Lessons From Death

When thinking about doula work, a question I have asked myself is- am I experienced? In regards to birth and postpartum, I feel fairly experienced. I have four births that were all pretty different and went through a postpartum period. I have also been part of the birthing community, spoken with many moms about their own experiences over the years and have educated myself since my first pregnancy (more years ago than I’d like to admit). Birth and babies is an easy topic. Perhaps some of the more intimate details aren’t always shared but for the most part, birth is a discussion that is much more easily shared. 

When it comes to death, this conversation is not as easily had.  One of my goals is to help be part of the positive death movement that will help people share their experiences with death and dying a lot more freely than it is now. I have thought about my own experiences with death a lot lately. I consider myself lucky that I have not had all that much experience with death and dying in my life. However, I realize that I have learned so much from the few encounters I have had. I am sharing those experiences with you now with the hope that it will help you think about your own experiences, the things you have learned and what you might need help with. I hope that some of what I share in this post and future posts, will help you decide what’s best for your own death and the death of your loved ones.

One of my very first experiences with death did not actually come from a death at the time. One of my grandfathers died before I was born and the other when I was very young.  I was lucky to have my maternal grandmother living next door to my parents’ house when I was growing up. As a result, I spent a lot of time with her. For a period of time when I was younger, she had a live in boyfriend. He was the closest thing to a grandpa I ever had. One day, my make shift grandpa had a stroke. He spent some time recovering in the hospital and nursing home. I remember going to visit him and was happy that he was getting healthier every day. I don’t know all of the details but basically my grandma realized that he could have another stroke, other health issues or pass away. If she was to be his caregiver, not having the same rights as a spouse would put her in a bad situation both emotionally and financially. She told her that he needed to either marry her or leave. He decided he would leave. Now, this part is kind of sad. I think they both could have had loving companionship for several more years if he had agreed. She hadn’t really wanted to get married again either but realized how important it was for her well-being. Anyway, for years, he would drive over to her house and she would hide in her house like she wasn’t home. Myself and any of my cousins who were over had to do the same. I never really had a chance to say goodbye or to grieve for him. I supported my grandma and her choices but tried to encourage her to talk to him. Once or twice, he managed to “catch” her and she allowed him in for coffee but eventually, the visits stopped. As a child, I felt a void for a while. When he died years later, I didn’t go to his funeral. At that point I believe I had processed my grief as he had died years ago to me. Looking back on this situation now, I feel like I can take away some great lessons. First of all, we have to be prepared for the inevitable. No matter your age or health, keeping up with legal documents that will allow you and your care givers to take care of you in the best way for both of you, allows a level of peace so you can enjoy your life. Second, kids need to be able to grieve as well, even when there is no death. Kids can feel a loss from an adult relationship that doesn’t last, a move, and other life events. Adults have the ability to process and grieve in their own way but kids might need some help. 

A few years later, I was in eighth grade. In our middle school, we had the same teachers for seventh and eighth grades so we got to know them pretty well. My science teacher taught me a poem by William Carlos Williams which seems a bit ominous looking back now. “So much depends on the red wheelbarrow, glazed with rain water, beside the white chickens.” This poem alone has helped teach me throughout my life but that’s not what this blog is about. Early into the school year, my teacher wasn’t in school. After a few days, we were informed that he would be out for a while as he was dealing with cancer. Our hopes were up after Thanksgiving when we were told that he would be back after the winter break. Mid December, he suffered a heart attack. He had been participating in a trial for a new cancer treatment and there was an unfortunate side effect. We never had the chance to say good bye. My mom brought me to his memorial service. He had donated his body to science and a video of his life was playing, his remains were not there. I am sure that the students were offered counseling but as a child, I don’t think I knew how to grieve. His death again taught me the importance of being able to say goodbye and helping kids with their feelings. I also learned to be grateful for the impact people have on our lives and I cherish the memory of being taught the poem.

Toward the end of that same school year, the most amazing teacher ever, had a terrible loss. Her college aged son died in a motorcycle accident. She left school for about two weeks to deal with the funeral and her grief. I believe the principal came into our class before she returned. He gave us some talk about how we needed to be respectful and kind when she returned. I remember we were all kind of holding our breath when she returned. She was always such an amazing woman, would she be sad and distant now? That incredible woman gathered us all in a circle around her. She began to tell us all the details of her son’s death. She allowed and encouraged us to ask her questions and she answered them in compete honesty. I wonder how this type of honesty would be received by parents today but I am forever grateful that she did this for us. The way she treated us like adults and was so honest about her experience with death has stuck with me my entire life. Talking to us about her son’s death was most likely very therapeutic for her but it also gave us an incredible gift. She could have avoided the topic and kept death a secret, like so many adults act with kids. However, she showed us compassion by sharing and allowing us to hold part of her journey with her. This was one of the greatest lessons of all. By not talking about death and dying, we do ourselves and the people whom care about us a disservice. Often times, when a person we care about experiences a death, we tip toe around the subject. Too often, the person who has lost a loved one does the same, not wanting to burden their friends with the topic. Sharing and allowing others to hear us creates peace and can really be an amazing experience for everyone involved.

The last two deaths that I am going to discuss today are the two that have had the most impact on my life thus far. Not only were they the deaths of two of the people closest to me, but their deaths taught me some very valuable lessons. 

My maternal grandmother lived at her own house and was independent until the last few months of her life. To say she was a special person is to put it lightly. The thought of her death worried me for most of my life. I was not sure how I would be able to handle it. As she got older, she would say things like “If God wills it,” when someone said “see you later”. It always bothered me to hear her say it. It was a reminder that she was getting older and was not going to live forever. Her dying started with her falling. At first, it wasn’t much of a concern but then it became more frequent. She ended up in the hospital and then a nursing home while things were decided. She didn’t shine as bright during that time, it was like she was broken. Plans were made and she was brought home on hospice care. What I now understand to be called a “rally” took place as soon as she was home. She was more energetic, stronger and much happier than she had been in weeks. We all came to see her and I was her caregiver once a week to help. One day, I got there and she did not want to get out of bed. The end was coming. I told my cousins and my sisters that they should say goodbye. When I left that night, I knew it would be the last time I would be with her alive. I had no words and could only tell her thank you and I love you. The next day, my mom and her siblings sat vigil. Grandma was in the final stages of dying. It might sound strange but I spent the day with my kids making memories and living life. It was not that I didn’t care about her but I had said goodbye already and I think I needed to be reminded of good times and I think my kids needed a break from the sadness we had all been feeling. In my heart, I know that’s what she would have wanted. My grandma loved kids and always wanted to do what was best for them. Anyway, my mom told me that they all took a break and that is when my grandma left her body. During my training, I realize that this is not all that uncommon. Some people need the room to be empty before they can pass. 

Her death taught me many lessons. One is that, life does go on and you will be okay again. I won’t ever say it was easy. I missed her like crazy for a long time and I still do. I do my little things to remember her and to feel close to her. I have some of her belongings displayed in my home, I always try to buy her favorite coffee creamer for a holiday or get together and I share her many stories. Looking back now, I wonder if I would have done anything differently. Now that I understand more and death and grieving, would I have said more, done more, been more? Maybe but the truth is, is that everything I did at the time was perfectly fine. My grandma knew how important she was to me and I was able to say goodbye in the way I felt most comfortable. In any death, one of the most important lessons to remember is that there are always two sides to consider- the living and the dead. 

My final story for today is probably one of the hardest ones for me, even eight years later. This death is probably fueling my passion for this work. This death really shows why proper planning is so important. This is also a huge reminder that life can get in the way but you need to always make time. One the greatest friends I have ever had died at the age of thirty four. There is so much to this but I will only be sharing the important parts. My friend ended up living in some sort of shelter several states away from me. He had suffered from both physical and mental health issues for a while. I was busy with kids and life. I always told myself “one day” I would go visit. One day we’d spend the week together, we were young and had time. One day, I woke up and saw my friend tagged on social media with the letters RIP next to his name. My world was thrown off it’s axis and I scrambled to find out what I could. I spoke to many of his friends out where he was living, family members and even his ex husband. To this day, I don’t know the exact cause of his death, a fact that still bothers me. 

The lessons learned from his death at this point are monumental alone. I felt guilty for not being there for him more. I learned not to wait until “one day” if I can help it because one day is not a guarantee.  I learned the importance for telling the people who care about you when you are struggling. There is so much wrapped up in what his death taught me but the rest of the lessons were even harder.

My friend was so incredibly loved by so many but he was estranged from his father. His mom had died a few years earlier, he was divorced and there were no children. I can’t talk for him but I would say he despised his dad. One of the reasons he was living where he was was to be close to his mom’s family. He felt he belonged with them and even legally changed his last name to be further removed from his father. At the time of his death, his father was the next of kin and the one who was legally responsible for his remains. His father had him cremated without ever seeing his body. This fact hurt me to the core, my friend was literally treated like an object. I tried to talk nicely to the father, to try and help him make arrangements. The man is difficult to say the least. I did what I had to and what I legally could. I published an obituary, and angered his father. He told me he had planned to publish one in the spring, once he had planned a memorial service. Meanwhile, I planned my own memorial and spread the word about his death. I needed to give him back the humanity that I felt his dad took from his death. I attended the service his dad finally held. It was difficult to be at. It was only a mass, nothing really personal at all except his ashes sitting in an urn. I was told that his dad was going to spread the ashes over a family grave in a city nearby. Apparently that’s what they had done with his mom’s. I have no way of knowing if this was ever done. His friend in the other state told me that he had told her that if anything happened to him, he wanted me to get some jewelry that belong to his mom. He said these words, but never wrote them down. I would have been honored to keep these for him, there whereabouts are unknown to me. 

 His death taught me the importance of preparing. There is something to be said about honoring the deceased. I firmly believe that everyone has the right to the funeral that they want, etc. However, after someone dies, it is the living who are left to pick up the pieces. Without plans, your next of kin will be left to decide what to do. In cases where there is an estrangement or other problems, your loved ones might be left to watch helplessly as things are done that you would have been against.

 As far as legal documents, this is most important if you are not married and estranged from your family. These documents can help even in cases of an accident where medical choices need to be made on your behalf. Have a talk with the person or people you want to be in charge. Make sure they understand what you want to happen. Visit the website https://www.joincake.com/gooddeath/ to help you get start on the forms you might need.

Finally, let’s take a minute to talk about planning. Currently, there are several books available and in the future, I might publish my own, that can help you plan. These books should be filled out even if you are healthy and young and updated once a year. They include pages for  important information such as bank account information, passwords, etc. It also includes information about what you would like to happen after you die. 

We live in a society that has difficulty discussing death and dying. The truth is, we will all experience death in many aspects of our lives, whether we are ready or not. It can be an amazing gift for your survivors to know how you would like your death handled and have the legal power to do so. Likewise, think about how comforting it could be to know your loved one’s wishes if you are the survivor. 


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becka bossons hypnotherapist

About Me

Becka believes that true health comes from mind, spirit, and body health. She enjoys learning and developing her own life as she helps others. Becka utilizes hypnosis in a number of ways to help her clients the very best way possible.