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Episode 029: A Conversation on Death with Jen Carolan (Part 1)

A Conversation with Death Doula Jen Carolan

Join Sarah Noll Wilson and guest Jen Carolan as they discuss Jen’s role as an End of Life Doula, and explore some of the critical topics we so often avoid around death and dying.

About our guest

After 25 years working in Change & Program Management, Jen Carolan, has shifted her skillset to help others at a stage of life even she couldn’t have imagined a few years back. Learning to apply her experience as a project/program management and learning & development specialist to become a certified end of life doula and funeral celebrant has been a life changing transformation. Jen possesses a deep passion for bringing together the care team at the end of life to include medical and hospice staff, family and friends, financial and estate planners and funeral staff to ensure a clients transition is as comfortable and understood as possible. Jen has a strong sense for the challenges families face and her background has allowed her to apply a compassionate and comprehensive set of skills to helping families through difficult decisions while focusing on the needs of their actively dying loved one.

In addition to her doula work, Jen enhances life through a love of camping and biking as well as providing the community with reiki and Andean energy healing sessions. She provides meditation and spiritual coaching to clients and enjoys spending time sharing these practices with friends and families through her business Forces of Nature located in Windsor Heights, Iowa.

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Episode Transcript

Sarah Noll Wilson
Hello and welcome to this week’s episode of Conversations on Conversations where each week we explore a topic to help us have more powerful conversations with ourselves and with each other. I’m your host, Sarah Noll Wilson, and I am so so looking forward to this conversation this week. You know, one of the reasons we wanted to start this show was not only to explore topics related to the workplace and how we could show up better but also just in our personal lives. So our guest this week is Jen Carolan and I want to take a moment to give an intro, you’re going to hear what we’ll be talking about in her introduction. After 25 years working in change and program management, Jen Carolan has shifted her skill set to help others at a stage of life even she couldn’t have imagined a few years back. Learning to apply her expert experience as a project program management and learning and development specialists to become a certified end of life doula and funeral celebrant has been a life changing transformation. That is correct. Jen is a death doula. So we are going to be talking about all the things that we don’t talk about, but I have a few more things I want to share. She possesses a deep passion for bringing together the care team at the end of life to include medical and hospice staff, family, friends, financial and estate planners, and funeral staff to ensure a client’s transition is as comfortable and understood as possible. Jen has a strong sense for the challenges family face and her background has allowed her to apply a compassionate and comprehensive set of skills to helping families through difficult decisions while focusing on the needs of their actively dying loved ones. Jen, welcome to the show, my dear.

Jen Carolan
Hi, Sarah. Thanks so much for having me.

Sarah Noll Wilson
Jen, what else would you like our audience to know about you?

Jen Carolan
Wow, that’s a good question. There’s a lot to know. You know, I think that I’m just excited to be here and talk a little bit more about this. It’s a relatively new, I’m going to call it a craft, craft to me or a new life position for me as well. And it’s something that I’m very passionate about talking about with others. I have this, you know, deep desire to help people wade into uncomfortable and sometimes strange conversations. And I think that resonates with what I know of you and the work that you do. We’ve talked over the years about pushing ourselves and helping others get into that space where we have some of these candid conversations. So I’m just excited to share a little bit more about what we think people might want to know about being a death doula.

Sarah Noll Wilson
Yeah, I am. I’m so fascinated and and just in full transparency, Jen and I have known each other for quite quite a few years. We’ve knew of each other and that we’ve known each other. I actually had, I stepped into Jen’s shoes at my last job of taking over so I had to step into some pretty big shoes that she left behind. And, and it’s been really fascinating to watch your journey. And then I just remember you made the announcement on social media. And I had two thoughts of the announcement being this is my path going forward. I’m, I’m studying, practicing to be a death doula. And I remember thinking how incredible. And then second, I’ve never heard of that, and then became really, really fascinated. So, so let’s start first with and we’ll get into all of the ways that you support people. But in preparation for this, you know, one of the things we were talking about is literally the only thing that is guaranteed in this life is death. And it is the very thing for so many of us that we don’t talk about, we don’t know how to talk about. We don’t plan for always, some people do, some people don’t. And so first and foremost, let’s start with what does it mean? And what does it look like to be a death doula?

Jen Carolan
Yeah, that’s a great question. So I mean, the word doula is a Greek word for woman who serves and what most people are probably familiar with is the idea of a birth doula, right? So a birth doula or a death doula either either one end of life doula is what I like to call it as well. They both are a non medical role, right? So it is a trained position with expertise, but it is a non medical treatment. And it is focused around comfort, care, support, advocacy, and education. And so whether you’re looking at either the birth path or the death path, that that word doula really resonated for me as a woman who serves person who serves and that’s really where I found myself with, at a stage of wanting to meet families where they were in their journeys. This is not a replacement for funeral directors or hospice staff. We do get that question a lot, right? But it’s kind of like if you imagine that Venn diagram of the crossover, we’re here to supplement and to also fill the gap up where there is need. Our funeral directors and and our hospice staff, as you can imagine, are overloaded. They’re so busy, and they have to kind of, you know, serve a lot of clients. And so the beauty of the doula role is to be given fewer clients and be able to spend more quality time. And really getting to know the family and getting to know what their needs are. And so a doula at heart can do, you know, several different things. But their goal is not to duplicate, you know, roles that are already out there. So that’s one of the first things that I kind of like to share about, about being a doula. It’s about comfort and support really.

Sarah Noll Wilson
Well, and at a time, you know, for some people, maybe they’ve had the experience, but for a lot of people, I’m sure that you enter in to a situation when it’s the first time they’ve lost somebody really close to them. Right, everyone’s journey is different, but you experienced death, that’s a little bit more removed from you. And it’s different when you’re the one who has to make the decisions, you’re the ones who is, you know, trying to understand and and while you’re trying to figure out. We were talking about this, actually, just at lunch beforehand, my colleagues and I were talking and you know how there’s such an emotional part of death. And there’s also like a business part, a logistical part of it. And then there’s the, you know, like and all all of that. And that’s an incredibly stressful time, or it can be, and you’re making some pretty substantial, substantial decisions. So before we get in even more into the depth of what that looks like, I think it’s really valuable for people to hear, you know, you went from being a corporate trainer, you know, Software Technology Project Manager, to suddenly realizing that you had a very different calling, you know, I think you and I have talked how there’s always this thread of wanting to make things easier for people, wanting to be supportive of them. And a little bit, I think, you know, wanting to remove unnecessary suffering, like in all of your roles, there’s some element of that, you know. So, so tell us more about what was your journey to realizing, I think this is where I’m supposed to be, and and even once you made that decision, what what has that that process been like since?

Jen Carolan
Yeah. I think, I don’t think my, I think my story is not, is not unique in that it’s, it is very reminiscent of what a lot of folks experience with COVID. The timing of everything, for me came with the beginning of sort of the COVID cycle. In that, you know, I was working that program, project management, high profile, lots of hours, lots of responsibility, lots of dollars, it was all of those sorts of pressures in the roles that I’d had. And then all of a sudden, we were hit with COVID. And, and while folks were dying, and it was becoming more prevalent, I think that the fear is what sort of became the prevalent emotion that I just watched, right? And I watched it unfold in the media, in my friends, in my family. And during that time, I lost a friend, an acquaintance and high school friend. She passed away of a stroke a couple of days after some some COVID complications and some things that she was going through. And at the same time, my aunt and uncle, my parents were faced with having to move my grandfather out of the only home my brother and I had ever known him to live in. And so I packing up this house, it’s got, you know, 50 years of memories, for me in it and thinking about my friend, and my own mortality really kind of smacked me in the face. And again, I think that’s what a lot of us were met with, coupled with working from home and finding that I had more time to sort of sit with myself, think about things, I really began to meditate and look at things at a deeper level. And again, I don’t think that was unique to me, I think a lot of folks did. But those events just kind of led me to say, what is it that I really want? Am I really doing what I want because I started to feel just that the stress levels and the toll that it was taking on my own physical health just weren’t really worth it anymore. And I started to think about, again, that passion, that calling of where can I really make a difference? I and I had a wonderful, you know, set of, you know, decades of career and worked in a lot of great organizations, but at the end of the day, I think that the personal one on one ability to help a family just really kind of kept coming coming back to me. I did do a lot of thinking and a lot of searching of what is it that would make a difference for me and although this is it, here’s an interesting interesting, very personal tidbit. Although it is not about death, the song “Hotel California” was playing on repeat in my life, both on the radio, both in my head, and I couldn’t quite pin it down. And then one day, I’m listening to it. And here’s this line. “So she lit up a candle. And she showed us the way”. And I just, quite honestly, I just broke down into tears, because it struck me as that’s what you that’s what you need to do at a time of darkness when families are having to make decisions. And they have a timeframe. See, that’s the other thing. We all take it for granted this like ability to sit and think about our decisions. And when you get to the end of life, we’re talking about three days before having to embalm a body, six days if it’s refrigerated, but having to make decisions about the dispositioning of a loved one, you’re not ready for that, because you’re, you’re still in shock, and you’re trying to grieve, and it’s very hard to, as you said earlier, attack the business side.

And that was the part that I thought I can do that. Like I know I can do that. I was victim volunteered or nominated to do that at my grandmother’s funeral. I was at her bedside, you know, right before she passed and there to to help with my aunts and my mother. And when it came time for writing a eulogy and delivering that. I, I I wasn’t even it wasn’t a question. The family just said, Jen, it needs to be you. And I took that as both an honor. But it was an incredibly crazy experience to sit and interview my family and get to know my grandma on a deeper level, through the memories that they shared with me of things that I wasn’t I wasn’t around for, you know, it was before my time. And just the sheer beauty in that just draw me drew me in. And that was when I thought out certification because this isn’t my background. It’s not familiar space for me. So I signed up for a course called Lifespan Doulas. A company called Lifespan Doulas out of Florida. They have both birth and death doula certifications, which for the record are not required. There is no formal licensing for doula, because it’s non medical. And it’s more of a support and comfort care role. But that really gave me the foundation I needed. But halfway through that I needed to make it personal. And so I had shared a Facebook post and had a overwhelming amount of people say that they would be willing to do grief interviews with me. And that really sort of solidified for me, because they learned what it was they wish would have happened or what they could have had or what they could have used a doula for. And that just really, that really did it for me.

Sarah Noll Wilson
It’s, you know, there’s a couple of things that you bring up that I think it’s important. Again, sometimes we don’t talk about until you’re the one who’s experiencing it is that depending — depending on the situation, there can be time limits on the like, right, as someone’s passing. But there’s definitely probably a much quicker timeframe than people realize to make some pretty substantial decisions if they’re not already made. Right? Like, what do we do with the body? How are we going to celebrate? What does that look like? And then you get into the, what paperwork is out, what accounts, right? I mean, there’s so many residual things we have to take care of. And there are some, some things that have really short timelines of, of when applications need to be submitted. When you know, death certificates need to be provided. And again, at a time, when you’re already overwhelmed, and not thinking clearly, you might be tired, you may be overwhelmed with grief. And, you know, and I think that this is part of why, there was multiple reasons why I was really looking forward to having this conversation with you, you know. One, you know, hopefully, to explore why it’s so important we start talking about this before we have to talk about it. Right? I think there’s a sense of, you know, for some people, not everyone, and again, I want to be really clear on this, but for some people, it’s like we’re just not going to talk about and if we don’t talk about it won’t happen. Right. Like we’re delaying what again, is the only thing that we know is inevitable. But, but how much how much stress gets put on loved ones when we don’t do our due diligence or take the time to plan ahead of time. And so I mean, I mean now we’re just talking about the logistical stuff. But then, but then there’s also the emotional right I mean, one of the things that you know, when you and I we were talking in preparation for this is that how many people don’t know when their loved ones are actively dying and and or the fear of sharing that information with a loved one who may be actively dying and there’s so much I want to cover. Where, like, where do you want to go from here based off of what we’ve just talked about?

Jen Carolan
Yeah, no, I mean, I think that the piece that you know resonates for me that you’ve just talked about is how we — now I always looked at this like this. I’m like, we plan all these major events in our lives. We plan weddings, we plan projects, we plan business launches, we, we plan so many things to the tee, –

Sarah Noll Wilson
Birthday parties.

Jen Carolan
Birthday parties, and social events and everything, we’re going to do. What we’re going to eat on Saturday, you know, we plan all these things, and then we take one of the most important things that we know is going to happen to your point, we can’t, it’s inevitable. And we completely ignore it. And we decide that if it, if we ignore it, it’s not going to happen, which we know not to be true. And so what I find fascinating is, statistically speaking, only 20% of Americans actually say they have a plan for their debt. Twenty percent, that’s really low. And what that makes me think about is, that leaves 80% of your loved ones, not having a clue what you want, right and or, to your point having to go through the stress of making those decisions after you pass because they didn’t want to talk to you about them ahead of time. And that’s, that’s because we’ve created that taboo.

We talk about what is what we think is the number one thing driving people not talking about death. And it’s fear, I, again, I go back to, I think, fear and it being uncomfortable, or hearing something that we don’t want to hear from our loved ones. But it’s different amongst households is, you know, I’m being in this work, my children are now fully aware of everything that I want. They know what a celebration of life for me would look like. They know what I want done with my body. They know what songs to play, they pretty much have it all down. And we we laugh about it. And you know, we have to we keep it light, I shouldn’t it is not funny, but we keep it light hearted. It is factual, it’s real and that’s what for me, that’s what I think it needs to be is we just need to be real about it. And we do have medical staff of folks who have a hard time relaying to somebody that they are not going to make it. That they are actively dying. And in my grief interviews, I had a lot of folks say, I thought I had more time. Like we didn’t talk about those things, because I thought I had more time and they never told me I wasn’t taking him home or her home, like from the hospital or something. And and especially if they had a loved one who had been ill who had been in and out of care, you know, those with terminal illness that are told that they have two years and sometimes live for six, right? Those folks feel very much like they they didn’t know and aren’t prepared because it it just didn’t happen on that timeline. Right.

So I just think that if we talk about the need people are avoidant, right. And I know that’s a topic that’s near and dear to your heart is how do we cut through the tough stuff and get folks comfortable instead of avoidant about this? Because when I asked my own folks, hey, I don’t know if I know what you want to do. And my dad says, I don’t care, Jen, I’ll be dead. And my, my immediate thought wasn’t, “Oh, good, then I get to do what I want.” My thought was, I have a brother and sister, what if they don’t agree with what I want to do with you, then what are then you’re leaving us to be arguing. And so needless to say, I pressed on him a little bit. And we are going to have a little bit more planned than, than just that. But I think that what we’re not thinking about is how it leaves those that we’re leaving behind to have to deal with what we have, and that is our possessions. That is the dispositioning we want. That is even down to how we want to be honored and celebrated. You know, you and I’d had a brief conversation about the fact that we have a lot of folks these these days who are moving away from a more religious context or background and wanting to have maybe more of a spiritual celebration of life or, or party. I have a friend whose dad, they threw a luau, and did a big hog roast for you know, after he passed away. And they built a website where folks could go and load pictures of him and it was just beautiful. But it took the planning to do that and it took it took the strength of that that gentleman his daughters did an amazing job you know putting together some remembrance and for him but they were doing they were having that talk of a lifetime if you will and actually sharing with with each other what they were going to do so yeah, I just think are important.

Sarah Noll Wilson
And I think that you know, I mean, yeah, I mean we can get into to all of these and I’d like to spend some time and you know, the three, three areas you even talked about from the standpoint of like navigating the stuff. And really like the communication because to your point, again, when emotions are raw anyway, hurt feelings can be hurt even harder that that’s been my experiences, I’ve watched my various, you know, parent parental families go through really close deaths, it that it didn’t always bring them closer and a lot of times it split them further apart because there was already a rawness and so when there wasn’t a foundation of communication, there wasn’t a foundation of already some existing plans of, you know, I might not like the plans, but this was their wishes. And so this is what I get to honor. It does add a tremendous burden at a time when people are already not going to be showing up at their best. And, you know, and the other thing that I was thinking about, you know, both through our conversation, and I’ve been thinking since our conversation a couple days ago is — there’s so many options, and ways we can think about what the end of life might look like that I think sometimes, either we, it’s difficult for us to consider. Right? You just get used to a certain way, like you have to have a funeral, you have a wake, you have a funeral, and this is what you do. And you go into the cemetery and you spend 20 to 30 thousand dollars on the funeral. And, and, and that might be right for some people. But we you know, we were talking to my colleagues and I today just have like how, when you’re in the moment of having to make quick decisions, you sort of go to whatever the social default is, instead of being really clear about what what do you want, you know.

I think about a dear friend of mine, John Caesar, who he passed away in quite suddenly at 50 from a heart attack, we were improv friends, and, just dear friends, and one of the ways we celebrated was we did a showcase of various improv groups who knew him and that. And yeah, there was sort of a traditional wake that happened, but it was actually that’s what was special. Like, that was the celebration of his life. And sometimes I think that, you know, when we aren’t talking about it, you know, like, I know, my mom, she’s already said, I don’t want a big thing. I just want like, a nice meal with my family. And it’s like, okay, I know that, but I don’t know, if my siblings, they’ll know that now because we’re talking about it, but like, but I don’t know, if that’s changed for her? I don’t know, you, right, like, I don’t know any of that. And so it’s just there’s just again, I go back to a lot of what feels like unnecessary stress, when we can have the conversations and and I, I get that it’s hard. I think that I’m working through having these conversations, you know, admittedly, Nick, and I still have to do some better estate planning and like capturing of our information. So if something happened to us, people would know how to get into our phones and get into our bank accounts and all of that. But it’s going to be harder if we don’t have the conversation. Or it could be.

Jen Carolan
Yeah, I, I mean, my daughter’s partner lost her mother, two years ago, and I remember being very, you know, close to that situation that she spent two and a half weeks having to be out of town where her mom worked and lived to, you know, take the time to get all the copies of the death certificate to find all of the accounts. And this was from a woman who was fairly well organized, right, but but it also hadn’t been, you know, given to her and so, just watching and listening, you know, this, like I said, this was maybe three years ago now to all of the things that she went through really, again, kind of put a pin in that for me of do we know, have we, have we paid attention to all of the things because you just mentioned a couple that I think people often forget is this is not just you know, closing your, you know, your Mid American electric bill and your water and your things at your home, but it’s the bank account. But more importantly, your personal computers have? What about pictures and things that are on phones and computers and email addresses that, you know, you’ve set up that nobody else has access to? There may be things in there that are just vital or critical that you want somebody to have access to. And so, again, even if we set up the conversation as any of us can fall ill we don’t even have to talk about dying, but having access to that information. When my husband and I travel, when we get on an airplane together, you know, we know that we’re stepping up that risk of us not stepping off that airplane and we go out of the country. We, you know, we leave those that information is in a safe for my kids, they know where the key is, they have access to all of that. And that just gives me peace of mind that I wouldn’t otherwise have. And so it’s kind of in the context of just being prepared, you know, in general, like, you know, instead of it doesn’t have to just be about about death.

But the personalization that you mentioned from your friend, I think is, that’s where that’s a deep piece for me and a real passion for me. I had the unfortunate honor to go to several celebrations of life for funerals in the past couple of years. And I would say about 50% of them were highly ritualistic, but not personal, right? We’re reading scripture, we’re singing hymns, we’re talking about maybe a couple of key things. But when when you and I think about if I have to reduce my life to a couple of bullet points, what would they be? Can anybody, you know, think about that question? That’s the kind of question that you need to be able to answer. If I if I only had three bullet points on that job description of Jen’s life, you know, of Sarah’s life, what were the three things she did and did well or that she’s proud of, or that she wants, you know, to be her legacy. And I think it’s important for us to know those things and to celebrate them and to share them in a service and not just fall into that, like you said, it’s easy, because we’re in a time crunch, where I don’t know what else to do. And I don’t know my options. So I’m just going to do what I’m used to, or what I’ve seen. When the alternative could be maybe I want to be buried in a wicker basket and have more of a Viking sendoff, or something that just you know, means more to my heritage, or, you know, something like that. It’s a very western cultural thing for us to be afraid of death. And we’ve sort of pulled the ritual and the ceremony out of it. And as a doula, that’s one of the things that, again, I’m so passionate about bringing back is the process of vigiling at the end of life. And also being there, if a person is still lucid to help them through their end of life review. That is not an easy time. And it also is something that I find folks have an easier time talking to, essentially a stranger about instead of their family members, because sometimes there are things they need to talk through and come to peace about. And maybe they aren’t at a space where they want to talk to a family member. And so that’s another role that a doula can play is guiding through life review as well. Yeah,

Sarah Noll Wilson
What. How would you. I’ve never heard that term life review?

Jen Carolan
Yeah.

Sarah Noll Wilson
What, what, what, what can that look like? And why is that important?

Jen Carolan
I mean, I think as you as you can imagine, you think about this, you know, people have heard a lot of different things. Oh at the end of life of your life, you, you know, see this, your life on a reel, alright, this movie of your whole entire life flashing before your eyes. And, you know, we hear that when people talk about folks who’ve had near death experiences are the ones who are able to come back and kind of tell us that they experienced some of that. But the reality is, it’s really attached to the emotions, as you and I were talking about earlier. The emotion of I don’t want to have any regrets. And if I’ve been burdened with something, or if I, if I have regrets, if I have something I never told anybody. Secrets. I mean, the reality is, sometimes people feel the need to lay down that burden before they cross over, before they transition out of this lifetime. And there can be a safe space to do that with a doula. And hopefully, folks are doing that with their family. That’s always what I would encourage. But I also am in that space of understanding that you may not want to, and that’s okay, too. Sometimes they just need that peace of mind that they’ve put it out into the universe so that they can release it, essentially, and cross over with a little more clarity and clear conscience, I guess, if you will. Yeah.

Sarah Noll Wilson
It’s, no, I appreciate you sharing that and I think that’s interesting. And, you know, I mean, I think that that’s something that I don’t know, sometimes I feel like that’s part of the function of death is to remind us how precious and short life is right. Like, regardless of your religious belief, or spiritual beliefs. I mean, the thing that we know is this, this version is temporary, right? And there’s always that, I wish I would have said or I wish I, and that’s something that I always try to hold on to is how do I make sure I tell the people who are most important to me –

Jen Carolan
Yeah

Sarah Noll Wilson
exactly that. But you know, one, one thing that you said that I do want to spend some time on because and you know, maybe you can tease out or not. And maybe this is a future episode. But you made that point of especially in American western culture, that we’ve removed some of the rituals, if you will, around, around death, and we’ve made it this taboo thing that we don’t talk about and, you know, as I was reflecting on my own experiences with people who I’ve loved and have lost. You know, one of the stories that was coming up for me was when my Grandpa Noll died in 97. So he was, he lived in a small farm town. And he used to be the caretaker of the little farm cemetery, right? You know, the one that’s like, maybe a half a block? Well, you know, it’s not very big. And, and one of the things that we were able to do is we actually dug his grave. And so my uncles, my dad, right, my uncles, my, some of my cousins spent all day, literally digging his final resting place. And there was something, so there was something really powerful and cathartic and also like ritualistic of, it was this, you know, the day of reflecting on, thinking about, telling stories, being in connection and communion with my family in a different way. And there was also something about playing an active role in putting him to rest. There was something about even once the grave was fully dug, and, you know, six or seven foot deep, whatever it had to be standing in there, and just sort of like, there was something surreal and somber about it. But there was also something very sacred about that. And you know, and I think I think about that in our, you know, it’s sort of like somebody dies, she gets put over, they get removed, and we, maybe we see them, if there’s an open casket, maybe we don’t, but there’s no, like ritual of that transition and takin care of, and that’s something that I’ve been reflecting on is like, what, what can it look like? Because we maybe I’m just, I mean, I know, there’s other cultures that have far more intimacy, if you will, with the death rituals, like but like, what, like, what can that look like? And, and also, why is that important?

Jen Carolan
Yeah, I mean, you, you just kind of outlined at all, right? There’s this sacred nature of doing some of that care at that point. And you know, what the things that I’m seeing now are we’re, trying to get back to that, right. Again, this is one of the things that drew me into this is to help with that return to both a death positive movement and education, and also the sacredness of like home funerals. So for many years, home funerals were not asked for, or, you know, encouraged as much. But how many people if you think about what you really want, your last breaths to be, most people are not going to say hooked up to a bunch of machines at the hospital. That’s why we have hospice and things where we actually do the right steps, but we take them off of those machines, and we let the natural death process, you know, happen, while keeping them comfortable, of course, as we can. But also understanding that some of that is that it is the natural process. And, you know, there are many things that hospice nurses and then doulas have to support around the fact that, you know, we have to be cognizant of how we are treating the the body, the person, everything, you know, in those last few days, up to the death, and then, you know, right after. But the sacredness of doing that in the home and having the vigiling and the time. I just had a gal tell me a week ago, that her dream would be to have a living service, that if she found out that she was terminal, she would want there to be a service before she passed away, before she wasn’t cognizant. And that really struck me as something that again, we don’t hear a lot about. But what a powerful thing to say, I don’t want to, I don’t want to not be here for all those great things that people are gonna say about me. I mean, that was kind of her joke was, I want to hear it. I want to see their faces. I want to say goodbye to them. And I know that’s going to be hard. But I want to do that. And that was really powerful to me to hear her talk about, you know what that would look like for her. And so, you know, this idea of cleaning the body. That’s something else that a lot of families don’t know that you if you want to take the time a doula hospice nurse, we can help to share and be there for something like taking your time to clean and dress the body. And again, a lot of this does depend on on the dispositioning thing. So if somebody has decided that they want, you know, a burial versus a cremation, you know, because that drives whether or not you go through the embalming process, which to be candid in this green burial movement. There are a lot of folks who don’t want to do embalming anymore. And that is for the record that is your right, that is not required. That is something that, it is an option, you do not have to have a body embalmed. And if you’re going to choose a green burial option, you can’t because you don’t want the chemicals and all of those things going into into the ground. But that’s that, that choice that sacred ritualistic and cultural, there are other cultures who celebrate, you know, celebrate these things. We’re right now the time that it is, right now we’re on the dawn of the, you know, the Latin holiday of Day of the Dead, which is, you know, very different than our western Halloween, sort of, you know, celebration, if you will. Where they welcome and celebrate those who have gone before them during a four day window. They spent a couple of days honoring children and a couple of days honoring the adults who’ve gone, and it’s really a celebration and a positive and a loving, you know, way to remember those folks. And I think that, you know, even I am still learning in that space, there are so like, you know, just looking at, it’s facinating to me to learn what all the different cultures do and how they, how they treat both death, dying, and, and dispositioning. So.

Sarah Noll Wilson
Yeah, you know, I like I want to name that I was, I was starting to get a real misty as you’re talking about the ritual of cleaning. And you know, and I just, I’m naming this to honor that — emotions are normal and natural to come up when we talk about this, you know, because for me, I start thinking about loved ones who have passed or who I, you know, like, don’t don’t want to lose, but I know will pass at some point and you start imagining it, and those emotions start to come up and, and to just invite people to be present with that, you know. The emotions may come up like they did for me as we’re talking through all of this. And I think that there, there is something — there is something so beautiful about again, like just being intentional, and what does it look like? And what is it and what might be possible that we might not even realize is possible. And you know, and I don’t I don’t mean this in a like question, everything kind of thing. But it’s an incredibly personal time. It’s an incredibly transformative time. It’s a, can be a traumatic time. It, you know, it’s a difficult time and it’s a beautiful time, depending on the scenario in this situation. And maybe you don’t feel that in the moment. But, you know, I think about, you know, don’t remember who said it, but I know that I think it was, I don’t remember, there is this whole series where it’s like Stephen Colbert was telling some really beautiful stuff. And Keanu Reeves, you know, like, he was interviewed. And he’s like, “Well, here’s what I know when I die is that our loved ones will be like, really sad.” And you know, and I think it was Colbert, who’s just like, yeah, the, the pain we feel is because the love was so great. And, and, and I and you know, and I can’t help but think about like, in our, in our work and our field, so much of what I feel like we are trying to do in our work is how do we help people be more intentional, and also be more intimate? Right, create more intimate relationships. And so I love what you’re putting out there from the standpoint of like, and what is that intentional, intimate relationship look like, in death? You know, I again, I go back to just because the experience was very different. When my grandpa passed — I was the only one who was able to go with down with my dad, his body was still there. And, you know, you talk about holding vigil. And essentially, that’s what it was, like, we were able to be with him with the body to be with family. Before, you know, before he needed to be transported or moved out and there was a thought that was coming up for me and I’ve I’ve lost it now here. But, oh, but the other thing, the other thing is, I’ve been talking with people about this as well as also just that, like how do I you know, understand and honor what people might want. You know, my colleague, Teresa often talks about, you know, she’ll tell the story. You know, her dad passed away. And you know, and she was like, he sort of described it as like, we’re wolves, you know, like, we go on our own, like, you see me go into the woods and like and and and and to honor that as well like, you hear stories sometimes of people who have passed and family members who weren’t there and it’s like maybe they didn’t want you to be like, I don’t mean it. Like crass like that. That’s not, that’s not what I mean, but, but also just like, just I don’t know, just again, being present with making peace with just whatever happens in the process.

Jen Carolan
Yeah.

Sarah Noll Wilson
Easier said than done. I know.

Jen Carolan
Yeah. I think, you know, the other thing that I see I’m seeing a lot and particularly if I’m working with, I have some, you know, elderly clients that I that are not even actively ill right now. They just are, you know, they’re just at an age where they’re in a, they are in an assisted living home, and then they know that they are maybe not long for this world. And listening to them talk about how their life used to be, I realized there’s a lot of, there’s a lot of active grief happening already, for the fact that they don’t have the same ability that they used to have. And this is one of the other things that I think is so critical for families to honor, and to think about is the emotion, the emotions of that, that loved one and not dying person who cannot take care of themselves and do the things that they used to do. It’s incredibly humbling to get that ill to where you know that you have to rely on a family member, a hospice nurse, a doctor, to to continue to care for you. And, you know, this is, this is the argument that, you know, there’s an entire movement called Death with Dignity, and it is about assisted suicide and euthanasia. And that is something that currently is not legal in the state of Iowa, it comes up every year, and the legislature typically is buried in a Human Resource Committee, and layered in with 10 other things so that it, it doesn’t make it very far right now. But in several other states about 20 other states, assisted suicide is legal. And that allows people to I guess, again, if you think about it, ultimately plan for the end, because they actually get to be the one pushing a button to, to take their exit. And again, I’m sensitive to, I know, for many cultures, in many religions, this is just not an option. But for some folks, it’s very, you know, it used to be something that you had to go to Sweden to do if you know that was something somebody desired. And so there is a lot of forward movement around things like that, that allow our elderly and our terminally ill to have that dignity to know when it’s time. We, you know, and that’s where your story about the old wolf going off into the forest, it’s just really strikes, you know, deep with me as well, because in many cultures, that is the case that the old are just allowed to kind of go when they know it’s their time or when they are ready. And there’s something very beautiful and about that. But, you know, we’re just we’re not there yet. And will we get there? I think so. I, it maybe not in my lifetime. But I can tell you that I you know, when I listened to, I have a 19 year old son, and I listened to how progressively he and his friends speak about, you know what they want. And this is this is the future of how we’re going to, you know, do things. And when I look at the fact that we now have folks talking about death very openly on social media, Tik Tok, there’s gals out there that, you know, I was following a gal who was, who is dying of cancer, and she is kind of documenting her whole process. And it’s just really fascinating to be able to have that kind of intimate glimpse. And she’s decided that it’s worth that education to the rest of us to take us on that journey with her. And I personally, I just think that’s incredible. And it takes a lot of bravery. And it’s going to be priceless for our, you know, for our youth and for us to watch that process for the things that we don’t know.

Sarah Noll Wilson
Yeah. Our guest this week has been Jen Carolan who will be joining us again next week our conversation went so many different paths that we’ve decided to split this into two conversations. So be sure to join us for part two next week. And we do want to hear from you. Reach out to us at podcast at Sarah Noll Wilson dot com. You can find me on social media where my DMs are always open let us know what resonated for you. Let us know what questions you had. What came up for you, we would love to hear from you. And if you’d like to find out more about the work we do and how we can support you or your team have conversations that matter. You can check us out at Sarah Noll Wilson dot com. And if you’d like to support the show, please consider becoming a patron you can visit patreon dot com slash conversations on conversations where not only your financial support will sustain this podcast and the amazing team that makes it happen. We also get access to some pretty great benefits like Early Show and other insights. If you haven’t already, please rate, review and subscribe to the show. You can do this on iTunes, Spotify and other podcast platforms. This helps us get visibility,, gets the word out and continue bringing on amazing guests like Jen every week. A big thank you to our incredible team who makes this podcast possible to our producer Nick Wilson, sound editor Drew Noll, transcriptionist Becky Reinert and marketing consultant Kaitlyn Summitt-Nelson. And the rest of the SNoWco crew and just a huge heart warming full hearted thank you to Jen Carolan. I can’t wait for you to listen to our second half of our conversation. This has been Conversations on Conversations. Thank you so much for listening and remember, when we can change the conversations we have with ourselves and others I really do believe we can change the world. So with that, please rest, rehydrate and we will see you again next week.

Comments (1)

This really got me thinking that at age 76,
and not in good health, it’s time to be talking with my children. Jen is my daughter so I know she agrees! Thanks this will get a lot of people thinking about what the end of their life should look like.

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