When I was 5 years old, a kitten died on the farm where I was staying.
I held a funeral complete with a burial shroud, cross made of sticks, an old shoe box, and prayers compiled from all the wisdom I had after sixty months on the planet.
Years later my therapist asked me how I knew what to do.
I just did.
Some kids come to the world with extreme talent in math or cooking, music or languages.
I came in with an affinity, curiosity, and comfort around dying.
Significant Death Experiences
Duchess the Boxer died when I was 10. The Nazarene minister from across the street came over to pray with me. Such a sweet thing to do for a bereft little girl.
Mom's mom, My Gammy, was the first death I encountered of a human being whom I loved deeply. I was 16.
During an internship at a children's hospital in Houston, I watched the pedi ICU team run a code on a baby boy who'd drowned. They couldn't save him. The team left. My mentor moved toward the bed and motioned me to the other side. She placed her hand on his heart and invited me to touch him, too. "Sometimes they [the busy, harried medical staff] forget. We need to honor him." We did. I've never forgotten the tenderness of her honoring.
My 37 year old brother Jim died in his sleep. I was 24. Jim had an undetected heart problem, long QT Syndrome. It's not too dramatic to say that event changed my life and moved me toward new work in the world.
My Work in the World
I'm the Executive Director of ABODE Contemplative Care for the Dying, a home in San Antonio where individuals from the community comes together to help dying people who have no one to care for them or no place to go. It's an extraordinary place and I'm so happy to be a part of it.
Twenty years ago I founded the Children's Bereavement Center of South Texas. I served as Executive Director there until 2005.
A couple weeks after starting my PhD studies, Mom was diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer. She died in late January 2006.
Her dying process included visions. I was able to talk to her about them and see the peacefulness on her face as she shared what she saw. These events and her dying process changed my life again.
After Mom died, I got wildly interested in deathbed phenomenon.
My research now is on the trajectory of dying; the sights, sounds, experiences, and language the dying use as they are taking their leave.
What Do I Know For Sure?
There is more after this life is done.
Dying doesn't have to be a solemn, or deeply frightening experience.
Being honest and open about your needs and wants can set the stage for a meaningful and peaceful dying experience for yourself and your family.
Planning ahead - it's a good, good thing.
Laughter can co-exist with great pain.
Contemplating our own death can help us find more meaningful ways to live now. What a gift.