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Episode 030: A Conversation on Death with Jen Carolan (Part 2)

A Conversation with Death Doula Jen Carolan

In Part Two of their conversation, Sarah Noll Wilson and guest Jen Carolan focus on how we all can plan ahead to help reduce the stress of our loved ones, and explore the evolving choices that are available to people as they consider their unique individual end-of-life wishes.

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 this week, we are continuing our conversation with Jen Carolan, who is an end of life doula, and we continue our conversation around death and dying and how we can talk about it more, so we can be more intentional and planful. And purposeful. I hope you enjoy.

You know, you made the statement when we were speaking before this, of our pets get more dignity and death than our parents and ourselves and our loved ones. And you know, and I think about, in the February of this year, we had to put down our dog Seymour, and was not an easy, right. I mean, it was, obviously we would have preferred to have had him longer, but he was suffering. And, you know, we Nick and I talked, you know, when we knew it was like, we’re probably going to have to make this call. We just both were like, we want it to be obvious. Right? And it was. And it was, without question, one of the hardest things. Right? It’s like, your final act of love is letting someone go. And it was also so beautiful. It was in our home, he was on my lap. You know, Nick had his hand on him. And all I kept thinking was, this is how I want to go, I want to go on someone’s lap with the towel under me. Loved, and, you know, and, and, and given given the medicine so that I was no longer suffering, and it was so peaceful, and there was also something powerful about being there for his last breath. And, you know, and being able to, like, be with him as he passed, and whatever, whatever happens after that, you know, I’m, you know, as, as you and I spoke and, you know, for the audience, I my belief is, I don’t know, I don’t know what what is on the other side. And so I just stay, no surprise, curious to at all of whatever will reveal itself will reveal itself, but, but there’s something there was something about that, that was really struck me of an I and I get, I get the desire for longevity. And I’ve also seen loved ones suffer an incredible amount for an incredible amount of time. And their quality of life, you know, was I mean, they’re suffering, when I say quality, I don’t mean like, oh, and an inconvenience to us. But I mean, their suffering was so significant, that, you know, having that option and if that’s not the option for you, because of your belief, because of your choice, because your background, but I, I’m grateful that we’re having this conversation, and you’re bringing up the whole death with dignity and the fact that, you know, fortunately, we do have more states where this is becoming legalized and, and there’s parameters and all of that. And I mean, this is something you know, Nick and I, we talk about it is like, you know, he’s like, I don’t know, I don’t know that I want to get old and not be able to take care of myself. Like, I don’t know that that’s, that’s the life that I want to end on. And there’s something again, beautiful about having the choice to say how, how do we want to, you know, celebrate and transition out from a place of — choice if we if we’re lucky enough to be in that place, right? Because not everyone is.

Jen Carolan
Oh, absolutely. And I didn’t realize it sounds like we both I, I also had a pup I had to put down in February, but it was actually a year before and I and I did the same thing. I had, I couldn’t bring myself to do anything other than in my home with her in my lap. And, you know, 17 years was a long life for a dog and I had to finally you know, selfishly I probably did keep her around a year longer than maybe she was comfortable. She didn’t seem to be in pain. So I hung on. And it wasn’t until it really got to be okay. You know, this, this is it. But it was incredibly peaceful. As you mentioned, I am an energy worker and that moment of feeling her slip slip away, although hard. I couldn’t imagine not being there for. However, we do have a lot of folks who don’t you know, who still don’t want to be there when their pet passes away or have a hard time and cannot be there when their loved one passes away. And I respect that again. Part of the role of a doula is to help hold fast what the family and the person who is passing weigh what they all desire, and what they are all comfortable with and make sure that there isn’t undue pressure or unnecessary — things said, because sometimes there are, you know, persuasions and undertones that are kind of pushy, I guess, if you will, in certain in certain arenas, and I’m just really wanting to be there to make sure that they’re not having extra emotion added on top of what they’re already feeling. To just do what is the most comfortable for them. But it’s just as you said, it can be a very beautiful and amazing thing. But we aren’t at this point, you know, at a at a stage where we are given that option in Iowa, however, I mean, again, I think it’s worth telling people that if that’s an option that you want, you can go somewhere else and still have that happen. And this does not happen lightly. I mean, it requires two separate medical, you know, medical doctors to say, you know, where they’re at, and this stage, it requires a lot. So it’s not like somebody’s just pushing a button and saying goodbye. So I do hope people understand, you know, even when we are looking at, though the states that do allow this, it’s quite the organized again, and planned, you know, process, but I think it’s an interesting movement to, for folks to kind of be aware of is and death with dignity. It’s actually a website that you can go on and learn more about, you know, what states and also the act of legislation that is introduced in every state every year. So yeah.

Sarah Noll Wilson
Well, and I know, and I’m glad that you clarified that, because I think that sometimes there can be misunderstandings about what that looks like, this isn’t like there’s, there’s rigor to essentially, on some level, like, I don’t want to say gatekeeping, but a little bit of, right, are they of sound of mind to make this decision? Where’s their health at? And, you know, and I think about, there was a story I had read a few months ago, about a woman who had terminal brain cancer, and, and there was, you know, months. It wasn’t, you know, the technology wasn’t going to turn around, –

Jen Carolan
Right

Sarah Noll Wilson
to right, like, it was too far gone. And knowing what the future was, is, can be a really, really painful transition. And, and she made that decision. And so she had this beautiful celebration with her friends throughout the month. And it was a date, and there was a celebration, and it was very planful. And it was very peaceful. And, and again, that doesn’t mean it’s not hard. So I want to make sure that, you know, we’re not being flippant about this, but again, you know, and everyone has different values, right? I mean, some people very much are, I want as much time as I can with them. And some people are, I want them to have a quality of life where they’re not suffering, and probably we all fall somewhere in between, depending on the situation. But just having more options, right, just having more options, not only, right, and how we celebrate and how we, what the rituals are. How we communicate. What our options, I mean even so, I want to talk a little bit, because you you were bringing up some things that I was unfamiliar with, because again, I only know the default. When it comes to disposition of body like you were talking about, there’s lots of different options, you know, I was real quickly, I have to tell the story, because this is what happens. I’m sure when you talk to people as people are like, I want to tell you my stories.

Jen Carolan
And it’s wonderful –

Sarah Noll Wilson
A friend of my husband. Right? I mean, that’s well and like and you had made this comment when you and I talked is like and how how important it is, it is for people to be able to like give space to the people who have left us that we don’t maybe talk about anymore and we don’t talk about what that experience was like. Or worse yet and I’m going to make a note so we can come back to this, people don’t know how to sit with our grief. They don’t know how to sit with it. Right so I’ll come back I’ll make a note of that. But a friend of the family he was always a — he was a funny guy he was a funny guy and sometimes funny just in ways that were funny (laughter). Just you know but his his his wish was he wanted to be buried in a pine, simple pine box. Literally just a square box, a bunch of colorful Sharpie markers and everyone drew all over it. That’s that’s how he wanted to go. And there was something like so beautiful about that even just being an option. So in your as you are evolving in your research, you know what are possibilities that are out there? It may be because we have a global audience so right so it isn’t just Iowa we’re just speaking because that’s where we both live. But like you, you know, we know of cremation. We know of being buried in you know a cemetery. What are some of the other options that you’ve been learning about? So again, people can even just know that these options exist.

Jen Carolan
Yeah, no, I think that’s a great question. And it was something that, again, I was just fascinated when I started to get into my own learning. Right away. As I started doing my studies, I was partnered with women and a couple of gentlemen who were from all over the country. And we were in live class together kind of going through this certification. And we got into the conversations about what we call this dispositioning. Right. So dispositioning is what is it that we’re going to do with, you know, with the body so that we can prepare it for its final, you know, resting state? And we had some really great conversations about, you know, I mentioned embalming, does the person have to be embalmed? Do they not have to be embalmed? And as you mentioned, there are differences by state. I will run through kind of the, you know, the things that are top of mind for me, and again, folks would have to I did did give you some resources for the show notes to go out and look to see what’s legal in your states, and what has, is gaining popularity. But the first one that came up was because there is there is a fantastic trio of lovely ladies in Denver, Colorado at a company called Be a Tree Cremation. And I’d heard of green burial, I’d heard of, you know, be a tree. But when I started to get into and look at their information a little bit more is when I learned that what they do is actually called water cremation. So the technical term is alkaline hydrosis. And it is essentially the dissolving of the body and turning it into a liquid form. Now, this is legal in, in several states, obviously, Colorado being one of them, that’s probably the closest to us here in Iowa. And what they do with that afterward is they provide the family instead of with ashes, like you would from a fire, you know, base cremation, they provide them with a bottle of what they call tree tea. And they can go and pour that on a tree or hold on to it, whatever it is, they’d like to do with it. They also sell bamboo urns that can you can put the tree tea in, and those can be buried at the foot of a tree. So there’s a lot of different ways that they see the reality of that via tree sort of cremation kind of process. So water cremation is about 90% less impactful on the environment than other types of burial and cremation. So it was a very fascinating concept for me. Again, I mentioned I have a lot of young people in my life and green burial and more eco friendly options are really huge for them. So even the concept of that pine box of your friend’s, of no embalming and a pine box is an is a green burial that is an eco friendly way to to dispose and disposition a body. But it’s not it has to be regulated, right. So there are, you know, the cemeteries have specific areas where you can do green burials, and where you can work with private property owners. So I know of a gentleman who has a who’s already put a headstone on his own property. And that is where he plans to be buried, because it’s his property, and he can do that.

But, so water cremation was one of the first things that I had had come across. And the next one that was very unique is called terramation. And that is essentially human composting. There is a company called Return Home, which is kind of the leader in that terramation space. It is currently legal in about eight states. I’m sorry, I take that back five states with eight additional states that have introduced legislation to try to get that passed and the US. And again, I don’t know statistically around the globe, what that looks like. But those are newer disposition options that folks in the US may or may not have, depending on what state they’re in. Some of the states have active legislation, but yet don’t have a provider or somebody who’s actually active doing that.

Sarah Noll Wilson
Sure. Sure.

Jen Carolan
I do know that the gals in Colorado said, for a cost, they will come transport from another state as well. So if that’s something that somebody’s really passionate about, or that they want to do, it’s still possible, it just takes a little bit more coordination. And I know there’s folks who you know, also are concerned about, “Does that mean we’re just sort of washing people down the drain?” And I will put your your heart at ease and tell you that what doesn’t go into the tea tree bottle is given to organic farmers in the Littleton Colorado area and they use it to spray on their wildflower fields. Which again, to me is a very beautiful way to say that, you know, the rest of that that earthly human body was dispositioned. Right. So on top of that green burial, you know, there are there are pods. One that I just learned about more recently is you can have cremated remains put into space. So there is space burial now as well.

Sarah Noll Wilson
We were just talking about this at lunch, it’s like you can be shut out into space. I know, some people will talk about, you know, like the Viking funerals. Like get the, get the arrow, get the arrow ready, and somebody was like, “Yeah, eventually, though, you’re gonna, like, float to the surface.” And it’s not necessarily, you know, like, –

Can’t be doing that here.

No, but I think that I think there’s something about again, that that when we can be planful about it, we can be intentional, and we can make it really personal. And I think that, you know, you had made this commentary at the top of the show of, you know, some of the services you’ve been to have not felt as personal. And I think that I think that’s for me anyway, I know that — the healing sometimes is, I don’t want to say easier, it’s different when there’s something more personal, right. Like when it really does feel like, you know, sometimes I think, you know, I was joking with Nick. And now I’m publicly publicly saying this. So folks, you all know. I said, if something happens to me, while he’s still around and you want to put up photos, I want, like, half the photos to be the worst photos of me. Like, and I need to choose them. I need to like, I just want them to be the like, double chin. But you know what I mean? Because it’s already going to be sad. I mean, I hope it’s sad for folks that I’m not here. But it’s already going to be sad. And for me, like having some levity is like, that’s part of who I am. And I think that sometimes when we go to this default, instead of like, what, what, what’s the ritual we need? What’s the ritual I want for myself? Or for my family? You know, and and that isn’t necessarily about like, I don’t know. Yeah, I’m thinking more just personally about my own experience. And when things were more personal, it felt cathartic in a different way. Right? Instead of feeling like mechanical or transactional, that’s what it is. You know, we use the term in our work, how like situations can be transactional, they can be positional, they can be transformational, is that I think sometimes when we bring in that, that personal element of it, it can feel very transformative, and therefore cathartic and healing. And, and I want to be really clear, I want to be really clear, there is no judgment on anyone’s choices. There’s no judgment on what people do or don’t do, whether I agree with it, or there’s absolutely no judgement. Everyone is doing the best they can with what they can, what they have, in an incredibly difficult time. So I want to make sure I’m very clear that I’m not unintentionally coming across as like critical of people’s choices, because like, if that’s what’s important to them great. Like, that’s what’s important to them, or if that’s what they had access to. And they were like, this doesn’t even like, we just need to get this done. So we can deal with everything else. Great. So I just want to be really clear, like nothing but love, deep, deep love and compassion for people who are in that situation. Because it’s not, it’s not always easy. For sure.

I think you, first I’ll go back and say, I love that you were willing to share and kind of be raw and real enough to say, Sarah wants to be real, because that’s what I know of you. I would expect no less of, put every picture. Everything up their because that’s real, right. –

And some kind of workshop that makes people cry, but not about me, but about their own realizations of themselves. I was like, there’s got to be some like learning experience. (laughter)

Jen Carolan
Of course. Yes, I love that. That is what you know, resonates for you is something that you would, you know, see as the best way to celebrate you, because I definitely understand that and connect with that. But I think you know what, something that you just said made me think about when again, I go back to my daughter’s partner losing her mother and they’re – you know, this is a young adult who does not have 1000s of dollars sitting in the bank. And even though her mother did have the money, her father and their parents weren’t married anymore, actually ended up having to foot the bill for the funeral and then wait for, you know, insurance money and estate things to be settled. But, you know, we’re lucky that we had that resource. And of course, she could have come to us too, but like there are a lot of people out there who cannot afford to do even what you’re talking about. Well, you know, what do I want? I want a big party. Well, you and I have both been married. We’ve both throwing big parties, like these things cost 1000s of dollars and just because it’s a funeral instead of a wedding, unfortunately we still have to pay for things right. And so, there’s also this, again, you get into the, the, and I hate to say it this way, because we obviously don’t want it to seem like a burden. But I’m, again, I’m being very real about what happens is people say, I have a budget for this or I have and, and that is another way that we can help our loved ones is use your doula to connect with or connect to your financial planner, your estate planner. Use the funeral home that you know you want to go to, because they have pre-need trusts, that sit there specifically for this. You can put $10,000 in there that specifically gets pulled out only once something happens with you. I encourage people who are, you know, in a position to be able to do that and sitting at the end of their life and looking at their retirement money and all their everything else to take that slice out and make sure that it is there for that what you want done sort of, you know, celebration, or party or service or whatever it is to take place. Right. So, I mean, we were at a time during COVID, where, you know, churches and funeral homes were at were overwhelmed and having to plan every little minute of, you know, celebrations. And so I think we again, can alleviate some of that by being a little bit more prepared. And these conversations don’t have to be as heavy. And and as serious as we want. As we make them I have found that amongst my family, we tend to be pretty sarcastic, but we have we we have a little more fun with it by joking and being sarcastic. But there’s that element of truth behind what we’re saying. There is a wonderful, there’s a card game called The Death Deck. And it is like any other game that you can play with that makes you think about these questions and share them. And, and some of them are funny, and some of them are interesting. And some of them are hard and some of them are sad. But it’s it’s the willingness to be real. And to say this, this matters, because I don’t want to leave you with that burden. What I want to leave you with is some great stories to put in my obituary, some of the best obituaries I have read, have been of complete strangers, who when I get done reading, I feel like I’ve known them for 20 years. That’s a good obituary, –

Sarah Noll Wilson
Yeah.

Jen Carolan
To be able to say I can almost feel the character of this person come through in this beautifully written obituary, or a beautifully written celebrant service where, you know, family members and friends were interviewed, and all these little elements and details of that person’s character are brought through and just the most, you know, astounding ways. And then I’ve read the cookie cutter, this person was, you know, Jen was born on this day, she died on this day she did this job. She had these kids, did and was married to this person. And the thing that strikes me about that is at the end of that read, could you actually say, “This is who I am?” And to me if the answer is no, then you better keep writing and rewrite. And, and I say that I’m writing my own obituary.

Sarah Noll Wilson
Yeah, yeah. And, and, and again, like, and, and there are people in our lives with whom we might not have a great relationship with. And there are people I mean, let’s be very real. And there might be people who don’t have those skills. So I mean, I hear you, and I want to, like lovingly push a little bit of like, and not everyone has the access to the resources or, but I think that like to connect it back to the thread of when we’re planful, we can be much more intentional about what does that mean, and what does that look like? Right? And and how do we, you know, how do we want to be honored? How do we honor? What is that? What do we need for that? And for some people, the cookie dry, you know, the cookie, the cookie cutter, the cookie, dry, dry cut, the cookie cutter doesn’t matter. Is like maybe that’s exactly like, yep. That’s exactly what we need, because of the nature of our relationship, or because of the state of being we’re in or whatever the case is. Or maybe it’s like, yep, that’s just them. That’s what they wanted so we kept it really simple. And so like, I you know, I think that –

Jen Carolan
And I say that in a way –

Sarah Noll Wilson
and I know that wasn’t, –

Jen Carolan
Well, I say that in a way of so when you know one of the hardest parts of my training was we had to write our own obituary. I don’t know a lot of people who’ve done that, right. And when we were asked, you know, to sit down and –

Sarah Noll Wilson
That’s a great exercise though.

Jen Carolan
write your own obituary, it dawned on me that okay, well, I can’t just file this away this needs to be given to my family. So that this is the basis of what ends up you know, being written but the most transformational part of that was, we asked her, well, obviously, we’re still here. So how do we write about what, what else there is in this life? Like, I’m not done here, right? And she said, This is your opportunity to write the ending of your story. And when you asked me, you asked me the other day about, you know, conversations that we have, or things that we think where we are being transformational in our thought, that’s what it was, for me, it was, well I can write the first half of my obituary, but what is the second half? What? What is why? What is my, am I going to accomplish from now till the end? And how do I write that story? And what does that mean to me, and that’s what really got me to this point where I was, like, I’m done with corporate, I’m done with these, you know, consulting gigs and things that I had done, because I’m going to fully step into this. And I am fortunate enough to have a wonderful husband who said, do it, whatever it takes, you know, just make it happen. And I just am so happy to be working in a field that I can be passionate about. But the idea of your own mortality is not meant to be morbid, it’s not meant to be taboo, it’s meant to be our own. And if you don’t make it your own, then someone else is going to make it for you. (laughs) And I think that’s, –

Sarah Noll Wilson
That’s a phrase right there.

Jen Carolan
I mean, I love that my dad’s must trust me enough to say do what you want, Jen. But you know, I go back to, I go back to, you know –

Sarah Noll Wilson
And you’re like, can you just give me some direction. (laughs)

Jen Carolan
Yeah. And not wanting to make it difficult for anybody else. Right. And, you know, you also brought up the fact that, you know, my mother is still around, too. So she obviously would have a say in that. And so it depends on if a person’s partner is already gone, or what their relationship with their family is. Because again, I don’t want to take for granted the fact that I have family that is close enough to me to help take care of those things and do that. Because if we are being very, again, candid and real about it, there are a lot of people out there who have no one. And that is another space that pulls at my heartstrings a little bit to actually, you know, think more about we have, we have folks who die in the prison system alone. We have folks who die in the nursing homes, with family members living in other countries or across the country and not able to be with them. And that’s sometimes the role of the doula is to be that boots on the ground, caring, comforting person, who’s also communicating to those people, you know, maybe when it’s time to be here, and doctors do that. But again, you need just kind of getting everybody on the same page to share that same information, I think is just critical. So yeah, so we even have to go one step beyond dispositioning into the other areas that we touched on the other day, which is donors, donorship. And if people are willing to or wanting to do something like that, that’s another when we talk about what are the things people don’t talk about, you know, about death and when they’re planning is, is if people are going to engage in donorship. And, you know, I shared with shared with you a couple of statistics the other day, and then I was able to grab some more to really kind of round that that thought out. But you know, we have the statistically 95% of people say that they are are supportive of organ donation, but the national average is 54% that actually register as an organ donor. With Iowa statistics being a little bit lower than that, even into the like, high 30s. But, but if you think about those numbers, and then you actually say, only three in 1000 people will die in a manner that allows them to donate, that’s when you get to the real meat of how critical donating tissue, eye, organs, you know. There are eight organs that can be harvested if somebody dies in a manner in which those can be salvaged. And that’s the gift of life that you could possibly be giving back to up to eight people. And yet we you know, the DOT and the Organ Donor Network, they struggled to get that education out there and to get people to engage with that. And so that’s another really again, passionate, important piece about working with families and making sure that they’ve talked through all of those things kind of at that end stage too.

Sarah Noll Wilson
Yeah, cuz I could imagine situations where you make assumptions, or maybe you go, yeah, of course I would, but it’s not documented anywhere. And it’s you know, and then it’s not an option. It’s, it’s really fascinating, that stat of only three in a 1000. Because I think sometimes you know, what I’ve heard from people too is like, well, they’re not going to give me the same medical care if I’m an organ donor, as if they’re going to prioritize the other person’s life over you. And it’s that’s not how it works. I get the fear, but that’s not how it works. And, you know, or things like, Do Not Resuscitate. Like, let’s be really clear, you know, a friend of mine was joking that she and her siblings have like ‘No Zombie’ next to the name of ‘Do Not Resuscitate’. Like, so, ‘No Zombie’ means, ‘Do Not Resuscitate’. But just being clear about those expectations, because again, they fall on to the, the loved ones that are there, or the people who are supporting them. And, and again, you know, I mean, I’ve experienced firsthand where people didn’t agree, and then that caused rubs and mean when and when, when you’re disagreeing about do we resuscitate or don’t we, that is an incredibly traumatic experience when it comes to the time of do we, don’t we? And you know, and, and so having, you know, having that clarity, and even like, I mean, you know, Jen and I, we we both worked at a legal insurance company, and I didn’t know anything about estate, I didn’t really know anything about estate planning. I didn’t, you know, I just I knew about wills, because, I don’t know, they were in cartoons, or I mean, I knew what a will was like, but I didn’t understand the value and like, and if there is something that you want to make sure somebody has, get it in a will. Put it down. If you are not clear, like if you have children, or if you you know and be clear about who or if you have pets be clear about who is going to take them because again, it just removes stress for those who are left who love you, at a time when they’re already going to be so incredibly stressed. And I say this as someone who we started the will process. And for whatever reason, I think we’re like that we’re young, we don’t have kids. But then when we start traveling, I’m like, this necklace goes to this niece, this goes to this nephew, this goes to, so we have like an informal, but and making sure things like right, like your beneficiary forms are all like, set up and clear. And there’s copies because I was talking to a good friend of mine, and somebody in her life with whom is the father of her child will say it this way, the father of her child, her ex, you know, died very suddenly. And you know, and there was a lot of things that needed to be cleaned up and left behind and put put the son in a really tough position. Or I’ve seen, you know, a good friend of mine who didn’t have a will. And there was infighting between his wife and his previous family, you know, about who gets the money? And, and, you know, just real quickly, Jen, you know, one of the things you said earlier, and I wanted to come back to this is it doesn’t have to be this huge, big conversation. You can make it transactional. Hey, let’s just get this figured out. Once we get it done, then it’s done. Or you can make it humorous, right? Like, whatever, whatever works, but it doesn’t have to be this massive sit down, we, you know, but like, let’s, let’s figure things out. Because once it’s figured out, then you don’t have to think about it anymore. But make sure make sure people know where that information is. Because that’s something you’ve said a couple of times, like it’s in our safe. Our kids know, it’s in our safe, right?

Jen Carolan
Yeah, we, you know, my kids are, you know, my kids right now are 19 and 24 and I’ve been speaking to them about this far before I even came into this field because, Sarah knows and will appreciate, like nothing’s off, nothing is off the table with Jen. I’m a, I’m a taboo topic, girl. Like let’s talk about everything and my kids have grown up with that. But I do try to make it a little more lively, a little more fun. You know, they grew up in the anime era, my envelope in the safe says ‘Death Note’, ‘The Death Note’. Like that’s, they know, (laughter) I don’t even have to talk about it. Right? They know that inside that envelope is everything they need to know when I go. Now since then, I’ve had the fortunate, you know, opportunity to start using a tool like I now use a book with my clients that is called “What My Family Needs To Know When I Die.” You can buy these on Amazon. There’s a whole slew of them. And it literally is just a place to handwrite all of that important information and it does have what you want those, sorts of things. A will and testament, this is the, this is the what to do with my stuff, right but it’s not really what to do with you. So that’s where you have that layer of needing you know, you need your last will and testament. I tell everyone yes a lot of you can buy a kit and then file it yourself. I encourage people to use an attorney for this. I would always tell you to seek legal guidance, but to just put a medical power of attorney or an advanced directive in place. You tell your friend’s zombie story, no zombie, no, no feeding tubes, you know if I’m considered brain dead I don’t want to be you know, on on life support, resuscitated. That’s where an advanced directive of what to do with my body, if my mind is not working anymore type of thing is, an advanced directives and power of attorney are a critical part of again, something that a doula can help with. That is not something that your funeral director, your hospice nurse, like, they’re not going to go into that space with you. But a doula can help you get those things completed, get them notarized, get them filed, and just make sure that they’re in a safe place for your family, when that time comes. Doing that with the person who’s passing or with their their family members. They have to be lucid enough to complete those documents. And so, you know, right now, yeah, it’s all in the death note for you know, my kids, they know that they can go and find that information. And we haven’t had to talk about it, because all I’ve said is, you know where it is. So it’s made it not so uncomfortable, right. But at least everybody has that peace of mind, that it’s there. And they know if and when that time comes, that they can just go get that and that everything will be sort of, you know, laid out for them so that they don’t have that stress. Because the time to grieve, if I’m being you know, if I’m just sharing stories, I have a did a grief interview with a gal who lost her sister in a in an accident that became national news. It was it was related to military it was, you know, a helicopter accident. And this was, this involved having to deal with press. And having it nationally news covered, the loss of her sister, which essentially she shared, put her grief on hold. And that’s something that we don’t think about is. Think about how long it took, you know, this particular person, she said it was weeks and weeks before they could stop doing interviews and getting phone calls and having people outside their door wanting to talk about what had happened. So there’s so many scenarios that could define when a person begins to grieve. So my encouragement is, don’t prolong that by you know, making it a challenge for people to complete all those things on top of it all, because the grief process is hard enough to step into. And oftentimes we begin to grieve even before the person has is gone. Right. And it goes for a long time after but we also know that hospice and rest, you know, bereavement is is gives them the opportunity to continue to help families for one year. But you and I both know people who, three years, five years, eight years, there’s still a lot of emotion and things they need to process and talk about. And that’s the other thing that I have have also been doing is just providing a safe space for people to kind of showcase their grief and talk about it if they need to step into it and want to, you know, do that with somebody to and in a safe space. So, yeah.

Sarah Noll Wilson
One of the things as that I have been reflecting on through our converse multiple conversations, but especially today is that that that role that someone like you can play is so critical, not only from a managing, helping manage list logistics, helping them think through things, but also the fact that because we as again, I’m speaking from like an American culture, my experience, our experience is we don’t know how to show up with people’s grief. We don’t always know what to say. We don’t, you know, we maybe we show up really strong in the beginning, but then we forget to follow up and having someone who is trained, who has built a muscle and a heart muscle and a philosophy and ability to be present with that pain. There’s something really, really powerful, you know, I’m imagining to not only of having that space with someone like you to be able to share, to be able to have someone help guide, but also to role model. Here’s what it looks like to show up in a way that’s more present. Here’s what it looks like. So I could imagine and appreciate. You know, I think about my experience with some hospice nurses, right. Some of yeah, they helped with the medical stuff, but some of what they did was also help us with how to be present with the reality that a loved one was actively dying or had died. And there’s so much power to that, again, when a lot of people around us, they don’t know how to show up. They don’t know how to support so not only I would I would imagine that not only do you provide that support, but you also are showing them what it looks like to provide that support. Is that fair?

Jen Carolan
Absolutely. And I think I mean, you and I both have grown up in an industry where we talk for a living, right, like, and and probably one of the hardest, I won’t say lessons, but the skill that I am still honing is how to sit in silence? And or how to say, I am here with you. And that could be all I say, they might not need anything more than that. So trying to tune into, do they need information from me right now have asked a question, or do I just need to sit here in, in this, you know, pain and grief with this person, and hold space with them? Or do the best I can to, you know, raise the vibration in the room, or, you know, and be that stable, be the stable person, because I wasn’t a family member, I don’t have, you know, 65 years of knowing this person to be kind of that steady rock in the room. Or the one to react if something does shift or change, right, like, people, you know, getting the family to realize that they don’t need to jump up and call 911 that they don’t have to immediately call the hospice nurse in there, that they can and have the right to just sit and just be. I’m also notorious for crying with them. And again, maybe that’s what’s needed. I don’t know. But I think delivering like you said, be, you know, I’m not there to not show emotion. I guess I tell people that right. Like, don’t you’re still gonna get tears out of Jen, because this is a very deep, and like you said, very deeply intimate. And I, you know, my heart is also involved in connecting with that person. But having that for me a little bit more of that knowledge of, again, wanting to help create peace at the passing and making sure that they were comfortable at that point. It’s just, that’s the beautiful part to me, is just being present with them. And sitting with that. And I think, you know, the, I’ll kind of, you know, share just the my last sort of experience in this space, because it’s also so near and dear to my heart is we’ve talked a lot about people who know that they’re dying, or, you know, the elderly, the terminally ill. And the piece that we haven’t touched on is things that are like accidents, right? Car accidents, suicides, where people are lost in a very sudden, very tragic way, your friend who passed of a heart attack, I imagine that was, you know, it’s very unexpected. People, you know, people think of a doula as being there, just, you know, for the end of life, but there’s still, there’s still care that can be provided to loved ones, you know, in more of that suicide situation. And this is where my dear friend Kathy Mullins, you know, she experienced the loss of both her, her ex husband and her son within a couple of months of one another. And she lost Eric to suicide. And she said that one of the hardest things when I did her grief interview was she experienced secondary trauma to his loss, when people avoided her or didn’t know what to say, or would not come forth and didn’t know how to just recognize her grief and see and know that it was going to take her time to have any semblance of, you know, again, kind of a normal existence. And you know, because of that Kathy was, was so passionate and inspired about making sure that suicide awareness and resources are available to people. And so she created her own nonprofit around that, but that that sudden loss is also something that causes us extra avoidant behavior. And so when we talk about that grief space, I also have clients that I work with who, you know, lost loved ones to a tragic event, have a gentleman whose son committed committed suicide, I have another family who’s, who had a family member who was murdered. And those are, those are whole different sets of emotions and grief and loss. That again, we you know, you could probably spend a whole nother hour talking about.

Sarah Noll Wilson
I was gonna say, I think we’ll just have you, will have you back and, and even just to explore and talk about how do we show up with those, you know, those situations so that we can be better supportive? Because I think that it’s not that people don’t want to they just again, they’re like, I don’t know, and it’s so it feels so painful for me, and I think it’s probably so painful for you. And you know, and it’s interesting, and we will put up that nonprofit in the show notes for people who are interested so we’ll link to that so people can have access to that. You know, it was I was speaking in once and an event on mental health and a woman shared that her her son had died by suicide. And, and she said it was so hard when I first came back to work. Because everyone was asking me how I was doing. And not that that was a bad question. But she said, basically, it either made me revisit the trauma or, or I had to lie, like, and and I said, I said, that’s interesting, because, you know, we were talking about how the intention is, how are you doing? Like, I want to check in with you. And I asked her, I said, did anyone show up differently that was really effective for you? And she said, yeah, one of my co workers just looked at me and said, I’ve just really missed you. And she said, it was like, everything was said in that phrase, and that space and that hug. I could release it. Right, because I, there was something about that. So I think I think, Jen, we will definitely have you back. And we’ll continue these conversations of how can we show up? You know, and I think this would be a really interesting panel discussion, we can bring out some other folks too, of like, how do we support ourselves and others when we’re navigating grief, whether it’s a terminal illness, whether it’s losing somebody because of age, whether or when it’s a unexpected, traumatic, tragic situation?

Jen Carolan
Yeah, I would love that.

Sarah Noll Wilson
Before we wrap though, Jen. So yeah, so we’ll have you back. So before we wrap, we do have to ask you the question. We ask everyone. And I’m, I’m sure you’ve shared quite a few. I know you’ve shared quite a few of these examples. But the question we always like to ask people is to share with us a time what was the conversation you’ve had with yourself? Or with someone else that was transformative for you?

Jen Carolan
Yeah, I, I think I, you know, what, what came to mind to me was that conversation of what is the second half look like? Right for me when thinking thinking about my life? And what is the second half gonna look like? And it became transformative to me, because I took action to make sure that the second half was different than the first half. And there was nothing wrong with you know, the first part of my career, but you know, my own sanity of you know, and a lot of things change, my children are growing up and aging out. I’m going to be downsizing my home, you know, you just, so I’m transforming a lot of things in my life. But, but when you do some of those exercises, like writing your own obituary, and, you know, there’s a couple of other great exercises that we do as a part of Death Cafe, which is a whole nother thing I could share about having real conversations with people about what your life means to you. And that what are you going to do in the second half was the conversation I had with myself when writing my obituary that absolutely was transformative for me, and is continuing to kind of shape and mold where I’m going.

Sarah Noll Wilson
Yeah, no, I love that. Thank you. I thank you for that gift of that exercise, too. Because I would invite and encourage I mean, I’m sitting here going, I think I want to take a day and just go what, what, like, I’m already thinking in my head, to be honest, as you’re talking, I’m like, what would I put in mine? And what’s in the second half? That I haven’t hit? Jen Carolan, this has been such a treat, you are such a gift. And I’m so glad that we were able to have you on so that we could talk about this, you know, knowing that we we likely will bring you back at some point. I mean, we will it’s just a matter of when. So for people who are listening, what’s the best and you want to connect with Jen to learn more about her experience to learn more about how she supports people? Because while there are certainly things that might be regionally limited, there’s certainly in the world of virtual lots of ways we can support people globally. Jen, what’s the best way for people to connect with you?

Jen Carolan
Yeah, so my business, my doula business is called Forces of Nature. And I have both my end of life care and I also do funeral celebrant services, working with folks on eulogies and actually providing somebody to help conduct their services if they would like. So Forces of Nature can be found I can be found on Facebook, I am. I am on Instagram, but I have my personal one. I haven’t gotten real active with the work one yet, but I am getting ready to do that. So that’s kind of an exciting time. So and I do have a website, which is www dot forces of nature healing dot com. And I just encourage people to give me a call and I you know, it’s not just about you know, hiring a doula. A lot of my services are also volunteer for families who may be, you know, can’t can’t afford to have that I do a lot of volunteer work as well. And I would say just give me a call and I do have a treatment space in Windsor Heights, Iowa, where I work out of so people can come into an office setting to visit me there as well.

Sarah Noll Wilson
I love that. We’ll put all that information in the show notes so you have access to it. Jen, heart to heart, thank you so much.

Jen Carolan
Thank you, Sarah so much for having me. Appreciate it.

Sarah Noll Wilson
Our guest for the last two weeks has been Jen Carolan. And I have been looking forward to having this conversation because it’s a conversation we don’t often have. And I know that there were so many different things that resonated. But I think for me personally, it’s making me realize how important it is that I increase the priority to make sure that I get my will taken care of, get documents in order so that I can hopefully reduce some unnecessary stress to my loved ones in the event that something were to happen. And I want to hear from you. I mean, this was a you know, this isn’t an easy topic to talk about. I’m curious to hear what resonated for you? What came up for you? What stories do you have, that you would like to share? We’re always always always here to listen, you can connect with us at podcast at Sarah Noll Wilson dot com. You can also connect with me on social media where my DMs are always open. And if you’d like to hear how we could partner together in other ways, and the work that we do with organizations, you can check us out at Sarah Noll Wilson dot com. And if you haven’t, please be sure to pick up a copy of my latest book, “Don’t Feed the Elephants!” wherever books are sold. 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. You’ll 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 the team who makes this podcast possible. 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 big final thank you to Jen Carolan to bring this topic that we so many of us avoid to the surface in a way that is done with grace and compassion and humanity. This has been Conversations on Conversations. Thank you all so much for joining us and listening. And remember that when we change the conversations we have with ourselves and with others, we can change the world. So with that, take care, please rest, rehydrate and we’ll see you again next week.

 

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