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something you care passionately about, what would you say?

The Background

Every chance I get, I go to Creative Mornings New York, live and in person. The speakers are amazing, the folks that show up are friendly and all in. It’s always great experience.

Ami Dar, the founder of, was the speaker a few weeks ago. I was curious to hear about his latest project. As I filled out my name tag, I saw the opportunity to enter my name into the drawing for a 30-second pitch on stage in front of about 350 people at the CUNY Graduate Center in NYC. You can pitch whatever you like–your latest project, that you’re looking for new work, you’re looking for a date, you name it, it’s all fair game. I couldn’t imagine what I would talk about. When I said that out loud, one of the volunteers said, “Well, you have time to think about it during the presentation.” I tossed my slip of paper into the pitchwheel, not knowing what I would talk about. I walked back to a colleague of mine and mused about it. What would I talk about if chosen?

The Challenge

Just a few minutes later, as we sat in the large auditorium, my name was called! I was stunned. I had nothing to write with except my iPad, Apple Pencil, a pen, and a small square napkin from the breakfast treats. I wasn’t going to bring an iPad on stage and yet I felt I had to have some notes. 

The Result

So, I wrote and drew on the front and the back of a napkin… choosing one of my passions, which is, living my life fully by recognizing my mortality. I began…

“When I become stardust, I want to have loved well, lived well, and left the world a better place. I can do that by recognizing my mortality. Life is a gift! My passion is for life – all of it. I am all about making every moment count. We will never have this time again. My gift to you is this request—embrace it all, all of your life. If you're into talking about celebrating life by talking about death and dying, my offer is, I’m listening.”

To my surprise and delight, people shared their appreciation for my death positive message. About a half dozen folks spent time talking with me afterward. My thinking—people are hungry for these important conversations. If you’re so inclined, reach out to me—we’ll chat. 

This cartoon is an illustration of a Globe and Mail First Person story by Dr. Mary Ellen Macdonald:

Dr. Macdonald is a professor with the Palliative Medicine division at Dalhousie University. 

Despite her long-standing professional research into issues surrounding grief she, like all of us, describes how in this instance she missed the grief cues right in front of her and that surround us every day.

The field of "Grief Literacy" seeks to help people and society surface and understand the experience of grief that is normal in any life. 

There is a great need for all of us to support each other in grief and remove its hidden nature.

Of course, visuals themselves surface the nuances and impacts of emotions in ways other story-telling cannot. That's why I champion the work of VEOLI.

Two hundred years ago, people facing death were not given a whole lot of options about how their last few days would go. Maybe a little laudanum (or brandy) for pain, but mostly, you faced death as it came to you.

These days many, if not most, people in the developed world are given a lot of medication as they approach death. This is primarily to control pain, particularly in cancer patients, but there's another part of the story: to control terminal agitation (terminal restlessness, terminal delirium) which can occur often as a result of end-stage organ failure and other irreversible factors.

Terminal agitation isn't just a physical condition, or mostly not: it's often primarily emotional or spiritual, i.e. existential. It can manifest as extreme restlessness, sweating, night terrors, and extreme anguish even in people who have strong religious convictions about the afterlife. Not everyone who is about to die gets it, but it's estimated to affect over 80% of dying patients, at least in the developed world. Needless to say, it's very distressing for the person dying, their caregivers, and especially for their loved ones. Hence the heavy reliance on narcotic medications: avoid the anguish of it all. However, at the same time this removes a person's ability to face death consciously, even if this is something they might want to do, even through the existential dread.

Research has been done on a different approach, though -- using (currently illegal or highly controlled) hallucinogenic substances like LSD, ketamine, psilocybin (mushrooms) or MDMA (ecstasy). Someone who has tried ketamine told me the experience was like floating above their body, able to see it but not concerned. Since this approximates how most people want to experience death, it seems promising. The medical literature seems to point to the need for much more research on this topic. It’s difficult, of course, to measure the experience of someone else who is experiencing a condition induced by hallucinogens.

What does seem to be true, though, is that preparing for death -- how you want your last days and hours to go -- is really helpful. Knowing that terminal agitation might be part of the picture might be helpful for all concerned to help in this preparation. Let us know how we here at VEOLI can assist with visualizing your, or a loved one’s, final goodbye.

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