“Ritual” Isn’t a Dirty Word

For many people, rituals and ceremonies are deeply comforting, but if you’re like me, the idea of performing a ritual doesn’t really sound all that soothing. Perhaps you picture a congregation of people flatly intoning a series of words. At worst, you conjure up visions of fictionalized Satan worshipers. (Obviously, I’m exaggerating for effect!) This isn’t what rituals are meant to be, so why this aversion?

My face when someone asks, “Hey! Wanna do a ritual?”

What is a Ritual?

My friend and colleague Anne Murphy provides a great example: If you light a candle, that’s nice, right? The flame has a warm glow and we can look at and appreciate it. But if you say you’re lighting a candle in honor and remembrance of the lives lost to COVID-19, the action of lighting that candle takes on a deeper meaning and changes the way we experience the candle itself.

Merriam-Webster defines a ritual as a ceremonial act or action. And Wikipedia says, “There are hardly any limits to the kind of actions that may be incorporated into a ritual.” The smallest and simplest acts, when married with emotions and intentions, can become powerful rituals.

Consider these examples:

  • Washing the face of a dying person
  • Anointing the head, hands, and feet of a person who has died
  • Singing a song for a person who has died
  • Continuing a movie night tradition after a person dies
  • Sharing a deceased person’s favorite drink with friends or family

These all count as rituals. You don’t have to be religious or even spiritual to be moved by a ritual; you just have to love the person or people honored by the ritual. You can ask a celebrant for help creating rituals, or you can make them up yourself. Rituals can be completed by yourself or with others. There are no rules or limitations; what’s important is that a ritual provides a sense of comfort, healing, or relief for you.

A Simple Grief Ritual You Can Try

My friend Julie Domogalla and I created this ritual to mark the end of a grief group we facilitated together. Recently, we decided to record it as a video to share with anyone who might benefit from a simple ritual. You can watch it and see if it might work for your grief, and you can participate with us as you watch, if you like.

This video shares a simple grief ritual you can complete using 3 candles and an object that reminds you of the deceased person or people you are grieving.

If this ritual doesn’t work for you, try another! Make up your own. But please: honor your grief. Listen to it and mark moments before they are gone. Doing so keeps the people we have loved and lost with us in our hearts and in our memories.

Book Recommendation: Making Friends With Death

How often do you think about your own mortality? Do you spend time each week just sitting with the knowledge that you are going to die? I mean, it sounds fun, right? The truth is, most of us go out of our way NOT to think about death, and that makes sense. Death can feel scary, like something we have no control over, and if we can’t predict it, then what’s the point of dwelling on it?

Cover art and design by Violet Tobacco, retrieved from https://www.makingfriendswithdeath.com/

In her book Making Friends With Death, Laura Pritchett argues that thinking about death is not the same as dwelling on it. In fact, contemplating our mortality and eventual death can help us lead fuller, happier lives–lives with less regret, dread, and anxiety.

Her book is partly a narrative of her life living with trigeminal neuralgia (sometimes referred to as “the suicide disease” because of the incredible chronic pain it can cause) and partly a practical workbook of exercises you complete at your own pace to contemplate your wishes at the end of life.

Her tone is light without being irreverent, it’s caring without being saccharine. And it’s absolutely straight-ahead real talk. Sections of the book, in turn, help you:

  • come to terms with your own death
  • come to terms with someone you love dying
  • prepare for sudden and lingering deaths
  • and most importantly, live life to the fullest

In addition to the journaling you can complete throughout the book, it also includes over a dozen “homework” exercises, and a comprehensive list of some of the best movies, songs, and books about death.

I hope you will pick up a copy of this book and then actually work up the nerve to start reading it. I promise it isn’t scary to make friends with death!

Reckoning with the End of Life

The news today is so overwhelming. Our anxiety about the COVID-19 pandemic continues, our country continues to be deeply divided, and in the midst of all this unrest (or as some argue, possibly due to it), our country is reckoning with its history of police brutality against black and brown Americans. It’s a lot to process, but for Black, Indigenous, Latino, and Asian Americans, this is nothing new.

As a queer, cis white woman, I am not trying to describe an experience I haven’t lived (though there are LOTS of resources on the subject), but this moment feels different and I am trying to take the opportunity to grow. I am not alone when I say that this moment has led me to interrogate my own beliefs and assumptions and confront my own inaction.

As a result, I would like to share steps that Inspired Journeys is taking to step up and meet this moment in what I hope is a meaningful way.

Effective immediately, Inspired Journeys will spend half its time working with BIPOC (black indigenous, people of color) communities to reduce racial and cultural disparities at the end of life. This means that for each service that Inspired Journeys is paid for, an equal amount of time will be banked toward this work. This work will include pro bono doula service, in-home funeral education, and public speaking, depending on the needs of the particular organization or community.

I commit to sharing my knowledge and skill set with communities of color in the Twin Cities to spread the word about natural and home-based funeral options, about grief and loss, and about end-of-life planning. I anticipate that this work will require active listening and I approach this with humility and openness. I want to listen, I want to learn, I want to make the world more just, and I am working on it.

from Instagram account @malefragility, found by the author on Facebook.

Q: How Can I Support A Grieving Friend?

My friend’s husband died recently, and I have no idea what to say or do. How can I help her?

A: Show Your Love and Support

If you think, “I’ll just stay away until I know what to say,” that leaves your friend alone in their grief.

I can imagine you might be worried about saying or doing the wrong thing, but first and foremost, don’t avoid your friend because of this fear. You aren’t alone in this worry, so imagine if most of her friends are in the same boat–is anyone talking to her? More than likely, she may feel shunned, or like an outcast, because the people around her are feeling awkward. This can make grief a lonely, even excruciating, experience.

Suck it up and talk to her. Be honest and tell her you aren’t sure what to say or do, but that you love her and want to support her. Here are some other ways to support her:

Ask and Listen

If you avoid asking about her husband because you think, “I don’t want to make her sad,” you aren’t saving her any grief.

People may also worry that asking or talking about the deceased person will make the grieving person sad. I have some bad news for you: Too late. She’s already sad. And mad. And a million other feelings, possibly all at once. Asking about her husband isn’t going to make it worse. Likely, she wants to talk about him, so ask and find out. “Do you want to talk about Jeff?” is a fine way to start, or perhaps you could share a story about him, a memory, or something that reminded you of him.

Whatever she says, listen to her deeply and without judgment. Avoid the temptation to try to make her feel better; it may send the message that she shouldn’t express negative emotions. And it’s not like you’re going to cure her grief by getting her to laugh. Believe that what she is saying is true for her, and just listen compassionately.

Normalize and Validate Her Feelings

Saying, “It isn’t your fault” minimizes her feelings. Minimizing them won’t make them go away. Instead, normalize and validate them.

Grievers often feel angry, sad, lonely, and other feelings you might expect. But sometimes they feel relieved, happy, independent, or empowered–and this can lead to feelings of guilt and shame. You can help your friend by letting her know that anything she’s feeling is okay.

You can normalize her feelings by letting her know that anything she’s feeling is normal–even if it doesn’t mirror your experience of grief. She is the grief expert of her grief. Saying things like, “I’d feel the same way in your shoes,” or “That makes sense,” or even, “It’s totally normal to feel that” can help normalize her feelings.

You can also try validating her feelings. Affirm the feelings she is sharing with you. If she tells you she’s frustrated, you could share that you can see it in her body language or hear it in her voice. Alternatively, try to name the emotion that you are hearing from her. Naming emotions can be powerful, and she might not even realize that’s the emotion she is expressing. But leave room to be corrected. Using phrases such as, “it sounds like,” “what I’m hearing,” or “you seem” gives her space to correct you and retain ownership of her feelings.

Whatever you do, avoid minimizing or negating her feelings. For example, if she tells you that she is ashamed or guilty, avoid saying, “You have nothing to feel guilty about.” Again: Too bad. She feels it and it’s her right to feel it. These can be some of the hardest feelings to validate and normalize when you see a friend hurting. Again, it’s good to be honest with her. Perhaps you could say, “It’s so hard to see you hurting. What would Jeff tell you if he were here?”

Offer Tangible Help

Phrases like “Let me know if you need anything” can be so broad they don’t help at all.

Apart from the important work of listening to your friend and validating what she’s feeling, you might not know what else you can do to help her. As a result, you might be tempted to say, “Let me know if you need anything,” or ask, “How can I help?” The first statement is so broad it’s almost more of a cop-out–you offer “help” that she needs to name, think of you to do, and then ask you to do. It foists more work onto her and gives you a false sense of satisfaction. The question is almost worse because it puts her on the spot.

Instead, simply show up for her. Call her and tell her you’ve found some of those good Medjool dates and you’re swinging by with some for her. Drop by with a mug and some bags of tea and leave them on her porch if she doesn’t come to the door. (I will NEVER forget this gesture from my friend Jenny after my dad died. Every time I drink from it I think about my dad AND how kind and thoughtful she is!) Tell her your kids are getting cabin fever and offer to bring her kids along to the park for some Frisbee. Say you’re getting cabin fever and ask if she’ll go for a walk or bike ride with you; tell her you could really use the company.

Help her remember to eat, to sleep, to care for herself and her basic needs. As long as your help doesn’t create more work on her part, you’re golden. All of these actions show you care and you’re thinking about her.

Hope for the Heartbroken

Over the past month, the Coronavirus pandemic has upended our lives, and many of us are struggling to adjust to the new normal. Unemployment, job insecurity, health scares, and general anxiety are common features of life during this topsy-turvy time. But for many of us, this pandemic comes at the absolute worst time–at a time of grief.

If someone you love has died, whether due to COVID-19 or not, it may feel like the world is spinning out of control. It’s common to feel out of sorts when we are grieving under normal circumstances, but with everything else we are experiencing, death of a loved one right now may feel like too much to handle. I want to offer some words of advice and comfort for those who need it most.

Take a Deep Breath

It’s okay to slow down and take a moment to gather your thoughts. Death is not an emergency, so if you are having trouble sorting through your jumbled ideas, press pause. Think about your wishes for a service and what you know about the deceased’s wishes for a service. Do you want burial or cremation? What kind of service do you want? Write your wishes down; sort through your thoughts over time. You can honor and remember your loved one the way you want, but it may look a little different. Be flexible with timing; don’t let anyone rush you.

Hang Onto These Moments

There’s a fair chance you were unable to be with the person who died just before their death. Most facilities aren’t allowing visitors in order to keep patient populations healthy. You are not alone in this heartbreak. Perhaps you can ask staff to take pictures of your loved one–a picture of their face, a picture of staff holding their hand–either before or after death. If you are able to be with the person you love, take pictures together. Times like this can be a blur; pictures can help us freeze these moments to help us remember and work through our grief later.

Be Present with Your Grief

When you hurt with grief, it can hurt so much you may wish you could feel anything else. Grief is a healthy, natural reaction to losing someone we love, and it’s okay to sit with these feelings and experience them. Remember to eat and hydrate, then do what feels right. Light a candle, say a prayer, write a letter to them, draw for them, walk in nature, cry your eyes out, laugh your heart out, remember the best moments you shared. Share your grief with others and let them know what you need. Grief is not the time to be Minnesotan about it–ask people directly. They likely want to help but have no idea what to say or do. You’re doing them a favor to ask for their help.

Adapt Your Funeral

Due to limitations on gatherings, you may be planning a simple service with only a few people present. Don’t forget to include people remotely! With a Zoom meeting, Tribucast service, FaceBook Live, or other webcast/livestream service, you can include people from far and wide at the funeral. For folks who can’t participate online, let them know when the service will be and ask them to light a candle or say a prayer at that time. Look at your list of wishes and see what you can include in a service now.

Plan for the Future

Next, think ahead to the coming months. Eventually, guidelines about social distancing will relax, allowing you to hold a celebration of life that incorporates the elements you can’t include now. To help you focus some of your energy (and possibly your feelings of grief), work on plans for that larger celebration of life now. Gather together their most treasured belongings, enlist friends to make handmade crafts, sort through photos for a video or picture board, make a playlist of songs, and find the perfect readings.

Advice You Can Ignore

One last note about planning: If your loved one “didn’t want you to make a fuss” about their death and asked you to keep it simple, you are allowed to take that advice with a grain of salt. We come together to honor, remember, and grieve for the person we loved, but more than anything, grief rituals are for US, the living. Rabbi Earl Grollman might have said it best: Grief shared is grief diminished. Find those points of connection and share your grief with rituals that speak to your love and your loss. The person you have lost is worth it.

Q: How Can We Grieve Under Quarantine?

Hello again, and welcome to another installment of Dying to Know, the blog where we answer your questions about death and dying. In these uncertain and unprecedented times, we are all muddling through to keep everyone safe and healthy, but we are already feeling the effects of isolation and the rapid response to the Coronavirus. How will this affect funerals? Can we still attend? What can we do to support those who are grieving? Let’s walk through some of these questions. Please note that this advice is based on current CDC advice, which will likely change over time.

A: Keep Yourself and Your Loved Ones Safe

Currently, the CDC is recommending avoiding gatherings of 50 or more people. Obviously, many funerals are attended by 50+ people. If you’re not a close relative, try to stay home from funerals in the near future. I know it’s heartbreaking, but you can still offer support to the grieving, or get support for your grief. Here are just a few options for adjusting funeral services:

  1. Hold a small service for immediate family now, and plan a larger celebration of life later on down the road. You can choose a date like their birthday, an anniversary, or just a special date they loved. (My dad was always partial to the convergence of his birthday, Juneteenth, and the summer solstice.) Additional planning time can be freeing while allowing you to work through your early feelings of grief. Pivoting from the pain of loss to embracing happy memories can help us process grief and truly feel our feelings. And time can also offer clarity to plan a special event that encapsulates the essence of our irreplaceable loved one.
  2. Work with a funeral home who can offer remote funeral attendance through webcasting. Services like Tribucast help people from around the globe attend a funeral live, and even rewatch the service later. Like watching a broadcast of a church service or attending a webinar, remotely attending a funeral allows you to “be there.” If your funeral home doesn’t have access to a webcasting service, tap a Millennial or Gen Z person in the family to help with services like Skype, FaceTime, or even YouTube. (Maybe not TikTok or SnapChat, though, okay guys?)
  3. Offer your love and support in a month or two, when family really needs it. When someone dies, it’s common to have an outpouring of support right away. But over the following weeks, the phone calls, letters of condolence, flowers, and casseroles start to disappear. This time can be very hard on grievers and your love and support can make a meaningful difference. Reach out and connect with them when they’re trying to “return to normal” and realize how hard that is. Offer concrete and real help by offering something tangible: Do they need errands run? Do they need their lawn mowed? Do they need a babysitter so they can escape for a few hours? How are they coming on settling the estate? Can you call and cancel utilities to spare them these phone calls? The more tangible your help, the more real support you can provide.

What Else Should We Prepare For?

Visit Limitations at the End of Life

In the last few days, I’ve talked to several families who were barred from spending time with their loved ones at the end of life. It is my sincere hope that medical facilities adapt their visitation policies to allow families to spend time with their loved ones at the end of life. If it means gowning up and scrubbing out at the end of the visit, so be it, but I strongly believe families should be allowed time with their loved ones at this sacred time of transition.

If family is unable to make it to the bedside of a dying person before they die, I encourage them to coordinate time with their loved one at the funeral home rather than at the medical facility. Funeral homes are well equipped to care for the dead and keep families safe, and they can ease burdens on medical facilities that are focused on caring for the living.

Changes in Care for the Dead

What is true today may very well not be true tomorrow. If deaths continue to rise, we may see significant changes in our care for and treatment of the dead. I know many dedicated and caring morticians, and I believe we will be well equipped to care for decedents as numbers rise, avoiding situations that arose in Italy. But funeral homes could be taxed, so we might see new recommendations on safe burial of the deceased. During the Ebola outbreak in West Africa, the WHO established a safe and dignified burial protocol for victims of the disease. Flu virus is harder to transmit between the dead and living, but there might be new recommendations about safe care for the dead.

Our Connection Transcends Quarantine

Mitákuye Oyás’in–We Are All Related, now just as before. We are showing our love for each other by keeping our distance, because we want the best for one another. Our grief is shared and will continue to be shared, even if it looks different from the outside.

Q: Is It Legal to “Weekend at Bernie’s” Someone?

Hello, and welcome to another installment of Dying to Know, the blog where we answer your burning questions about death and dying. So here’s a question: Can you bring your favorite dead person with you somewhere in your car? Prop them up on a beach with a beverage? Can shenanigans ensue?

A: NO.

But let me qualify that. I mean, you as a non-mortician person living in Minnesota, can certainly transport a dead person in two circumstances:

  1. You are the deceased person’s legal next of kin ~OR~
  2. The legal next of kin has asked you to transport the deceased person and they did not pay you to do that

HOWEVER, that’s just the start of the limitations on transporting the deceased in Minnesota. Here’s what else you have to do to legally transport a deceased person.

  • Use “universal precautions” to reduce the risk of transmitting a communicable disease. This generally means wearing latex or nitrile gloves, not necessarily an enormous hazmat suit.
  • Wrap the person in a waterproof sheet or pouch, cover them from view, and place them (flat) on a cot, stretcher, or a rigid tray.
  • Complete a certificate of removal.

Once you have the person ready for transport, the vehicle itself has to meet a few criteria, too.

  • Legally, it must be a vehicle that “promotes respect for and preserves the dignity” of the person
  • Shields them from view
  • Has enough room for the cot or stretcher to lie flat and
  • Allows you to remove the deceased person from the vehicle without “excessive tilting.”

So a clown car is likely out, but a pickup truck with a topper is actually just fine! So is a van with the back seats removed. And these days, most funeral homes are actually using normal vans to transfer deceased folks because no one really wants to see a hearse parked in their neighbor’s driveway. It’s discreet and it doesn’t make people on the freeway freak out.

What About the Beverage? The Shenanigans?

I mean, once you’ve had the fun-filled excursion of donning nitrile gloves, wrapping your friend in a waterproof sheet, and buckling them onto a cot, you might not have much of an appetite for a beachfront Mai Tai. But if you do, could you?

Well, after this point, MN law generally expects that the deceased person will be “decently” buried or cremated “within a reasonable time after death.” And as long as the person has been cooled with dry ice or other refrigerant, they limit this reasonable time to four days from the time of death or release from a medical examiner. The other hiccup is that if you have used dry ice or refrigerant to cool the person, they can only be “publicly viewed” on private property.

So if you happen to find a private beach and the owner agrees, you could theoretically settle in together for a drink. But keep in mind that you had to get them there wrapped up and lying flat on a cot, and now once you’re at the beach you’ll need to unload them, unwrap them, reposition them (good luck with that), put a drink in their hand, catch your breath, drink your drink, and then re-reposition them (good luck again), rewrap them, and load them back into your vehicle. Fun, right? Not the shenanigans you had in mind? Not my idea of fun, either.

So, there you have it. If your last wish is for your family to bring you to the beach buckled into the passenger seat, I’m afraid you’ll need to be in an urn first!

Q: Can A Mortician Pronounce You Dead?

You may be pretty familiar with the scene: a doctor in a white lab coat stands beside a hospital bed, using a stethoscope to search for a pulse. They look up at a nearby family member and solemnly shake their head, then quietly tell the nurse next to them, “Time of death: 8:07 PM.” Is this really how it happens when you die?

We expect doctors to officially pronounce death and then later list that time on a death certificate, and we all imagine something similar happens when a person dies at a nursing home or assisted living facility. But death can happen anywhere, so how does someone officially die outside of a hospital? What does it mean to be “pronounced dead?” And how does hospice affect this? Well, let’s just talk all this through!

A: Only A Doctor Can Pronounce You Dead

Movies and television have it mostly right: doctors pronounce death, which means officially saying someone has died. These doctors need to comply with federal laws, state and local laws, and the policies of the hospital or facility where they work. But doctors generally work with nurses and other employees who form a care team, and this changes the situation that movies have portrayed.

Usually, it works like this: a nurse is called to your room. They note the time they visit you, check for signs of respiration and a pulse using a stethoscope, and then check your pupils for a response. Then they call the on-call doctor and report what they have found. If the doctor agrees with the nurse’s report, they note the death in your record at the time the nurse quoted. (I’m skipping over an endless pile of forms that the hospital likely requires.)

And there you have it! You’re officially dead.

Afterward, that doctor will be responsible for listing the cause of death on your death certificate, based on your medical history. It is generally listed as the immediate cause of death (like sepsis, a severe bacterial infection), and then the causes that contributed to that (why you got that bacterial infection.)

Oops, You’ve Died Outside A Hospital

Dying is pretty straightforward at a hospital, right? Well, with the advent of nursing homes and in-home hospice care, more people are dying outside hospitals, and this affects how you officially die.

Death at A Nursing Home 

This actually looks basically the same as death at a hospital. Nurses report their findings to doctors, and doctors pronounce your death. Then those doctors determine the cause of death listed on your death certificate.

Death Literally Anywhere Else

Doctors are allowed to pronounce death at the places they work, but as you can imagine, they can’t just walk into a random hospital or nursing home and pronounce those people dead. (Imagine the paperwork!) So there’s another doctor whose workplace is the whole county: the medical examiner. A medical examiner (or M.E.) is the doctor responsible for pronouncing death and determining the cause of death for anyone who dies outside of a hospital or nursing home in their county.

So now, instead of picturing that lab coat scene we started with, picture situations that look more like Quincy, M.E. (Google it, millennials) or Law & Order. What happens when someone dies unexpectedly? We call the cops. And then the police and/or first responders arrive and assess the situation, and if someone has died, the M.E. gets involved. Let’s take a closer look at what medical examiners do.

The Role of the Medical Examiner

Medical examiners are trained medical doctors who’ve specialized in forensic pathology. As a forensic pathologist told me in my Mortuary Science program, their job is to speak for the dead. They investigate the death, the body of the person who died, and the circumstances to make their best approximation of the person’s cause of death. This includes performing an autopsy, if necessary, testing blood samples, and many other activities. Just like you can’t tell the police that fingerprinting “goes against your religion,” an M.E. has the authority to perform an autopsy whether the family agrees or not. They will try to be culturally and spiritually sensitive, when possible, but they have to do their job.

M.E. v. Coroner

Many folks have heard of a coroner but are less familiar with the position of a medical examiner. A coroner, unlike an M.E., is an elected official, like a sheriff. It used to be common for morticians to also serve as coroners because, well, we don’t mind being around the dead and we already have that fancy car to chauffeur them in. An M.E., on the other hand, is a bona fide doctor, board-certified in figuring out what happened to the deceased. Morticians and coroners? Well, we ain’t got the schoolin’ for that. So, as you can imagine, an M.E. is much more effective at determining a person’s cause of death.

Pronounced v. Found

So based on what we learned about pronouncing death, how does it work when an M.E. is involved? Well, it depends. If trained medical personnel attempt resuscitation and then determine an absence of pulse, respiration, and pupil dilation (like the nurses in medical facilities), then the time they report to the M.E. will likely be listed as a “pronounced time.”

However, if first responders don’t need any kind of a degree to know without a doubt that you are well and truly dead (use your imagination), the time they report will be listed as a “found time.” So you can be pronounced dead or found dead, depending on how dead you are when first responders arrive.

How Hospice Changes Everything

Okay, fine not everything, but hospice does change some things, and for the better. Registering with hospice is generally a process in which a doctor expects you to live less than six months, and you are no longer trying to cure the illness you have. Hospice care means treating you holistically, paying special attention to your pain management and comfort. Hospice patients may live at their home, at a nursing home or residence especially designed for end-of-life care, or sometimes at hospitals or other medical facilities. If you choose hospice care at home, hospice employees and volunteers will provide care in your home.

But wait! If you die at home, doesn’t that mean that the cops and first responders and everyone will need to come out to the house, and the M.E. will investigate? Nope! That’s one of the many cool things about hospice. Registering with hospice creates a special relationship between the doctor and the M.E. so they know to expect the death and they know that they (likely) don’t need to investigate it. The hospice nurse can check for vital signs, report to your regular doctor, and the process happens as if it occurred in a hospital.

Are There Any Other Exceptions?

Not really. Even if you are really, really, really old but NOT on hospice and you die at home, the police have to be called. Period. Even if it’s really obvious that there is no foul play, it’s the M.E.’s job to determine that. In this circumstance, it would be unlikely that the M.E. would need to bring you back to their office or perform an autopsy. It doesn’t take the cast of CSI to crack the case, you know? But the process of calling the police and reporting the death to the M.E. still has to be followed.

So there you have it: how to become officially dead and who gets the final say-so. I hope you have enjoyed the first installment of this blog! Again, let us know what you are Dying to Know for future installments.

A Note on Language in This Post

Two things you may have noticed in this article: I talk about death a lot, and I talk about you being dead in particular. I’m not trying to be rude, but I think it’s important that we all regularly acknowledge the reality that we are all going to die. Sure, it’s tough to face and potentially scary, but it’s also what we’re built to do–all of us. Our amazing bodies are built to run, and breathe, and laugh, and make babies, and eventually die. So, I hope this doesn’t reach you at a particularly tough time, because I want you to be happy and healthy and fulfilled for as long as you can. Knowing I’m going to die makes every day special for me, and I hope it can do that for you, too.

Second, I made a very conscious choice with pronouns in this article. No one in this article was gendered, and I used the “singular they” throughout. Maybe you noticed. Maybe it bugged you. I hope it didn’t bug you, but if it did, well, too bad? It’s important to me to help normalize the use of the singular “they” to make our world more gender-inclusive. The singular “they” isn’t even new in English, and I used it in a perfectly cromulent way throughout this article. And if you didn’t notice until just now when I pointed it out, I hope you too will make a conscious effort to use gender-inclusive pronouns. I can guarantee it will make a difference to someone in your life.

Special Thanks

A special thanks to my mom, Carol Woosley, R.N. (ret.) and colleague, Robert L. Archbold, for their help with the nursing and paramedic perspectives of pronouncing death.