Here is a wonderful guest post from my friend, end-of-life caregiver, and death doula Anna Marshall.
“We all die. When is out of our control. This is a good how.” - Indra, The 100
For most of us, contemplating death and dying is not an easy thing to do. However, if we approach the topic with a posture of courageous vulnerability and humble honesty, considering our lives in the light of our mortality can be a profoundly rewarding practice, as it draws us closer to the miracle of existence and the heart of our own human experience.
We tend to avoid thinking about the end of our lives for all kinds of reasons. Either we are too busy living, or we assume our loved ones will be able to handle the details when the time comes, or we simply do not like thinking about it. Considering our death may cause us to reconsider how we are living life and perhaps we are not ready for that kind of reckoning. And yet, end-of-life decisions are still life decisions, and they must be made at some point, by someone. Why not us? Why not begin now?
When making end-of-life decisions, there are, of course, many details to think through and decisions to make. My friend, Willy, in his book Estimated Time of Departure, identifies two types of decisions that we all face at the end of life. There are the biological (medical and legal) decisions and the biographical (emotional and relational) ones. When facing either kind, one helpful thing we can do is identify the core values that shape our lives and allow those values to serve as a compass to navigate our experiences at the end of life.
There are many questions we can ask to peel back the layers of our relationship with life and death and bring our values to light. Here are a few to start with:
Your responses to these questions may change over time, and that is perfectly okay. Use them as prompts to check in with yourself on occasion and to invite others into an on-going conversation with you on this topic. Think about them, write about them, talk about them. Consider them in whatever way best serves you where you are.
With love and grace for the journey,
End-of-Life Caregiver and Death Doula
I first met Willy when he graciously accepted a meeting with me regarding a venture I was working on at the time. I heard of him as a notable professor with great experience in entrepreneurship and systems thinking. He was kind, humble, and eager — and listened to my ideas free of judgment, with an open mind.
With his inquisitive nature, Willy quickly discovered my work in publishing. Shortly after this meeting, he shared with me that he had been working on a book that was of great importance to him. We quickly planned to meet again, this time for me to learn about his book.
As we met over lunch, he shared with David Hancock (my mentor and the founder of Morgan James Publishing) and myself a stunning story of how he navigated the challenges that came with end-of-life stages and his parent's death, and the lessons learned along the way. I was intrigued. Of course, as prolific as he is, Willy also had a business book in the works, which ended up being a perfect fit at the time for Morgan James, and we quickly went on to work with him in the publishing of his first book, Simple_Complexity (Morgan James 2017).
His passion for his first project never faded, however, and a couple of years later, it was time to re-open the conversation about his other book, Estimated Time of Departure. We were in the early stages of the pandemic when uncertainty, loss, and grief were present in our world in unprecedented ways. It finally seemed to be time to bring this book and the wisdom within to life.
The way we face death, both individually and as a society, matters in powerful ways. In our present-day, aging is dreaded instead of honored. We are quick to avoid the topic of death. Our end-of-life care systems are structured poorly. Our elders are often treated in neglectful, careless ways. I believe we must evaluate and heal our approach as a collective to help restore dignity and reverence to those in this stage of life.
Estimated Time of Departure also provides an opportunity for us all to ponder our own personal end-of-life choices and to have meaningful dialog around the topic with loved ones. Willy's work is a prompt to have these difficult conversations. It offers a lesson on facing the inevitable with grace, not fear. And most importantly, it serves as a reminder to cherish the moments we share with our loved ones and make a pointed effort to choose love above all. This is my hope for readers and the reason I am publishing this book.
The topic of death is never easy, especially when it comes to those closest to us. In his latest book, Willy offers his experience and wisdom in a way that is relatable, poetic, and approachable — Estimated Time of Departure is a true gift.
Bethany Marshall, Aitia Press