Jennifer Mathews, M.A., is a writer, spiritual cheerleader, and change maker. She currently calls both Bristol, Vermont and Mount Shasta, California home (when she's not traveling elsewhere, that is).
Based on her own exploration of death, grief, joy and optimism, Jen offers life-affirming perspectives and practical tools to support others on their journeys. In her personal and unconventional TEDx Talk, “Death is Inevitable – Grief is Not,” she invites us to break free from the limitations and language of a grieving process and change the way we think about and respond to the death of those we love.
Jen is a founding member and organizer of the Ashland Death Cafe and the Living/Dying Alliance of Southern Oregon. As part of the Community Outreach team of the award-winning film Death Makes Life Possible, she has facilitated conversations on death, dying, and the afterlife in the US, the UK and Ireland.
What do a Rabbi, a Buddhist chaplain and former Evangelical Christian have to say about ministering to people who are nearing death? How does each tradition support someone in this state of being?
Photo credit: istockphoto.com/kuzma
These were among the questions posed as part of a recent Choosing Options, Honoring Options (COHO) event in Southern Oregon. The spring series is called “Facing Mortality: The Elephant in the Room.”
I attended a discussion about different spiritual traditions’ views on end-of-life issues. The five people on the panel work with palliative care and Hospice patients.
The presentation – which also included a Catholic priest and Presbyterian chaplain – did get into some specifics about God, impermanence, faith, and natural death versus assisted suicide. But those weren’t the pieces that I carried with me.
What I took away was much more simple. It was something all panelists agreed on. Their main common practice wasn’t based on comparative religion and finding overlaps from different spiritual traditions. Their common practice was based on a simple human act: Listening . . .
I tend to be a chatty person. And I’ve been known to ramble on now and again (and again and again). When my life-parter Kate had cancer and I was her primary caregiver, I became extra aware of these tendencies. I didn’t want to deplete her energy by talking too much or being too animated.
Photo credit: istockphoto.com/g-stockstudio
So I started talking much less when Kate and I spent time alone together. I also talked in a more relaxed tone, even when I was overwhelmed or in a hurry. She never asked me to be more aware in these ways. But I knew it was supportive. And I could tell she was grateful.
At the same time, I watched Kate be as engaged as ever with friends. She was someone who made you feel like you were the only one who mattered, that she was genuinely interested in you and your life. And she was! Even as her body’s symptoms worsened with her cancer, she would inquire about others’ lives and encourage them to share.
But after her visits, she would often say it had been a bit too much for her. She wanted the deep connection, but her energy would also feel drained. Kate preferred, of course, to interact in the same ways she did when her body was totally healthy. I imagine it helped her feel “normal” and not focused on her physical decline.
Ironically, Kate was the one encouraging friends to talk. Yet she didn’t enjoy feeling wiped out later. What are some ways to shift this predicament?
Looking for a creative way to honor a loved one at a memorial service? Making “prayer flags” is a simple and powerful way to engage family and friends when you gather together. It’s an opportunity to send your love on the wind and celebrate the cycle of life.
When I visited the east coast last fall, the prayer flags created to celebrate my life-partner Kate were still blowing in the breeze on her family’s land. They blended beautifully with the colors of the natural world – with the white birch bark, the orange and yellow autumn foliage, and the slow-turning green leaves of summer. (See the fall photo at the end of the article).
One of the highlights for me of the memorial celebrations in both California and Vermont was these homemade “prayer flags” with personal messages from those who had been touched by Kate’s life. Because I’ve enjoyed these flags so much, I wanted to share with you what’s needed to create your own prayer flags in memory of someone you love.
I hope the following suggestions and photos offer you or your friends and family an easy step-by-step guide to create prayer flags of your own.
Which comes first? A smile or feeling happy? A hop in your step or feeling lighthearted? Unlike the long-debated “chicken and egg” question, the answer is not based on speculation. It’s based on research.
It seems only natural to think that you smile because you are happy.
But since the late 1980s, studies began suggesting that you can change your emotional state by choosing to allow the corners of your mouth to curve upward into a smile. That the emotions can also follow the action.
Even though I knew about this research on smiling, I hadn’t applied it to other activities in my daily life. Like walking. Yes, walking.
I walk every day, even if that’s just around my house. It seems logical that you walk with more bounce when you feel good. But have you considered taking a more buoyant stride in order to feel good?
I’m here to report that a research group in Canada actually has!
When Alysha St. Germain asked to interview me about self-care and loss, I paused before I said yes. Self-care? Do I even practice self-care? Am I a good candidate for this topic? My answers surprised me.
After reflecting, I realized that I actually practice self-care every single day. For me the foundation of self-care comes down to one thing: Choice. What am I choosing in any moment? How am I feeling based on this choice? Do I want to choose something else or not? How does this affect my experience of loss? My experience of life?