What to Expect When You’re Dying

I was struck recently by two articles (We Need To Talk About Death, and How To Plan for a Good Death) about dying, specifically mindful dying.

As a woman who was pregnant in the 90’s, I gestated babies before the internet information boom, when the best information was still to be found in books–and there was no greater source of information for pregnant women then than the 90’s classic, What to Expect When You’re Expecting.  Although my copy of the book promptly got thrown into the fire around month four, with the bleating on (and on and on) about the Best Odds diet, it did nudge me towards exploring and understanding the options and choices around birthing a bit more, and ultimately led me to create a birth plan–which, if I had stuck to it and not started yelling for an episiotomy, would have been the roadmap to a fully non-interventionist, med free birth for my son.   At the very least, though, creating a birth plan forced me to consider what I knew and believed about birth, what I might possibly have control over, and what I needed to do to prepare for that path;  and at the point when your body is rebelling, doing things you didn’t expect, ask it to, or really even WANT it to, helping your mind to get comfortable with the realities is one of the only things you can control, and a good way to bring some peace to an unfamiliar experience.

In much the same way, getting comfortable with death (your own, your loved ones’, the universality of it) and examining what you believe around the process can open the door to end of life planning, and allow for the same deliberate, mindful approach to the end that a birth plan brings to the beginning of life.

In this article, a mother speaks about the unthinkable–making space for her terminally ill teenager to die well, in comfort, deliberately enjoying the time he has left, making specific plans for how to bring in the end.  In her own words, from the article:

Mrs Langton-Gilks…says that without doubt the way her son died “is going to be the single biggest achievement of my life. Instead of going back and forth to hospital hoping he was going to be cured and putting him through more suffering, we focused on keeping him calm and comfortable at home.

“He had a stonkingly good party with all his friends. But mainly we just chilled out and kept things as normal as possible.”

David died three months later at the age of 16. His last lucid words were “I love it here”.

That does look like a ‘stonkingly good party’ up there, does it not?   (And I definitely think we need to pick up the word stonkingly for use in the USA ASAP!)

Because of her experiences, helping give her 16 year old a considered, comfortable, deliberate end of life, this mother is now an advocate for open end of life planning.

“You wouldn’t dream of giving birth without some idea of what to expect and a birth plan” says Mrs LangtonGilks.

“Yet we face death with no equivalent preparation. We need to get to the point in society where it is as acceptable to talk about a death plan as a birth plan.”

Additionally, when we don’t let death come as a surprise, when we know our and our loved ones’ wishes, we can make better choices about where the end care should take place, how much intervention or effort should be expended, what quality of life should be maintained and at what cost–thus also avoiding the panicked bad-decisionmaking that comes from sudden need and lack of preparation.

There are many ways to get to comfort and familiarity with death, to the place of thinking through and knowing your end of life desires.  Death Cafe in many cities around the world is a monthly opportunity to discuss all things death, to explore dying and all its considerations at your own pace in the safety of like-minded folk.  Online communities, blogs, books, Twitter-it’s all out there, for you to explore at your own pace, to begin to make peace with mortality.  And with the peace, the acceptance, to make actual PLANS for your mortality–your dying, your funeral, your legacy.

Need help with the funeral and deathcare plans?  I DO THAT. Need help finding resources, whether deathcare providers or legacy concerns, digital estate, will planning?  Ask me–in this current world, the resources abound, and the only limitations are your willingness.  Let me give you some ideas, and maybe help coach you through that!

Considering My Own Death Wishes

So, since the the gap of a few weeks from the last posting is right there tattling on me, I have to tell you:  I had the most delicious week away, up in my happy place on the Olympic Peninsula in Washington State.  I got to spend rejuvenating time with friends and family at my aunt’s cabin, a property that’s on its third incarnation of dwelling (and is a full fledged house at this point, not the quaint log cabin with outhouse that it was when I was small).

This is a very special location for me.  The natural beauty alone makes it heaven, but 40+ years of joy and good memories on top of it all make this truly sacred space.  It’s where my soul feels harmony and peace.


This was my view each morning as I opened up my laptop and worked.

And this will be my final resting place, with half of my remains sprinkled out there in the cove.  One calm morning hopefully years from now, just my family, my ashes, and a little rock that has my name and dates, broadcast out onto the glassy water (but not too close to the weeds, please!  We always did hate swimming through those…)

It was a closure kind of visit this time.  My aunt and I put flowers at my grandparents’ grave (along with the graves of several members of her family), and went and said goodbye to my grandparents’ house, which is under contract after my grandfather’s recent death.

This little town has much of my family history in it, and this trip, my aunt and I discovered a piece of it we had never seen, which was fascinating AND caused me to rethink my wishes just a bit.


It’s hard to read for all the weathering and moss, but that’s the gravestone of my great uncle, Swan Waldo Brackett, my grandmother’s brother.  He died at 5, in 1927.

We had always known about him, knew that he had died young, but it took putting our heads together during the family picnic to figure out exactly where to find him, now that all the generation who would have buried him were dead.  Aunt and I took all the information we’d learned, and on a lovely summer night, headed out to the cemetery.

It gave both of us chills to find his stone.  Clearly, it had been replaced at some point, as the descriptions of it (round, handmade concrete with small stone edging) were very specific (and, it turns out, inaccurate).  But here he was, nearly 90 years in the ground, and both of us his relatives, able to stand there, touch his stone, find out how old he really was when he died (this was another bit of inaccurate information from our discussion).

And it made me think.

What if, by my insistence on not leaving a trace, on not being traditionally memorialized, I’m taking this feeling away from my great nieces and nephews?

Just a thought, of course. But it’s sticking with me.

Perhaps I want to leave more of a footprint than I thought?  Maybe this will be what sways me to natural burial at Eloise Woods, although the idea of not being put into Lake Sutherland makes me sad.

What about you?  Anything change your plans recently?  Do we need to talk, to write down new plans?