Category Archives: Social Factors and Our Approach to Dying

There are social and cultural assumptions/beliefs that contribute to how we view death and dying

 

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Listen in as we discuss: personal stories of dying loved ones, why you should not show up to the ER without an advance directive, reasons that Americans avoid conversations about death, how the Declaration of Independence is relevant to end of life discussions, how to have a “good death”….and much, much more…

Listen here–Blog Talk Radio Interview by Audrey Pellicano, New York Death Cafe Hostess and Grief Specialist

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“Great show! Thank you both very much for sharing such powerful and needed information and for getting it into a book that is not only personal but offers so much practical information.
Let’s keep the conversation going!”
Audrey Pellicano R.N.,M.S.  CEO Wise Widow Grief Recovery Specialist  audrey@wisewidow.com | www.wisewidow.com

In 1918, if your little brother died in the influenza epidemic, it’s likely that you would have cared for him as he died, at home, and after he died, at home.

In the early 1900s, my grandmother helped care for her own mother in her own home, as she died of cancer. After she died, the family built a coffin and buried her.

This has been the normal pattern of dying and after-death care for all of human history until very recently, as death has become transformed into a life-cyle event which is managed by specialists. Continue reading

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Many years ago when I was a “young” doctor, moonlighting in the ER of a tiny country town, I had an experience that challenged my training. You see, most “young”, “new” doctors often think their training and knowledge is superior to that of “old” doctors…which is often…malarkey! A wise and sage “old” doctor in this tiny country town taught me an important lesson on where and how one should die. Continue reading

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According to Steven Covey, in his book the “7 Habits of Highly Effective People,” the second habit that one should have or develop is to “begin with the end in mind.” Now, I’m pretty sure that Covey’s intention was not to have you wake up every day and think about your death, but maybe he should consider adding this to his description of the principle. You see there is something very powerful about entertaining thoughts of your end…somehow, it clarifies and magnifies the present.  Many other “Highly Effective” and brilliant people throughout the ages have practiced this same principle.

Take Shakespeare for example, he was a pretty smart guy. By all accounts, he had a “highly effective” life, and he penned these words, “Be still prepared for death- and death or life shall thereby be the sweeter.” (Measure for Measure, Act III, Scene I)

Hmmm… sounds like he was on to something.

Centuries later, Steve Jobs, another “Highly Effective” and brilliant guy said, “Remembering that I’ll be dead soon is the most important tool I’ve ever encountered to help me make the big choices in life. Because almost everything – all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure – these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important.”

Yep, there’s a whole lotta truth to this.

 I recently spoke at a Church who is actively seeking to look death in the face as a way of deepening the experience of daily life, a practice known as Momentum Mori, first initiated in 5th Century Benedictine spiritual practice. The congregation has devoted a whole month of sessions to this principle. Wow! Similarly, many Buddhist spend hours meditating on death. A Buddhist friend of mine spent extensive amounts of time sitting in grave yards meditating on the reality of her own death.

Anyone involved in any such bold spiritual practice is bound to find his or her daily life transformed. Living in the present with the knowledge that each moment might be your last (and preparing for it)– reorients you to what is most important in your daily living.

Personally, I came by this practice not by spiritual discipline, but by the nature of my work. I am one of the lucky ones who has the privilege of witness dying on a regular basis. Yes, I said “lucky”. You read that right.

You see, rather than choosing to add “facing death” to my spiritual practice, I am forced to look death in the face on a daily and weekly basis. I come home after most shifts recognizing that this day, this hour, this moment, could be my last. And then, I ask myself some variation of the following questions: “Is this the life I long to lead?” “Are these things the best use of my time?” “Can I sleep tonight with a clear conscience?” “Do my children know that I love them?”

And what about those questions…how do you answer them?

If your answers to any of these questions are “No,” then I challenge you to “begin with your end in mind”…it really makes everything better. Just ask Steven Covey.

Photocredits: productiveflourishing.com


A Letter to My Teacher:
A Personal Reflection

 Tell me, and I forget.

Teach me, and I remember.

Involve me, and I learn.

                                    —  Benjamin Franklin

Let knowledge grow from more to more,

And so be human life enriched.

                                                 —  Motto, The University of Chicago

Continue reading

Standing up from my computer terminal to go see another patient, I caught a glimpse of a small, spindly frail woman being rolled by paramedics into one of my shock and trauma rooms.

Very calmly, I remarked, “That woman is dying.”

The medical student who was rotating with me was unnerved that I would make such a pronouncement out of a mere casual observance, “Oh my goodness! How can you just say that?” Continue reading

Last week, I wrote about the concept of a “good death” and how it can be created. If there is meaning and utility in comparing and contrasting ideas, then this week I should identify what might constitute a “bad death” and suggest ways to avoid this   Please prepare yourself, the “yuck” factor is, at times, fairly high in this discussion.

I will begin by begging you to avoid a bad death at all costs.  I have seen too many and can assure you that this is not the path that you should allow yourself, or any one to take. You should plan to avoid a bad death with just as much motivation as you plan to create a good death for yourself and those whom you love and care for. Continue reading