Conversations with Death
It’s okay to talk about it
Sharing Your Feelings (Saying Goodbye to the Dying)
- Share some of your favorite, happy, precious memories.
- Share all of your gratitude for decisions they’ve made on your behalf, sacrifices & love they’ve given.
- Share what you learned from this person.
- Ask any questions about wisdom you’d like to still learn from them (or practical information).
- Share any apologies or amends you’d like to make or forgiveness you want to give.
- Ask family and friends to write letters about their memories & read them to your loved one & save for when they’re gone.
- If you are ready (or want to be ready), tell your loved one that you will be okay when they are gone (even though you’ll be sad) and that whenever their body is ready, you are too.
Sharing Their Feelings (To Ask the Dying)
- What do you want me to know about what you are going through that I or others can’t/don’t get?
- How can I best help you?
- Is there anything you don’t want me to do?
- What gives you comfort right now?
- What other losses does this bring up?
- How do you feel about death? Consciousness? After-life? Spirituality?
- What wisdom would you give to others about life or death?
Sharing Your Wisdom
- Who did you love and who made you fee loved?
- What are the people/events/things in your life that you are proud of? That make you smile?
- What are the people/events/things in your life that you learned wisdom from?
- Who did you try to love and maybe wish you loved or had been loved better?
- Do you have any regrets? What would you do/wish for if you could?
- What do you want to be remembered for/about?
Preciousness of Time
- What is important to you that you tend to/complete before you die?
- What do you want to do less of?
- Do you want to have a celebration of life while you are still alive?
- Would you like to take more photos or short voice recordings/videos now while you can?
A Good Day Still
- What makes for a good day now? (i.e. seeing the sunrise/feeling the breeze, using my medication to not be in excessive pain, eating more dessert, spending more quality time with my loved ones/pet, playing music, calling loved ones over Skype, going on a wheelchair ride, getting my hair brushed, foot rubs, listening to an audio-book, etc)
For Beloved Pets
- What do you want your pet to know? Tell them now.
- What would your pet say to you right now if they could speak? Imagine them telling you now.
- Remember and share the story of how you found your pet.
- Remember and share your pet’s personality, favorite things and memories.
- How can you spoil your pet now?
- Do you want to (have someone) take special pictures of you both right now?
- Do you want euthanasia at home (e.g. Lap of Love or Pet Angel) or at the vet?
- Afterwards, how might you want to honor your pet? Keep a patch of fur? Paw print? Make a donation to a pet shelter? Volunteer at a pet shelter? Foster another pet? Adopt a pet in need?
- Who is your in close support system?
- Who is in your general support system?
- Who can help with physical medical/wound care?
- Who can help with bathing and toileting?
- Who can help with medical appointments?
- Who can help with chores & bills?
- Who can help with meals?
- Who can help watch over you if your main caregiver needs a break?
- What do your caregivers need so that they are replenished?
- What kind of help would be most helpful? What kinds of “help” do you not want?
Health Care Wishes
- What are your healthcare wishes?
- What treatments and care do you want?
- What do you not want?
- Do you believe in euthanasia?
- Do you want Last Rites?
- When is it enough to say it’s okay to pass?
- Who do you want to know about your status, what do you want them to know, and when?
- What accommodations and beauty do you want in your home/hospital/care center?
- Do you have a will for your power of attorney, health care surrogate, estate?
The Dying Process
- Who do you want to be there with you, if anybody?
- Where do you want to die? (home, hospital, Hospice Care Center, other)
- What do you want for comfort?
- What are you afraid of?
Wishes for After
- What are your wishes for after you die?
- For your body? Autopsy? Donated to science (e.g. medical students, body farms, etc)? Cremation? Viewing? Buried? Planted and recycled?
- For your pets?
- For your memorial service/funeral?
- For your beloveds’ lives? (e.g. Reverse Bucket List)
- For your beloveds when they get sad thinking about your death?
- Do you believe in leaving “signs” to those still alive?
- For your beloveds when they are happy and moving on?
- For your home?
- For your money & belongings?
- For your legacy?
- For your birthday? Holidays? Anniversary of your passing?
- What can we start putting in your Memory Box?
- What do you want me to hear you saying/remember when you are gone?
- Traditional funeral
- Pet funeral with friends
- Celebration of Life
- Sitting Shiva: Jewish ritual of sitting for 7 days with family, thereby allowing your world to stop and grieving together.
- Creative touchstones:
- Bury symbolic object, purchase a bench, make a donation, jewelry holding ashes, etc.
- Write a eulogy of their life
- Write the narrative of why it was their time to die (especially if their death was a shock, sudden and/or complicated). Write the story as you understand it and leave spaces for what you don’t still understand and may never.
- Collect a memory box or book or slideshow/video of stories, photos, clippings, objects, etc
- Make an alter/sacred space, wall collage, music playlist, portrait, poem, donation, etc,
- Grieving ritual (especially for caregivers/frontline workers): to release the dead, for those left behind, for yourself as the witness, for the those who tried to soften the blow, for those who were absent or indifferent or confused or cold or cruel, for the unanswered questions, for Life itself to go on.
For the Living
- Grief comes in waves- unpredictable, temporary, a force of Nature, and a necessary part of the cycle of release. As much as you possibly can, say “I am willing to let it wash over me” and fully let it. The wave will recede once again.
- Everyone processes differently and in their own time. Some need to wipe clean their eyes, clear away all the objects that hold memories, and go out into the world. Others need to weep, curl up in a cave, and build a shrine. Yes to all of these ways of grieving.
- Tell others if you want to talk about your loved one or if for right now you don’t or if it’s fluid and just asking each time is best. People often don’t know what to say and instead may say nothing at all. Give yourself permission to start the conversation about your loved one if you are wishing others would. It’s not a burden to share the bitter parts of life with your friends and family- it’s what we are here for. If you find that some are unable to show up for you or are possibly avoiding grief altogether, this happens too. Find the people who aren’t afraid of death- people like me, support groups, front line workers, spiritual folk, a kind person nearby who also knows loss first-hand, etc.
- If you find yourself trying to re-enter the world and weeping in public, go ahead. Tears are truthful. Why would we apologize for crying in this hard world?
- It’s okay to move forward. It’s okay to laugh. It’s okay to be okay again. It’s okay to love again. It’s in our biology to find happiness- we are wired to reach for relief after such a grave loss. Thank goodness for this! Please do not feel ashamed or guilty. Your suffering is not a testament to your eternal love- your living is. Your loved one doesn’t want you feeling sad or doubting if you could’ve done more. That doesn’t serve them. It doesn’t serve you. It doesn’t serve everyone around you that needs you fully here and adding to our collective joy.
- Please be gentle with yourself if you have regrets. It’s very likely they had regrets of their own, too….but if you wish for mercy and peace for all that was unresolved in their life consider extending that mercy and peace to yourself as well. Let your regrets melt into taking better care of those around you now- don’t let the precious energy behind your tender feelings go to waste. So much of the world is made better by paying forward what you cannot pay back.
- Forgetting memories of your loved one is completely normal. I promise. I hear it all the time. It doesn’t mean you love them less or are leaving them behind. I think of it as carrying them fully inside you, integrating them into your being. They are the water and sunshine and nutrients that grew you and can’t be separated from you now. They in your ideas and values about life that they inspired, in the part of your heart that didn’t harden and was kept soft by their love, in the light and wisdom that flows through you when you realize people really do leave one day. Just like you don’t think about taking a breath when you breathe, you don’t necessarily think about the specific memories of being loved when you Love. This is natural and is a testament to our inter-being. Everything is so completely forever connected, the seamlessness is almost hidden.
- Ask yourself what amazing parts of this person you want to have an intentional after-life through you and your actions.
- Ask yourself (if you have enough in your reserves) if there is someone grieving that you can sit with or perhaps you will find an opportunity in the future to be a salve for someone else’s pain.
- Be gentle with yourself.
- Onward, dearhearts.
Life and death support each other. They are not enemies. –Tich Nhat Hanh