May 11, 2020
Transitions: Death, grief, and the path to joy
Compassion and dignity during loss

As all of us continue to struggle though this highly unusual time in history, it seems that death—the possibility of it for ourselves, those we love, and people around the globe—is more present than ever. Every day we are bombarded with news and realities of COVID-19. For most of us, it has come as a shock. While a pandemic of this magnitude feels entirely unfamiliar, it reminds us all of the discomfort we feel when confronting the inevitability of death, whether for ourselves or for our loved ones. While the end of life will always be mournful, there are ways to make the transition easier. My hope is to use my experience and training to help others through each stage of the journey.

Long before COVID-19, it became my goal to serve as a guide for our clients who are navigating the process and the grief that comes with life’s most difficult transitions and losses. My passion for this work began when my own mother was in the process of dying. At the time, I had no experience with end-of-life care or the grief and frustration that comes with it. What could I do to help my mother be more comfortable? How could I respond to her needs and take care of myself as well? What could I do to make the transition easier for all of us? It was all such a mystery to me, and even as I muddled through, I knew there had to be a better way.

I found what I was looking for in Amy Florian’s Corgenius Transition Master Seminar. Designed to help advisors support their clients through tough transitions with compassion, respect, and intelligence, the training taught me many things about what I was feeling, and it gave me the tools to help others moving forward. It was more valuable than I could have hoped. I completed the program during the last year of my mother’s life, and it empowered me to provide her the best possible care. While no one can ever truly be ready to lose a loved one, I had the comfort of knowing I had kept my promise to care for her in our home, and I’d done everything in my power to be sure she was comfortable and happy.

When the time finally came, I had just returned home from a Corgenius training session in Chicago. My mom’s caretaker told me that mom had been asking for me. “She said her father has been telling her it’s time to come home.” While my mom suffered from dementia and was often confused, she appeared lucid and content. I could tell this was different. I turned to my training and followed the steps I had learned in the process. I spent all day Saturday focused not on trying to delay death, but on making Mom comfortable. On Sunday morning, I went in and arranged her pillows just the way she liked them, put on some of her favorite music (none other than Daniel O’Donnell), and went to the kitchen to pour some coffee. When I walked back into the room, she was gone. In spite of my grief, I knew my mother had died peacefully, with dignity, and on the terms she wanted.  

Today, thanks to my personal experience and my Corgenius training, I feel comfortable gently stepping into that delicate space with clients who are facing the death of a loved one. I know what steps need to be taken, and I’m able to provide access to valuable resources that can lighten the load of a caregiver. Most importantly, I am able to have open, supportive conversations that make a difference.

While every situation is different, the guidelines I learned through my training can benefit anyone who is facing this difficult transition. Here are the basics:

  1. Create “the packet.”
    Because so few of us are comfortable addressing the topic of death, practical preparation often falls by the wayside. Even people who have made estate planning a priority often fail to tackle the most basic tool of all, which is what I call “the packet.” The packet is a clear plastic sleeve with just a sheet or two of paper that includes critical information in the event of an emergency. The packet should include all emergency contact information, as well as a healthcare proxy, a Do Not Resuscitate order (DNR) that spells out the conditions under which the patient prefers not to be resuscitated by CPR, an organ donor card, and any other advance directives that state choices for healthcare, or name someone to make those choices if the patient is unable to make decisions. Once the packet is complete, don’t hide it away where it can’t be found: post it on the side of the refrigerator—or even in the freezer, which is often the first place paramedics will look—and provide copies to all emergency contacts. It’s the best way to be prepared for a health emergency.

  2. Complete the “5 Wishes.”
    One of the simplest ways to gather all this information in one place is to complete a simple advance healthcare directive called The Five Wishes. Created by the non-profit organization Aging with Dignity, the document is an easy-to-complete living will that outlines who will make healthcare decisions when the patient can’t, the kind of medical treatment they want or don’t want, how comfortable they want to be, how they want to be treated, and anything else caregivers, family, and medical providers need to know—including the simple things that provide comfort like certain music, smells, or even (as my mother could have attested) how the pillows should be arranged. These simple directives matter.

  3. Understand the benefits of hospice.
    When my mom’s doctor advised me to put her on hospice, my knee-jerk reaction was simple: “She is NOT dying!” But I quickly learned that hospice is not reserved for the moment when death is imminent. Rather, it provides assistance that is as beneficial to the caregiver as it is to the person who is dying. Hospice can lessen the financial burden of end of life by reducing unnecessary hospital visits. It also provides valuable resources to help create a comprehensive plan focused on controlling and reducing pain and discomfort, including a team of doctors, nurses, therapists, health care aides, clergy, social workers, and more. Another benefit of hospice is that Medicare, Medicaid, and most private insurance carriers often cover much the cost. After many months of repeat ER visits with my mom, hospice helped me finally say, “No more.” With the help of her hospice team, I was able to stop running from death and simply take my mom home—for the last time. For me, hospice was a wonderful experience… I just wish I had understood the benefits sooner than I did.

  4. Learn the language of grief.
    Anyone who has experienced the death of a loved one can tell you how difficult it can be to talk to people afterwards. In times of grief, many people struggle for what to say and how to hold space for the person who is struggling with the emotions that can go hand-in-hand with death and dying. While “how are you?” is an obvious question to ask someone who is grieving, asking to hear a story about the person who has died opens the door for communication and steers the conversation toward a joyful memory rather than focusing on the pain and grief of loss. And if you are the one grieving, it can help to offer up a happy memory when the people around you don’t know what to say or do to help.
  1. Get help.
    Early on, I made the mistake of trying to do everything for my mother myself. It nearly wiped me out. Understanding what resources were available to me—and having the courage to accept them—made all the difference. Whether you are a caregiver to someone who is nearing the end of their life, if you are grieving a loss, or if you simply want to do the best possible job of preparing for the inevitable, get help now. If you need guidance understanding what resources are available and strategies for moving forward, I’m happy to help.

While the pandemic may have brought the subject of death to top of mind for many of us, we should not wait until we are facing death to start the conversation about it. Perhaps one of the positive changes that we can take away from this slower, more family-focused time we’re experiencing is a new, more open dialogue about transitions, and what wishes we have for ourselves when dealing with death.

In my own home, quarantine has created interesting lifestyle changes. We’re among the lucky ones that are able to be isolating as a family. (My heart goes out to those of you who are isolating solo.) My husband and myself, as well as our daughter and her husband, are at home together. We’re eating almost every meal as a family, talking more, playing board games, and trying to focus on the positive. We’re composting, cutting down on waste, and forging a new appreciation for the planet. Most importantly, we’re having deep conversations about the things that really matter.

I hope that for my own family, and for yours, some of these positive changes carry through long after the pandemic is behind us—including talking about how to manage death, dying, and the grief that comes with both. By having these important conversations now, we will all be more prepared to handle the transition when it does happen, and to find a path to joy before, during, and after the death of the people we love most.


← Back to Insights

Compliance & Client Service Manager

Start investing in your future today.

Contact Us