November 13-15, 2020 represented three full days of listening to and interacting with “conversations on the bench” via the new Hopin.com platform at the second annual Beautiful Dying Expo, produced by author and certified end-of-life midwife Michele Little of San Diego and San Francisco, CA.
Little, with co-host Kimberly C. Paul (filmmaker, creator Death by Design, and former hospice caregiver), guided an eclectic and worthy gathering of evolved, connected and compassionate folks dedicated to End-of-Life work. They shared best practices for advance health care planning, financial and estate planning, preparing for long-term illness or sudden illness, ancient traditions and rituals for end-of-life care, green burials, grief, and more.
The expo goal according to Little? “To help you see more clearly about what’s involved in this journey and to provide you with new perspectives, resources, and connections… All of us are devoted to this sacred space.”
Participating thought leaders were from Australia, Argentina, Brazil, Canada, Costa Rica, Mexico, New Zealand, Puerto Rico, The Netherlands, South Africa, and the U.S. According to Little, there were attendees from 35 countries from outside the U.S.
In addition to the seminars, Little created a public space for one-on-one video chats and personalized advice with physicians, nurses, ombudsmen, social workers, lawyers, scientists, psychologists, music thanatologists, end-of-life doulas, and others.
This historic period with COVID at the forefront, and great numbers of people dying not only alone, but unprepared and without their wishes known, has brought more awareness, reflection, and discussions about dying.
Several folks working with those who are ill, near end-of-life, or working through the aftermath have been collaborating with colleagues in an accelerated way. This expo is one of many gatherings and events on-line since the onset of the virus.
One common theme among presenters and care panels was love – “love in the time of COVID” to borrow from Gabriel Garcia Marquez – providing support in a compassionate, collaborative, gentle, holistic way plus approaches to accomplish this.
Because some presentations overlapped, many worthy presenters and their subjects were not covered. Here a few highlights:
Of note was palliative care physician and gerontologist Karl Steinberg (a speaker at the 2019 expo) whose valuable talk focused on the importance of a relationship with your physician to state emergency, long-term care, and end-of-life wishes ahead of time. 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). His expertise also extends to bioethics.
Another highlight was the session with Ken Ross, son of Elizabeth-Kubler Ross, the Swiss-American psychiatrist who normalized grief through many books, the most well-known of which is On Death and Dying. That particular book offers a model known as the five stages of grief. Ken Ross, a natural storyteller, was his mother’s caregiver the last 10 years of her life. He is carrying on his mother’s legacy through her worldwide foundation and foreign publication of her books. Ross regaled listeners with stories of travels to 20 countries with his mother. He clarified that his mother thought grief happened in cycles, and continues – it is not a cut and dry five stages.
The Elizabeth Kubler-Ross Foundation of Mexico, headed up by psychologist and end-of-life doula Wilka Roig, a Puerto Rican by birth, gathered a group of colleagues from other Elizabeth Kubler-Ross chapters around the world – Rodrigo Luz, a psychologist and thanatologist from Brazil, Else Groot-Alberts originally from The Netherlands but residing in New Zealand, Dr. Laura Aresca from Argentina and Uruguay, Wendy Pineda of Guatamala, and Cynthia Frahne a German psychotherapist devoted to palliative care in Argentina.
Verna Fisher, a social worker, gave an endearing and sensitive talk about how to discover what is unsaid with both patients and families, how to show up for others, and how to listen.
Keith Bradley of Final Exit Network gave a valuable talk about Advanced Health Care Directives for Dementia, and John Tastad, a thought leader in end-of-life ethics, shared about truth-telling in a gentle way.
The closing hour with Brad Wolfe, creator of Reimagine, was especially heart-felt. Wolfe spoke about the death of his cherished grandmother and what it means to love someone all the way to the end of their life. An especially poignant moment was when his father Jim Wolfe joined the talk about this delicate subject. Reimagine is a platform to reimagine death. It has gathered over 65,000 attendees since its inception to discuss how to embrace life by facing death. See https://www.letsreimagine.org/about
I was honored to attend and present at the first Beautiful Dying Expo last year in San Diego which you may read about here:
Also see the expo’s Facebook page where you may listen to Michele Little’s informed interviews with some of the speakers. Scroll down the FB page at