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End of life planning a critical conversation

“We can definitely start to personalize things more— There’s lots of great ideas you just have to have these conversations.”
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BRAGG CREEK— When preparing for the death of a loved one it is critical to have conversations about how their life will be celebrated.

End of life doula Julie Handrahan said talking about death does not need to be scary or intimidating and can instead serve as a way to celebrate and honour the journey of those who have passed on.

“There’s an old wives' tale out there that if we have these conversations it’s going to bring death to us sooner,” Handrahan said. “We’ve taken that conversation of death and dying right out of our whole reality.”

As an end of life doula Handrahan comes in at the conclusion of someone’s life journey. She serves as a coach and works to empower and assist families in the decisions they make when it comes to celebrations of life and the end of a life journey.

“At the end of the day, our hope is that families do go, 'wow I didn’t think I could do that but I did it,'” Handrahan said. “When you can help somebody and empower them. That is one of the most amazing opportunities that there is.”

Handrahan added, she encourages people to find out what their families want because it can help people feel confident in knowing they are completing the wishes of those who have died.

“When you have these chats with your loved one you can see that all this gets done,” Handrahan said. “It’s healing for everybody and it’s beautiful goodbyes.”

Without these conversations, families can become stuck in a spiral of doubt questioning if the correct decisions were made in regards to end of life celebrations and general directives. By having this conversation and planning for memorials families are able to focus on grieving instead of racing around finalizing plans.

The more people are able to talk about death plans the less nervous people feel. Doing so can start to normalize the conversation around death and dying while ensuring those who pass on are treated with dignity.

Everyone can have a role to play in planning for an end of life journey, she said, and doing so allows friends and families to craft unique ways to celebrate the passing of a loved one.

Handrahan used how her family honoured the passing of her father as an example.

“Every Thursday he would go to the Legion and meet his friends for coffee. The Legion was a huge part for him— 2 p.m. they would have their coffee and chit chat,” Handrahan said. “He didn’t want anything, but for us, I think we wanted something to honour him. We gathered at the Legion a couple of weeks after his passing and had a coffee.”

Alternative services are growing in popularity, Handrahan said, and they offer friends and families a way to celebrate loved ones in a way unique to them.

“We leave this world, and we journey on, and we need to celebrate that life,” Handrahan said. “Discussions need to start happening sooner and any alternative type of service should reflect that person.”

Handrahan has seen memorial celebrations where people go out onto the trails for those who love hiking to spread ashes, going to a loved one's favourite fishing spot to spread ashes, writing messages of love on caskets, green burials and other unique personalized ideas.

“There’s all kinds of plans out there,” Handrahan said. “We can definitely start to personalize things more— There’s lots of great ideas, you just have to have these conversations.”

Handrahan said a celebration of life serves as a way of honouring the person and there should be laughter and opportunities to stop and reflect on moments they would have especially enjoyed.

“These conversations are so important because everybody should be involved,” Handrahan said. “I really think the joy of being able to bring that person into the goodbye, the memorial, and that is super meaningful to everybody— It can be different things to different families.”



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Chelsea Kemp

About the Author: Chelsea Kemp

Chelsea Kemp joined the Cochrane Eagle in 2020 as editor, bringing with her experience as a reporter and photojournalist. She writes about politics, health care, arts and entertainment and Indigenous stories.
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