This Memorial Day weekend is always a time of reflection for me as I grew up in a family who always, and I mean always, made an annual trip to the cemetery not only to lay flowers for the veterans we had lost, but for all our family. It was a time to show our love, feel our grief again and pay our respects to everyone we had loved and lost.
Now I live far away from our family’s cemetery in northeastern Ohio. So, this weekend in beautiful Colorado, I pay my respects in a quiet way of remembrance and gratitude that my life has come full-circle from a place of death and deep grief with little hope… to one of death and lighter grief with great hope.
My grief is still there because death is still there… loss is still there… but with intention and time, the weight and intensity is so much lighter. And now there is also great hope because I know that death no longer needs to be locked behind closed doors. I now know it’s possible for us to bring death into the light of our lives and encircle ourselves, each other and our loved ones with intention, clarifying information, compassion and kindness about end of life and the dying process. This hope contains the seed of great inner healing that I want all of us to spread.
One of my reflections today has been on how honored and privileged I feel to be serving that hope in 2 ways. One is through my work as a conscious dying educator, coach and doula helping to ease end of life fears through education and planning. And the other is as a hospice CNA, physically caring for those who are terminally ill and being a witness for them as they face their fears head-on, in real-time. The blessings from both is that I am learning so much about what it means to be fully human while also facing my own fears at the same time.
Some things I’m learning are:
- How courageous we human beings are. To my knowledge, we are the first species on this planet who have conscious awareness that there is an end to our existence. Knowing that end could come at any time in a world full of unknowns, and still carrying on despite it, takes tremendous courage. So, I’ve learned to be grateful for me… not just for my health or material possessions… but for just being here. I’m grateful for waking up, getting up and facing each day not knowing for sure that I will see another tomorrow.
- We all have anxieties, but those anxieties do NOT define us, and we all have the power to choose to not let them limit us. I see this every day in my students, clients and patients. Anxieties about being alone, about the unknown and whether we’re enough to face both. I’ve come to see these are universal feelings. The expression of those anxieties can be different… some have tears, some frustration, some work hard, some try hard to make others laugh, some withdraw… but we all have felt them. And I take comfort in that. It seems I’m not alone and lost when I know I’m not the only one who feels alone and lost.
- Having another human being care for another human being is one of the most beautiful things in the world. I’ve come to relax into knowing that I don’t have to agonize about “being a burden” to others. Most who work as caregivers, whether caring for children or the elderly, do so because they are “called” to do it. They already have an inner awareness, even if it’s not conscious, that they are paying it, the caregiving, forward. So, as I age and become more forgetful and less strong, I am finding more peace and less anxiety knowing that even if it’s a stranger who ends up caring for me when my end is near, they will be doing their best to help me be comfortable in my final days.
And there are many, many more lessons that honestly, I’m still trying to distill and integrate so I can be a better human. But one last one I want to share is that I’m learning in a deeper way that I have a responsibility to identify and communicate my end of life wishes and priorities to those I love and to my eventual caregivers in the future. This is a core tenet of dying consciously and dying wisely.
For my patients in hospice, particularly those who have dementia and either cannot speak coherently or can only express their anger and frustration, what a gift it would be for their families and we, their caregivers, to know what they would want. Even for my patients who are not suffering from dementia, whether they are 35 or 95, many are numb and shell-shocked, and some others are “demanding” and irritable. I believe this is a result of not being prepared for this time in their life… which we know always, always comes.
Seeing these patients every week is a wonderful reminder to keep incorporating and practicing what I teach in my Best 3 Months (B3M) program… to keep expanding and creating my end of life vision of what I want in 5 major domains of life. Plus, I have the health and energy now to create a vision map that documents my intentions and action steps, and this map also acts as a precious guide for my loved ones and caregivers if I cannot speak for myself one day. The vision map moves me from being lost and alone to knowing exactly where I am and where I am going, and it gives me a context for incorporating others into the conversation about my end of life journey.
These 5 major domains where we create our visions are the:
- Physical domain – how do I want to be cared for in my final months
- Mental domain – how do I want to be remembered, what information or love can I share even after I take my last breath
- Emotional domain – who still needs to know more deeply that I love and care for them… or where am I still angry and need to open my heart
- Spiritual domain – what matters most to me that I want others to respect about my beliefs or non-beliefs in my final days
- Practical domain – how I want my body handled and cared for after I’ve taken my last breath
If like me, you are feeling a need and a responsibility to make your wishes and priorities more conscious and known, please join me for the next Best 3 Months program starting this Tuesday on May 31st at 3:00 MT running through July 12th. We make this a 7-week journey so that we can fully cover and integrate the 5 domains and make sure we are comfortable sharing them with others.
I recognize this is a big commitment, so I want to share that I have taken this journey, along with many others, and it is absolutely worth the time. It is not an exaggeration to say that we have found the Best 3 Months program to be life-changing and a great relief. Here is some of the feedback received:
- “I just finished the Best 3 Months… and it was so enlightening I would highly recommend it! I took the class with my husband, and it gave us both an incredible platform to discuss our wishes and experiences with each other – a double bonus for us and our kids! I have a ways to go before I feel totally prepared, but at least I have a vision plan and action steps to follow now and that brings great peace of mind. Thank you for this gift.” – Karen Z
- “Eye-opening content! Presented in a comfortable, non-threatening format. Valuable for all!” – Jean M
- “Great class. The lessons shared in the class (for me) became more about being prepared to LIVE LIFE wisely to the last breath, as it was about what needs to be done after the last breath. Everyone needs to stop long enough to think & talk about the one event we all will share.” – Kim W
I invite you to take this journey. Especially if you are a baby boomer or have a parent or loved one who’s a baby boomer or older, this time is so important with the healthcare arena under tremendous stress from the pandemic and from the additional volume our generation is placing on its infrastructure. All the costs to care for the elders are rising, as resources are becoming scarcer. That’s why educating ourselves now is one of the best ways to ease the burden on everyone by planning and preparing for the end of our lives that is growing nearer each day.
Attendance for all sessions is not required as they will be recorded, so no worries if a summer vacation is approaching. Signing up would be a wonderful Memorial Day gift for yourself and your loved ones who will one day be remembering and memorializing you… especially on this weekend.
The questions I want to leave you with are… will it be a memory where they know everything was on the table and they were able to do their best to support your wishes? Or will it be a remembrance of regret and concern that they didn’t do all they could to support you? We can help them. We can give them a road map. We can leave them this message – they are not alone or lost – when we are moving on.
Please share this news widely and don’t hesitate to reach out with any questions. Have a relaxing holiday weekend!
Gratefully yours in love and light, Karen 💛
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