Ask A Death Doula #


What Is An ”After Death Plan” And Why It’s Important To Have One

 Released: 01/02/2024

 Guest: None

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Episode Show Notes

Exploring the Empowering Facets of Death and Dying

Can we truly embrace life without acknowledging its end?

This poignant question is at the heart of today’s transformative discussion as we delve into the empowering and healing aspects of end-of-life planning. Sharing insights from my years as a hospice nurse and my training in Level 1 Doulagiver’s family caregiver training, we explore the importance of creating an after-death plan and voicing our wishes for after we pass, and how this can shift our perspective on our everyday life.

Our journey begins with a deep dive into end-of-life care and its many facets. We focus on the need to slow down, be present, and embrace the idea of home funerals – a topic that is often met with hesitance. Through open and candid discussions, we highlight how crucial conversations with family about after-death plans can profoundly impact the grieving process. We also touch on the legal considerations, planning, and the potential healing quality of a home wake.

We then move on to the more personalized aspects of after-death plans and celebrations. You’re given a glimpse into the myriad of choices available for what happens to your body after death, including eco-friendly options such as water cremation and human composting. We also explore the importance of planning for a life celebration or memorial and the power of leaving behind a special letter or memento. I hope that this conversation inspires and empowers you to take an active role in your end-of-life planning, leading you to a new realization of the joy and beauty of life. Join us as we break the silence around death and dying, and together, let’s celebrate life in all its phases.


We dive into:

(02:49 – 04:11) Grief Healing Through End of Life Training
(10:12 – 11:55) Being Present in Grief
(16:02 – 16:58) Supporting End-of-Life Choices for Loved Ones
(20:01 – 21:45) The Power of Three-Day Home Wakes
(26:06 – 26:59) After Death Disposition


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Links mentioned in this episode:


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Speaker 1 (00:00):

Level of gratitude that you have when you know that this journey is such a gift and that every day is a gift, completely changes your life, whether you’re aware of it or not.

Speaker 2 (00:12):

I’m Suzanne O’Brien, former hospice and oncology nurse, and now the founder of the International Doula Givers Institute. My life’s purpose is to teach others how to care for those at the end of life. So if you are a family member wanting to learn how to care for someone you love at the end of life, or you are someone who wants to be a professional end of life practitioner, this is the place for you. So sit back, get a cup of tea and relax. This is the Ask a Deaf Doula podcast.

Speaker 1 (00:47):

Hi everyone, and welcome to this episode of Ask a Deaf doula. My name is Suzanne O’Brien. Remember the level one doula givers family caregiver training is coming up very soon. That is the free webinar that has been used by over 250,000 people from around the world. It empowers you with the skills on how to care for those you love, learn the skill, change the world. The link is below and please share with your friends. Hi everyone. We have a great episode today. It is going to talk about what is an after death plan and why it’s so important to have one. So I want to welcome you today and I also want to share with you before we get started, how empowering talking and learning about end of life is. And I know you might think, what is she talking about that it’s empowering and it’s healing.


But I’m going to tell you this and some of this I didn’t expect. I know that learning the truth about end of life changes your life today. It completely changes your life today because whether you’re conscious or subconscious of this that it makes you realize that one day, this journey as we know it today will not be the same and you completely change your perspective of things in your daily life in the best way. And one of them is gratitude and not sweating the small stuff. So for instance, when I started when I was a hospice nurse and began working with those at the end of life, I remember coming home from visiting patients and it’s just the most beautiful connection and such important work and it’s my life’s purpose. But I also remember coming home that day after maybe 4 30, 5 o’clock and just marveling at the sun shining and the ability to go for a walk with my dog because the people that I’m serving and working with, they don’t have that luxury anymore.


So things changed from Oh, I have to go to the grocery store to I get to go to the grocery store. It changed from, oh, I got to go to the gym today. I got to work out to, I get to go work out and we can’t change things in our life. There’s things that happen, there’s certain things we can’t change, but we can change our perception and perspective to them and that changes everything. So the level of gratitude that you have when you know that this journey is such a gift and that every day is a gift completely changes your life whether you’re aware of it or not. So I want to talk to you about the understanding that when we talk about this subject, it’s empowering. It is inspiring because we talk about what we’ve learned, the beautiful things we’ve learned from those at the end of life.


And what I didn’t expect from people who’ve taken the level one training where I take you through the three phases, the doula givers level one training award-winning program, it’s offered for free. It’s always offered for free because end of life is a human right. A positive end of life is a human right. It should not be a privilege was that it’s healing grief and it’s really healing grief. So people have talked about, I remember this one woman said that this training, this 90 minute live training online that I give healed her parents’ grief that she’s been holding onto for 40 plus years. Another person wrote in and said that she has paid so much for grief counseling and courses and this training again, and I’m not quite sure what the whole magic is of it, but it is pretty magical healed her grief more than any of those things ever did.


So that was something surprising to me. But I understand it because the training is I’ve been honored and privileged to be with over a thousand people at the end of life as a former hospice and oncology nurse. And the training is all that bedside experience that I have defined. Three distinct phases of end of life, shock phase, stabilization phase, transition phase, and the interventions you can use for comfort in each one of those phases. I also infuse the training with real bedside stories and in and of itself when we talk about that the truth about end of life, it starts reducing that fear and starts replacing it with empowerment, with healing, with inspiration. It allows people to put together connect the dots of fragmented, scattered end of life. They’ve had putting band-aids on it, having it happen so quickly and their loved one dying to being able to now put closure, put things in place, understand and also be really inspired that we never die, that life continues on and on and on.


It’s the physical body that dies. We hear that over and over and over again from people who are getting ready to leave this world. It is so important to share that and why aren’t we? Death is the number one fear in the world. And if we shared the truth about it, what it was really like, this whole world will change and I was going to say would change and I said will change because it’s going to be in present tense and we’re doing it. And you listening to this podcast here today is a part of that. So I want to thank you for being part of this shift. I want to talk to you today about an after death plan. What is that? That is just how it sounds. It’s making my wishes subjectively independently about what I want for the time after I die.


And yeah, this is a hard one, right? Because we’re not talking about any of this. We’re not planning, we’re not doing the advanced care planning, we’re not thinking about what I’d want or not want, what quality of life is, and that I have to say this and I really want you to hear this, that 80 to 90%, 80 to 90% of a positive end of life, no matter what the disease process is, is planning ahead with choosing my choices, making those choices known to my family, to my medical provider, but more so to my family who will be speaking for me when I can’t speak for myself and understanding where I want to be, what I want to be have happened and supported in that. And then what they need to do to put those things in place to make that happen. And again, 80 to 90% is planning ahead.


And then also to understand what the basic physiology and what end of life is like. And two of these things, both of these things, doula givers offers you. And of course we offer so much more with our free education center. So today we’re going to talk an after death plan and I want to tell you what it is. It’s an after death plan is letting my family and loved ones know what I want to happen immediately at the time of my death and after. So meaning we’re even right when I have my end of life in the home. I want to be at home what I want at that moment. And that is a very sacred time period and it’s something that should not be rushed, but it is all the time. In fact, one of the main things that happens at the end of life right now with families is that loved one dies and they say, what do I do now?


They don’t even know what to do and I totally understand that. And they usually immediately jump to call the funeral home, which by the way can come in, it can come in about 15 minutes if they don’t have another call and whisk that body away and we don’t even know what happened. It happened so quickly and we will never get this opportunity back again. So we want to slow everything down and I’m going to say right now that many things are happening so very quickly that we’re running on adrenaline and shock or in fight or flight and our loved one is having their end of life and we’re trying to put it all together and trying to learn. And then that loved one dies and it almost could be like an outof body experience, this whole thing. And so we want to stop and make sure we’re stopping and we are taking this in.


Ideally, we should have our loved one have shared what their after death plan, what they want. That’s not always the case that we don’t have that time. But if we talk about this subject ahead of time, if we again get really in our, have a responsibility as individuals to ourselves and to our families to make sure they know what we would want or not want at the end of life, and then of course how we put things in place that can support them in doing that like education and different things like that. But this is for you to choose what you want at the time of death. So picture that sacred vigil period where the body’s shutting down. Hopefully your loved ones have taken the course of doula givers free level one training. They know how to set a sacred space. They know how to use battery operated candles and the dimm lighting of that and the back soft background music and talking softly and gentle touch and all the things that can create this beautiful sacred environment.


And then we have our end of life where we stop breathing and our body, this beautiful gifted temporary housing as I like to call it, that we’ve been gifted to have this human experience with dies. It’s at the end of its journey. We continue on. Our being part of us continues on, but the body has now died. What do you want at that moment? What is critically important in this moment is to slow down and take it all in because usually we haven’t been present in our bodies up until that point. I’m speaking of the family and for their grief and bereavement. It has been proven and studied that this immediate time after somebody dies this critical to almost like an imprinting of how this grief and bereavement is going to go, what happens in the next few hours after that person dies is actually going to affect their whole grief and bereavement.


They’ve studied this. So taking this time in doing, and I would always say that, and this is a life skill as well, don’t underestimate the power of silence, the power of stillness, the power of just being. So you want to be, we don’t have to do, we’re humans doing when we forget about humans being and in this moment, be present, be in your heart, just be stop doing. Slow it down. Allow your mind to concretely take in the fact that your loved one’s body now has died and there’s something that they talk about the brain, seeing that body not alive, but feeling your loved one. And I’m going to tell you what I think is happening here and why this is such a very viable, healthy, important moment these hours and how it really impacts healthy grief and bereavement. This is what I believe because I’ve been honored to be in so many end of life experiences and I’ve felt this myself.


When you’re in an end of life, when it’s that space where the human experience meets the afterlife, meets heaven, whatever your belief system is, that higher frequency time is you and I know it disappears. I have been part of end of life’s and I’ve been part of education where we go so deep in the present moment and the learning and the high frequency and the expansion of our minds that I’ve literally forgotten what day it is, what time it is. Everything that we know in the clock time disappears. And there is a connected feeling that you feel there is a presence that you feel there is a peace that you feel that is greater than anything you’ve ever known. And that’s why once again when I say that death is our greatest teacher about how we live about everything and the fact that we’ve removed it, it’s the number one fear in our world.


But the fact that we’ve removed it, we don’t talk about it, we don’t educate on it, we don’t share the stories. First of all, from a practical standpoint, how can it go well, which it’s not. But from a high perspective, wisdom being part of it that teaches you that we are so much more than most of us understand that we are so much more than this human part of us that has five senses. There is a being part of us. There is a non-physical part of us that is connected to all and everything. And I know that you’ve known this, I know that you’ve felt this at times. You felt that moment of bliss, that moment of awe, that moment of where you have divine guidance, that spiritual guidance that drops in and tells you you should do this or go this way, and you’re like, wow, that feels so right and expansive and peaceful.


And yet then our mental human mind comes in and starts telling you 20 different reasons why that doesn’t make sense and won’t work. And we shut it down and we stay so small and stuck. If we learn to trust in the fact that we have a non-physical part of us, our higher wisdom, our being part that is connected to all that is always loving, that is always steering us in the right direction. Your life would completely change if you just stepped out on faith and trusted that. And so when we are in the space of our loved one die and when they have died and when we are in a state of stillness and presence and being, and we can see, our minds can see that that body’s not breathing anymore, that body has died, but we feel their love and their omnipresence almost stronger now than we ever had.


There’s something that solidifies in you and heals you and lets you know that we never die. That that loved one’s love, that energy of love that they are will never go away. In fact, it’s stronger now than ever. So there’s something again that is in this space whether we are really conscious of it or not, that completely sets the tone for your entire grief and bereavement attached to the loved one dying, but even so much greater. So what do you want your loved ones to do? And again, this is about you. So what I want to say is the most loving thing we can do for somebody at the end of life is support what they would want, uphold their choices. And it might be very different than what you would want, but maybe not as we expand and explore and go down this beautiful path.


But for now, the most important thing is if your mom says that she wants to stay at home and actually even have a home wake, we need to do that for her. And if she wants to stay at home and have people come to the home to honor, to sing, to tell stories, to rejoice her life, then that’s what we need to do. Now we’re going to talk about the difference between keeping somebody at home for a few hours and having a home wake choice and how you can achieve both. This is what you need to know, is that who? I want to ask you a question. Who legally owns the dead? Who legally owns your dead? You do. You do by law. You own your loved one that no one has the right to tell you what to do with that loved one when they die.


That in every single state in the US up to 24 hours minimum up to 24 hours minimum some three days without any special permits or anything, you are able to keep your loved one at home and care for them and tend to them and love them and bathe them and just love on them without a permit or special permission. You have this right? So I will say at a bare minimum, choose that and let’s use ourselves in first person because we are the progressive ones that are learning about end of life and we’re going to share this with our families. Choose what you want. But at a minimum, let your families know that you want to be kept home for let’s just say six hours minimum. You can do more. And I’m going to tell you that second option and how we can best support our families in making that happen.


But say, you know what, when I die, I want you to be present. I want you to share stories of how I touched your life. I want you to play music or do readings or just sit with me and expand your heart and feel my love. You can make this however you want. Now, that’s a minimum before you call the funeral home. Now I want to go into a bigger choice of having a home wake. What would that entail? Well, first of all, you need to know that if you’re going to have a home wake, that it really does depend on where the location of where you’re living and then what season it is. Because if it’s hot, hot summer in Florida and I want to have a home wake with a couple of days, you need to take this measures and steps to cool to have that body cooled.


And so what I’m going to advise for you to do if that’s your choice, is to make sure that you know the home funeral guide that is in your location. And you can even find these things out ahead of time. You can even have them on speed dial and find them out ahead of time because I don’t want my family to feel that they have to figure it all out and put the pressure on them. I want to say, this is what I want. These are the people that I have chosen that I love that are going to come in and do the ceremony, do all the logistics. You don’t have to worry about any of that, and that’s what you should do if you choose that. And they’ve done this. So home funeral guys are wonderful. They know the laws in your state. They know how to cool the body.


They know everything to help you loved ones and families through this maybe new for the very first time and probably is experience, but they also know the benefits that this has. So there’s something about three days having people have three day home wakes that really has people go from a state of sadness and accepting that their loved one has died to almost a state of bliss and exuberance when done well of the celebration of love and light and what happens there. In fact, I want to tell you a story about this experience with having a home wake with a unexpected traumatic death. Now we’re talking about us planning on it, but there is, and I just want to show you how this is so powerful to do. So, there’s a documentary called In The Parlor that is so wonderful and there was a 17-year-old boy Jared who had a motorcycle accident and he died and he was such a beloved person in his community by everyone and his family decided to bring him home and have a home wake.


And as you can imagine, deep sorrow, pain, overwhelming sadness in that three days that they orchestrated a beautiful home wake, that deep sadness went to jubilation of celebrating his life of it’s almost inexplicable how you can conceive the shift in the one day to the third day. But it happens and they talk about it. And again, they were rejoicing and celebrating his body and his life and feeling his presence. And so that’s what I talk about as well. So there’s something that’s critically important here on so many levels for you to choose, and I’m never telling you what you have to choose or what you should choose, but I want you to make educated subjective choices for yourself. I’m also going to tell you the choices and the pros and cons of each. This moment of staying home, even if it’s for a few hours, can dramatically change your loved one’s grief and bereavement.


And of course we want that for them. So choose what you want, letting your family know what you want to happen at the immediate time of end of life. And why is this important? This is your journey. Your loved ones and families are here to support you with what you want. And slowing down and taking in this moment directly helps with grief and bereavement from this point forward. So these are the questions that you should be answering for an after death plan. How long do you want to stay at home? It’s your choice. If you choose that you want to have a three day home wake, then you need to make sure that your family’s supported in how to do that properly. Talk to them about that. Make sure they know what that entails. Find your home funeral guide. Get the information, discuss it. Once we start talking about things, it takes all the fear out of it and turns it into just an incredibly empowering, beautiful journey. Do you want special stories or readings? Do you want them to look through the photo albums of your life? Have you put together and hear me out? Have you put together something special for them to read at this point?


Imagine this. You had your body have its end of life and your loved ones are around at this moment and they open up what I call a love letter from you and they read it in first person from you to them addressing them at this moment. How powerful is that? It’s very powerful. So do you have special stories, readings, pictures you want them to share, things you want to say to them at this moment? Who do you want to wash and dress your body? This could be something so important for you to choose. You maybe don’t want your adult son to be doing that. Maybe he’s not comfortable with it. You shouldn’t have anyone doing anything that they’re not comfortable with. But who do you want to do that? How long would you like to be kept at home after your death? Again, we can keep people at home for up to three days, up to 24 hours without special permission in every state.


Some states might need a little bit different, but again, you have to be mindful of what is the temperature? Where are you? Because things need to be put in place in hot weather to cool body and for length of time is there a plan in place? Let’s put that plan in place. Check with the National Home Funeral Alliance for State Regulations and a guide. They are a wonderful resource. They have home funeral guides. They have lots of information and they actually have information for every single state in the United States for what is allowed, what you need to put in place to have people have a home wake and funeral. Now, by the way, it’s called a home funeral. It does not mean that you’re being buried in the backyard. It means that you’re staying home for the viewing and that life celebration. But here’s the thing, there are certain places that with permission that people can be buried on property.


It usually, again, if you have a lot of property, it has to be a certain distance from a road. You have to disclose that if you’re going to sell the home, all of those type things. But when people say home funeral, it really means the home wake. And you want to add in anything else that you want. Do you want your pets to be there? And again, I would really empower you to do something special or think about doing something special for your loved ones. At this point, if you’re going to ask them to keep you at home and to do certain things, I would ask you to write them a special letter and to have something special that they can open up at this moment that can create such an incredible sacred experience. The second choice that you want for an after death plan is you want to make sure that your families know where you want to be laid to rest, which is called disposition.


What do you want to happen to this beautiful vehicle that you’ve been gifted? Now we have lots of new choices and they’re amazing and they’re environmentally friendly and they’re economically friendly. And I think personally it’s such a great thing when we have choices that we can make that after we die, have a positive impact on the planet. So you want to know what your choices are. You want to know the pros and cons of them, and you want to make a subjective decision for you. So what do you want to have happen to your body after you die? Why is this important? There are several choices available today, many of which are environmentally and financially and spiritually friendly. So take your time to choose the options best for you. See all of them. So I just want to highlight a doula giver Pearl here. We don’t have to spend a lot of money to honor our loved ones.


And I hear this all the time, is that end of life showed up. We didn’t know what to do. We were scrambling, the person died. And so we poured all this money into deluxe caskets and different things like that because we’re really trying to find an outlet for our pain. We’re really trying to find an outlet for our grief. We’re really trying to find an outlet for the rush of the whole process that we didn’t know what to do and now and what we couldn’t control. And now we’re pouring it into this. And many people have said, oh, they wish they didn’t make those choices. You do not have to spend a lot of money to honor your loved one. So the green choices that we have, there are water cremations that have come about that are probably one of the best options environmentally for us.


It mimics the natural way that the body decomposes, but it speeds it up. And for me as a practitioner doing this for a very long time, I’m very concerned about, first of all, obviously the toxic embalming and non biodegradable caskets that we’re putting into Mother Earth. But the equally is such, maybe not equally, but still a concern, is that putting even natural burials, even in shrouds, we’re running out of room of the earth. We have so many people that are heading into the aging and end of life that we have to be mindful of that fire cremation is known to be one of the predominant choices that people are picking, thinking it’s a better option and it is a better option than embalming and inputting in non biodegradable caskets. However, fire cremation has a very intense impact on the ozone and the environment. So we just need to know our choices. Obviously if there’s religion, religious and cultural reasons to do certain things, of course we support that. And there’s no right or wrong. We just really want to be aware of what’s available. So now you have natural burial, you have water cremations, and you have human composting. That is something that is again, environmentally green, what I call dying to be green. And then a third choice for after death plan is what do you want for your life celebration and your honoring or memorial.


You want to tell your families the way that I choose that I want you to celebrate my life and I’m using myself. Celebrate the time we had together. Celebrate the love, the stories. Why is it important? Death used to be revered as a sacred rite of passage. This is a celebration of that transition. What if we changed our perception and perspective to our relationship with death to one of not being final, but to being a graduation, A graduation into our full being presence, which it is. I have no doubt in that. That’s my belief. And there’s no doubt in my mind that that’s what it is. But stay with me on this. What if we change the perception globally of death being the number one fear and something that we perceive final to being revered? And again, a sacred passage and one of congratulations, it’s a graduation.


They did it. They’re in their being, their beautiful being state. Wow, that would be and is. That will be amazing. We’re getting there. Not saying it’s not hard. We know it’s hard. So what can you do? Know your choices and choose everything and anything that you want for your life. Celebration. Where do you want it to be? What food? What music? Guest list, eulogy. Should it be done in first person? You can write yours in first person. I have to tell you, when I was doing this, and I do this work a lot and I think a lot about it, obviously when I was doing my new, because we have doula givers has a new nine choice document, advanced directive. It was so empowering and exciting to set the whole stage of the celebration and supporting my family and paying for everything ahead of time and just having people show up.


So add in anything, make this unique subjective to you and add in anything else that you would want and ongoing honoring. I just want you to think about if you want your families to celebrate you on a regular basis. Because right now in the United States especially, what we do is we give families usually two weeks of after somebody dies, they get two weeks maybe if that, and then they’re supposed to be over it. You’re supposed to get over that. End it. It’s over. Don’t look at it again. Don’t think about it Again, that’s not how grief works. We will never forget those we love that have been in our lives, the relationship with the attachment of that end of life changes, but we’ll never forget them, nor should we because the love is always going to be here. So do you want, and I want you to hear this, I think about should death be our second birthday?


Should death the day of our death be a second birthday? And on that second birthday, can our families celebrate our birthday, our second birthday every year in celebration, again in the graduation, in the supporting and loving the fact that I am in my pure being state and remembering all the love and the relationship that we have that’s always going to be there. So these are things that again, change our perception to the whole relationship we have right now with end of life and making it a beautiful one. This is your choice. Do you want them to celebrate you on your second birthday? Do you want them to celebrate you on your first birthday? Whatever you want, you can have and maybe share with your loved ones how you want them to do that. Do they want to get together and have your favorite meal? It can be anything you want, but I do think that it’s important to have something on an annual basis because it keeps that love, that bond, that strength, and it gives us container for when we miss those we love.


It gives us a container to connect and to celebrate them. And it’s that container that’s missing today that’s creating this stuck, intense grief that doesn’t need to be there. So I just want to share with you how important it is that you have so many choices and how important an after death plan is, and the main things that you need to choose for you to have that after death plan to share with your family. So again, it can be the most positive experience, not just for you, but for them. I want to thank you so much for being here. Please if you haven’t already register for the Level One End of Life doula Family Caregiver training. It’s going to teach you how to care for someone you love in all three phases, the interventions to use, and it is proven to be healing, empowering, and to change end of life for so many people. And of course, I ask you to share this with those that you love and your friends. This is how we change end of life for every single person in the world. The link is below. So plus, press the link and I will see you in class. And again, thank you so much for being here with this episode of Ask a Death Doula. My name is Susan O’Brien. I’ll see you in the next episode. Thanks everybody.

Speaker 2 (35:34):

Thank you so much for being part of Ask a Death dela podcast. Please remember that everyone everywhere has the ability to have the good death with the right education, kindness, and support. See you in the next episode.


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