Liz Lightner of Lander End-of-life Doula isn't afraid to talk about death. Having been a hospice volunteer for the past 8 years, she decided to become a doula to help people become better prepared for end-of-life well before the need for hospice.
"We all have an expiration date; we just don't know when it is, usually. We plan for birth celebrations, and we can plan our own death celebration of a life well-lived!"
Lightner hopes to create educational awareness around death and dying, steps to successfully prepare for it, and help reduce the stigma surrounding hospice. One of her inspirations comes from a class in 9th grade called “Personal Family Living” that taught students how to create a living will and an after-death plan.
"Death still isn’t talked about and needs to be."
Lightner has always enjoyed the company of elders. She would often spend evenings after work rocking out with the “rockers” in their rocking chairs outside a neighboring assisted living facility.
"Older people help put life into perspective. You can hang out with them, slow down, gain perspective, and go home more relaxed. We should strive to respect our elders and the passing down of traditions and wisdom from generation to generation. With so many families spread out across the country now, this seems to have decreased in importance and I think that’s a real shame."
Lightner thinks that digital technology can help families connect, share stories, have important conversations “face-to-face,” and create lasting legacies across generations.
Despite currently living in rural Wyoming, using Zoom Lightner has been able to share her Monthly Educational Seminars, Senior Life Cafes, and Death Cafes with people not only in her community, but also outside the U.S.
"Talking about death won't kill you." - the motto of Death Cafes
There have been over 24,000 Death Cafes in over 70 countries. There is no set agenda; just a conversation about whatever topics are broached. Cafes have helped educate attendees about anything death related, such as: hospice vs. palliative care; body disposition options; talking to loved ones about your wishes; grieving; and considering quality vs. quantity of life as we age and what that means for each individual.
Through education and awareness, Lightner helps people learn more about their options and elect their choices surrounding end-of-life. It’s always too soon, before it's too late.
Ultimately, it's about how we can age well and die well.
“Our ultimate goal, after all, is not a good death but a good life to the very end.” - Atul Gawande, author of the bestseller, “Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End.”
It's important to plan ahead to make this happen so you get to make choices; you're not a burden to others, and the decisions are up to you.
"A lot of what an end-of-life doula does is coordinate local resources to best support the dying and their loved ones to ensure the best end-of-life experience possible.”
One of Lightner’s goals is to spark discussions regarding legal and financial end-of-life tasks, as well as body disposition options; i.e., cremation vs. burial -- water (alkaline hydrolysis) or flame cremation and traditional or natural burial. Many are unaware of all their options until they’re tasked with having to make the decision for a loved one, if he or she hadn’t done so already.
"We do extensive research and planning before going on an international trip, but we don’t bother to do that for ourselves when it comes to the end of our journey. I would love for every high school senior to graduate with a living will and healthcare proxy and revisit their advance directive every year. You can put as much or as little thought and detail into your directive, but it's important to know your choices. And if you don’t care what happens to you, that’s a choice too that should be expressed to your family. A traumatic injury or death can affect anyone, anytime, anywhere. Best to prepare for the “what if’s” with “thens.”
Digitizing isn't as difficult as it sounds. You can have a QR code laminated on a card in your wallet, on the lock screen of an Apple Watch and/or phone lock screen and/or case for EMTs to easily access your information, stored in your Google Drive, or in another “cloud-based” storage service. You can follow prompts to create a free Universal Advance Digital Directive or upload your own existing documents in 10-15 minutes through MyDirectives.
You can plan your own celebration of life and leave unlisted YouTube videos for loved ones to view privately, and/or even played at your funeral or memorial service. There are so many technological options now, including virtual services. Covid-19 has made the virtual service more popular, as no one has to leave home.
"We spend a lot of time and money planning baby showers and weddings, but we don’t often plan a party where we want our friends and family to come together, celebrate, and support one another when we are gone. I think that’s unfortunate. When I was in the Peace Corps in Togo, if you lived past age 45, you earned yourself a village-wide celebration, complete with printed t-shirts!"
Lightner is starting to see more celebrations of life and less somber funerals.
"Death doesn't need to be a scary medical process. If you know your options and let others know your wishes, it can more easily be a natural, sacred, and even graceful process."
Join Liz and her mother Joan Dillon as they speak on courageous conversations with your health care proxy, family, and medical team, making your wishes known, both before and after death, life reviews and legacy projects with ideas and resources, and downsizing, rightsizing, organizing, or minimizing.
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