Judy MacDonald Johnston, creator of Good [End Of] Life, gave a powerful talk at the TED conference this year. It inspired us; we hope it inspires you.
Welcome to the Everplans Blog where we cover everything from Duck Dynasty to Death Over Dinner.
How much planning have you done? How does it compare to the amount of planning done on average in this country?
How does a funeral home advertise its services without being crass, creepy, or morbid? A Japanese funeral home, Nishinihon Tenrei, has tried (and succeeded, we think) by creating a beautiful ad featuring a skeleton made from pressed flowers. The agency that created the ad, I&S BBDO, wrote about the challenges of the project:
The March 11th earthquake and tsunami had a traumatic effect on Japan. Issues of life and death, hope and despair, beauty and tragedy became an all too real part of people's everyday lives.
These images are thoughtful, sensitive, and visually stunning. We'd love to see American funeral homes take a cue from this campaign and develop modern, compelling images that speak to death with this much grace.
In honor of Mother’s Day, I would like to share a tribute to my mother that I read in front of friends and family 3 ½ years ago at her funeral. I sat down to write this eulogy a couple weeks before my mother died. I was in a rocking chair next to her bed, keeping her company as she dozed. Initially, I thought this would be the hardest thing I would ever write. But the truth is, as I watched her sleep, I took comfort in knowing she was lost in a dream-world instead of plagued by her dark reality—and the words poured out of me like I too was lost in a world of dreams. Dreams that brought me back to the imaginary games we played when I was younger, hearing her cheer me on from the sidelines during my soccer games, secrets confided, lessons learned, I loves yous exchanged, her beaming pride, our best friendship, arguments that exhausted both of us, and the reconciliations that always brought us back together. And below you'll find the final result.
When I was little, my mother and I played a game before I went to sleep. The rules were simple. We would take turns saying that we loved each other more than something. For example, she would say, “I love you more than a soccer ball.” And then it was my turn. It was my task to return the sentiment by saying that I loved her more than something larger than a soccer ball. “I love you more than the kitchen table.” And so on. We would continue in this vein until the game was over by default with someone saying the magic words, “Well, I love you more than infinity!” When the game was over, we’d kiss goodnight, and I would sleep.
What I didn’t realize at the time was that my mother was teaching me about shapes and sizes and how to use my imagination. The game was about learning to comprehend the magnitude of my mother’s feelings for me as much as it was about being together and laughing about the goofy things we came up with—“I love you more than a tennis racket.” “Well, then I love you more than a gorilla.” And so forth.
My mom was a genius at finding games and activities I enjoyed that would teach me valuable lessons and important skills. I confronted the challenge of comprehending another enormity or type of magnitude later in my childhood when my father died. And again, my mother was there at every step along the way to make sure I was coping with the various emotional phases I went through during the process. For a while, the gravity of his death was too overwhelming and to try to contemplate what my mother went through too much. Years later, it still scared me, but I knew that I wanted to make sense of it and its effect on my mother. And then, when I was a little older, I figured it out. I felt pride.
How incredibly strong was she? Did I know anyone stronger? She never gave up; she put her entire being into raising me, providing for me and finding a home for us at Georgetown Day School where I could learn, grow and stretch as far as I could stretch.
And this is why, when my mother was sick and most concerned about how her willingness to fight would impact me, I tried several times to convince her that those lessons had already been taught, the wisdom imparted. But she continued to worry and concern herself mostly with how I would handle this—how I would move forward after this devastating loss. The toll it would take and the tears I would cry….
Over the last 10 months, I have grown accustomed to having a sick mother and while I was in shock for several weeks after her diagnosis, I learned to be her caretaker while I was in DC, her caretaker while I was in Philadelphia, and although I doubted my strength from the beginning, I learned to have a terminally ill mother, go to class, have fun with friends and live my life.
I am writing this before her death and know that my strength and her strength will get me through this. As my mother always said to me, it’s amazing how strong you can be when you have no other choice.
There are really no words to describe my closeness with my mother. I know this because the slow, agonizing decline of the disease forces even the most optimistic and hopeful to think about and plan for this day. And as such, you start thinking about what you might say during a time like this. And after unsuccessfully putting pen to paper several times, I realized that there really are no words.
There are only feelings, indescribable feelings. Feelings that make my heart burst and my whole being melt. Because my mother was my insides. She is my insides. My guts. My confidence. My bravery and my strength. My sensitivity, my compassion, my loyalty and even my laughter.
She was everything. She was my mother, and she was my father.
If I had to conjure up one life lesson that she would want me to carry for the rest of my life, it is this: Seek advice from others, but always trust myself. She believed in me, and she believed that I always knew what was best for me.
And if I had to conjure up a second lesson or personal desire of hers, it would be a plea for me to have a daughter—and for that daughter to play sports. I’m not sure Mom could’ve been any happier than when she was cheering from the sidelines at my soccer and lacrosse games.
I miss you, Mom. I will trust myself, Mom, and I will be fine. I love you more than infinity.
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everything your loved ones will need if something happens to you.
This Sunday, as is tradition in the United States on the second Sunday in May, children will celebrate their mothers with cards and flowers and drugstore chocolates—the single day of the year when mothers are supposed to be pampered and recognized for all that they do.
For many of us, the commercialism that has become the "holiday" that is essentially about respecting your mother seems more than a little absurd. If you're in this camp—offended by the price of carnations in May, repelled by a mimosa brunch, and someone who believes that mothers (and fathers...and all the people you love, for that matter) should be appreciated on more than just one day of the year—you're not alone. Anna Jarvis is with you.
In 1905, the mother of a woman named Anna Jarvis died, and the young Ms. Jarvis decided to create a holiday to remember her mother. As she saw it, her mother had done so much for her, and she wanted to carve out time for all Americans to remember their mothers, even after their mothers were gone. Only 9 years later, in 1914, President Woodrow Wilson declared Mother's Day a national holiday. And, as the story goes, it was all downhill from there.
When some infidels took it upon themselves to add a “happy” to the sentiment—as in “Happy Mother’s Day!”—Miss Jarvis threatened them with legal action. As far as Anna Jarvis was concerned, there was nothing “happy” about what had happened to a day intended for personal remembrance, and so she spent the rest of her life attempting to dismantle the institution she had created.
The true sentiment behind Mother's Day (which is, for the record, "Mother's Day" and not "Mothers' Day") is a good one. It's important to be thankful, to acknowledge the ways that others have helped us throughout our lives, and to mourn the people we've loved who are gone. This is not a call for an Anna Jarvis-style Mother's Day takeover. But it is a reminder that, behind all the commercialism, Mother's Day is a good reminder to appreciate those we love, not just on the second Sunday in May, but everyday.
An obituary that ran in a Portland, Oregon newspaper last week featured some unmistakably familiar names...
Margaret Groening is the mother of Matt Groening, creator of The Simpsons. Her family (or at least their names) clearly served as the inspiration for many of Springfield's most famous characters.
About a week before my mom died, she asked me not to leave her side. She was in a hospital cot next to her actual bed at home. I stayed with her, slept in her bed next to her cot at night, and would often lay my arm across the 12 inches of air space between us, letting my skin touch her skin so she knew I was there when she stopped talking and opening her eyes. But after several days of this, I got restless. I took breaks and watched episodes of LOST in the living room. I delayed my return to her bedroom. I took phone calls outside.
These moments spent away from my mother during her final days fill me with regret. What if she woke up and regained consciousness long enough to notice my absence? What if her last living memory was an empty room with no one by her side? When I start thinking like this, my mind feels like a dark, evil rabbit hole of regret that threatens to tear me apart.
I wish I had spent every last moment with my mother, and I wish I had read the eulogy I wrote to her before she died. We exchanged many I love yous while she was sick, but the eulogy I wrote captures everything she was to me and will always be—and that’s a lot more than an infinite number of I love yous could ever convey.
Several months after her death, I had a vivid dream. I dreamt that I was at my mother’s funeral, sitting several rows back. My mother was seated next to me in her nightgown. I looked at her and admitted my remorse about not sharing the eulogy with her when she was still alive. Her simple response was, “No, I didn’t need to hear it,” and she held my hand and turned her face to the rabbi up front. When I woke, it was clear as day to me that my subconscious was trying to soothe the pain of my regret. And acknowledging this made me feel better.
In a similar way, with the help of family and friends, I have learned to accept the fact that my mental health during my mother’s last days was just as important as supporting her while her physical health deteriorated. If an episode of LOST made it possible for me to return to her side, then an episode of LOST is what I needed. The rabbit hole of regret is still there, but I know how to spot it and step around it.
Whether we’re able to consciously or subconsciously reason away our regrets or not, it’s best to be prepared to experience them when we’re dealing with a loved one’s end of life. No matter what, there will be regrets. You’ll wish you had said one more I love you, or you’ll feel guilty about a recent argument. But perhaps if we think of regrets as lessons, instead of missed opportunities or poor decisions, we won’t feel overwhelmed by them.
Because of my regrets, I try to spend more time with family and make sure the people I love know that I love them. Because I didn’t read the eulogy to my mother before she died, I started a blog and am writing for Everplans to share my thoughts and feelings with anyone who wants to listen. In my view, a life of no regrets is a life without lessons learned. And that’s how I’ve come to peace with mine over time.
Two of Gretchen's "Twelve Personal Commandments" for happiness are "Do what ought to be done" and "Do it now." When it comes to planning for yourself and your family, these are two sage pieces of advice. Planning for the end of your life can be scary, both logistically and existentially. But making these preparations is one of the greatest gifts that you can give to your children, your spouse, and yourself. We'd like to echo Gretchen's Commandments. Click here to get started.
In the May issue of The Atlantic, Jonathan Rauch looks into the work of two doctors, Dr. Angelo Volandes and his wife Dr. Aretha Delight Davis, who are making a series of videos to help people make better end-of-life decisions. The videos are a response to what Dr. Volandes believes is "the most urgent issue facing America today...people getting medical interventions that, if they were more informed, they would not want."
As an unintended consequence of the advanced state of medical technology and the medical establishment's mandate to save lives, many people at the end of their lives are faced with a problem unique to our times: unwanted treatment. Rauch writes, "The U.S. medical system was built to treat anything that might be treatable, at any stage of life—even near the end, when there is no hope of a cure, and when the patient, if fully informed, might prefer quality time and relative normalcy to all-out intervention."
Though there are no statistics on the number of patients who receive unwanted treatment at the end of life, medical professionals seem to agree that because patients make healthcare decisions without being fully informed, many are receiving unwanted treatments as a default. But most doctors are not prepared or able enough communicators to speak with patients about their options.
And so, in response, Dr. Volandes and Dr. Davis are developing a tool to help patients and families make fully informed decisions around their medical care, and better communicate with their doctors. Their videos show patients with a variety of illnesses, and Dr. Davis explains what the most common treatment options are for the condition, and actually shows people receiving those treatments. Then she suggests that people have The Conversation: an open, honest talk with one's doctor about one's condition, the treatment options, and the benefits and risks or drawbacks of each treatment option.
Rauch describes The Conversation this way, in terms of his own father's care:
The momentum of medical maximalism should have slowed long enough for a doctor or a social worker to sit down with him and me to explain, patiently and in plain English, his condition and his treatment options, to learn what his goals were for the time he had left, and to establish how much and what kind of treatment he really desired.
With his video series, Dr. Volandes hopes to create a platform for true communication between doctors and patients. His goal is that, through systematizing The Conversation, more people will receive less unwanted treatment. Only with communication and The Conversation, and tools like Dr. Volandes' video series, can real change come to the medical establishment's default approach to treating patients at the end of life.