• Richelle Godwin

Preparing for Death in Life...The Three Most Important Things You Can Do



Death is something everyone will eventually experience...


You know the old saying...In this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes? Although it’s often an uncomfortable subject to discuss, death is something everyone will eventually experience…(insert dramatic organ chords here). Sorry, we had to lighten things up a bit as this isn’t meant to be a looming dark statement, it simply just is, and this article will explore the three key things anyone and everyone can do to ensure their “affairs” are in order so that they can get to the best part about death...the wonderful life that leads before it.


It never hurts to be prepared and most of us have no idea when we’ll die, so, why not get everything together so that you can live your best life. Before we get into the three most important things you can do to prepare for death...I want to introduce our group as we do this very thing from start to finish so that you can get on living. There are many steps and this group walks you through all of it, whether you’re very young and a type-A planner or if you are a loved one or someone who is entering the active dying stage of life, we have services that fit everyone.


How do you begin to prepare for death?

Read below to learn about the Three Main Focuses for Death so you can Live Life Fully.




The Gentle Passage Doula Collective (GPDC)


There are certain feelings you are born with and those that you grow into. The feeling of being loved can be all consuming as well as finding that passion that just comes, well, naturally. That’s kind of how this group, The Gentle Passage Doula Collective, came to be. After more than 150 years of collective experience in the healthcare industry, specifically around end of life care, these six women kept finding that this love of creating a death positive environment was actually a passion, not just a job. These women came together to create this group...The Gentle Passage Doula Collective.


We share many stories that involve loss and joy, tears and laughter, missed opportunities and sacred moments. We want to ensure that each person can have a life that has a special and meaningful ending. By doing this, we offer the support for three main areas in accomplishing this necessary and important outcome, a gentle and fulfilling death. These are preparations for this event, active dying, and after death care. Each area is unique and we can help provide the tools to make it a smooth transition as well as a purposeful one, while giving you and your loved ones support during this very important and emotional time. This is something everyone can prepare for at any time in their life, it’s never too early nor too late.


When we set up our company, one of our top values is education. And as you’ll read, we are extremely passionate that to be educated on issues and topics allows one to make an informed choice. So, in every aspect of our process, our first goal is to educate, to ensure that you and your loved ones are informed.




FOCUS #1 -- PREPARATION FOR DEATH


It’s all about getting ready for the unfortunate inevitability of death. We may not have a crystal ball, but some have an idea and some are completely unexpected. In both situations, having a plan for this is ideal so you can truly live your life fully! The goal of The Gentle Passage Doula Collective is to be a resource for anyone and everyone interested in learning more about death and preparing for it. Whether it’s your own death or a loved one’s, we have a number of courses, seminars, blogs, and other resources, including personalized offerings, to ensure you are informed and prepared when it comes to this all so important, yet, sensitive topic. We have some recommendations to get the ball rolling on preparing for this event. Join us as we begin the journey of better understanding our services and how you can take an active step into this preparation.




ADVANCED DIRECTIVES


First and foremost, it’s important to not only know your wishes upon your death or incapacitation, but to share them. Advanced Directives are the written instructions for end-of-life wishes along with the names of who your Health Care Durable Power of Attorney is/are. These only go into effect when you cannot make decisions on your own behalf and they terminate upon your death. It is best to have a conversation to get your Advanced Directives in order and this is done through Advanced Care Planning.


Advanced Care Planning is for all adults. It is thinking and talking about future healthcare decisions if you have a sudden, unforeseen event like a car accident or a sudden onset illness, and become unable to make your own healthcare decisions.


These documents allow you to determine what you do and don’t want done medically, to the best of the healthcare agent’s ability. These directives are extremely valuable to inform everyone -- your loved ones and the medical care, of your wishes and how to honor you at the end of your life, it’s a final roadmap to your care. This gives the dying peace of mind and alleviates additional stress for loved ones surrounding the dying during this already difficult and emotional time. However, Advanced Directives are not a medical order and therefore, you need to fill out a legal form.



LEGAL MEDICAL DOCUMENTS


Legal Medical documents grant consent and provide information of an official nature. Medical documents can give someone authority to make medical decisions for another, direct medical personnel if life saving treatment is wanted, clearly stating the wishes of the person whom it is written for or by.


These documents are important because they give a chosen agent the ability to speak as if they are you. They can make important medical decisions, like starting life sustaining treatment or choosing comfort care for the person that has authorized them to do so. They can obtain important medical information to assist them in making decisions. These legal documents go into effect ONLY when one is without “capacity,” meaning they are unable to make decisions on their own. Some of these legal forms are also known as Physician Order for Life Sustaining Treatment Form or POLST form, Healthcare Power of Attorney, Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPPA).


It’s valuable to have these legal documentations in place so that your wishes may be carried out as you request. It also gives those making the decisions and family members a roadmap for what you want. Your family will not have to guess what you would have wanted. This helps prevent heightened emotional decisions and causes less stress, while also increasing unity for family members and loved ones.


We have several members who can assist you in getting these medical documents in order as well as connect you and your loved ones in conversations to discuss these, talking with a lawyer or legal assistance, and answering many of your questions you may have, as we are all medical professionals here to help you and your loved ones along this path.



ESTATE PLANNING


An estate is the dying’s assets and debts they have collected over their lifetime. Having an estate can bring up the good, the bad, and the ugly in family and loved ones, especially after the dying has been laid to rest. Having a plan in order before that day comes, can bring a sense of calm as well as peace to the living and reduces the chances of things like disputes or ill will amongst the living.


Estate planning is a comprehensive plan that includes documents that are used during your lifetime, such as Power of Attorney and Living Will, as well as other documents that are in effect after death, such as disposition of remains and Executor of the Estate (a person or institution named in a will to carry out its instructions).


Estate planning is important because it allows you to control and protect the assets that you have during your lifetime. It allows you to control your assets, control who receives said assets, when and how after you die, and expedites desired medical decisions if you become incapacitated. It also allows for minimum payment of legal, tax, and estate fees which can be very burdensome and in some cases, causes people to go into financial turmoil.


The value of estate planning is having these decisions made, taking control over the financial and medical aspects of your life, and freeing up any unnecessary hurt feelings amongst your loved ones living, much longer after your death. It also allows you to distribute your assets as you see fit, not as the probate court decides. It allows you to leave the legacy of your treasures and talents, everything you collected your entire life, exactly as you wish. The cherished family heirloom can be left to the very person that will value and treasure it. This also greatly reduces any disputes over material or monetary inheritance. It’s the love letter left to your family.



PLAN OF CARE


A Plan of Care is the process of how you want to be cared upon entering any medical treatment or the dying process. It should be very specific and account for many different scenarios. It outlines the recommended steps and interventions you will take to live your best life possible based on your current condition and state of health.


This outline, Plan of Care, creates a Care Plan. A Care Plan is the document that medical professionals, family and friends, and support companions (such as death doulas), can understand how you would like to be cared for, what cues you may exhibit if you are unable to verbally communicate your wishes, and helps answer questions about you such as your favorite beverage in the afternoon (plus it provides key details that can assist if anything special is needed such as a straw or wiping your mouth after each sip).


Creating this process can be both confusing and overwhelming, so having professionals like GPDC take you through and create this plan with the patient and/or your representative can provide the best results for your care plan. This Plan of Care and Care Plan is flexible and dynamic, ensuring it is up-to-date and offers the patient to be supported in many scenarios.


The value of this plan is that it keeps you focused on living your best life until you take your last breath. It helps you to prioritize your needs and wants. It can help you think about and plan for the “what if…” situations. For example, “if this treatment fails, what are my other options and how would I proceed?”


Knowing you may be coming to the end of your life, this approach can take some of the anxiety out of that situation, and help you to prioritize what you need to do so you don’t have to worry so much and can plan out your life and live to the fullest extent possible.




FAMILY MEETINGS


A family meeting is where we gather together with you, the patient, and your family and people who will be walking with you through this health care crisis and/or end of life experience. As a family you will meet with your health care providers to discuss your situation and ask the health care team about any questions or concerns you have. This is a very important meeting that allows for all parties to be on the same page as you move forward with the plan of care. During this meeting you can establish and change goals of care that you want as well as keep everyone on your team informed of the plan moving forward.


In these meetings, it’s a chance to talk openly and honestly with your care providers about what you want to do as you move forward and your condition changes for the better or for the worse. You’ll hear about the potential risks and benefits of the options you have and the decisions you make and your loved ones will also be aware of these events. In these meetings you can go over your advanced directives, legal documents and your plan of care. This meeting is geared to support you and your loved ones answer questions in a safe and honest space. One of the key services of GPDC is connecting with the people you want to, to get all this information discussed as well as planned.




LIVING FUNERALS


A living funeral is somewhat of a memorial service for someone expected to die while they are still living, still cognizant, but declining. The purpose of this is for the dying to say goodbye and allow others to say goodbye before death comes. This type of farewell can be done in a celebration, bringing in stories, pictures, videos, and giving everyone the chance to celebrate your incredible life and share with you all the warmth and love you deserve to give everyone those lasting memories to hold onto.


Our collective has noticed that the American culture is moving away from many traditions that have been held such as traditional funerals, but it also at times, moves away from celebrating our loved ones in a powerful way when death starts approaching. Some people and families literally will not say goodbye leaving a huge void. This can foster further resentment as well as leave so many unanswered questions and internal turmoil on the heart.


In a living funeral, this party-like event offers an opportunity to open up the creative process in addition to giving the dying individual the control over their own death. Inviting family and friends to celebrate the dying person’s life opens up the channels to say goodbye and express their own feelings of love to each other and offer the gift of completion. This living funeral makes the statement that dying and death are a natural process and offers others to experience this part of life, acknowledging and accepting death in a positive way. Often the declining perks up and really enjoys this party in their honor and it provides a beautiful lasting memory for everyone.


We can help you create this celebration, connect you with ideas, people, and options. We are here for you in this joyous moment too and want to make this both a meaningful experience for you, your loved ones and friends as well as create a positive impact on this natural process of death and dying.




BEST THREE MONTHS


The Best Three Months is an end-of-life-fulfillment, educational class that opens up a conversation on death. This is a great five-week course to take when you are thinking about your future, regardless of death, but death is the absolute end thought process. It asks the question “If you only had three months to live what would matter most? What are your dreams, wishes and priorities?” This is completed using reflection questions and guiding you through the five domains of life. The domains are the Physical, Emotional, Mental/Legacy, Spiritual, and Practical.


This is a “living laboratory” that allows you to explore your fears and beliefs surrounding death. It also gives you the opportunity to establish priorities, asking “what is most important in your life?” This approach is useful with terminal diagnosis, as well at any stage of life. It helps establish where you are currently and a vision of where you want to be in your life at this very moment. This incredible series helps initiate a conversation on death and ways to support you in comfort as well as provide a discussion around difficult topics that surface toward the end of life.


This truly is a life changing experience by being a transformational process, increasing awareness in your life, encouraging curiosity in areas and situations you ordinarily would not examine. One of the most important outcomes when taking this, is that the Best Three Months assists identifying what is most important to you, right now in this present moment and how to navigate that thought.



PHOTOGRAPHY


We have a professional photographer on staff that can help create memories for a lifetime while capturing these sacred moments of being with each other, capturing a moment in time to reflect upon, providing lasting memories, and remembering celebrations to share with friends, families and loved ones. In these photos, it gives you the ability to pass down visual moments and create a legacy of life events. These pictures, these frozen moments of time, can bring a sense of peace, comfort and healing touch to the living as well as tell a visual perspective to honor the sacred moments and continue the story. This gives the person viewing, a sense of belonging as well as remembering just what occurred.


A picture is worth a 1,000 words...you’ve heard it a thousand times before and that statement is not only true but quietly powerful. Just think about showing your child your grandparents wedding photo. The clothing, the black and white picture, how different it truly was back then, how in love they were (or not) and what was going on during that moment in time. So many questions and so many answers in one picture. Imagine creating this for your loved ones and for yourself, surrounding yourself with photos of your loved ones. Imagine how that can truly fill up your heart.


This is fully customizable and can include anything from individual photos to family photos to large group photos and events. It can also be an opportunity for legacy work, such as photo books, sharing family secrets and memories to support preserving individual history.



GRIEF COACHING


Grief coaching is compassionate guidance through the emotional roller coaster of grief and loss. It offers the tools to help you manage the loss you’ve had or are having and an opportunity to express how you feel while being supported in this moment. There is no timeline to express grief, nor is there an expiration date on it as we don’t all grieve at the same time. Some people grieve on their own, and some grieve with others. We offer coaching sessions in this same way, one-on-one as well as group settings, and there is also no timeline, meaning, you can have the opportunity that suits you and your loved ones best in whatever stage you are in for however long you may need it.



DEATH CAFES


A death cafe is a group discussion around death and dying with no agenda, objectives or themes, it’s a conversation rather than a grief support or counseling session. This is a type of meeting to increase awareness of death with a view to helping people make the most of their finite lives. It is usually with strangers, who gather to eat cake, drink tea and discuss death.


This meeting helps create a safe place to discuss death, loss and share personal stories among each other, while shifting to a death positive focus for others to connect, ask questions and feel more comfortable about the pathway we are all on. It helps take the burden and fear away from death and allow each person to find a path they feel comfortable with and hopefully allow them to take charge of their matters around death and dying so they can live their life fully. This is a safe place where we are here to hold space for you.


Every month we offer a free online conversation (via Zoom) about death, this is called a Death Cafe. If you’d like to join our next meeting, please register here.




FOCUS #2 -- ACTIVE DEATH


Active Death is when the body starts to shut down. The signs can begin weeks to days before death. At this point the person is often non-responsive, breathing can be shallow, rapid and irregular. Their blood pressure is often very low, their heartbeat is weak and irregular as well as difficult to count. A person’s hands and feet are very cold and purplish looking. They may be calling out for a loved one, frequently not making sense, and are confused. Each person dies in their own way as unique as each individual birth.


For some, the event of active dying can be a slow process but it can allow each other to connect, ask questions, and have an opportunity to say goodbye. It also means that the dying can have a fulfilling death.


We are here to hold space, allowing you to express your emotions, feelings, thoughts and fears while we listen, not here to ask questions or judge. We are here for you and your loved ones, ensuring that you feel supported and comforted during this time. We can help arrange for necessary support and communicate with you to hold your wishes at the front, while educating and helping manage expectations of the dying process. Dying is a natural transition not a medical event. At times, the dying process is one in which we feel helpless. However, just being present and holding space is the gift we bring to the bedside.




FAMILY END OF LIFE COACHING


Family end of life coaching is where we guide the dying and their loved ones and family on death and dying. This can be sharing the dying wishes, educating about the dying process, offering suggestions to help ease pain, providing comfort and/or incorporating other goals. This is also great to reassess the Plan of Care and make any changes, if necessary, as well as update legal documents and any other documents.


The goal is to achieve the best experience possible as you and the dying move through the grieving process. This focus can also provide a better understanding and ways to support through these difficult transitions, addressing necessary steps to move through the loss while preventing any misunderstandings, uncertainty as well as suffering.


These coachings are available for family, friends and the dying. It can help provide support, reconciliation, guidance and relief to move through this transition with more ease toward a thoughtful plan for one approaching end of life. This can provide peace of mind and optimize a positive transition so everyone can experience support, love and understanding.




RESPITE AND COMPANIONSHIP CARE


Respite and companionship care provides the loved one or caregiver a break in the emotional intensity of End of Life Care while being with the dying and providing a compassionate and warm care setting environment for the dying. Being a respite and companion acknowledges and ensures the dying person and their loved ones are not alone during the dying process and can assist in support services.


Oftentimes, during active dying, the family, friends and loved ones are both emotionally and physically exhausted and by having a much needed break from caregiving, helps reduce the feelings of isolation, anxiety, fatigue and resentment. Having respite and companionship care can be the key to survival during this time so you can run errands, go on a walk, take a shower, meet up with friends, take a nap, or anything that you may need to handle your life. This space away from the dying, can enhance the caregivers emotional and psychological well being as they care for their dying loved one while providing a sense of ease while being away.