By Debbie Brodsky
Most people don’t want to think about death. Not their own, nor of their loved ones. It’s easier to avoid thinking about it.
I have been creating video biographies for families for over ten years. Of the many objections I’ve had for people not creating a video of their lives, the one that’s always baffled me the most is when people say, “It’s morbid.” They think that by creating a video about their life, that it’s a sign of things to come – that somehow creating a video about their lives is going to somehow cause their death. And no one wants to think about that.
I understand. It feels like by telling your life story, you must be somehow at the end of that story.
Yet we know intellectually that we all are going to die at some point. For those with a terminal illness, that time may come sooner than later. And for those who are left behind, being able to experience a loved one after their death – to hear their voice and see their face light up as they speak – is an enormous gift.
The irony is that when those who are reluctant finally do agree to share their story on camera, they end up enjoying the process immensely. Yes, it may bring up strong emotions, and yes, it’s sometimes hard. But they actually enjoy going on this journey with me – telling the stories of the milestones they have reached, the challenges they have overcome, and the family members they cherished when they were young. They love looking through old pictures, and remembering things they hadn’t thought about in years. More than anything, it brings a sense of peace and relief. They feel a weight lifted. This gift that they’re creating – this legacy for generations to come – is more than a gift to the future. It’s a gift to their present selves honoring their storied past.
If you or someone you know has a terminal illness, creating a video to celebrate their life is one of the best things you can do for them – and for you.
For assistance and resources for creating your video biography, please visit http://www.dmbpictures.com
PS — I met Debbie when she conducted a seminar at HOPE CONNECTIONS in Bethesda, Maryland. If I could ‘roll back time’ I wish this is something I had done with my relatives. Just as there are no cell phones in Heaven, neither do they have video cameras. Before it’s too late, why not start a Legacy project in your family? Make a list of the people you want to honor, call and schedule your first session. Hint: Don’t procrastinate on this one.
An explanation from Elizabeth: I’d never be described as an animal person but as a hospice volunteer I know how distraught and worried the terminally ill become when separated from their pets. In 2009 Dianne McGill, President and Founder of Pet Peace of Mind (PPOM) offered a revolutionary, formalized solution for other community hospice organizations.
Is your pet part of your family? The human-pet bond gives the patient a reason to get up each morning because caring for their pet(s) adds a sense of normalcy and stability to their day.
Friends may stop visiting because they’re too uncomfortable, and don’t know what to say. Not so with the four-legged creatures! As Mary explained: “My pet’s my lifeline. When I’m overwhelmed with anxiety about my diagnosis and treatment program, he’s totally devoted to me. I’m lucky not to be separated from him. His companionship improves the quality of my final days.” Research indicates that being assured their pet will be adopted by a loving family after they pass, is one of the most important pieces of unfinished business.
PPOM is the patient’s advocate. They explain to family and friends the value of the bonding between patient and pet. PPOM’s unique turnkey approach provides nonprofit hospices and palliative care organizations with startup funding. They launch local programs, train volunteers to help patients with their pet care needs, and find new forever homes after the patient’s death. This practical, ongoing support alleviates the patient’s feelings of isolation and hopelessness.
Watch the newest video from the National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization’s public awareness campaign “Moments of Life: Made Possible by Hospice.”
Maxwell Finds a Home was a local TV interview in Portland, Oregon. Dianne brought this Basset Hound, Maxwell, to explain how quickly he was adopted by a family with children, other pets living on a large farm. Once her dying wish was granted, that Maxwell would have a wonderful new life, she left this world a very happy woman. Read similar stories at www.petpeaceofmind.org
Click on this map http://petpeaceofmind.org/participating-hospices/ to discover the resources within your own state. Want to initiate a program to receive or give help to a patient in need? http://petpeaceofmind.org/program-partners/ There are PPOM programs in forty-two (42) states.
President Dianne McGill, founded this program in 2009. Pet Peace of Mind Willamette Heritage Center, 1313 Mill St. SE, Suite 304, Salem, Oregon 97301. (503) 363-0499 email@example.com
Giving Thanks for My Father’s Death
By Rev. Rosemary Lloyd, 11/22/2016
[Permission to publish]
This Thursday, there will be an empty chair at the table for our family Thanksgiving gathering. My brothers and I made plans months ago to come from the many corners of our busy lives to be together for what we suspected would be my father’s final Thanksgiving on earth. But he won’t be with us. He died October 16, 2016.
Don’t misunderstand: I’m sad; I will miss him forever.
And I am grateful for his death.
My father was 95 in August. For more than two years, we witnessed the mental diminishment that came with the unforgiving progression of late-onset dementia. Ultimately, the man who was a navigator during World War II—who could fly through night skies with stars as his guides—would say, “I’m lost. Where am I? Where are we going?” Untethered from the circadian rhythms of the household, he would wander restlessly at night and doze on and off through the day.
It became more and more difficult to understand what made him comfortable or uncomfortable. What he would want to eat instead of push away. Whether he would agree to take a walk or get dressed or simply refuse.
So, when he died quietly, sitting in his favorite chair, waiting to be called for dinner, I was, of course, sad. And grateful.
Grateful that his death was what so many of us dream for ourselves: It was peaceful, seemingly without pain, at home, near his beloved wife, the smells of his favorite dinner wafting from the kitchen. We are grateful for the mercy that he still knew his bride of 63 years, and recognized his children and grandchildren. The twinkle is his eyes still ignited when he saw a baby or a pretty woman. And he was still saying, “Thank you,” “I’m sorry,” and “I love you.”
I am so grateful that we had some crucial conversations along the way. Dad convened his adult children after Thanksgiving dinner some years ago to explain his finances to us all. He designated who was to have Power of Attorney for financial matters, who would be executors of his estate, and who his back-up health care agent was, after our mom.
Early last year, having outlived the battery in the pacemaker/defibrillator that slept under his skin, he opted to have just the pacemaker replaced, saying he didn’t want his heart “shocked” if it was ready to stop. We gently pushed the conversation to the next level: What if your heart stops beating in the hospital or at home? Do you want us to attempt CPR to try to restart your heart? “No,” he answered softly. “I don’t want that.”
He asked his doctor for a DNR order and it was placed on the refrigerator at home. I am so grateful for his courage, and for my mother’s and brothers’ tender compassion that allowed us to talk openly. And for the doctor’s humanity in receiving Dad’s request. Those conversations were a gift that gave everyone peace of mind on October 16th.
Though he “graduated” from hospice in August, I am grateful for the dedicated and compassionate people who supported my parents for six months. If you ask her, my mother will tell you how “Wonderful!” were the world-expanding visits from the chaplain, and social worker, and nurse—for both of them.
I am grateful for the many years that my father was our guiding star, and for the gift of words that expressed his love for us and his faith in a God who would be his eternal rest. I am grateful for the many family, friends, and strangers-to-me who expressed their condolences, sent food, came to the house and the funeral parlor, to the church and the graveside. I am grateful for the co-workers who allowed me the time to be with my family and who understand that grief isn’t over just because the funeral is.
As I look around the table this Thanksgiving, I will, no doubt, see eyes that twinkle like my dad’s, and eyes that sparkle with brimming tears. And I will feel so much gratitude for the gift of my father’s life and his death. May his memory be a blessing for generations.
November 20, 2016 Bethesda, Maryland
Last year, 87 million Americans drove over fifty miles in a frenzied attempt to connect with relatives and friends for Thanksgiving. Will you be on the road next week? What are your motives? Will it be worth it?
The expression, Let’s talk turkey, refers to ‘having a focus, getting down to business.’ Will you commit to making your holiday visit more productive? It’s an ideal intergenerational time to talk about end-of-life wishes, hear and discuss each other’s opinions. If you’re thinking: ‘Easier said than done…’ watch these three short YouTube interviews with Ellen Goodman, co-Founder (2012) of The Conversation Project:
I have another trick up my sleeve—a Guest Blog post from Susan Soper, creator of ObitKit. You read it correctly: ObitKit. Using Susan’s guidelines, ask your family to help write your obituary. Before you read her Guest Blog, take a quick romp through her website www.obitkit.com
How-to Make It Through the Holidays
As the holidays are approaching, perhaps you will be experiencing a number of heartbreaking firsts this year:
“First Thanksgiving”: a special someone is missing from the table.
“First Christmas and Hanukkah in December”: you’re flooded with the spirit of loving and giving—and now, cherished memories from the past.
“First New Year”: you wonder: A whole year? How am I going to do this alone? Birthdays, anniversaries, Valentine’s Day, Mothers’ and Fathers’ Days, vacations, graduations, weddings, new births…you get the idea! It’s a daunting prospect. A loved one has died, but that doesn’t mean the memories of them do, too.
Our solution for enduring these rituals? We can keep their spirit alive with new traditions:
- hang their stockings on the fireplace
- use their most raved about recipes in our holiday meals
- include their beloved ornaments or flowers in the centerpiece
- listen to music they loved
- attend their regular religious services and community programs.
Talking about them keeps their spirit, memory, and legacies alive. You can almost feel their presence as you recall top achievements, beloved stories, even missed opportunities—quirks, habits, oft-quoted sayings.
What about when it’s your turn to be missing at the table? How would you like that conversation to go? While you’re healthy, provide the leadership and guidance to discuss your final wishes. It’s the best gift! This avoids the guesswork and critical decision making during a heartbreaking, grieving time. State your exact wishes about how you’d like to be remembered and celebrated verbally and in writing. They’ll be relieved to know your final wishes and be able to honor them.
Susan Soper is the author and founder of ObitKit: Live. Love. Laugh. Cry. Write it down! a workbook to help other families avoid the guesswork and last-minute decisions at the most heartbreaking time. www.obitkit.com
Everyone has a story. What’s yours? What’re you passionate about?
Some ideas are hatched out of inspiration, or out of desperation. www.yourexitstrategy.org (YES) was born out 40+ years of guilt. My guilt.
In 1967 I questioned my father’s doctor about his prognosis: He said: “Your dad’s got five years, with prostate cancer, if he follows directions.”
I was only 25 and totally self-absorbed. After traveling, studying and working overseas, my energies were focused on being a speech therapist in three Washington DC schools, and planning our wedding. Commute five hundred miles back to their home in Ohio? Not possible. It never occurred to me to delve deeper than his diagnosis. Our phone conversations were pathetic: “How’re you feeling today?”
You’ll learn with me as guest bloggers Jon and Michelle Braddock share how her dad’s death changed their professional careers.
Being PREPARED Is a Gift! Jon Braddock
I’m prepared for the inevitable: my own death. Being organized means not leaving a huge mess for my family to sort out. Do you know what happens if someone dies, hasn’t specified their wishes, or left concise directions for their loved ones? It creates undue STRESS, absorbs a tremendous amount of TIME and can cost huge sums of MONEY! Not coincidentally, these are the same three things that divide families.
Shocked by the unexpected death of my father-in-law, (they’d been married 63 years) it took us almost a year to locate and access online accounts [without passwords], trace safe deposit box keys, bank accounts, and life insurance policies. The list seemed never ending. He’d probably never considered how difficult it would be to untangle and settle their affairs.
Please watch our two-minute story on Vimeo to learn why we’ve become so passionate about helping other families avoid similar pain: https://vimeo.com/152296272 It’s pushed us into a career we could never have imagined: www.MyLifeandWishes.com
We’re relieved that our adult children won’t face the nightmare we did, because they know our desires and where everything is located. What do you want the experience to be like for your family? Are you prepared? It’s easier than you think—download our guide: 10 Things You Need To Know http://try.mylifeandwishes.com/end-of-life-planning-ebook/
Our website is an online planning tool and storage site, which simplifies end-of-life planning considerations: healthcare directives; funeral direction; last wish instructions; wills; insurance papers; banking information; and other critical information you’ll need. Please use our previous blog posts https://www.mylifeandwishes.com/blog/ as an educational hub for your unanswered questions.
Do you agree that “building your final roadmap” could be the greatest gift you could leave your family?
Your Spouse as Healthcare Agent? Perhaps NOT!
Our GUEST BLOGGER, M. Jane Markley’s specialty in Advance Care directives makes her a highly sought speaker and trainer. Please register for the FREE webinar with Kim Adams, July 21st.
Jane said: “In my June 2015 newsletter, I spoke about CHOOSING your Durable Power of Attorney for Healthcare, also known as a Healthcare Agent. I emphasized the importance of addressing three criteria when making this decision. As a refresher, here they are. The person you choose should:
What are the Pro’s and Con’s of having a spouse be your healthcare agent? Over 40 years ago, my mother chose me, not my father, to be her healthcare agent. He fully met the first two criteria, but she felt that he wouldn’t be able to meet the third, because of the type of care she would want when “the crisis” occurred. She believed I would best be able to advocate for her. Then she told everyone in the family her wishes. Spouses frequently struggle with the choices their loved ones make. If they can’t support those decisions, or advocate for them, they’re not the right person to assume this role. Whomever you choose to be your healthcare agent, speak with them to make sure they meet all three.”
These are the nuances of advance care planning that not everyone considers. Do you have other questions about this type of planning? Want to learn more in a safe environment? Join us Thursday, 21 July at 7:00 pm EST, when I’ll be speaking about advance care planning, and taking questions from the audience on Kim Adams’ Monthly Dialogues for Living and Dying Well. Please register at:
Copyright © M Jane Markley Consulting, LLC. All Rights Reserved
QUALITY of Life
Patient stays in control. Can you hear Frank Sinatra singing, “I Did It My Way”?
Shared Decision Making with your medical team and your family
Patient prepares written documentation, EXIT STRATEGY instructions, for family to carry out their End of Life [EOL] wishes
Patient insists on EOL conversations with medical team
Patient writes their Bucket List
Patient researches his/her disease(s) to anticipate next stages/next steps
Patient develops Legacy Plan for family and community
Learn “A-N-D” – Allow Natural Death
Learn meaning of Palliative Care
Research benefits of early enrollment in Hospice, to enhance the quality of final days. Surviving family members receive bereavement services for first year.
Chooses spiritual resources: Rabbi, Pastor, Iman
Research and visit:
- Funeral homes. Use guidelines from FUNERAL RULE from Federal Trade Commission https://www.ftc.gov/news-events/media-resources/truth-advertising/funeral-rule
CON arguments: I can’t think of any, can you?
QUANTITY of Life
Perhaps you want to live long enough to experience a major event? A graduation? A birth? A wedding?
Help me out here–I personally can’t imagine trying to stay alive longer. If you have some input, please send me your comments.
This list could get very long. I personally evaluate through the lens of how much PAIN would I have to endure? How much will it COST?
Many doctors avoid the agonizing treatments or surgeries that they put their patients through. Do an internet search on Futile Medical Treatment. My Google search yielded 576,000 results.
A few years ago I read this article by Dr. Ken Murray: http://www.zocalopublicsquare.org/2011/11/30/how-doctors-die/ideas/nexus/
Now, tell me what you think!
Recognize three new acronyms: NED; MBC; + AND?
It’s easy to be an armchair quarterback, and intellectualize QUALITY of life vs QUANTITY of life until an accident or a terminal disease catapults you to the business end of a buzz saw. Don’t become complacent like I did.
I had STAGE IIIA breast cancer in 2004, after multiple surgeries, chemo and radiation. I was anxious before every six-month checkup, and after five years, the annual visits. What a relief to be told: “No Evidence of Disease (NED).” I took NED for granted. Excruciating headaches in late 2015 led to a diagnostic cervical CT scan, which identified hairline fractures in my cervical spine. A second CT scan, plus a deep needle biopsy of my Iliac crest, verified that I’d leapt over STAGE IIIB—and landed in STAGE IV cancer, which is where the bus stops. Totally blindsided, NED was replaced with a new acronym: Metastatic Breast Cancer (MBC).
Treatment plan: Ten doses of cervical radiation in December; six months of wearing hard and soft neck collars 24/7; daily Femara pills, and a monthly injection of Exgeva to strengthen my bones. June CT scan–no new tumors. While intermittent bone pain in my legs and ongoing fatigue punctuate my daily activities, now’s the time to reinforce my End of Life (EOL) discussions, i.e., My Exit Strategy that I’d designed with my website in 2013. Research on bone metastasis shows a five to ten year life expectancy, so it’s a perfect time to rev up this conversation, again.
If you were buying a car, you’d check out the dealership’s reputation, right? Why not do the same, and investigate your future EOL needs like geographically desirable hospice facilities, caskets, cemetery plots, funeral homes or cremation services, now, before you need it?
I remind my adult children that just as the citizens of Chicago were told to vote early and often, when my health goes downhill, they should use the same approach with the Hospice I have chosen. Start early and ask often: “Is my Mom ready to go into hospice yet?” Every patient will decline, and the doctors will be asked: Would you be surprised if she died in the next six months? I don’t want to be cheated out of one day! Give me hospice!
Here’s the third acronym: Allow Natural Death (AND). My directions are simple and clear. Be prepared for the time when my cancer becomes aggressive, or stops responding to treatment. If a medical crisis develops, my condition could deteriorate very quickly. Don’t panic. Keep my POLST* and Advance Directives visible. Focus on comfort care—only give me the best QUALITY of life possible. No heroics, last-ditch surgeries or attempts to prolong my life—which in reality just prolongs a patient’s suffering. DO NOT send me to the ER or the ICU. Keep me at home. Re-read my Directives. Review our state guidelines for paramedics. If I can’t breathe, don’t call 911. Never allow anyone to crack my ribs, or surgically open my airways. Stay calm. My goals have changed—I’m looking forward to my eternal life. As soon as I am Absent from the body, I’ll be present with the Lord. I’ll get there sooner if you remember AND –Allow Natural Death.
POLST* Physician Ordered Life Sustaining Treatment. States use different terms. Find yours on this map www.polst.org
The linchpin to End of Life (EOL) planning is to stay in control. Make your personal Exit Strategy air tight. Clarify your wishes now, and keep talking about it until your family understands the blueprint you’ve outlined for them. Research demonstrates that when the family is at peace with your advance decisions, they can concentrate on mourning and remembering your legacy—which keeps you alive in their hearts and minds.
Coming soon: PART TWO Building your own Quality VS Quantity charts.
Appearance = Self Image (SI)
Elizabeth: Speaking from personal experience, losing my hair, my eyelashes and eyebrows was one of the most devastating consequences of chemotherapy in 2004. The stress of radiation and multiple surgeries contributed to my losing 30 pounds: I looked emaciated! The American Cancer Society (ACS) sent a Reach to Recovery volunteer to share her cancer experiences, and give me a post-mastectomy Teddy Bear pillow. She urged me to attend a Look Good/Feel Better (LGFB) session held at the U S NAVY Hospital in Bethesda. A volunteer demonstrated how to work around the ravages of cancer, and sent us home with a bag of free (donated) cosmetics. http://lookgoodfeelbetter.org/
Flash-forward to September, 2015, when my former SOWER* volunteer friend, Betsy McGuirt was enrolled in home hospice care. Betsy and her husband had battled brain cancer for fourteen months. Their goal was to have as much quality time as they could, with their family and friends.
I think many of my readers know the frustration of wanting to help a friend with cancer, but don’t know what to do, particularly if you live in another location. I called ACS to schedule a “Look Good/Feel Better” program for Betsy, but they had no programs in rural North Carolina.
I don’t remember how I found www.fightingpretty.org, but as soon as I ordered her package, they sent it immediately.
Betsy left me a tearful voice message: “You made my day!” She loved everything in the box, including the Pink Boxing Gloves which reminded her of her father’s life as a boxer. Her husband passed the gloves on to me, now that my breast cancer has metastasized to my bones. They are a constant reminder, always positioned above my desk.
Q: What’s been the biggest surprise since you incorporated Fighting Pretty Inc. as a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization in 2013?
A: The biggest surprise has been the impact that Fighting Pretty and our Pretty Packages have had on the women who have received them. We have received thousands of thank you letters from women who have received our Pretty Packages ranging in all ages, all types of cancer and from all over the world. Our Pretty Packages are really making an impact on women battling cancer and in some cases, continue to make an impact on their families even after their loved ones may have lost their battle with cancer.
The outpouring of generosity and love from friends and loved ones requesting Pretty Packages for women battling cancer, companies donating thousands of products and cosmetics, and individual donors supporting the cause has been incredible! We are so grateful for all of our supporters – big and small. Your strength gives us strength!
Q: What’s been the most effective way to let people know about FIGHTING PRETTY ?
A: Most people are finding out about Fighting Pretty through social media and word of mouth. There are many referrals that come from women who have received Pretty Packages; however, we are working on attending more cancer walks in 2016, and partnering with even more cancer hospitals around the country to distribute literature about our programs and even donate or give away Pretty Packages to current patients getting treatment.
Q: FIGHTING PRETTY is now three years old. Tell us those amazing statistics of how you’ve managed to help so many women!
A: Fighting Pretty started very organically. I was given a pair of mini pink boxing gloves as a symbol of strength and hope. And when I finished battling cancer, I not only sent on my boxing gloves to a newly diagnosed “fighter,” but I wanted to help all women battling cancer feel strong and beautiful, like my friends and family had done for me. I started by sending one care package to a friend. Then another package to someone else’s friend. And it got to the point where I realized I should send these to everyone, even if I don’t have a direct connection. I started a Facebook page, created a logo and the next thing I knew, I sent 11 in my first month. Then I doubled that, then tripled that, and finally reached the highest month – October – when we sent over 100 Pretty Packages. Next came a request from Australia, then France, then the Philippines. And next thing I knew, with the help of my mom, we sent over 2,500 Pretty Packages to 49 states (no one in New Mexico!) and seven countries in three years.
Because the Pretty Packages are personal, contain quality items that have been carefully procured, and are generally sent from a friend or family member, recipients of the packages absolutely love them. And because friends and family members don’t really know what to do to help their loved one who is battling cancer, they turn to us!
Q: I just asked all of my Facebook friends to “Like” the Ohio State University FIGHTING PRETTY college chapter. It is alarming how many young women are being diagnosed with breast cancer. How can we get more colleges to join this movement?
A: As a young breast cancer survivor myself, it is alarming, but a real issue. My personal opinion, not backed by research, is that more women are aware of breast cancer now, so they are finding it younger, but living longer because of developed research. Only 15-20 years ago, not as many younger women were aware of the disease, and so they were less likely to do self breast exams, resulting in more advanced breast cancer later in life. Again, this is my personal opinion – not backed by research.
I am very passionate about spreading awareness of Fighting Pretty, but also the promotion of self breast exams. I know that when I was 26 years old – only a few years out of college myself – the last thing I thought about was getting breast cancer. It was my grandmother’s death that triggered me to do a self breast exam, to find out I had Stage 3 breast cancer that spread to my lymph nodes. I’m happy to say at 34, after surgeries, extensive treatment, and hormone therapy, I am cancer free!
The partnership with OSU came about very organically. A student, Hope Farabee, was doing a class project and wanted to help cancer patients feel beautiful. She found us online and wanted to help. Together, we developed a 3-step pilot Fighting Pretty club: (1) Fundraise (2) Make Pretty Packages (3) Distribute to a local cancer hospital. The OSU team is starting their fundraising step this month!
Q: What’s the best way for potential cash donors or IN-KIND corporate donations to reach you?
A: Visiting our website is where you will find the most information about how to donate. We are always looking for financial donors to back our mission so we can continue to grow and spread awareness of our cause across the nation. In-kind donations help us send quality items to the women who need it most – the women who are Fighting Pretty. We have worked with really big brands like Maybelline, OPI, Revlon and Mary Kay, and smaller brands like Alima Pure and Inspyr Socks. We love making new partnerships because it not only helps us to grow our business, but it helps to spread awareness to help even more women around the world feel strong and beautiful during their cancer journey.
For cash donations, people can donate right through our website:www.fightingpretty.org or send a check to: 2645 SW Maple Lane, Portland, OR 97225. For in-kind donations, please contact us firstname.lastname@example.org. We are excited to hear from you!
Q: How often do you need volunteers to help build your FIGHTING PRETTY packages for mailing?
A: Right now, we are sending on average 50-75 Pretty Packages per month. So we typically only meet once every month or every other month, depending on how many Pretty Packages we have “in stock.” However, as we grow, we may be hosting more Pretty Package development events! It’s not the building of Fighting Pretty Packages that we need the most help with, it’s sourcing the materials and spreading awareness so we can help even more women battling cancer feel strong and beautiful during the toughest time of their lives.
Kara Dolce, Founder, www.fightingpretty.org