Great reads!

Summer reading… What did you love and learn in your explorations this summer—whether (physical) books, audiobooks, or maybe even podcasts?

While my list isn’t typical when I reflect on the phrase “summer reading” (which means “beach reads” or light fare to me),  I have loved and learned a lot. Here’s my list (beginning in late spring):

  • 10% Happier, Dan Harris
  • How to Say Good-bye, Wendy McNaughton
  • Kalyanamitra: A Model for Buddhist Spiritual Care, Rev. Dr. Monica Sanford 
  • Last Things: A Graphic Memoir About ALS, Marissa Moss 
  • Ronan and the Endless Sea of Stars, Rick Louis and Lara Antal
  • The World Could Be Otherwise, Norman Fischer
  • There is Never Anything but the Present, Alan Watts

I am in the midst of the workbook Living Fully and Dying Prepared by Francesca Lynn Arnoldy and cannot recommend it highly enough for everyone. She does in writing and through exercises what I endeavor to do in all my sessions on visual obituary creation and end-of-life planning—engaging in creative explorations of our lives and our wishes for care in our final days and weeks. This work brings a new appreciation of our present lives.

Are you looking ahead to September? I am planning new reading adventures, knowing that I have some books on my list for my studies and others that have piqued my interest. Next up for me is How to Tell a Story by The Moth, though I will listen to it in the car on my way to Maine in a few weeks. After listening to the book, I plan to call The Moth pitch line with an idea. Unbelievably, after attending the Creative Mornings program in which Catherine Burns was the speaker, I won The Moth: A Game of Storytelling! While it hasn’t arrived in the mail yet I can’t wait to open it and discover how to play. No doubt it will enhance my storytelling skills!

I’d love to hear what’s on your list—from the summer and the fall! I hope you will share!

Finding Joy in Reviewing Our Lives

Earlier this summer, I was a guest speaker for “Death Panels: Exploring Dying and Death Through Comics” at the University of Chicago’s Institute on the Formation of Knowledge. 

 My topic, “Creating a Visual Obituary,” is one of my favorites, though I have to say that I had never before facilitated this offering with graduate students. And, I had never worked with a group that had studied dying, death, caregiving, grieving, and memorialization in such depth. I was keen to discover how they would respond to the subject matter (obituaries), the 50 prompts I had created, and the activity (drawing their obituary based on the questions/prompts that resonated for them), which I had used with older audiences. 

The session was really wonderful—the 25 students were engaged, many of the students sharing their ideas and questions easily. When they split into pairs, the room became bubbled with conversation for the first 15 minutes and quiet as they each settled into drawing. 

As they shared their thoughts and feelings about the entire experience, I heard that they had integrated the themes we discussed into their work: who am I writing this for, what will I share, how do I want to be remembered, what were the highlights of my life, what challenges did I work through and how did they shape me, who have I been close with, how did I live my values, and more.

I loved the experience and plan to offer it more… it’s akin to creating your visual life story or a life review. I’ve also created a visual lineage chart—important people in my life and experiences I have had. It’s another piece that I cherish.

Are you interested in learning more? I’d love to share my ideas about sharing our memories.

If you’re curious about the hand-drawn visuals I create in support of people planning for the end of their lives (often these are folks in their 50’s and 60’s), I hope you will join the TEDxSantaBarbara Salon on August 23rd. Learn more here, and please reach out to me with your questions!

Perhaps the first step into one of the most important conversations of your life

Just last Friday, I had the amazing opportunity to present, Visual Storytelling for End-of-Life Planning at the Creative Mornings 2023 Showcase, Reverie. 

I am passionate about creating well-informed and meaningful conversations about all aspects of our lives, from birth through dying and death. There is so much to learn because we have many choices and want to make thoughtful decisions. I truly believe such rich conversations can easily lead us to more deeply appreciate every day of our lives. 

Here is the text from my 90-second talk; I wanted to share it with you. It is my invitation—really my gift—of an easy path into such conversations with your family and close friends.

Hi! I‘m Jill Greenbaum, a visual story catcher and advocate of the Death Positive movement.

I have a question for you: Would you be open to having a conversation about your current health, your work, and planning for your someday one-day death? Maybe two out of three?

To quote a colleague of mine, Jan Booth: 

“Starting a deep exploration of dying and death on our deathbed is unlikely….” 

I believe planning for our dying and death is one of the most important elements of our lives. What would you like to be the story—the plan—for your death?

  • What are your values about living and dying?
  • Where do you want to be in your final weeks?
  • Who will be with you?
  • How would you like to be in your environment —what music, scents, and visuals will be in the space?
  • What are your wishes for your life celebration, funeral, or memorial?
  • Have you thought about the disposition of your body after death?

I ask these questions, listen for answers, and create drawings that become living documents for in-depth, heart-opening, and vitally important conversations in families and among friends. 

I’ve shared one example of my work.

You can ask these questions of yourself and have these conversations too.

Please explore the wealth of resources that exist about creating the end-of-life experience you desire—for yourself and your loved ones. It is a journey that can help prepare you and will increase your appreciation of every day of your life. 

I hope that you will reach out to me with your comments and questions.

And, if you’re interested in having a gently guided conversation with me about your experience for your someday, one-day death, while I capture your plans in images and words, let’s have a coffee together to discuss the opportunity—in person or over Zoom.

PS: I thought it might be helpful to share my background in the end-of-life experience planning space. Y’all are connected with me through a great variety of my endeavors—visualization work, training, facilitation, coaching, Zentangle, and more. I have drafted a visual that shares my education, training, and experience in this end-of-life work. I hope it is interesting and informative. Of course, I’m happy to answer any questions that arise for you. 

A gift from the heart…

How can we show our love for our mothers?

Here’s a Mother’s Day gift idea filled with planning, preparation, kindness, compassion, and wholehearted love.

I believe that the reality of our mortality is the most powerful tool for inspiring us to live and love fully. There is only now, this moment, we cannot be certain of the future. With these ideas in mind, it is crucial for all of us to prepare for our inevitable death. We may be able to be more present, compassionate, and supportive during our loved one’s time before death if we enter into the work of talking about death and dying, and love and living. One of the greatest gifts I can give to those I love is dignity, presence, and following their wishes at a time of great vulnerability, in the dying process.

Having the conversation(s) about how you (and perhaps others) will care for your mom and how she wants to live the remainder of her life—the quality of life she desires— is a very special experience. I believe that it’s one of the most important discussions you’ll ever have with her.

I understand completely that there may be challenges to engaging in this dialogue:

  • Making time to think through which questions you need to ask to become clear about your mother’s wishes
  • Imagining how to have the conversation—from the introduction of the subject through to a successful conclusion
  • Answering the questions you are asking for yourself too, as your loved ones need to know those answers (and your answers may provide ideas for conversation with your mom)
  • Deciding together who else needs to know about your mother’s wishes so that all who might be called to act on them are clear and will honor them

(This intimate exchange may also be the time to share your thoughts about what you desire—or it may be too much for either one of you, and better left for another time (soon). Are you clear in your own mind about what you want? Are you able to explain it to your loved ones? Having legal documents (a will, power of attorney documentation, and Advanced Care Plans) is critically important. Of equal import is the conversations that make the documents come alive and provide clarity through specificity for those who may be placed in the position of making decisions.)

While we don’t want to think about life without our loved ones, we know that we need to be prepared for it. How would you feel if something suddenly happened and you didn’t know what your mother wanted you/your family to do?

Preparing for the conversation

Remember your purpose in creating the space for this conversation, it is the desire to learn about what your mother would want when, not if, her body fails her.

Speak from your heart. Listen from your heart too.

Here are some questions that may help you imagine this conversation. I have provided answers that I give about my wishes, in the hope they will be of support. 

“What would you want me to do for you if you got so sick that you couldn’t talk to me? What would you want from your medical care? What would be important to you at that time?”

“I don’t want any aggressive treatment, I just want you to let me go.”

What exactly does that mean?  

“If it was something temporary, reversible, and I could resume my life, communicating with others, being awake, and alert, then that type of measure would be acceptable. But no tracheostomy, ventilator, no nursing home. 

You know I am a very active person, I love that about my life. My family and friends, my art, travel, volunteering, my connection to my spiritual community, and my work are everything to me. I would hate a prolonged dying process and drawn-out dependency on others. I seek to live life well every day.”

While I can understand that those who love me might want to care for me and yet I could not do well without my independence. If I cannot care for myself and enjoy my life then I would want only comfort until I die.”

“I will never leave you. I live on in you.

If you want support in this delicate and important process, please reach out to me for conversation and resources.  

* This gift is meant for everyone. Think of the special people in your life and consider having these heart-opening conversations about living life fully and planning for the end of life.

Find the right time—but don’t wait for the perfect time.


PS: Next week I will circle back and share my completed visual from last week’s post!