Ep. 350 Meeting the End-of-Life Needs of Your Community with Elizabeth Johnson and Erin Collins RN

Learn how this non-profit organization is working to solve gaps in end-of-life care in their community.

My guests Elizabeth Johnson and Erin Collins are the founders and creators of the non-profit Peaceful Presence Project with a mission of helping communities live well, age well and die well by reimagining the way we talk about, plan for and experience the last stage of life. They have created Endnotes, a roadmap for end-of-life planning an will discuss the genesis of their organization and how they take a community-based approach in their work by meeting the gaps that exist in end-of-life care. Learn more at their website:

www.the peacefulpresenceproject.com

Listen here:

This episode includes:

  • How Elizabeth and Erin were inspired to start this organization
  • The Compassionate Communities model of care that informs their work
  • The importance of integrating palliative care into daily life
  • How to reclaim deathcare as a social event with a medical component
  • Surveying the community for strengths and weaknesses around end-of-life issues to determine areas of need
  • Thoughts on improving the medical model to move from a curative focus to a healing focus by increasing education around palliative and end-of-life care
  • Reasons why our advance care planning has not been “successful” so far
  • High quality conversations about EOL choices are essential and they should start outside of healthcare first
  • Why advance care planning is important for those experiencing homelessness
  • The needs for increased access to palliative care in rural communities
  • Exploring who is too poor to die well

Links mentioned in this episode:

If you enjoy this content please share it with others and consider leaving a review on iTunes. Thanks again to all supporters on my page at Patreon.com/eolu! Your contributions make all the difference.


Ep. 349 Why My Family Chose Hospice with Kathleen Vallee Stein

Learn about the hospice experience from the perspective of a family member.

My guest Kathleen Vallee Stein worked for the California Department of Aging and has written numerous articles on caring for aging patents for more than twenty years. Her work has been published in the Christian Science Monitor, Los Angeles Times, Los Angeles Daily News, Pasadena Star-News, Orange County Register, and the Jewish Journal. Recently she has written a book about her family’s experiences as her father faced the end of life called Loving Choices, Peaceful Passing: Why My Family Chose Hospice, and today she’ll share insights from that hospice journey with her father. Learn more at her website:


Listen here:

This episode includes:

  • How her family made the decision to choose hospice for her father
  • The challenges of having conversations about hospice with a loved one at the end of life
  • How the family had to bring up hospice with the doctor initially but he was helpful after that point
  • The relief experienced by the entire family and the patient once they made the decision to stop curative treatment and to enroll in hospice
  • Negative misperceptions about hospice are an obstacle to early admission
  • How her father’s temperament changed for the better after going on hospice
  • Why Kathleen hired in-home professional caregivers even though her parents were initially opposed to it
  • How they managed their parents’ financial issues as a family
  • Dealing with old family conflicts that arise at the end of life
  • How the hospice chaplain made a big difference for her father
  • The many positive surprises that arose during her father’s end of life
  • How they planned the funeral and made decisions about disposition
  • How she and her mother grew closer through the challenges of caring for her father at the end of life
  • Advice to those considering hospice for a loved one
  • Hope and “precious time” with her father in his last days

Links mentioned in this episode:

If you enjoy this content please share it with others and consider leaving a review on iTunes. Thanks again to all supporters on my page at Patreon.com/eolu! Your contributions make all the difference.


Ep. 348 My Living Obituary: Legacy Therapy at the End of Life with Maggie Gannon and Heidi Connolly

Learn about a new platform that helps people create their own obituary or legacy project to benefit their loved ones after death.

My guests are Maggie Gannon, an Adult Gerontology Clinical Nurse Specialist who started My Living Obituary, and Heidi Connolly, an author, musician and intuitive coach who helps people write their obituaries. Maggie created My Living Obituary to help palliative care and hospice teams increase quality of life and improve patient experience. Heidi helps people using the platform craft their own stories to leave behind as a legacy for their loved ones. Learn more about their work at these websites:

Maggie: www.mylivingobituary.com

Heidi: www.theobitwriter.net and www.heidiconnolly.com

Listen here:

This episode includes:

  • The evidence behind legacy therapy to enhance dignity at the end of life based on research by Dr. Harvey Chochinov
  • How telling our life story helps us find meaning in our existence
  • Legacy therapy helps improve quality of life and decrease depression for patients
  • Studies have shown that family members benefit from legacy therapy as well
  • Listening to patients’ stories has been shown to increase their sense of worth and value
  • How the legacy therapy platform can be incorporated into the intake process for patients and used to measure quality of life and bill for advance care planning
  • Tips for writing an obituary:
    • Just get started
    • You don’t have to be a good writer
    • Make lists of characteristics, preferences, stories
    • Find a good “hook” for the story
    • Include poems, music, videos
  • The benefits of having a guide and a platform to help people craft an obituary
  • Creating your own living obituary before you die helps unburden loved ones at the time of your death
  • How this platform allows unlimited space for obituaries, unlike newspaper obituaries
  • How clinical staff can use the platform to enroll new patients and assist them with the life review questions

Links mentioned in this episode:

If you enjoy this content please share it with others and consider leaving a review on iTunes. Thanks again to all supporters on my page at Patreon.com/eolu! Your contributions make all the difference.


Ep. 347 The Global Palliative Care Movement with Katherine Pettus

Learn about the status of palliative care in developing nations around the world and how IAHPC is working to increase global access.

My guest Katherine Pettus is the Senior Advocacy Director for The International Association for Hospice and Palliative Care. In this role she meets with delegates at the United Nations to increase the understanding of palliative care and to advocate for improved availability of opioids for patients needing pain relief. She is the author of Global Palliative Care: Reports from the Peripheries, which describes her visits to communities around the world to witness firsthand their utilization of palliative care. Learn more about the work of IAHPC at the website:


Listen here:

This episode includes:

  • Why 80% of the world’s population has no access to morphine
  • How Hospice Africa Uganda is utilizing powdered morphine for pain relief and also allows nurses to prescribe it in the field
  • Why palliative care teams are good at “sideways thinking” to solve problems that arrive in the moment
  • How caregiving is a crisis everywhere in the world right now (except Costa Rica that provides support for family caregivers)
  • Why the extended family is becoming a myth in developing nations
  • What is the “health poverty trap” and how lack of access to palliative care contributes to it
  • How the Western model of medicalized death is spreading to developing nations
  • Expanding palliative care helps medical systems and medical providers as well
  • How a “palliative care peace corps” could transform society
  • How COVID has affected the global palliative care movement

Palliative Care transforms everyone who participates in it.” 

Katherine Pettus in Global Palliative Care: Reports from the Peripheries

Links mentioned in this episode:

If you enjoy this content please share it with others and consider leaving a review on iTunes. Thanks again to all supporters on my page at Patreon.com/eolu! Your contributions make all the difference.


What My Hospice Patients Want You to Know

The everyday wisdom of people just like you who are facing their own mortality.

As a hospice doctor I have had the privilege throughout my medical career of sitting at the bedsides of hundreds of patients. I have listened to their stories, answered their questions and shared their concerns as they faced the gradual decline that occurs at the end of life. 

But I also asked questions of my own as we sat together over those final days. Always a willing student, I viewed my patients as teachers who have explored unknown territory that I too will some day experience. Over and over again I have discovered gems of priceless wisdom in the words of the dying and have learned valuable lessons for living my own life. 

Many patients asked me to share this knowledge with the world since they are no longer here to tell their own stories. This request led to the book  7 Lessons for Living from the Dying, where I compiled those stories into a framework for living well before we die. That book contains profound spiritual wisdom but here is some of the simple everyday advice my patients also asked me to share:

“What seems important now doesn’t matter in the end.”

Many of my patients discovered at the very end of life that they didn’t care at all about the material possessions or wealth they had accumulated earlier in life. In fact they felt they had wasted time and energy trying to have more “things” in their lives and wished instead that they had focused on relationships and experiences, like travel and time in nature.

“Don’t worry so much about diet and exercise.”

Believing they would live longer and healthier lives, some of my patients had been very strict about eating the “right” foods and staying fit. But when they got sick anyway in their later years they felt they had cheated themselves out of some of life’s pleasures. “Exercise and eat to feel good” they recommended, but enjoy the foods you love and take plenty of time to relax, rest and have fun.

“Your doctor doesn’t have all the answers for you.”

During the early stages of illness many patients believed that modern medicine would cure them. They pursued treatment after treatment and followed medical advice to the tee, but instead of a cure they got severe side effects and complications. These patients wished they had spent less time relying on doctors and more time learning to trust their own judgment.

“Your life’s purpose isn’t what you think it is.”

Finding meaning and purpose in life is one of the great challenges of our human existence. We spend our lives seeking out the “right” occupation that will allow us to achieve both success and fulfillment. But some of my patients recognized that their life’s purpose was much simpler and smaller than they had assumed, such as being a thoughtful neighbor, planting a garden or caring for a pet. Pay as much attention to the simple things of life as you do to your efforts to climb the career ladder.

“Religion is less important than learning how to love others.”

Some of my patients had been devoutly religious throughout their lives but began to see that path as limiting when they faced their last days. They stopped identifying themselves as part of one group or another and saw instead that we are all connected and all deserving of love. In fact, they said that loving others was the most important task of their lives.

“Dying isn’t as scary as you think.”

Many patients were surprised that they no longer felt afraid of death as they got closer to it. They expressed curiosity about the dying process and were able to watch it unfold without fear. One patient told me she was “dissolving” a little bit each day and turning into light, which she described as a wonderful experience. “Don’t waste your time and energy being afraid of death,” she said, “instead … enjoy being alive!”

“You’re going to die anyway so you might as well be ready.”

The fact that death comes for each of us no matter what we do was one of the common bits of wisdom from my patients. Many of them wished they had started preparing for it earlier in life and those who had planned ahead for death were at peace and filled with gratitude. It’s never too early to tell people you love them, to practice forgiveness, and to find joy in the simple things in life.

While not everyone experiences peace or love through the process of dying, I found that those people who were open to it and ready to let go had by far the fewest difficulties at the end of life. Whatever you do to prepare for your later days will benefit you in the end so it’s worthwhile to start thinking about it now.

Remember: death is the one life experience that all living things have in common. Indeed, even stars and planets eventually die. Why not embrace it and follow the wise advice of my hospice patients? A life well-lived leads to a death without regrets … and that’s worth planning for.

Learn more about how to get ready for the last days of life at www.eoluniversity.com with Dr. Karen Wyatt.


Ep. 346 Settling Estate Issues After the Death of a Loved One with Matthew Van Drimmelen

Learn how common it is for people to have complicated financial issues to deal with after the death of a loved one and how this company can help.

My guest Matthew Van Drimmelen is the owner and founder of Full-Circle Aftercare, a company he created to help people deal with the stress and worry of settling estate issues after the death of a loved one. He shares some of the major issues families need help with after death and how they work with funeral homes and hospices to offer their services. Learn more at the website:


Listen here:

This episode includes:

  • How this company works with families to help them tie up loose ends
  • The “hidden surprises” families sometimes overlook when trying to settle an estate
  • How Matt’s staff does investigative work to help families sort out the financial, insurance, property, tax, investment, and retirement accounts of their loved ones
  • Why these services are necessary even when the family has an estate attorney
  • How the company creates step-by-step plans to help survivors get back on their feet after a death
  • Why it matters how and when you notify financial institutions about a loved one’s death
  • Why fraud protection may be necessary after a death occurs
  • The difference between power of attorney and executorship and why it matters
  • The challenges of settling estate issues faced by people who are grieving
  • Why helping people with these after-death issues is gratifying and helps prevent grief overload in this work
  • What we should be doing now to make things easier for our loved ones after we die

Links mentioned in this episode:

If you enjoy this content please share it with others and consider leaving a review on iTunes. Thanks again to all supporters on my page at Patreon.com/eolu, especially my patrons Sherrill Shimek for updating your pledge! Your contributions make all the difference.


Ep. 345 Grief Coach: How Text-Based Support Can Help with Grief with Emma Payne

Learn how personalized text messages can help with the grief process for the bereaved and their support persons.

My guest Emma Payne is a seasoned entrepreneur and MIT graduate who is the founder and CEO of Grief Coach, a company that provides meaningful support to those who are experiencing loss and bereavement. She shares how Grief Coach offers personalized text messages to people who are grieving and to their support persons and why it is so effective. Learn more at the website:


Listen here:

This episode includes:

  • What inspired Emma to create Grief Coach
  • Our society lacks education about grief, particularly in challenging situations
  • How Grief Coach works
  • What types of loss and grief are supported through Grief Coach
  • What changes occurred for Grief Coach as a result of the pandemic
  • Sources for the tips and suggestions that are provided by text message
  • Research behind text-based grief support and why it is effective
  • How Grief Coach includes supporters of the bereaved in their messages
  • How Grief Coach works with hospices to offer benefits to their bereavement programs
  • How Grief Coach also helps clinicians manage end-of-life situations and deal with their own grief on the job
  • Grief Coach can be given as a gift to a bereaved person

Links mentioned in this episode:

If you enjoy this content please share it with others and consider leaving a review on iTunes. Thanks again to all supporters on my page at Patreon.com/eolu, especially my newest patrons Morgan Rakay and Patti Stueland! Your contributions make all the difference.


Ep. 344 Tools for Caregivers to Manage Stress and Increase Joy with Roger Moore

Learn some quick and easy stress management tools to improve health and joy during challenging times.

My guest Roger Moore is a certified hypnotherapist who helps people at the end of life with anxiety, depression, pain and other symptoms. His latest book Becoming the Greatest Expression of You contains tips and practices for overcoming the shame and fear of the past to live life more joyfully now. He discusses how these stress-reducing practices might help caregivers stay healthier as they offer care and support to their loved ones. These suggestions are also perfect for all of us as we navigate the stresses of life. Learn more at Roger’s websites:


Listen here:

This episode includes:

  • How we can rewire the brain even until the moment we die
  • How to experience joy even during times of pain and difficulty
  • When we are able to recognize the presence of stress in our bodies we can more easily shift out of it into a state of joy
  • How laughter can change an entire day
  • Using a practice of “mental rehearsal” to envision things going well instead of badly
  • How caregivers can learn to ask for help from others
  • Simple tips for using meditation to help with stress
  • The importance of practicing gratitude every day
  • How to use self-forgiveness to move past blame and shame when things go wrong

Links mentioned in this episode:

If you enjoy this content please share it with others and consider leaving a review on iTunes. Thanks again to all supporters on my page at Patreon.com/eolu! Your contributions make all the difference.


Ep. 343 When My Time Comes: Conversations About Medical Aid in Dying with Diane Rehm

Hear award-winning journalist Diane Rehm discuss what she learned about Medical Aid in Dying through conversations with people both for and against these laws.

My special guest Diane Rehm was the host of The Diane Rehm Show on WAMU and NPR for nearly 40 years with a weekly on-air audience of more than 2.8 million people. She is the author of 5 best-selling autobiographical book including her latest When My Time Comes: Conversations About Whether Those Who Are Dying Should Have the Right to Determine When Life Should End. She shares her experiences traveling the country and interviewing people about medical aid in dying for the book and the documentary film by the same name. Learn more at these websites:



Listen here:

This episode includes:

  • Diane’s journey with her husband John at the end of his life
  • Why Diane was inspired to create the documentary (and later the book) When My Time Comes
  • How memories of Dr. Kevorkian may still create fear and negativity around this subject
  • Lack of joy in life is a more common reason for choosing MAID than physical pain
  • Why choosing MAID is different than suicide
  • Current facts about Medical Aid in Dying laws in the U.S.
  • Common arguments against these laws from religious and disability communities
  • Safeguards built into these laws to prevent abuse and coercion
  • Patients with Alzheimer’s and other dementias are not eligible for MAID
  • This option is not equally available to all groups of people across the country for multiple reasons
  • How Brittany Maynard’s story galvanized this movement
  • The goal is to allow choice for people at the end of life

Links mentioned in this episode:

If you enjoy this content please share it with others and consider leaving a review on iTunes. Thanks again to all supporters on my page at Patreon.com/eolu, especially my newest patrons Erica Sanchez and Kelly Bean! Your contributions make all the difference.


Ep. 342 The Grieving Brain: The Science of Love and Loss with Mary-Frances O’Connor PhD

Learn how the brain changes and learns in response to loss and grief.

My guest Dr. Mary-Frances O’Connor is an associate professor of psychology at the University of Arizona, where she directs the Grief, Loss and Social Stress (GLASS) Lab, which investigates the effects of grief on the brain and the body. She discusses her book The Grieving Brain that highlights her research on the changes that occur in the brain during the grief process and how we can go about restoring a meaningful life while grieving. Learn more at her website:


Get the book The Grieving Brain

Watch the video on YouTube

Read the transcript

Listen here:

This episode includes:

  • How the brain has to create a new “map” of reality after a loved one dies
  • Why the second year of grieving might be harder than the first
  • Why understanding the changes taking place in the brain can help us have more compassion for ourselves
  • How funeral rituals can be helpful for accepting the new reality that the brain must grasp
  • The difference between grief and grieving
  • How grief changes who you are and how you live in the world
  • Why guilt is a common emotion after a death
  • What is “complicated grief”
  • Why the experience of loss will continue to arise for us over and over again throughout life
  • What is the feeling of “yearning” and how does the brain contribute to it
  • Social connectedness is one of the most important coping skills for grieving
  • How to create an emotional “toolkit” that can help us cope with loss and grief (flexibility, presence, trying new experiences)
  • How grief can unite us and connect us with all of humanity

Links mentioned in this episode:

If you enjoy this content please share it with others and consider leaving a review on iTunes. Thanks again to all supporters on my page at Patreon.com/eolu, especially my newest patrons Christina Alleva and Teresa Putnam! Your contributions make all the difference.


Ep. 341 Burial at Sea and Other Sacred End-of-Life Rituals with Olivia Bareham

Learn about the beauty of full-body burial at sea and why it is becoming a more popular alternative.

My guest Olivia Bareham is a certified Death Midwife, Home Funeral Guide, Interfaith Minister and Funeral Celebrant. She is the founder of the Sacred Crossings Institute, which provides education for death midwifery and home funeral support and of the Sacred Crossings Funeral Home. Today she discusses full-body sea burials and other unique alternatives she offers at her funeral home. Learn more at the website:


Read the transcript here.

Listen here:

This episode includes:

  • How Olivia first became interested in home funerals
  • How Olivia is “paying forward” the mentoring she received as she was learning about home funerals
  • Death as a teacher and a gift
  • What inspired Olivia to start an alternative funeral home
  • What is full-body sea burial
  • How families and loved ones can participate in a sea burial
  • How to plan a full-body sea burial
  • Who might consider a sea burial for themselves or for a loved one
  • How Olivia facilitates rituals for families of ICU patients who are being taken off life support
  • How stillbirth services help parents with their overwhelming grief

Links mentioned in this episode:

  • Register for Q&A Session with William Peters on At Heaven’s Door here

If you enjoy this content please share it with others and consider leaving a review on iTunes. Thanks again to all supporters on my page at Patreon.com/eolu! Your contributions make all the difference.


Finding Meaning in a Broken Life

Focus on the goodness of life rather than the regrets to find healing.

Jody was just 36 years old when she found out her colon cancer was incurable. I came to her apartment for our first hospice visit and saw that she was depressed and despondent over her diagnosis—as I had expected for someone her age who was raising two children by herself. She told me story after story of all the regrets she was carrying. And I just listened.

Her life had been unimaginably difficult—in foster care for most of her childhood then finally adopted at age 12 by a wonderful couple who loved her dearly. But she had been so filled with rage she couldn’t receive their love. She experimented with drugs and alcohol and was in and out of juvenile detention for petty crimes throughout her teens. There had been other even deeper regrets, but she didn’t want to talk about them. 

Jody was angry and bitter, but also ashamed. She believed she had wasted her life and now her children would grow up without a mother. She asked if there was any way to speed up her dying process because she could no longer face all of the emotional pain that was coming to the surface. 

We talked about things she could do to help with grief for her children, like writing letters to them that they could open at various milestones throughout their lives. She liked the idea that she could make sure her children didn’t feel unwanted, which she had experienced for most of her life.

I wasn’t sure how we could help Jody heal from all of these regrets. There were so many broken threads in her life and so many pieces to help her put back together. But then a little miracle happened. On my next visit with Jody she was like a different person: joyful and filled with energy and laughter. And she had more stories to tell me. 

Jody’s adoptive sister had come for a weekend visit and had brought with her boxes of old photos and a scrapbook. The two of them spent hours each day going through the photos together and gluing them into the album as a keepsake for Jody’s children. They wrote little stories on the pages to explain the pictures, which were arranged in a chronological timeline of Jody’s life.

She showed me each of the pages and told me entirely different stories than I had heard on my previous visit. Here was a family trip to the beach when she was 16. There was her favorite Halloween costume. And look: she was all dressed up for senior prom. Then there were pages and pages of pictures of her with her children: playing games, reading books, opening Christmas gifts, laughing, hugging, eating—all the little moments of life.

Jody wiped a tear away and smiled at me with a radiance I hadn’t seen before. “I’ve had a good life,” she said. “And I’ve been a good mom.” 

Here in her hands were the photos that documented all of the goodness of her life. In comparison to the magnificence of these moments, her regrets had faded away. She found meaning in the memories captured in these photos and was able to weave the broken threads of her life into a beautiful tapestry that was uniquely hers. 

Jody died just two weeks later. But she had been able to go through the album with her children and tell them all the stories that were depicted there. And she managed to write each of them letters that they could open when they were older. They would know they were loved and that their lives mattered and that an angel would be watching over them for all of their days. 

For most of us—like Jody—life hands us a mixture of sorrows and joys. We can view it all through the lens of regret and wish that things had been different. But we can also find ways to pick up the broken pieces and put them together to create a work of art–the likes of which has never before been seen–that might just change the world.


Ep. 340 Caregiver Crisis: Meeting the Needs of the Future with Jessica Zitter MD

Learn about the current crisis in family caregiving and what you can do to help.

My guest Dr. Jessica Zitter is a specialist in Critical Care and Palliative Care medicine and the author of the book Extreme Measures: Finding a Better Path to the End of Life. Her work is featured in the documentary Extremis as well as her new film, Caregiver: A Love Story. Today she discusses the current crisis situation for family caregivers who are drastically overworked with little support. This is one of the most important topics we can address for the future! Learn more at these websites:



Read the transcript here. Watch video on YouTube

Listen here:

This episode includes:

  • What inspired Jessica to create Caregiver: A Love Story
  • How film is a compelling medium for encouraging people to change their behavior
  • How medical providers are often unaware of the stresses facing family caregivers
  • More people are now dying at home than in the hospital which means there is huge need for caregivers
  • 1 out of 5 Americans is caring for a loved one at home
  • The burden experienced by caregivers is physical, mental and financial
  • We need a workplace culture that supports caregivers
  • Family caregivers are providing billions of dollars of unpaid work for an average of 4.5 years
  • Hospitals and doctors are doing a poor job of preparing caregivers for the tasks they will face – The Care Act requires them to provide education (but it’s not happening)
  • Hospice staffs are also burdened by the caregiver crisis
  • We also need to build up and support professional paid caregivers

Links mentioned in this episode:

If you enjoy this content please share it with others and consider leaving a review on iTunes. Thanks again to all supporters on my page at Patreon.com/eolu! Your contributions make all the difference.


Ep. 339 Feng Shui for Hospice Patients with Char Tarashanti

Learn how paying attention to the small details of the surroundings can make a big difference in the wellbeing of hospice patients.

My guest Char Tarashanti is a retired Hospice Chaplain and Certified Feng Shui Consultant. She shares how the principles of Feng Shui can be applied to the care of hospice patients and improve the physical environment as well as the harmony and balance of the space. Her practical suggestions make it simple for any of us to create more pleasing and appealing surroundings for people at the end of life. Download her handout here:


Read Transcript

Listen here:

This episode includes:

  • What is Feng Shui
  • How death is viewed within the Feng Shui tradition
  • How Char became interested in Feng Shui and in hospice work
  • The benefits for patient and caregiver of creating a more harmonious space
  • The essential elements of Feng Shui and how to apply them to a hospice room
  • How to manage clutter and get better organized in a home hospice setting
  • The two most important features of Feng Shui for hospice patients
  • How caregivers should communicate about any changes being made in the home before beginning the process

If you enjoy this content please share it with others and consider leaving a review on iTunes. Thanks again to all supporters on my page at Patreon.com/eolu, especially my new patrons Aby Fy and Anne Janssen and to Richard Schneider for increasing your monthly pledge! Your contributions make all the difference.


Ep. 338 Ask Doctor Death: Tough Questions About Tough Topics with Terri Daniel and Karen Wyatt

Learn how Terri Daniel and I used our experiences with loss and grief to motivate the work we do today.

In this episode I’m featuring a conversation I had with the Rev. Dr. Terri Daniel on the Ask Doctor Death Podcast, of which I am an occasional co-host. Terri is the creator of the former Afterlife Awareness Conference and now the Conference on Death, Grief and Belief, which will be held July 2022 in Portland OR. We share a wide-ranging discussion that includes our own personal stories and our spiritual journeys, which have brought us where we are today. Learn more about Terri and the conference:



Download transcript here

Listen here:

This episode includes:

  • The grief experiences that brought each of us to do work focused on end-of-life issues
  • What it means to us to be spiritual but not religious
  • How we each have found meaning in suffering and grief (and why we wish everyone could)
  • How toxic theology can harm people at the end of life or during grief
  • What we disagree with about some contemporary advice given to those who are grieving (especially on social media)

If you enjoy this content please share it with others and consider leaving a review on iTunes. Thanks again to all supporters on my page at Patreon.com/eolu, especially my new patrons Monica Kaniewska and Katharina Mack! Your contributions make all the difference.


Don’t Focus on Regrets at the End of Life

Why it’s not helpful to ask dying people what they regret about their lives and what to do instead.

“Don’t waste your time in anger, regrets, worries, and grudges. Life is too short to be unhappy.” 

Roy T. Bennett

For some reason there’s been a buzz in the last few years about finding out what people on their deathbeds regret most about their lives. We hear this often: “they regret what they didn’t do more than things they did.” That’s fine to say and tends to be good advice for those of us who aren’t facing our last days. We can learn from their mistakes and pledge to live our own lives differently from now on.

In fact, research on regret as an emotional state has shown that it may be helpful for young people as a reminder to reconsider their current path and make better choices for the future. But when regret occurs in situations where there is no chance to change the current circumstances or make things better, it can cause chronic stress and do both physical and emotional harm. Individuals who feel they have no path forward can experience guilt, self-blame, disappointment and depression as a result of spending their time focusing on their regrets.

Regret sells

However as a society we are drawn to learning about the regrets of other people because we fear making mistakes or missing out on opportunities. We are eager to benefit from someone else’s suffering if it means we can avoid the same path for ourselves. Advertisers rely on our fears by using regret as a motivator to sell products, such as “this person didn’t buy from us and paid more money for worse service.” We don’t want to be the foolish person who regrets their choice so we pay attention to messages like that and we buy products, books and courses that teach us how to avoid these costly mistakes.

Not helpful at the end

There’s nothing really wrong with this tactic except when it applies to people who are nearing the end of life. Because they may not have time to repair the past or forge a new direction in the future, they have no opportunity to truly learn from their regrets. Placing their attention on the mistakes of their lives may lead them to despair and a feeling of worthlessness as they prepare for the end, especially if you are unable to guide them beyond their self-blame.

Do this instead

Instead of asking “what regrets do you have from the past” we would be better advised to ask “what are you grateful for in your life” or even “are there things left undone that you would still like to address.” If the person wants to talk about regrets it’s fine to go there, but it’s not helpful to introduce the topic to them if they’re not already thinking about it. Viewing life as a series of mistakes or regretful events is painful and creates a spiral of negativity. But we can help people avoid that downward spiral and lessen their distress by asking better questions.

Listen and find meaning

People at the end of life generally benefit greatly from doing a life review and being able to tell their stories in a safe setting. The art of being a good listener includes helping them find meaning, connection and resolution through their own stories without judgment or shame. To truly help a person find peace at the end of life focus on forgiveness, gratitude for what life has offered, self-compassion and letting go of self-blame. But don’t ask about regrets unless you know you can lead them out of that dark place to a higher, more healing perspective.


Ep. 337 The Hospice Doctor’s Widow: A Caregiver’s Journal with Jennifer O’Brien

Learn about a beautiful, artistic journal that explores the caregiver’s journey through dying and grief.

My guest this week is Jennifer O’Brien, author of the creative, gorgeous journal: The Hospice Doctor’s Widow. She discusses her journey as she cared for her husband who was a hospice and palliative care physician diagnosed with stage 4 cancer. We talk about grief and loss and caregiving in this intimate conversation. Learn more at her website:


Get the book here

Listen here:

This episode includes:

  • Why this book is ideal for caregivers and people dealing with grief
  • How Jennifer created the art for the book
  • How Jennifer incorporated her husband’s wisdom into the book
  • What is “Precious Time” and how did that inform the way she and Bob spent his last days of life together
  • Navigating anticipatory grief for caregivers
  • Why the patient and the caregiver are going through two different processes
  • Why the survivors’ journey can be more difficult than the patient’s journey
  • What is the Triad of Certainty
  • Advice for caregivers
  • The At Peace Toolkit – A Guide to Being at Peace with End of Life

‘Precious Time’ is when you say what you need to say and don’t say what you will later regret.”

from The Hospice Doctor’s Widow by Jennifer O’Brien
  • A Year of Reading Dangerously – Register here
  • Get the At Peace Toolkit from Jennifer here

If you enjoy this content please share it with others and consider leaving a review on iTunes. Thanks again to all supporters on my page at Patreon.com/eolu, especially my new patrons G. Thackrey and Mary Susan Graham! Your contributions make all the difference.


Love Never Dies

How a song about a meadowlark reconnected me to my father’s love across the vast and timeless universe.

We had just finished dinner with two old friends we hadn’t seen in years when they invited us to check out their music room. Inside we found a stereophile’s dream–massive speakers, a state-of-the-art turntable and an enviable collection of vinyl records. We sat on lush leather chairs in the center of the room while our host began to play the songs he had selected for the evening. The sound quality was amazing and the notes washed over me as I relaxed into reverie in my cozy chair.

He put an LP on the turntable by Kelley Hunt, an artist I’d never heard before, and not only did her soulful vocals sweep me away, but the words she sang penetrated directly to my heart. I burst into tears when I heard the opening verse:

I′ll be calling you when the meadowlark sings
I’ll be touching you with the warm spring rains
I′ll watch over you like the moon in the sky
For I know love never dies.

Instantly I was carried back in time to the day after my father’s funeral: I had visited his grave with my baby daughter in my arms, completely devastated by his suicide death. I sat on the ground and cried from deep in my gut, releasing all the pain I hadn’t yet been able to express. When my tears were finally exhausted and my sobbing ceased I began to hear the most beautiful sound. A meadowlark was perched on the nearby barbed wire fence that surrounded the cemetery and singing its pretty melody for me over and over again.

I realized then that the bird had been there the entire time, accompanying my weeping with his lovely song. He kept singing to me and didn’t move away, even when I moved closer. The fact that this bird was sitting vigil with me in my grief was significant because the meadowlark had figured prominently in my relationship with my father. When I was growing up we spent nearly every weekend fishing, hiking or picnicking out in the Wyoming countryside, and there always seemed to be a meadowlark present wherever we went. Dad would whistle the song perfectly as we stopped to listen for a response. And on my first trip back to our family cabin after Dad’s death, it was not a coincidence that I was greeted by a meadowlark singing on the deck. This nondescript bird with its haunting tune symbolized the unspoken bond between me and Dad–often shy and fleeting, but filled with love.

So on that special evening as I listened to Kelley Hunt singing those words that seemed to have been written just for me I marveled at the synchronicities of life. How a friend I hadn’t seen for years–who didn’t even know my story–had selected a song that reached into the core of my being and reconnected me to Dad’s love, healing old remnants of my grief and lifting me to a state of profound joy. Love never dies. In fact it radiates around and through us perpetually, connecting us to one another with unseen threads across time and space and all boundaries. I’ve known this and written about it over and over again ever since that day by Dad’s grave: love is what really matters. And Kelley wrote a song about a meadowlark singing and my friend and I discovered that we are connected to one another in our grief and to Kelley Hunt in our knowledge that love will always find us, wherever we are.

Though the winds may blow
And scatter all our faith and our hope
Only one thing really matters
And that's love ... that's love

Kelley Hunt: Love Never Dies

Ep. 336 Better Place Forests: Reimagining Cemeteries with Sandy Gibson

Learn why forests are the cemeteries of the future.

My guest Sandy Gibson is the co-founder and CEO of Better Place Forests, a sustainable alternative to traditional cemeteries for families who choose cremation. Sandy founded several companies and worked in finance and software before founding Better Place Forests. He shares how experiencing significant loss early in his life helped inspire him decide to reimagine cemeteries and make them good for the entire world. You’ll learn how you can find “your tree” and plan ahead for a sustainable, earth-friendly disposition after you die. Learn more about Better Place Forests at the website:


Listen here:

This episode includes:

  • How the idea for Better Place Forests came about.
  • Why it is important to reimagine cemeteries right now.
  • How Better Place Forests are intended to be places for families and communities to come together.
  • How the service works for those “at need” or those choosing a tree in advance.
  • What a “spreading ceremony” consists of
  • The importance of rituals at the end of life
  • Where Better Place Forests are located and may expand in the future
  • How Better Place is planting trees to offset the carbon footprint of fire cremation
  • Advice for people experiencing loss and grief at this time

If you enjoy this content please share it with others and consider leaving a review on iTunes. Thanks again to all supporters on my page at Patreon.com/eolu, especially my new patrons Louise O’Brien and Daraleen C. Shales! Your contributions make all the difference.


Ep. 335 Death Cafe: Cake, Coffee and Talking About Death with Megan Mooney

Learn about the Death Café movement and how and why to start a Death Café in your community.

My guest Megan Mooney has worked with Death Café since 2013, shortly after the movement was introduced to the US from London. She has experience in hospice and end-of-life research and currently works as the director of social services for a long-term care center. She runs a Death Café in St. Joseph, Missouri, is the Death Café lead for the US and is in charge of the international Death Café Facebook Page. We talk about the history of the movement and Megan shares stories from her experience as a Death Café facilitator. Learn more at the website:


Listen here:

This episode includes:

  • The history of Death Café
  • How the movement has grown over the past decade
  • What happens during a typical Death Café
  • What it takes to be a facilitator
  • Why we need more Death Cafés (in every community!)
  • How the Death Café community has navigated the sudden, unexpected death of founder Jon Underwood
  • How Death Café has survived the pandemic by shifting to virtual meetings
  • Why and how to start your own Death Café

Links mentioned in this episode:

If you enjoy this content please share it with others and consider leaving a review on iTunes. Thanks again to all supporters on my page at Patreon.com/eolu, especially my new patrons S. Robertson and Debi Weinstein! Your contributions make all the difference.