Taking Our Workshop Lessons to Heart

by Jennifer Jones  jwjwjones@gmail.com Norm was suffering in the late stages of Alzheimer’s at 87, when he suddenly began having difficulty with swallowing. He also had a sudden weakness and was unable to get out of bed. He had had several falls in the last six months, which resulted in hospitalization. Ultimately, he was transferred to a skilled nursing facility for another six weeks. When he returned home, he received private care-giving for 24 hours per day. About a month later,  he suffered another sudden downturn. Norm was taken to… View Full Post

Books We Are Reading in January 2018

  Books We are Reading in January 2018: From Here to Eternity, Traveling the World to Find the Good Death—2017 By Caitlin Doughty I have enjoyed this adventure into the world’s often unknown customs to deal with human bodies after death. Caitlin begins with the beautiful open-air cremation practice in Crestone, Colorado, which was pioneered by a Buddhist friend of mine, Stephanie Gaines. She quickly and humorously takes us to Indonesia, Mexico, Spai, Japan, Bolivia and two other American sites to witness rituals we may never have heard of or… View Full Post

Happy New Year!

by Trudy James I have listened to many stories during the holiday season. There were stories of people losing their rights, our country losing its stature, and leaders seemingly losing their moral compass. It is easy to lose hope. I have also listened to stories from caregivers who witness patients in their 90’s who no longer know themselves or others who are kept alive in group homes required to feed them—because they have lost their ability to speak for themselves and they have no advocate. Stories of death that is… View Full Post

Dying with Dignity and A-Wake

There was chicken, there was poetry, and there was love. Not much later, John Shields’ life was over. Shields had been able to attend his own wake, before dying quickly and gracefully. He shared a celebration of his life with friends and loved ones in a hospice after a British Columbia Court ruled in a similar case that death at a time of his own choosing was legal. His long-term battle with a hereditary form of a degenerative terminal disease called amyloidosis came to an end when his doctor helped… View Full Post

Speaking of Dying at Christmas

The cool, dry, desert air of the High Desert surrounding Palm Springs seemed more appropriate than the summer-like heat beating “down below.” In short, my mother had come here to share the prosaic cluster of diversity in a rustic town that sits at a 3,000-foot elevation and is  named after the bristling Joshua Tree.  Joshua Tree  is more likely than Palm Springs to see a few centimeters of snow during the holidays. Mom  gave up her  heated kitchen in her New Hampshire restaurant to retire to the heated, arid land… View Full Post

Life Gets Real

“There is a very close relationship between laughter and tears,” Mary Kay Morrison, president of the Association for Applied and Therapeutic Humor and a self-described “neurohumorist” tells the Minneapolis Star Tribune. “Laughter is a relief. When you laugh so hard that you cry, there is a close connection there. It’s something that brings relief from the stress and anxiety. As the only stand-up comedian contributing to the Speaking of Dying Team, I take my work seriously. Trudy James and her team of facilitators have put together a mosaic of self-love,… View Full Post

November is National Hospice and Palliative Care Month

“When you serve 1.6 million people and families a year, you’re going to have instances where care could be improved,”

A Gift That Matters

by Rees Robinson I am a Speaking of Dying Workshop Facilitator. This summer, I interned in the Spiritual Care department at Harborview Medical Center in Seattle. Harborview is a King County hospital and Level 1 trauma and burn center serving Washington, Idaho, Montana and Alaska. People, of all ages, are flown to Harborview after suffering trauma that most hospitals aren’t equipped to handle. Patients often arrive unconscious after suffering strokes, heart attacks, life threatening accidents, gunshot wounds, fires., etc.  In large part, those admitted did not expect to end up… View Full Post

The Biggest Little Mission In My Life

By Barbara Sehr Reno, the “biggest  little city in the world,” is a place where you can climb any mountain or get get high in some other form. On my recent visit,  getting high” meant five days of continued intensive training as the grandmother of Donnie, 5, and Emma 3. For others, it’s all about living and games people play. About the only time you hear of someone speaking of dying here is when you hear a voice crying out in the back of a casino: “I’m dying over here.”… View Full Post

You want to talk about WHAT?”

None of us ever know what’s going to result from the act  of clarifying your wishes.

Thanks for All Your End-of-Life Planning!

by Laura E. Bender To paraphrase Cartoonist Allen Saunders, “Death is what happens to you while you are making other plans.” That is why your health care system and health professionals who care for you at the end of life extend praise and gratitude to those who participate in Heartwork’s “Speaking of Dying” End-of-Life Planning workshops. Here are just five reasons why: Health care providers can promote better patient outcomes when a patient’s values are known.   When you specify your advanced directive, you have spent dedicated, intentional time thinking… View Full Post

Reality Bites: The Cost of Denial

by Pamela Katims Steele, PhD www.healthease.guru She said it was “bait.” “I just want to see what happens. Besides, it will make the conversation more interesting.” She often said the most bizarre things, asked questions to which the answers were obvious, interjected thoughts totally unrelated to the conversation. For years, we thought my mother was just seeking attention, being strange and often embarrassing. We had endless excuses for her behavior. All of them ended when my father died and could no longer serve as the “brains” of the duo. He… View Full Post

The Gift of End-of-Life Planning

by Guest Blogger, Caroline Stevens, RN, MSW Most people say they want to die at home. Yet most actually die in a hospital—many of them in intensive care. Why does this happen? Every week or so there is another article about end of life issues. As our population ages there is added interest in how to die well. Some may read about the end of life, talk about it casually, but most fail to do much about it! Younger people don’t realize the importance of creating a plan “just in… View Full Post

Burying More Than Dad

“Will you come bury me?” The voice on the phone was my elderly father, suddenly reaching out from Germany, some nine time zones away. It was 6 AM on a Sunday morning here in Seattle, where I was settled in for a long summer’s nap. “Hang on a minute, let me see if I can find my shovel!” I answered, always trying to be the classy comedian. My father was approaching the age of 93 at the time, finding himself all alone after multiple divorces. He and I had serious… View Full Post

“Living Deeply, Dying Well” – What Does That Really Mean?

Many people seriously prepare for life, from the joy of birth to baby steps and ultimate maturity. It seems to be the end-of-life that eludes us, or scares us, or disturbs us. Every friend we lose, every trip we take, every sharp memory of a death with which we awake, seems to encourage us to procrastinate or put off thoughts of our own ending. For those of you who have seen the film or completed a Speaking of Dying/End-of-Life Planning Workshop or who have engaged in some other successful personal… View Full Post

A Medical Power of Attorney—the Star of Your Show

We all know, deep inside, that our life will come to an end. Few of us want to think about death or terminal illness. And yet if you want your life’s ending to be as you wish, you must be sure you have a clearly designated Medical Power of Attorney. This designated individual is sometimes known as a Health Care Agent or surrogate, or POA for Health Care. Who would speak for you if decisions had to be made about your care should you suffer  a stroke or  heart attack… View Full Post

End of Life Choices

How Life Ends: Death is Inevitable. A bad death is not.” The end of our life is natural and inevitable. Few of us, however, come to terms with this at a time when we are still capable of planning for a good end to our lives and sharing those plans with others. Supporting and encouraging this planning process has been my mission for many years and is the underlying reason why I produced the film, Speaking of Dying. Imagine my surprise when I discovered our Speaking of Dying mission was… View Full Post

Death With Dignity

Making end-of-life decisions was the topic of last summer’s episode “The Party” on the Netflix series Grace and Frankie, starring Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin. Babe, a treasured friend of Grace and Frankie played by Estelle Parsons, is experiencing a resurgence of her cancer, and it is devastating her body. Instead of taking the course of further treatment, as her friends suggest to her, Babe decides to take matters in her own hands and determine the course of her untimely end. Babe decides to die as she has lived, by her… View Full Post

Dying Well

In Speaking of Dying Workshops, facilitators ask participants to envision what “dying well” might look like to them. This exercise comes after they have already learned about the importance of having a Health Care Power of Attorney; have listened to stories, and shared information about current medical options and end-of-life resources; have learned about “the real work of dying” (reviewing your life, asking for and giving forgiveness, saying goodbye and “I love you” to family and/or friends); and after writing  down their wishes and discussing them with others. Only then… View Full Post

Why End of Life Planning Matters

The process of end-of-life planning matters because too many people in our country, especially seniors, are dying in ways they would never have wanted — tethered to machines, in impersonal ICUs or in nursing homes. In large part, this happens because they and their family members or health care agents could not discuss end-of-life planning ahead of time. Yes, it is hard to talk about death ahead of time. When one is in good health, it feels unnecessary. But without such conversations, prolonged, medically challenged “futile care” endings can be… View Full Post


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