will take care of everything upon death: removal and transporting the body, filing of death certificate, filing with Social Security, and even the online obituary. But preplanning with CSV is key.
- 10 years ago, the cremation rate was 30%, now it is closer to 65%. People are making different choices.
- The average cost of cremation is $3,725; with CSV preplan it is $2,410. The cost of a traditional funeral is $7,00-$10,000 on average, and up to $20,000+ depending upon extra services.
- CSV is available 24/7 and will take your call from anywhere in the world. If you pass away out of town, cremation will take place on site and the remains forwarded.
If you are interested you can contact CSV directly at 888-967-9194; they have various local offices. If you are in another state a web search will help you find your local Cremation Society.
As environmental consciousness grows, so does interest in “green” burials: in a biodegradable coffin or shroud, no embalming chemicals and no vault. There are now green cemeteries.
At one of the Death Cafés I spoke with a woman who provides music therapy in hospice situations. She introduced me to the concept of music at end of life, and the sense of peace she has seen it provide to terminally ill patients. How beautiful. I found out more at:
All things to think about, maybe not fun, but the message repeated over and over again in the conversation about dying is this: Preparing for the end can alleviate much trauma for both you and your loved ones. The need is there; the conversation has started.
Watch for more posts about this topic in our ongoing Thinking about Dying series.