End-of-Life Activists Ponder How to Die in a Death-Averse Culture

End-of-Life Activists Ponder How to Die in a Death-Averse Culture

“People come to us, and oftentimes this is their very first experience with death, and there’s so much fear of the unknown,” says Sethi-Brown, who is also is a local musician, whose work includes playing for people transitioning and at Third Messenger events. “Sometimes, family members come to us and say, ‘We don’t want our loved one to know that they’re dying.’ We don’t practice it. There are some traditions around the world that actually have practices around death, meditations around death — just like if you’re birthing, you go to birth classes, read birth books, but [there’s] nothing to prepare you for death.”

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Going green when it's your time to go…..

Going green when it's your time to go…..

In Phase 2 of our End of Life Doula Certificate program, we work with 5 domains of life as a framework for discussing and potentially realizing end of life desires and wishes for those in our care.  One of the domains of like focuses on after death care.  Many individuals these days have a great interest in “going green” ….. we wanted to share this article about:  Going green when it's your time to go…..

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Rethinking the Bucket List

Kathleen Taylor is a Licensed Mental Health Counselor with over 20 years of experience in hospice, palliative care, and advance care planning. She currently operates a coaching and consulting practice primarily serving the healthcare, social service and nonprofit sectors. In her career, Kathleen has fostered communication within families, in conference rooms, and in communities. Her intention is to bring her skills and insight regarding clarity and authenticity to every interaction. Kathleen is based in Tampa Bay, FL.

The Gift of Offering Presence


Those who are called to the healing path of End of Life Doula know that they will see life and death in all its fullness in their service to those at end of life.  End of Life Doulas offer their presence in witnessing all of life's gifts and challenges, the suffering and the healing, the learning and the surrender.

Cultivating the skill of being present is a foundational practice in our End of Life Doula program.  And it's the worlds most versitile skill.  Offering one's precence is an incredible gift, in all circumstances.  It's not just for end of life care.  We resonated with this article from the New York Times, The Art of Presence.  It's a beautiful reminder that "most people need presence" and "non-verbal expressions of love are as healing as eloquence".  



Vancouver Phase 1 Student

First of all, I would like to thank you for the role that you have played in bringing this workshop on Conscious Dying.   It was the most profound workshop with highly conscious people, and therefore absolutely transformational.  I felt like I was in a bubble in the universe of like-minded people.  I bow to you for your commitment and thank you from the bottom of my heart for the role you are playing in elevating human consciousness.  MM

Vancouver Doula Student 2017

There is no possible way to express enough gratitude for your generous gesture towards me in the program! The situation with the father of my children had been away of my conscious awareness for a long time--the loss of LOVE and the loss of my maternity in the way that most women experience it in a day to day basis.
I do not even know how it happened that I raised my hand to work with you. My infinite gratitude to you to have receive my pain and open my compassionate heart towards the man I have LOVE THE MOST DURING ALL MY LIFE. For whom this love has never vanish even if immense suffering has come upon me and I my children. May the suffering of my children and myself bare the fruit of true compassion towards Alfredo.
 I would like to extend my gratitude to all the participants for their generous time and attention given to me during the program. Let them know that I am committed to be a channel to lessen the suffering of others as a token of gratitude to all and every one present with me during this last two days!
    Blessed be your father that perceived the wisdom teacher in his woman child! May I honor all your teachers and guides in the work you do!
                                               ¡Con todo mi cariño y gratitud! G M

End of Life Doula Amy 2017

I just wanted to thank you all again for such a lovely weekend we shared. It was truly a beautiful experience and you are all such beautiful souls! I returned home from our time together with words and emotions lingering from the death experience … and wrote “SURRENDER” … so I thought I would share here …


As she sits in stillness, she takes note of her inner space - her space full of past wounds, rushing thoughts, and emotional roller coasters; her space full of ideas, hopes, and dreams. The space that holds her physical being.

And she clearly sees that she is more - that she is not simply defined by what is contained within. She is separate from anything that moves through and all that accumulates inside her body, her mind …

So she let's go of all of it ... inviting a moment of pure surrender ... a surrender that draws her beyond her suffering, beyond her attachments, beyond her perceptions and beliefs and dreams.

And in that moment, resting in that expansive space of no boundaries, no limitations …

She just is.

As she dwells silently, curiously in that place of pure Love, she recharges her heart, her soul. She finds peace, comfort and strength.

With the Beauty that permeates, it would be easy for her to stay, to get completely lost in the place of intoxicating Love ... but she becomes aware of that which waits for her return; that which pulls, tugging tirelessly at her attention.

So once again, and with intention, she surrenders.

She surrenders back into her human-ness to hold her space full of past wounds, rushing thoughts, and emotional roller coasters; her space full of ideas, hopes, and dreams.

She surrenders because she realizes that her close proximity to woundedness, pain, and emotion does not separate her from Love; it actually accentuates Loves presence. It allows her the opportunity to embrace what it means to be human - to experience dis-ease, suffering, fear, longing - all of which open her heart to tenderness, compassion, and empathy for herself and others.

She surrenders because she knows that it is all one and the same. By fully embracing the condition of being human, she surrenders to Life; and her surrender to Life is, ultimately, her surrender to Love.

End of Life Doula Jill

Thank you all for keeping the energy strong. This emails have been so helpful to me as I plopped back down to earth and struggle with the balance of keeping the weekend alive and taking care of business.

Listening to my heart - I shared the link to the Sophia's bath and have been coming back to that clip throughout my day. This was well received and a few "curious inquiries" about the topic. Yeah! Blessings always in all ways to each of you. My world is sweeter because of each one of you.


End of Life Doula Christopher

From Christopher S - May 2015

Thank you for that poem Tarron. Thank you for this work you are teaching. 
Here's a poem I wrote a while back that I realized could have been written about our weekend together.

Thank you for releasing so many healing tears.

Tears fall,
Relax, do not sob or fight with the flow.
Open every tightness
Let light into the dark frozen places that resist.
There is warmth and tenderness in tears,
Let this tenderness,
melt the hardness.
The softness you try to shield and hide
feels vulnerable
because life is tenuous and brief.
You know the kiss of death -
it always patiently awaits
for you to let it in.
But who is this that does the letting?
Who is the one that receives this kiss?
Breath moves through this body -
this “I” cannot stop it.
LIfe itself determines how many more times
this belly fills with invisible sustenance
and then without clinging
releases and surrenders the breath
for another to begin.
There is no celebration,
no awe or wonder at how breath continues,
but there should be.
Why should there be any clinging to a tear
as it forms in this eye,
and then trails down
this cheek?
LIfe is in this tear,
it is in the emotion,
a rising energy that this body struggles to contain.
Don’t struggle.
Something bigger than this body is moving through it
that causes the tear to form
and this breath to rise and fall.
Become this motion in the belly.
Become the energy beneath emotion that births tears.
Become the openness
in which all this is occurring.

End of Life Doula Siobhan A

From Siobhan A

So sweet to read through all the emails, the threads that continue to weave us together.  I wanted to share the lyrics to the song I sang on the last day.  You can probably find the melody on YouTube if you would like to learn it, but if not, just call me!  
Oh Love (death, birth, life) prepare me
To be a sanctuary
Pure and Holy
Tried and True

And in thanksgiving
I will be a living
For you

Much love, and I thank and bow to each of you for your generous and couragous hearts as you embark on this journey into the land of Lady Death.  

Conscious Dying Faculty Kelly S

Our wonderful Phase 1 graduates of the Sacred Passage Doula Certification program warmed our hearts with poems and beautiful expressions of their experience.  This post and page is a thank you!

From Kelly S - May 2015

Thank you all for such a generous, beautiful experience!  
I'm overwhelmed still.  All my love, Kelly

The center leads to love.
Soul opens the creation core.

Hold on to your particular pain.
That too can take you to God.

I loved every minute of this certification End of Life Doula Christine 2016

(My) biggest area of professional growth was understanding how important ceremony and ritual is for me as an individual and a doula.  Also – all the discussion about what our doulaship is going to look like and what actual steps we will take to help our vision come to fruition was enormously helpful. 

I learned wholeheartedly the mission of a Sacred Passage Guide; I learned that part – a huge part of my role will be outreach; I learned that my gifts took intentions and sacred awareness of what makes me the doula I want to become; I loved all the teachings around vigil, the doula panel and after death care, and grief gates.

Because I am drawn to death, the sacredness of it and my own sacred selfishness urges me to ... serve as a source of education, companionship and ceremonialist – a sacred passage guide for those who are dying and their families.

I loved every minute of this certification; I’ve appreciated so much the teachers, especially Greg, Marilyn – who have been tremendous in sharing their experiences, wisdom and knowledge.  Thank you Tarron for bringing this language and this sacred right to us, and giving us the opportunity to share it.

--2016 End of Life Doula Graduate

The Founder's Story

When I was a young child, I learned from my mother that caring for others is the fruit of life.

The small town I lived in was a glass house, so small that when someone was sick, or born, dying, or dead, we all knew. Then everyone brought food. They sat and visited, comforting each in their own way, giving to the family and patient equally.

I saw my mother tend to her mother and father through the end of their long long lives. My father’s mother and father, her own sisters and brothers, neighbors, and friends. People called on her to stay with their loved ones who lingered in that half light between life and death. And when the time came, my mother helped them, kept their lips moist, fed them ice until there was no heat left to melt it, patted their pillows, touched their sweet tired cheeks, and held their hands until it was time to go on, to go HOME.

I am a child of many relatives who lived very long lives. 

I saw people in nursing homes who were faint, thin, heavy, sad, lost, but not yet dead. I saw caregivers doing their best and some not near enough. I saw families sitting in miserable chairs in waiting rooms. I saw little ladies lined up along the hall.

In adolescence, I had a friend whose parents owned the town funeral home. We played there after church on Sunday, a day that most families choose to have the service for their dead. We played everywhere in that building. We took the elevator up to the casket room and hid inside them, pretending to be dead. We went down down down to the embalming room and touched the cold still bodies. We hid behind the curtains in the funeral parlor and watched as people mourned for their dead and sang their favorite songs. We saw fathers and uncles and grandfathers break down and fall to their knees while mothers and sisters and aunts and daughters knelt beside them.

So I grew up seeing and knowing death. I became as comfortable with this passage as sitting on a swing outside. Something about this made me want to know life and dig into what it means to pass through suffering and come back with a gift in my heart. Something in me wanted to know how to turn this dying I have seen and the care surrounding it into something as precious as gold. And to bring it back to share with others. It is a blessing to give back what I have been given.

I have cried and fought for my life in both darkness and light guided by teachers whose souls and hearts and brilliant human caring healing gifts taught me everything I needed to remember about who I am and what I came to this earth to do. 

I trusted my life for just long enough with each of them to transform pain and doubt into a desire to give back.

This alchemy, this giving back, is now my work. 


End of Life Caring Literacy Protects Us All

End of Life Caring Literacy Protects Us All

Caregivers encompass uncountable numbers of an often poorly educated workforce who take care of our loved ones when we cannot. These caregivers live in our communities. They become a part of our homes and families. Increasing caring literacy for these medical and non-medical caring professionals is a way to give back. It provides a career path that not only stabilizes caregivers in the fundamental science and stages of dying, but it may increase spiritual awareness, loving kindness to self and other, and overall sense of well being as well.
Increasing end of life literacy may positively influence the patient’s experience of care, decreasing pain and suffering in our communities. It may expand our understanding of “do no harm”.  In our time of deepest vulnerability, frailty, and dependence, caring literacy protects all of us.
Validating Roles of Caregivers

By validating the work of caring professionals as Sacred Passage Guides, we confirm the worth and value of caregivers who dive into the turbulent, complex waters surrounding the stages of life, illness and death for all of us. When we bring human caring sciences to our home caregivers—the foreign laborers, single mothers, family members, volunteers who keep vigil at the bedside of those who are dying, those who midwife us to the other side—we invest in our own good death and we give legitimacy - an honored role to non-medical caring professionals. We validate and honor one of the oldest caring professions on earth.
Let’s talk about it: Conversational Confidence 

Though America's view of Death is changing rapidly, talking about death is one of our culture’s top taboos.  End of life caring literacy program invites us to explore our hopes and fears about dying in advance of the onset of death. Exploring our relationship to death may increase self-knowledge. It may break down barriers between ourselves and others when we most need comfort, communion, trust and safety. When we explore our feelings and thoughts about death, we learn more about our lives now. We come in direct contact with our spiritual beliefs, our life’s purpose, our unfinished business, what our bodies need or want, how we influence and are influenced by our environment and our relationships. We build a foundation of confidence upon which we may then talk about life and death with others. By becoming confident in our ability to talk about death we may have more influence on how we live and how we die.  We might reduce harsh, costly interventions that threaten what we value most. We may reduce emotional and financial stress of our families, health care systems and nation. We might place our awareness and attention on our loved ones or on our spiritual life vs. living at any cost. We may be more available to life’s blessings, mysteries, miracles and unexplainable events.

Rural America: Original Death Cafe' Culture

During mealtime, the only conversations from women in my family were on illness and death. No matter what else might have been going on in the world, Kennedy’s assassination, Vietnam, presidential elections, sports events ( discussed by men)— women only talked about was who was sick and who was dead.
I’ll never forget what my Uncle said about "death talk". He said, “Tarron, here's what it’s like: My wife and I go down to the café to have a meal.  As soon as we walk in the door,  she goes off to say hello to her women friends and before I can sit down, every one of them is rattling off the hospital report”.

If you sit through these discussions long enough, you will get the complete medical history on every family and what the doctor said about their health. You could hear my relatives describe the color that someone’s skin turned before getting to the hospital and what street the ambulance took a wrong turn on. You could hear in depth discussions of the food someone ate and whose wife cooked it before her husband had a heart attack. You could gain insight into all the things people do to bring on the hard luck of sickness and what was expected to become of them.

When someone died, “Lord, Lord…” were the first words beginning every sentence, and then, “Poor old so and so”. My mother, her five sisters and both my grandmothers talked on and on about who was at the funeral home and why their relative didn’t show up fast enough to see him before he was laid in the ground. They would dress up any day of the week and go down to the funeral home with casseroles and dishes of homemade beans and ham and pecan pies and cornbread in hand to honor the dead during an open casket showing no matter who had died.
They took their lace hankies-- prepared to grieve and mourn and listen to the same sad hymns sung by choir members of differing churches. Dying was a whole town affair, and talking about it was sewn into this Southern rural culture like the patches on a quilt.  You not only talked about what happened, but you showed up to see the body all coiffed and life-like in the casket. Then you went to the cemetery for the burial.
After the last shovel of dirt was tossed on the grave, friends, family and clergy moved from cemetery to home. There they opened plates of pecan pies, pound cakes, sliced ham, fried chicken, creamed corn and three bean casseroles. They poured sweet tea into glasses of ice and served the grieving family.
At this after-death "house warming", you learned more about a person’s life than they would ever want told. But each story, told with great affection, gave the family the sense that their loved one had been known, loved and was already missed and remembered.

And this, I believe, is the original Death Cafe'!

Heart Story: Transfering Wisdom at End of Life


What My Grandmother Gave Me

Mary Eva Estes, 1900-1986

In the weeks before my Grandmother died, she lay in bed mostly paralyzed from a stroke. Less than a month before, she still raked the leaves and fed the chickens. This last time I saw her, she was dozing between worlds, at ease with the restful peace of this time. I reached out to touch her and she opened her eyes wide as pumpkins. She took my hand in both of hers, and...

...with clear speech, undefiled by the stroke, she began to say my name out loud three times.  She said, “Tarron Janiece Estes….Tarron Janiece Estes…Tarron Janiece Estes”. The warm pocket of her hand was still holding mine. Like the memory of a common language, I said back to her, “Mary Eva Estes…Mary Eva Estes…Mary Eva Estes”.

Within that ancient, timeless ancestral portal, I felt the meaning and wisdom of her whole life shoot like a star through my heart giving me back everything we ever shared, learned, and loved together. I knew in that moment our sacred purpose as souls, larger than grandmother and granddaughter. She imparted a lesson in living and dying. She gave me my purpose in serving other at end of life.
Tarron Estes, Founder Conscious Dying Institute