A Lesson from Joan

Joan and Melissa Rivers
Joan and Melissa Rivers

Joan Rivers—love her or hate her—was a larger than life personality. She bucked the notion that women can’t be funny and paved the way for many other female comedians to step into the limelight. Tina Fey, a comedy superstar in her own right, reflected on Rivers’ influence recently in an interview during the Toronto Film Festival, “Whether that was her intention or not she definitely opened doors for other women in comedy.”

Rivers saw no topic as taboo, and contrary to many Americans, she spoke quite openly about death, dying, and what she wanted for her funeral as she did in this recording:

When I die (and yes, Melissa, that day will come; and yes, Melissa, everything’s in your name), I want my funeral to be a huge showbiz affair with lights, cameras, and action…I want Craft services, I want paparazzi and I want publicists making a scene! I want it to be Hollywood all the way. Don’t give me some Rabbi mumbling on; I want Meryl Streep crying, in five different accents. I want to look gorgeous, better dead than I do alive. I want to be buried in a Valentino gown and I want Harry Winston to make me a toe tag. And I want a wind machine so strong that even in the casket, my hair will be blowing more than Beyonce’s on stage.

But perhaps the most touching video I’ve seen is of Ms. Rivers’ heart-to-heart conversation about her own death with her daughter (watch the video below). It’s a video which was filmed for Joan Knows Best when she was prepping for a surgery in 2011. The clipboard in her hands likely had her medical forms and advance directive on it. She started the conversation off with a very typical phrase, “If anything happens,” and then launched right into what she hoped for her survivors. She expressed things that people often don’t unless they’ve realized they’re dying in the near term.

I’m personally not a fan of reality TV, but the moment she and her daughter shared on camera in a frank discussion about death is one many people could benefit from watching. It’s hard to talk about one’s own death and your hopes for people who live longer than you. It’s difficult to figure out how to even start these conversations.

We could all take a lesson from the irrepressible Joan Rivers. Start off with a humorous anecdote about what you want for your funeral even if it’s over the top. Blurt out a segue about dying. Whatever you do, get these conversations rolling!

To live how you want up until your death, you need to make sure those around you know your values, your fears, and what is and isn’t acceptable to your way of life. And, not least of all, document your wishes in a printed advance directive or an online universal directive. You know best what you want for your end-of-life care and how you hope people will celebrate your life after you’ve died. Don’t waste a minute more; tell those around you. After all, you won’t live forever.

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National Center Board Member to Present at Biennial Right to Die Conference

George Eighmey
George Eighmey

People the world over desire to control their own end-of-life care. While the Death with Dignity National Center’s focus is on supporting and promoting US Death with Dignity laws, there are groups across the globe who work toward developing similar laws in their countries. Many of these groups, like us, are members of the World Federation of Right to Die Societies.

Since 1976, Federation members have come together every other year to discuss the global right to die movement. This year’s conference—kicking off September 17th—will be the first one in the US since the Boston gathering in 2000. Chicago will host this year, and Death with Dignity National Center board member George Eighmey will be among the featured speakers at the conference.

George will present on our work to pass the third US Death with Dignity law in the state of Vermont. Vermont’s law was the first law of its kind on the East Coast, and the first passed through the legislative process. This historic achievement came to fruition after over 10 years of dedicated work by us and the local grassroots group, Patient Choices Vermont.

A major shift in the state came when dedicated supporter Peter Shumlin assumed the governorship in 2011. His outspoken support for Death with Dignity on the campaign trail in 2010 bolstered support throughout the state, and encouraged his colleagues in both legislative chambers to be more vocal in their own support.

In the lead up to his re-election in 2012, Governor Shumlin took the unprecedented step of making the legislation part of his campaign platform. Shortly after his re-election, he told reporters signing the Death with Dignity bill was one of four social issues he saw as a priority during his second term.

No doubt about it, Governor Shumlin’s leadership in supporting the legislation moved the foundation we built with our partners over the years to the final step of codifying Death with Dignity in the state’s statute last year. If you’re attending the conference, don’t miss George’s presentation on Vermont’s new law, how it came to be, and its impact on the movement throughout the US.

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National Center Ice Bucket Challenge

Last week, our executive director Peg Sandeen reflected on a social media phenomenon to raise money for ALS research: the Ice Bucket Challenge. Not long after the article was posted on our blog, Peg was challenged to get ice water dumped on her or make a donation to the ALS Association.

Ever the overachiever, Peg decided to do both and she upped the ante by challenging all of us here at the National Center to take part, pledging to donate for each staff member who participated. All of us played a role. Peg, Cindy, Don and I received the ice water. Pete, Shaun, and Roger dumped the water, and Jennifer shot the video. We filmed our challenge next to one of Portland’s iconic Animals in Pools water fountains. Check out the result:

As is the custom with the Ice Bucket Challenge, Peg challenged three steadfast Death with Dignity advocates. Nancy Niedzielski began her dedication to the Death with Dignity movement during the 2008 Washington campaign, and her efforts were featured in How to Die in Oregon. Scott Swenson served as the National Center’s executive director. Nora Miller, whose husband controlled the manner and timing of his death under Oregon’s Death with Dignity Act, never misses a chance to help others understand the peace of mind Death with Dignity laws give to people who are dying.

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ALS Ice Bucket Challenge

Portland Thorns players Alex Morgan and Allie Long taking the Ice Bucket Challenge
Portland Thorns players Alex Morgan & Allie Long via Instagram

Much controversy has swirled around the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge. Supporters and fans argue it is a social media craze engaging countless new donors and raising desperately-needed funds for an important cause. Critics argue the Challenge is a prime example of slacktivism, offering individuals the opportunity to believe they have done something to contribute to the solution of a serious social problem—without really doing anything.

A review for those of you who do not know what the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge is, using Facebook, individuals challenge three friends and colleagues to have a bucket of ice dumped over their head within the next 24 hours. In one version, the challenge is to make a $100 donation to an ALS-oriented charity or get doused by a bucket of water; in the other more common version, participants donate and douse while filming the ice bucket experience, posting the video to Facebook, and challenging others.

I have a hard time aligning myself with the critics, even though I have read much more of their material than I have from supporters. Some critics are pitting the response to ALS with another important social problem in our world—the availability of fresh, potable water in Africa, arguing against the wasting of buckets of water. Others posit there are more pressing issues in our world, like the police shooting and citizen rioting in Ferguson, MO, where individuals should be using social media, so the argument goes, to engage with that important situation. The arguments fall apart in narration, based on conflation of two separate issues, both deserving attention.

Notwithstanding the idea there are many compelling concerns and problems needing attention throughout the world, The ALS Association is reporting the Ice Bucket Challenge has raised more than $41.8M in less than a month, engaging 739,000 new donors. In a story about the phenomenon in the New York Times, a spokeswoman labeled the money from the Challenge “transformative.”

ALS, also known as Lou Gehrig’s Disease or amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, is a progressive neurodegenerative disease causing increased muscle weakness and atrophy as the disease progresses. Eventually, those with ALS may lose all control over voluntary movement, but maintain nearly complete cognitive functioning. It is the second most common reason behind cancer for using the Death with Dignity Acts in both Oregon and Washington.

I have watched the Challenge with some interest, having a cousin who has been living with ALS since the late 1980s and knowing a significant number of individuals with ALS who have considered or used Death with Dignity to hasten death in light of a severely debilitating illness. Elements of self-aggrandizement, braggadocio, and ego aside, 3/4 of a million individuals have been engaged enough with the issue to make a donation. The phenomenon is real, not a fluke of social media, and important.

So, I challenge you to the ice bucket challenge. Let’s take this thing over $50M.

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Barbara Coffin: Dedicated Advocate and Volunteer

Barbara Coffin and her daughter. Photo care of KOMO News.
Barbara Coffin and her daughter. Photo care of KOMO News.

In 2008, we worked with our local partners Compassion & Choices of Washington to pass Washington’s Death with Dignity Act through a ballot initiative. With over 58% of voters approving I-1000, Washington became the second US state to enact a law emulating our model legislation which allows terminally ill adults the right to control the timing and manner of their own deaths.

This effort happened with the help of hundreds of hours of work by thousands of volunteers. One prominent, dedicated volunteer before and after the campaign was Barbara Coffin. On Tuesday this week, she said goodbye to her loved ones and exercised her right under Washington’s Death with Dignity Act. She died in her daughter’s arms.

In an interview with KOMO News she shared why she chose to plan her own death stating, “Right now everything hurts. It hurts to move, it hurts to get up and down, hurts to take a breath. I have no energy. It’s hard to look at me on the outside and understand how bad I am on the inside. So it might be hard to understand how ready I am.”

After completing the request process she invited her closest friends and family for a farewell party. Together, they laughed and cried as they shared memories and stories. A week later, she gathered a handful of people closest to her, laid down on her bed, and drank the liquid medication. She soon fell asleep, and not long after, she died.

Barbara’s reasons for requesting and taking the medication allowed under Washington’s law are similar to the reasons I hear from others; she’s made decisions throughout her entire life and simply wanted control over her final life decision. Having been so deeply involved in the campaign, Barbara was no stranger to the controversy that once surrounded Washington’s Death with Dignity Act and she summed up how she felt about those who disagreed with her stating, “I think everybody has the right to an opinion, but we as humans have a right to do with what we want with our bodies.”

Barbara’s dedicated advocacy for Death with Dignity will be missed. Her final public message shared through the TV interview are words for all of us to live by: “Be kind to people you don’t know; do some random acts of kindness and the world will be a better place.”

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Why Won’t You Let Me Go?

Brian Smith lives in Oakland, California. His family’s farm is in Stockton. This article was originally published on Medium and is republished with permission.

Dad was confused.

He was taking a combination of drugs that were keeping him alive and reducing his pain. His morphine dose was quite high.

The fact that he had even made it to 78 years old was amazing considering he survived California’s polio crisis of the 1940s. But now it was coming back. Post-Polio Syndrome weakens muscles that were previously affected by the polio infection. This brilliant man was atrophying both mentally and physically before our eyes. Eventually, he would not be able to breathe. And there was no cure.

“When do we go?” he asked us. “Where are the other attorneys? This is an important deposition.”

He was on a kind of mental auto-pilot, reliving 45 years of familiar work stress—not the way anyone wants to experience his final days.

“There are no more depositions,” my wife explained in soothing tones. “Your job is done. You were one of California’s finest lawyers and you helped build a respected firm in the Central Valley. You should be very proud of your legacy.”

“Why won’t you let me go?” he said with tears welling up in his eyes.

That cut straight to the issue at hand.

For months, my father had been telling everyone who would listen that he was “done.” He wanted to die. His quality of life had become so bad (a collection of pills, oxygen machines, and bad cable TV he could no longer understand) that he had nothing left to live for and wanted to die peacefully in his own home, surrounded by loved ones.

But choosing when one dies is not an option in California. The law is quite clear. California Penal Code §401 says: “Every person who deliberately aids, or advises, or encourages another to commit suicide, is guilty of a felony.”

The circle of family taking care of Dad felt overwhelmed.

The visits by Medicare-supported home hospice nurses were welcome. They were heroic in their one clear mission: to reduce suffering. But hospice nurses are not in the business of ethically assisting someone to die. That remains controversial and illegal in California.

The local “death with dignity” group recommended the only method legally allowed in the state: The dying patient simply quits eating or drinking. In a few days, they slip into a coma and never wake up. But isn’t dehydration and starvation really a form of torture? For this to work quickly, not even slivers of ice to cool the mouth are allowed.

There must be a better way.

In Oregon, where a Death with Dignity Act passed in 1994, Dad would have gotten his wish. After confirming his desire to end his life with two witnesses, consults with two doctors, and after a short waiting period and verification that the patient is not depressed, a prescription for a lethal cocktail of drugs becomes legal in Oregon. The dying person can gather family and friends for a dignified ritual that ends with the self-deliverance from this mortal coil.

Sadly, for my dad in California, there would be no easy way out.

His mood turned angry as the weeks passed. He began lashing out at the assembled loved ones for the sin of keeping him alive. We had neither the skills nor the backbone to withstand the kind of misdirected vehemence this skilled litigator could deliver upon his loved ones in those final days.

Eventually, the family broke down and took the angry patriarch to a hospice facility with a staff fully trained in the arts of comforting the afflicted.

We know leaving the farm broke his heart. He had lived there his entire life. His family’s roots on the land go back to the Gold Rush. At the hospice, he died in less than four days.

It didn’t have to be like this. There must be a better way to die.

Why are there no better options for dying Californians?

Where are the Baby Boomers (who are beginning to face this exact issue) demanding a Death with Dignity law?

Why must our elders endure so much suffering at the end of life?

Why won’t we let them go?

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Building Infrastructure and Effective Coalitions

This spring and summer, I embarked on a journey to author a five-part blog post series about how to build momentum to advocate for Death with Dignity policy reform in your state. During the initial post, I talked about how to engage with your family and friends in conversations about hastened dying; in the second, I provided guidance about steps needed to learn more about the issue and build alliances. In the third post, I discussed the ABCs of ballot initiative and legislative campaigns.

In this blog post, the fourth in the series, I will talk about building organizational infrastructure and coalitions.

In our bureaucratic world, a serious journey into state-based policy reform calls for some sort of organizational structure. There are many options from which to choose, and there is not one structural model used in every policy reform effort. We used one structure in Vermont (a locally-established 501(c)(4) with the National Center as the fiscal agent / 501(c)(3) partner) and another in Washington–a coalition made up of four organizations with decision-making authority vested in a Washington State political committee. Another option is to find a local entity with an existing corporate structure and operate under its charter.

There are external and internal factors impacting your choice of structure. Externally, your state’s campaign finance rules, IRS limitations on political advocacy by non-profit organizations, your planned goals and activities, and the developmental stage of your nascent group. If you are in an early organizing stage, loosely bringing people together for conversations, you can operate without a formalized structure or operate under another group’s.

Internally, questions like group culture (hierarchical or consensus-minded), mission and focus, capacity to meet the legal demands inherent in formal corporate structures, and level of experience with nonprofit and/or political advocacy corporations will impact your decision-making.

For groups serious about policy reform activities, the Alliance for Justice’s program “Bolder Advocacy” has a thoughtful and thorough set of guidelines I recommend them for novices and experts alike, as the rules are not always straightforward.

There are several points in an advocacy cycle when knowledge of your state’s campaign finance laws and IRS limitations are important: when you begin to raise funds for the intent of advocating for policy reform, when you begin to talk to legislators about Death with Dignity, and when you start using words like “campaign,” “political campaign,” and “lobbying.” These are all key words suggesting that you are getting very close to an artificially-drawn legal line mandating specific organizational structure and reporting. A word of caution here: you can get in trouble fast in this arena, so be careful and seek professional consultation.

For ballot initiatives, the Secretary of State’s office is generally in charge of issuing guidelines, and there are specific points after which political committees must report. Generally, political committees are formed after signatures are filed or at the point which the ballot title language is being debated in the Courts. I can think of many exceptions to these rules, so an exact reading of language from the Secretary of State is important.

In my eight-year history with the Death with Dignity National Center, I have been personally responsible for or instrumental in forming ten different corporate structures to accomplish various policy reform or political goals. Undertaking political activity to accomplish policy reform requires a comprehensive understanding of various state and federal laws. It is achievable (as a professional social worker, I had no formal training in corporate structures, learning it all on the job), but it is not always easy to navigate.

Perhaps more interesting than building corporate structure is the process of engaging allies. If you want to have a successful campaign, you will have to build relationships across many issue groups. There are natural allies—the ACLU, secular/humanist groups, individuals from the Unitarian Church, and local affiliates of the American Women’s Medical Association and the American Medical Student Association.

Another way to think about allies is to consider which groups have common political opponents. These are more difficult alliances to build because the idea of having a common “enemy” is not really enough, in my mind, to bring non-similar groups together.

To strengthen alliances with these groups is too important to understand their policy reform agendas, asking what are they trying to accomplish. Lending a hand or volunteering with their policy reform efforts goes a long way to building an allegiance. For the alliance to be successful, it must be reciprocal. You are not only interested in how they can help your issue (Death with Dignity), but how you can help theirs.

In this blog post, I talked about corporate structure first, because it is an asset to have an established corporate structure when you are forming alliances with other groups. Having a formal structure, be it a 501(c)(3) nonprofit corporation, a 501(c)(4) social welfare organization or political committee (PAC), gives you legitimacy as you build relationships.

With that, I will say, “happy incorporating” or “happy allegiance-building,” and I will see you next time with the final installment of this series, Show me the Money!

Next up: Show me the Money (And be sure to read the first three posts in this series: So You Want to Pass a Death with Dignity Law in Your State, Engaging Allies and Learning the Issue, and The Basics of Ballot Initiatives and Legislative Advocacy!)

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Religious Leaders Supporting Death with Dignity

Lord Carey on assisted dying

The House of Lords in the UK will hear testimony and debate their proposed Death with Dignity bill this week. The bill closely emulates our model legislation, the Oregon Death with Dignity Act, which Oregonians approved in 1994 and reiterated their support in 1997. Much like in the US, Death with Dignity is a hotly debated topic in the UK, and the lead up to this week’s hearing there’ve been many excellent op-eds in support of the law. Some which have come out in the last week have been by prominent religious leaders.

All of them looked at their understanding of their religious doctrines in the context of being close to loved ones who’ve died. Each challenged their Churches’ official statements and how teachings of sanctity of life are consistent with giving people who are dying more options in their final days.

Last week, the former Archbishop of Canterbury, Lord George Carey shared why he changed his mind and now strongly supports the proposed Death with Dignity law in the UK. This week has been witness to supportive statements from Nobel Laureate Bishop Desmond Tutu and the current Bishop of Buckingham, Alan Wilson.

In each of these opinion pieces, these leaders reflected on how their religious traditions and compassion have led them to support the bill proposed by Lord Falconer. In his letter to the Daily Mail, Lord Carey directly took on claims made by opponents within his own church and reflected on his change of heart:

The fact is that I have changed my mind. The old philosophical certainties have collapsed in the face of the reality of needless suffering…In strictly observing the sanctity of life, the Church could now actually be sanctioning anguish and pain, the very opposite of the Christian message of hope.

Some complain that new laws governing the right to die would allow doctors to ‘play God’. But that is an argument without substance.

Health professionals already have power over life and death in numerous ways—such as the remarkable way in which newborn babies are kept alive until they are old enough to survive outside an incubator, or through complex surgical transplants.

The Church must start to face up to the reality of the world as it is.

On the heels of Lord Carey’s op-ed, Bishop Tutu weighed in with an opinion piece in The Guardian. Like Lord Carey, Bishop Tutu reflected on his lifetime of being a friend and spiritual advisor for people at all stage of life, including their final days. These experiences have framed how he thinks about, has documented, and discussed his own end-of-life wishes with his loved ones. They also caused him to think about the options he would want available if he were to receive a terminal diagnosis with six months or fewer to live, and he came to the conclusion, “I revere the sanctity of life—but not at any cost.”

The most recent affirmation from a religious leader was from the current Bishop of Buckingham. His statements in support of the proposed UK bill were covered by The Telegraph. Not only did he clearly explain the differences between assisted suicide and what the proposed bill would actually allow–assisted dying–he also discussed how his Church’s teachings are consistent with patient autonomy stating, “I have come to support assisted dying…precisely because I do believe strongly in the sanctity of life. Part of honouring this is respecting people’s integrity to make decisions about themselves.”

Supportive statements from prominent leaders from any community help those within the group better understand assisted death. What’s especially great about these op-eds is these religious leaders are talking about how Church doctrine supports end-of-life options outlined in Death with Dignity laws. These bishops’ public statements signal a major shift in the way people all over the world are thinking about and understanding what was once a radical idea: controlling the manner and timing of one’s own death.

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Intimate Conversations about Love and Loss

Karen Kaplan is an ordained rabbi and served as a hospice chaplain for seven years. Learn more about Encountering the Edge and read book excerpts on the publisher’s site or Amazon. You can also see Karen’s own blog, Offbeat Compassion.

Death with Dignity National Center’s Melissa Barber asked me as I prepared this post, “Why did you write this book?” This is something every author should keep in mind throughout the writing process. It implies, among many other things, that a solidly cogent answer must precede the genesis of any worthwhile book.

While writing my hospice chaplain memoir, I kept in mind how the author of Ecclesiastes admonished his son: “Of making many books there is no end; and much study is a weariness of the flesh.” And I was acutely conscious of needing abundant justification for writing Encountering the Edge: What People Told Me Before They Died.

Melissa’s question is also an excellent tool for self-reflection. It’s one thing to explain what a reader might get out of it, and quite another for authors to delve into the spiritual reasons underlying their endeavors. (The psychological reason is yet another dimension, and this is dealt with in the book.) I’ll now endeavor to take on both challenges.

Particularly for Death with Dignity followers, I think Amy Glenn Wright, columnist and blogger for Philly.com, summed up the why-read-it question in her review most succinctly: It’s a “needed reminder to reflect upon mortality in a culture built upon marketing the latest stimulant and distraction. What meaning can be found when facing the end of life? What legacy does each individual leave behind?… [This book inspires] reflection upon the significance of death’s inevitability and the beauty of existence.” In other words, I delved into the meaning and spiritual importance of those facing the loss of themselves and of their loved ones.

In Encountering the Edge I give a fly-on-the-wall account of what some of my patients said to me during my visits. These true stories show what they cared about, laughed at, wanted to talk about and wanted to avoid. This account also shows what hospice is like from the chaplain’s perspective, including the tremendous travel time involved and how chaplains handle the misuse of religion in patient care.

The fact that the memoir carries no religious message and doesn’t leave the reader with conventional answers, speaks to the deeper spiritual reason I felt compelled to put myself out there with this book. I feel my purpose as a chaplain is to provide an open and sacred space for people to articulate whatever is on their minds unimpeded by hidden agendas—including religious ones.

I think this is what defines authentic interaction, particularly when the subject is crucial such as pondering the purpose of one’s life. I have aspired to make the book work for the reader in the same way: These vignettes of patients and their families show their values, struggles, memories and pleasures at the moment I am listening to them. The act of concentrated listening helps them articulate these concerns and consequently gain more self-awareness of the import of what they have expressed. I hope this book will give readers their own space to freely reflect upon how facing loss shapes the unfolding of their own life paths and their own final chapters.

Editor’s note: Blog posts on Living with Dying about arts and humanities aren’t endorsements of these books or movies.

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Facing Death Together

Brant Huddleston
Brant Huddleston

After 17 years working for IBM, Brant Huddleston left the corporate world and became an entrepreneur. He’s recently started the Dance to Death Afterlife podcast to learn, with his listeners, about death and dying in an upbeat and educational way. You can follow the podcast on Twitter: @D2DAfterlife or Facebook.

Today is the tomorrow you worried about yesterday….and all is well.

The last time I saw my brother was on a boat in the middle of the Severn River near Annapolis, Maryland. It was summer, and the family had gathered to spread his ashes. John died in April 1992 at age 39, just three weeks after the death of my father. It was a hard year.

It was then I began thinking more deeply about death, and as a bona fide geek, how technology might enhance ways to tell the stories of the dead. My father’s life—64 years of adventure, living overseas, fighting wars, and raising six children—was reduced on his burial plaque to the infamous hyphen found between date of birth and death. My brother’s life is even less memorialized, as there is no marker to him of any kind, and rarely a mention on his birthday or death day. Maybe it is just too much for us to bear, especially my nearly 90 year old mother, who grieves his loss more than the rest of us combined. We are, as are so many others, practicing our own form of death denial. So as the Severn River swallowed up the last of my brother’s physical presence, an idea was born.

As a geek, I imagined using technology to create something I called a talking headstone, which would use multimedia to tell the stories of the dead. The living could point at a ”memorial,” which might be in the middle of a river, and ask, “Who’s there?” Then, a short audio/visual presentation would play, conveying the dead person’s stories and a celebration of his or her life. The talking headstone would expand the hyphen and make it come alive! But in 1992, the technology to make such a headstone did not exist, so I put the idea away for nearly two decades.

Years later, when I finally began shopping my idea among funeral directors, I learned something about their culture: many whom I encountered were staunchly resistant to change and hostile to new ideas. I immediately recognized the culture, for I worked for IBM at a time when they too stubbornly fought inevitable agents of change, like the personal computer, with such ferocity that the company nearly collapsed. This tendency for a mainstream industry to resist changes evoked by disruptive, new ideas is brilliantly described in the book The Innovator’s Dilemma by Harvard Professor Clayton Christensen.

From Christensen’s book and my personal experience with IBM, I knew the mainstream funeral services industry, with its legacy of digging holes and carving in stone, would never accept my high-tech invention. The future of the talking headstone lay elsewhere, with the rogues, the rebels, the dreamers, and those willing to challenge the entrenched paradigms of modern death practices. They’re the ones who, as the Japanese wisely advise, “ask why five times,” and they are among the very people I now seek as guests for my new Dance to Death Afterlife podcast.

The fear of death, and the subsequent denial of death, is pervasive in the United States, and it is unhealthy. Together we have an opportunity to change that, and if we follow the irrevocable pattern Professor Christensen traces back to the beginning of human history, that change will come from outside the mainstream. It starts with a vision. I believe by taking an unflinching look at death—a natural and unavoidable process—we’re better able to accept it, plan for a beautiful one, and most importantly, embrace every precious moment of life as a miraculous gift to be savored and cherished.

Others smarter and more talented than I have gone on to build the talking headstone, and I’m excited for them. My purpose now, as creator and host of the podcast, is to shine a light on their accomplishments (and all other facets of death, including those from the mainstream) so that together we can change our world a bit for the better, overcome our fears, and enjoy a fuller, more abundant life…for as long as it lasts. I want my listeners to be well informed and in control of their own experiences, as much as they can be. For if we don’t design our lives, and our encounters with death, then someone else will design those experiences for us, and it may not be what we truly want.

Did my brother John even want to be cremated? I don’t know. No one ever asked him.

Editor’s note: catch Melissa’s interview with Brant on his Dance to Death Afterlife podcast!

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