top of page

Grandmothers are often smart and insightful women. For Dr. Robert McDermid, an ICU doc and hospital administrator, it was his grandmother who taught him what being a doctor truly meant. It was her last lesson of life. As she lay on her death bed, she opened her eyes, and couldn’t understand why she was still alive. She was ready to go onto the next realm.

Unfortunately, medical science typically views death as a failure but as Dr. Rob reminds us - despite advances in medical science the death rate is still - one per person. Having challenging conversations about end-of-life takes courage, whether it’s with your doctor, your loved ones or yourself.

For the past few years, I have been supporting the TEDx Surrey team by creating sketchnotes of presentations. Dr. Rob McDermid’s presentation is amongst some of the sketchnotes on my website.

A key insight that Dr. McDermid shared was that talking to people about dying helps them get more of what they need while they are living.

I enjoy being part of the VEOLI community (Visualizing End-of-life Issues). We are a collection of individuals from across the continent, who help visualize and facilitate end-of-life discussions.

One area of focus is helping people to visualize what their final days might look like. Where they are? Who is with them? What is the look and feel of their environment during those final days and hours? At the end of the discussion a Final Days Visual is created.

Of course, you can’t control the future AND just because you’ve articulated what you would like, doesn’t mean it will be exactly as you envisioned. However, we believe that by exploring this important topic, and having a visual record, your end-of-life wishes becomes easier to discuss with loved ones and with your doctor.

I encourage you to watch Dr. Rob’s TEDx talk. Make discussions about end-of-life an important part of life rather than something to fear. I'm here if you want to talk.

Opening to Grief

finding your way from loss to peace

Claire B. Willis

Marnie Crawford Samuelson

I just finished reading this slim volume this morning. I’ve been reading it for weeks, just a few pages a day because I am savoring each time I enter the world created by this writing.

Honestly, I can’t remember how I found this book. While one of the authors is a sister sangha member, that is not how I came to it. My best guess is that I found it browsing in a bookstore in a small town in western Massachusetts or the Hudson Valley of New York.

What do I love about the book and my experience with it? I enjoy sinking into the poetry at the beginning of each chapter, the real and relatable stories, references to other sources, and the great variety of suggestions and practices shared to work with our grief and loss, in essence, the tangible support on our individual journeys of healing.

While I have finished the body of the book, I have a few early mornings ahead of me to discover the resources listed in part four/for inspiration and the notes—I can’t wait until tomorrow to begin!

This book has inspired me to reach out to Claire and suggest that we become partners… I will begin to offer workshops to bereavement groups in which I teach people to draw and use their new skills to share where they are, what they’re thinking and feeling, what they hope for, or any subject that will bring them comfort.

If you have used writing, drawing, or other forms of expression (songwriting, dance, or more), I would love to talk with you. Please reach out to me.

With the holidays fast approaching and families gathering, here’s a great opportunity to let your loved ones know what your wishes are with regard to end-of-life issues.

It’s a delicate subject to raise, of course. Our culture is not very good at preparing us to talk about such a taboo subject. Our loved ones might have objections such as “Really? NOW?” or “Can’t we talk about something more pleasant?” but the reality is, having clarity about what we all want at the end of our lives benefits everyone. This clarity does need to be communicated, though, or it’s useless.

First, are you clear yourself about what you want? Do you have an advance care directive in place—where your loved ones can find it easily, as well as your medical provider? (The balancing act between being comfortable vs. lucidity vs. realistic treatment options must be thought through carefully. A medical professional, death doula, social worker or clergy can help talk through the issues with you if necessary.)

If you’re clear and comfortable with your decisions, one way to approach the topic is by using the case of a family member and saying — “I’d like that for me” or “I really don’t want to put you all through that.” Some people find it helpful to turn it into a game — laughter can help with the awkwardness. (See one possible example here.) Another possibility is to give everyone a sheet of paper to draw how they’d like to spend their last few days — or, even more important, how they WOULDN’T like to spend them.)

Most North Americans say they want to die at home, but the vast majority die in hospital. Having clarity about your wishes and conveying them to your loved ones definitely increases the chances of their being followed. Don’t wait until it’s too late, a scenario which is sadly all too common, and can lead to strife between loved ones. It’s a gift to your loved ones to be able to take the burden of hard decisions off their shoulders; they have enough to be dealing with already!

bottom of page