Death and Dying, Death and Dying Education, End-of-Life Education, End-of-Life Planning, Palliative Care

Palliative Care and End of Life Practitioners Gather Internationally and Locally Seeking Solutions for COVID Care, Social Disparities, and More

COVID has brought about loss of lives, economies, and untold devastation around the world.

It has also brought with it dedicated palliative care and end of life practitioners gathering for discussions about  how to improve healthcare inequities and offer psycho-social-spiritual support to patients, families, medical teams, and first responders for now and the future.

New alliances and friendships have been formed via Facebook, Webinar, and Zoom chats that may not have been forged otherwise.

In August 2020, I attended several gatherings. Below are highlights. Each exchange was a gift.

The Chaplaincy Innovation Lab lead by Wendy Cadge and Michael Skaggs at Brandeis University continues to host a remarkable gathering of chaplains and others. The Trauma and Spiritual Care meeting in August emphasized the value of chaplaincy during COVID.  We listened to moving stories about trauma created by the current medical model, especially for minorities, and the statement “racism is a public health crisis.”  Also of note were observations by Dr. Ayo Yetunde, a professor at United Theological Center of the Twin Cities, who focused her remarks on the trauma and stigmatization of growing up black in America. She spoke about moral injury and how “politicians traumatize us.”  Her newest book, to be released this fall is Black and Buddhist.  See https://www.unitedseminary.edu/academics/faculty/pamela-ayo-yetunde/ and http://chaplaincyinnovation.org/

The Elizabeth Kubler-Ross Foundation of Central Mexico.  Psychologist and end-of-life educator Wilka Roig in San Miguel de Allende produces monthly seminars related to death, dying, and grief. The August gathering was uncommonly interesting with Ken Ross, son of Dr. Elizabeth Kubler-Ross, as the guest. It was fascinating to learn about his mother, the Swiss doctor who spent her adult life in the U.S. devoted to continuing the hospice movement started by her friend and colleague Dame Cicely Saunders of St. Christopher’s Hospice, London. I have visited the Elizabeth Kubler-Ross library in Torrance, California at Dr. Ira Byock’s Institute of Human Caring but had no idea of the trials and tribulations of this remarkable woman’s life. Dr. Kubler-Ross was a Jungian, and a prolific author best known for Death and Dying, 1969. Ken was her caregiver for almost 10 years. He gave a loving, tender report that included amusing stories about how stubborn she could be. A revealing part of his talk was how most people interpret the five stages of dying or the five stages of grief literally, as fixed stages. He showed us circular graphs his mother created showing all phases are connected and that we go in and out of phases arbitrarily. There is no end.

Dr. Marcos Gomez Sancho, the pre-eminent thought leader for palliative care in the Latin world spoke on Facebook to over 700 physicians, nurses, social workers, psychologists, educators, and volunteers in North and South America from his home in Palma de Majorca, Spain. As anticipated his talk was well-planned and included music, paintings, and photos to illustrate his points. His presentation was “El Duelo Normal al Duelo Imposible”, normal grief to impossible grief, emphasizing “the cruelty” of dying alone without traditional support and the suffering of the patient, the family, and the medical team. Dr. Gomez’ website is: http://www.mgomezsancho.com/esp/index.php

I was honored to spend time with Dr. Gomez at the 2nd International Palliative Care Conference in Guadalajara in 2015 and last year when he was again the headliner at the 4th conference: https://wellnessshepherd.com/tag/dr-marcos-gomez-sancho/

Dr. Marcos Gomez Sancho, 2 August 2020

The National Association of Hindu Chaplains (NAHCA) A unique gathering of mostly Hindu Americans (14) with special guest Sanjay Mathur of the Hindu Temple of Rochester, NY. Moving stories by this tender-hearted man with compassionate presence. I could see why anyone would feel comfortable receiving his pastoral care. http://www.hindutempleofrochester.com/

Let’s Reimagine End of Life, based in San Francisco, has put a tremendous amount of energy into producing 700 “spaces” around the world, and 125 workshops. Congratulations to programmer Dara Kosberg. One of my favorite discussions included a small group of first generation Americans of Chinese, East Indian, Korean, and Thai descent discussing how to talk to their parents about planning end of life, a culturally taboo subject. On August 31, founder Brad Wolfe, a Stanford educated entrepreneur and artist hosted a chat with palliative care physician Jessica Zitter (also author and filmmaker), Pastor Corey Kennard, and grief author Hope Edelman. I loved the breakout sessions where a marvelous synchronicity introduced me to Jessica’s lovely mother Rhoda, and two colleagues whom I hope to stay in touch with – international end-of-life doulas Glynis German of Mallorca, Spain and Merilynne Rush, RN of Michigan. They both also host Death Cafes. Small, meaningful world.  https://letsreimagine.org/

Heartfelt thanks to all those mentioned above who dedicate their lives to the well-being of others, and who are so willing to share what they’ve learned.  And heartfelt thanks to all others engaged in these activities and are not mentioned.