“Navigating through Life’s Journey” was the theme for the 3rd annual Beautiful Dying Expo November 12-14 on-line produced by author and end-of-life doula Michele Little and co-produced by Christy Marie.
Over 1300 registrants logged in from 45 countries on five continents to learn or share about quality of life, palliative care, hospice, death, dying, green burial, grief, and more.
Not surprisingly most of the speakers who devote themselves to death and dying education have come to the space as a result of personal experiences with death – physicians, nurses, end-of-life doulas, psychologists, social workers, chaplains, family members, policy makers, and more.
There were many tender moments as well as offerings of humor, healing, practical action plans, and revelation. For many attendees the expo went by far too fast. Over 50 useful talks and exchanges included, among other subjects, how to write a holographic will and why (a holographic will is legal), Latin American perspectives on death, pediatric palliative care, surviving suicide, and veteran burial benefits. There were Death Cafes and a Sudden Widow Coach. Much to choose from!!!
“The timing for our exploration couldn’t have been more perfectly aligned as the past two years have impacted all of us and made us more aware of how precious life is,” stated producer Little.
“We needed a place we could go to find answers for our deep, unspoken questions about dying, death and grief. We needed to know it was okay to live, love, and be in joy.”
There were many highlights but one stand-out (I admit to bias because I know them), was the presentation by Rev. Dr. Saul Ebema and his after chat with producer Michele Little. Ebema survived the south Sudanese war and time as a child soldier to eventually become a hospice chaplain in the U.S. Little’s brother David was a NYC firefighter who lost his life trying to save others on 9/11 in one of the twin towers. His remains were never found. These two sentient beings talked about love, loss, the mysteries of death, and the sacredness of life. It was moving to listen to.
Rev. Ebema’s PTSD from witnessing the unmerciful deaths of his parents, his only brother, and the war still lingers. “I longed for a sense of community, for people to talk to, for people you can dream with, and tried to figure out this thing called life.”
Rev. Ebema reminded the audience that “life is a practice”, “grief and joy can co-exist”, and “being kind saves lives.”
Rev Dr. Saul Ebema is the president and founder of Hospice Chaplaincy. He founded and co-hosts “The Hospice Chaplaincy Show” a podcast about compassion and the psychosocial/spiritual aspects of end-of-life care. See https://hospicechaplaincy.com
Other speakers among the many (apologies to the amazing guests whom I was unable to listen to, thank you for your contributions):
The main presenter on the first morning was Gary Mallkin, a heart-centered, award-winning musician (20 Emmys) who shared how music may support us as we journey gently through grief. Music for Malkin is “innertainment”. “Everything is vibration and has intention, it can shift our attention, hearing is the last sense to go.” From Malkin’s point of view, “the most successful pharmaceutical would be a pill with music, music as medicine.” His website, featuring many spiritual luminaries may be found at www.wisdomoftheworld.com
Althea Halchuk, a Board-Certified Patient Advocate (BCPA) specializing in health law and founder of End Well Patient Advocacy gave an exceptionally articulate and important talk about Medical Surrogacy – who is going to speak for you if you become incapacitated. This is a subject that should be of interest to everyone, especially people who live alone, have no children, no spouse, no significant other, and no support system. Halchuk is also an advocate for Final Exit Network. She is based in Arizona. https://endingwellpatientadvocacy.com/
Dr. Mitsuo Tumita moderated a talk with Julie Stroud (now an End-of-Life Option Advocate) who witnessed medical aid in dying (MAID) for her father, and Joanne Kelley (now an author, INELDA End-of-Life Doula and End-of-Life Option advocate) who reluctantly witnessed her husband’s transition. They reiterated that no matter how you feel, i.e. you do not agree, you do not want your loved one to die, the dying person’s wishes must be front and center. They spoke of stigma attached to MAID, as well as “how MAID is often mixed up with suicide.”
Arlene Stepputat, a death educator and end-of-life doula from Santa Barbara, CA spoke about “Doulas at the Bedside” based on her experiences companioning over 20 folks on their journeys. “Bedside practice is the best teacher.” Arlene can be found at https://dyingtobegreen.com/resources/divine-doulas/
There were panels of End-of-Life Doulas as well as a presentation by Dr. Jamie Eaddy Chism, Founder of Thoughtful Transitions and INELDA (International End-of-Life Doula Association) Director of Program Development. Chism is devoted to black end-of-life care. See (https://www.thoughtfultransitions.org). Doula discussions included mention of gradual acceptance of their purpose (non-medical) in hospital ICUs, hospices, and private homes.
Author and radio personality Jane Asher hosted “In the Next Room” podcasts. On-line meet-ups in “rooms”, interaction during sessions also included write-in chats in the side bar. A myriad of multi-lingual panels (English/Spanish/Portuguese) were hosted by Wilka Roig of the Elizabeth Kubler-Ross Foundation Central Mexico. A blog about transpersonal psychologist Roig and her death education initiatives in Mexico may be found here https://wellnessshepherd.com/2021/04/30/end-of-life-education-and-end-of-life-doula-training-takes-off-in-san-miguel-de-allende-mexico/
Palliative care physician and gerontologist Karl Steinberg (a speaker at the 2019 and 2020 expos) focused his talk (missed this event) on the importance of bioethics in end-of-life care and also addressed the current controversy about the value of having an Advance Care Plan. Steinberg is the current Vice President of the National POLST (Physician’s Order for Life Sustaining Treatment – known as a MOLST on the east coast).
Ben Janzen, Dr. Theology, PhD, Grief Release Method specialist, Hospice Chaplain, and VITAS Bereavement Counselor, also a speaker in 2019 and 2020, gave a talk which I missed. He also participated in a panel discussion on grief.
Canadian Yvonne Heath of Love Your Life to Death and TedX speaker explored the concept of a joyful death with American physician and comedian Patch Adams. Yes, he is the person portrayed by Robin Williams in a movie with his name.
Terri Daniel, an interfaith chaplain, end-of-life educator, and grief counselor created a spiritual ritual for the opening and closing ceremonies. Daniel is the producer of the original After Life Conference (11th year), producer of the Conference on Death, Grief, and Belief (July 2022), host of Ask Doctor Death podcast. See https://danieldirect.net/
Producer-director Gay Gillingham of Dying to Know, a documentary created over several years of conversations between former Harvard psychology professors Ram Das (Richard Alpert) and Timothy Leary about the meaning of life and death, offered her film as the closing night gift. A link to the trailer and the movie may be found here: https://dyingtoknowmovie.com/
The 2022 Beautiful Dying Expo is scheduled for November 11-13. More information may be found at www.BeautifulDyingExpo.com as well as on the expo Facebook page which features Michelle Little’s interviews with guests dedicated to death, dying, and grief education.
For a review of Beautiful Dying Expo 2020 see https://wellnessshepherd.com/2020/12/31/beautiful-dying-expo-2020-death-and-dying-colleagues-from-10-countries-advocate-for-thoughtful-preparation-and-planning-for-ones-demise/
A review of Beautiful Dying Expo 2019 is here: https://wellnessshepherd.com/2019/12/29/a-visit-to-the-beautiful-dying-expo-in-san-diego-california-2019/
The Beautiful Dying Expo is a non-profit project of the Institute on Violence, Abuse and Trauma, (IVAT). IVAT has been the fiscal sponsor since inception. The expo is organized by volunteers who, states producer Little, “wish to continue to build healthy communities globally.“
Wendy Jane Carrel, MA, is a Spanish-speaking senior care specialist and consultant from California. She has travelled Mexico for several years researching health systems, housing, senior care, and end-of-life care in order to connect Americans, Canadians, and Europeans with options for loved ones. She has investigated hundreds of senior living choices in 16 Mexican states. Her web site is http://www.WellnessShepherd.com