By easing the discomfort associated with talking about the often-taboo subject of death, Jamie helps people to face their mortality and live better, more meaningful lives. In this episode, Jamie Sarche, who is a writer, a seasoned speaker, and the Director of Pre-arranged Funeral Planning for Feldman Mortuary, Denver, Colorado’s most trusted Jewish funeral home, discusses how people can be less afraid of death by breaking down the taboos around discussing this often-difficult subject.
She shares her insights and approaches on how to have challenging conversations and address sensitive issues and explains her unique perspective on funeral pre-planning, which is to help people put their funeral plans in place long before they need them so that they can make educated decisions unclouded by grief.
Jamie also touches on the importance of allowing little children to be part of the death and grief process instead of protecting them from it and reveals which forms of “burial’ are best for the health of our planet. Tune in for a compassionate, honest, and thought-provoking discussion that offers a fresh perspective on death and dying.
IN THIS EPISODE, YOU’LL HEAR ABOUT THINGS LIKE:
- You live more fully when you recognize life is finite.
- Helpful, supportive tips for talking with kids about death and grief.
- What Jamie says to people who demystify death and helps them face their mortality.
- Fire cremation is horrible for the environment.
- Jamie’s insights and approaches to having difficult conversations and addressing sensitive issues.
- Grief is not a linear process.
- Giving our loved ones a ritual to process death is an important healing gift to them.
SOME QUESTIONS IRENE ASKS JAMIE:
- Have you always been comfortable talking about often-taboo subjects?
- What do you say to people to demystify death and help them face their mortality?
- How does funeral pre-planning help a person avoid chaos and dysfunction when their loved one dies?
- Do you have any insights or approaches about how to have difficult conversations about sensitive issues?
- What do you teach people about dealing with the waves of grief?
- What are some of your helpful, supportive tips for talking with kids about death and grief?
Watch the episode here
Listen to the podcast here
Jamie Sarche: Breaking Down Taboos To Confront Death, Face Grief, And Live More Meaningful Lives
I hope this finds each of you so very well. I’m speaking to you from my studio in West Orange, New Jersey and I am delighted to have this opportunity to interview Jamie Sarche, who is a writer, a seasoned speaker and the Director of Prearranged Funeral Planning for Feldman Mortuary, Denver, Colorado’s most trusted Jewish funeral home. Jamie will be speaking to us from Denver, where she lives with her husband and their two sons.
Jamie’s very special calling is to help people be less afraid of death. She feels honored and she’s grateful for the opportunity to help people through some of their most difficult days by talking with them about this often taboo subject. By helping them face their mortality, she helps them to live better, more meaningful lives, talking about being in sync with the mission of the show. When Jamie helps people put their funeral plans in place long before they need them so that they can make educated decisions unclouded by grief, they often lean back in their chairs, take a deep breath and say to Jamie, “That was so much easier than I expected.”
I’m looking forward to talking with Jamie about breaking down the taboos about death, funeral-free planning and how facing their mortality helps her clients to live better, more meaningful lives. Also, her insights and approaches on how to have challenging conversations and address sensitive issues and more. This is sure to be a special conversation that can ease the common discomfort many people feel about talking about the often taboo subject of death.
Jamie, a warm, heartfelt welcome to the show.
Thank you so much for having me, Irene. I’m so thrilled to be with you.
Thank you. The feeling is mutual. On this show, we talk about death a lot but we talk about it with hope. There’s more meaning to our lives and it’s important to heal. Here you’re helping people all the time with this.
I’m helping them recognize that death is part of our life. We live in this society and I know you know this, that says we shouldn’t talk and think about it. It’s so morbid. Get busy living. I’m a big believer in life. I also believe that by recognizing that our life is finite, that someday, who knows when we’re going to die, we’re going to live more fully. You do better when you recognize you have a timeframe for stuff.
In my world, because we’ve introduced so many mediums, healers and all, we know you lose your body suit and you are going to go on. What is the quality of this life that you’ve chosen to live? What is that quality going to be like? What are you doing with your choices? Let’s start and have everyone get to know you because what you do is such an unusual but wonderful service to people. It is a good deed that you do for people. Let’s start when you were a little kid. You talk about death. Have you always been comfortable talking about this taboo subject, including death and other taboo subjects from your childhood?
I don’t know if I always talked about death but I always did talk about the elephants in the room. Quite honestly, I didn’t feel like I belonged in my family. I wasn’t a fit for my family. I was set aside in my family. I never felt secure there.
Tell us more about that. What was that about?
I had unhappy parents who had a terribly unhappy marriage. They should not have gotten married and certainly should not have stayed married. They were separated for the first time when I was five. I remember being thrilled. I am a deeply empathic person. I’m quite certain that I have been around a long time in many lifetimes because I knew things as a small child that I shouldn’t have known.
Watching my parents, I knew that my family was not a secure place. I remember when they would go out when I was 3 and 4 years old, I would sit at the front door not certain they would come home. That doesn’t build a lot of security. Yet, I was doing okay, I guess. Going forward, I did okay. I had some real reserves in there. Sometimes I look back or I’ll be talking about this and think how I’m not doing so well but I am. I didn’t feel like I fit there. They were not very nice to me and they invited other people to be not very nice to me. It’s sad.
Did you have siblings?
I did. I had an older brother and he was the golden child. I was so straightforward in my approach. That wasn’t fit in my world. It wasn’t the way, especially my father, wanted to be. It was challenging for the person that I am that I would ask for what I wanted and needed and I would make statements about things. That wasn’t valued.
It sounds like you didn’t know your place. You were like a little kid. I’m saying it because I can relate to it from my childhood also. I used to hope my mother and father would break up because there was so much fighting and carrying on.
When they got separated the first time when I was 4 or 5, I remember going to kindergarten, telling my friends and being thrilled. I knew that would be better. They were separated for a year and then I don’t understand why but they got back together for what I would call seventeen more “fun-filled” years. They got divorced when I was 22.
I was grateful. I don’t know how they stayed together and if they would think they stayed together for the kids but it’s interesting because I have friends who are in situations where their marriage is not good. I don’t believe you’re doing your children any favor by staying together. It was a very insecure household. Able to have a final answer, I was already getting married by the time they were getting divorced. I’m quite certain that I was doing that because I got married so young and I’m still married to that same person. It was a good decision.
I wanted out of the house and I wanted into my husband’s family because my husband’s parents, his mom in particular, befriended me when I was about fifteen. Her name is Carol. She got to be friends with my mom and she would call my house. We only had landlines then and my mom was never home. Carol would chat with me and then she started taking me out to lunch. She truly was the first adult who loved me unconditionally. At 16 or 17, I told her that I thought John, her oldest son, was good-looking. He still is but he was. I always talk about how we had an arranged marriage and I’m very lucky because John’s dad, Michael, also loved me.
I moved into their house when I got out of college and then John and I got married. I’m lucky in that way. What was interesting is for us as parents, John went into parenthood thinking it would be pretty easy because his parents made it look pretty easy. I went into it knowing it would be very hard and that it would take a lot of work. I started reading parenting books in high school. I’m sure it was not about becoming a parent. It was mostly about wanting to understand if what I was experiencing was normal and what I could do to reparent myself. At that stage, I was already trying to find answers.
You were very broad and mature, ahead of your time.
I’m a pretty old soul and I don’t know that for sure. I would love to find out.
I can tell you who to go to.
I worked hard at being a parent because I knew it would be very hard. That worked out well. We have a deep connection with our kids. What’s been so beautiful is I always wanted them to be understood, seen and able to be their authentic self with me. I think that they have. They feel like they can share things with me and that’s lovely. I share myself with them and that’s also lovely. Sometimes I say things and I think, “Is that too much? Did they need to know that?”
If I’m having trouble with my father and I say, “I’m having a bad thing because this has gone on,” I sometimes will say, “Is that too much for you?” They seem so open, caring and loving of me. I appreciate that they feel seen and I feel seen by them. We have a deep close connected relationship. That’s all part of this. I am somebody who wants to talk about a lot of deep stuff. I’m not interested in small talk. I’m Interested in big talk.
You’re not transactional. We’re high sensitives. That’s what happens. That’s where we go with that. I want to know if Carol understood what was going on with your parents.
She did and she helped me understand a lot of what was going on with my parents. I was lucky.
She was a good friend to do that too.
The other thing that I have to credit my mom is she allowed it. My mom could have easily put the kibosh on that relationship. She could have felt jealous and maybe she did. However, one of the things I credit her with is that she knew she wasn’t able to meet my needs but a lot of parents would not allow the kid to get their needs met. That happens a lot where the parent will be envious and they ruin the relationship that a kid has with an adult.
I was lucky that she allowed it. I have told her how very grateful I am for that and how difficult, I’m certain, that was for her. That was a real gift that she allowed me to have that relationship. I’m pretty convinced that every young woman needs a deep close relationship with a woman that is not their mother.
If we could only make that happen throughout the world for everyone.
No question. I find it a little bit different with sons and I don’t know if they feel this way but I always think that sons don’t have to disentangle themselves from their mother in the same way that many daughters feel they need to. Certainly, I felt that I needed to. I didn’t want to be like my mother. A lot of the women I know don’t want to be like their mothers. Even if they think their mother is the greatest person in the world, they don’t want to be their mother. I find with my kids that there doesn’t seem to be that tension and I’m grateful for that. I wanted to be a mother of boys because I thought that would be the case. I thought it would be a cleaner relationship. It seems to have worked that way.
I have a son and three grandsons and I agree with you. We could go on and on and talk about that but there are a lot of similarities between us as you’re talking. You spoke about those taboo subjects, whatever you needed, to Carol.
Yes, I did. She was open to those things. The other thing is I always was doing that in other relationships. I was a peer counselor. I remember a woman who was a very close friend of mine at the time who shared with me about her bulimia and knew that I would help her to get help. I helped young women who were worried that they were pregnant or had an STD. I was good at that and I was comfortable with that. It was okay for me. They weren’t necessarily even very close friends.
At that stage of my life, I had trouble having close friends or at least I didn’t feel close. Perhaps they felt close but there were people that I could help right away. That was very nourishing to me, to help people get their needs met on things that they couldn’t get their needs met otherwise. I went to college in the mid-‘80s and that’s when AIDS was becoming more well-known.
I was teaching about AIDS at that time. I remember I was working on getting condoms in bathrooms at the fraternities and sororities. This was in the ‘80s. People weren’t even acknowledging that. I’m somebody who wants to acknowledge that things are happening and real. “Let’s deal with that.” I’ve always been that. This piece fell into place for me when I was 40. I didn’t know that I was so comfortable talking about death.
I know about the death of your friend Michelle. Did that happen when you were 40?
No. She got sick when I was 26.
She set you on your path and then something else happened when you were 40. Tell us about that.
When I was 26, Michelle, whom I had known since 9th grade and whose husband I had been very close friends with since we were 4, got diagnosed with glioblastoma. It’s a terminal brain tumor. It’s what John McCain had. Ted Kennedy had it. It’s bad. Everybody would say, “You’re young and strong. You’ll beat it.” That’s how we approach these things.
They don’t want to face that taboo subject.
They’re worried they’ll make you feel bad and you’ll make them feel bad. I didn’t do that. I said to Michelle, “What does this feel like?” She had a 10-month-old at the time she was diagnosed and our older son was 2.5. I said, “I’m here for you. I can talk about anything you need to say,” and we did. We talked about deep, important things that I’m so grateful that we did. It led me to feel much more grace about her illness and death. For her, it was a relief. Even her closest people, it was very hard to talk about it because she didn’t want to make them feel worse and they didn’t want to make her feel worse. Everybody was talking about it to other people but it’s very difficult to talk about to each other.
Except for you.
At least, that’s my feeling about it. She can’t tell me now or she maybe could tell me but I couldn’t be sure that’s what she said. What’s amazing was we went to Phoenix. Her son, Max, who was two when she died, got married. I’m going to start crying. We went to his wedding and it was in Phoenix. It was so beautiful, powerful and special to be there. I haven’t been deeply involved in his life. His dad, who had been one of my closest friends, got remarried and they had two more children. They live 10 miles away.
Those 10 miles have been a big divide because his life is so much different than my life now. While I love him deeply, we don’t see each other. I haven’t been deeply involved in Max’s life and yet there’s this real heart connection with us. He came to me at the wedding and showed me that his wife had made these beautiful little charms made out of pictures of his mom and him as a baby and his grandmother because his grandmother died a short while ago. It’s so meaningful.
I love that kid so much. I feel so grateful for that connection and feel deeply connected to Michelle truly every minute of every day. I do think that that experience of feeling of I can talk about this stuff put me on that path. It was not until more than a decade later that I heard from a friend that Jim Cohen, who owns Feldman’s, was looking for someone to do prearranged funeral planning. The truth is I knew not one thing. I had never done this. I have no background that says I should do this.
What was your education?
I have a degree in Communication. I had intended to work in television. I did some video work and I loved that work. I had kids and I wasn’t finding my career path. When I learned about this, it was a lightning bolt. I went to Jim, whom I’ve always known. He and I were in the same confirmation class in religious school.
I went to him and was like, “I am the person for this job.” He’d never had anyone in the role before. I got zero training. That’s been such a gift because figuring out how to create this program has made it so much better than most people who do what I do. Most people do it in this very specific way and I didn’t learn that specific way. It has made it much more authentic to who I am versus, “Here’s this script of how you do it.”
From talking to you, it sounds to me like a lot of your heart goes into it and people relate to you in that way. I would also tell you not only about past lives but I know a bunch of people. I feel very certain that Michelle was at her son’s wedding. She would come through with some messages. They’re wonderful mediums whom I’ve interviewed who could accomplish that for you. Let me ask you this. What do you say to people that demystify death?
They don’t always believe that this is an earth suit that’s coming off one day. They think it’s over when it’s over. It helps them face their mortality. Once you get that done with them, how does that help them to live a better, more meaningful life? We accomplish it seriously because we believe that there is more. How do you get someone who doesn’t believe in that?
I don’t know that I need them to know there’s more. For what I do, I am trying to help them to acknowledge that we all die. What happens after that? I share that I am quite certain that there is something else. I’ve had a number of experiences that prove that to me. I was with one of my clients, Bella, who was a Holocaust survivor. She was a client but she became a deep close friend. I became a deep close friend of her.
I met her when she was 86. She was a very strong person. She turned to me when she knew she needed hospice and figure out how to get that. I helped her to get that and then was deeply involved in all of that. I was with her on the day of her death. This is a person who had spent so much time trying to live and her death was very challenging. It was very hard for her to let go. As you can imagine, this is not something she knew how to do.
She had shared with me all the people that she had lost. Many people had died. All of her people died in the Holocaust. She got married and her husband Jerry died very young. He got TB in one of the DP camps, the Displaced Person camps. She was so very traumatized that if somebody would do something that didn’t live up to her expectation, she would cut them out. She lost lots of people that way as well. I was always afraid that I would be one of those people who would disappoint her and not so much that it would be a problem for me if she cut me out but then I would be another person that she lost. I did not want that.
I went to her house and I knew she was in the midst of actively dying. I sat with her. She said prayers for the people who died in the Holocaust every single day. I knew where the list of all those people was. I sat by her side and was telling her, “Jerry’s waiting for you. I don’t remember the other names of other people who are waiting and you need to go to them.” It was such a long process. It felt like minutes between breaths but then some noise would happen in another part of the house. I could watch her come back. It was terrible.
When she finally did die, it was like a light went out. It was like she was in her body and not in her body. It’s very obvious to me that there is a soul and I have felt that soul in many situations. That one was a visual manifestation of here’s the soul and now the soul’s not in the body. What is that? There has to be that life force and that life force left.
I experienced that with my husband when he died next to me in a car accident. There’s the whole essence and beauty of who he was. I was next to a body. That beauty, essence, and light in him were on the other side. It was true. You talked to her and that’s how you handle that. Let’s talk about funeral pre-planning and how it helps the family. First of all, do they approach you? How do you find each other? What does funeral pre-planning do for them? You say that it avoids chaos and dysfunction but let’s talk about that. They’re coming in. They’re nervous to see you anyway. They’re not sure they want to do this. “What am I doing?”
Sometimes they’re really nervous. In the beginning, I had to go and find them.
Did you knock on doors?
No, but some people do. I did not do that. I’m very lucky because Feldman’s, the funeral home in which I work, has a deep reputation and serves a niche. We serve everybody but at that time, we serve the Jewish community almost entirely. I thought, “How am I going to find people who are the right age and would be open to this message?”
I was scared of talking to them because if I talked to them about this, they’ll think I think they were going to die. It took me 2 or 3 years to wrap my head around the fact that I think they’re going to die. I’m right. They’re going to die. I’m not making that happen. That’s just what happens. Now, I’m comfortable with that but it took me a long time.
In the beginning, what I did is go to an organization that served people in the right community at the right time of life and created this series called Before the Mourning. It’s always hosted in a retirement community. It’s several weeks in a row and I bring in different speakers to talk about things that are typically very spiritual-based.
People always say they want to know about wills and trust but they’re lying. They don’t come to that stuff. They want things that are more emotional and that touch them on a deeper level. That’s what I do. I’m putting one together. I’m having a woman who’s talking about solo aging because a lot of people don’t have children and they’re very concerned about, “Who’s going to take care of me and all my stuff?”
I have two friends who have expressed that to me. I’d love to see that when you come through with that. Let’s come back on and talk about that.
I’ll write her down as a suggestion for you to interview her. She’s smart. She’s going to come. I am having a woman whom I don’t know if she would call herself a medium but she’s intuitive. She’s going to talk about how we all have that capacity. I have a woman who is an instructor at the mortuary college in Denver. She’s going to talk about different traditions around the world.
Last but not least is a woman who started an incredible cemetery in Colorado that is called Colorado Burial Preserve. It’s a green cemetery and people are very interested in that stuff. I’ve always done this. This is going to be my 14th or 15th season of Before the Mourning. That was a great way for me to start connecting with people.
I’m the host every time. They get to know me and realize that I am safe. They then become part of my pipeline. I start reaching out to them to say, “Have you considered doing these plans?” Some people say, “I’ve never considered it. I’m not going to consider it.” Some people say, “I have considered it but it is not the right time.” I touch them again in whatever timeframe.
Some of them go, “I’ve been thinking about this for so long. I’m so grateful to talk to you. Let’s have a conversation.” What we do is sit down and talk about what’s meaningful to them, what are their values and what method of caring for their body meets those values. We are the specialist in green options and people don’t know about them so much.
Talk to us about what are green options.
Lots of people believe that fire cremation is good for the earth because they say to themselves, “It’s good that I’m not using up space.” Fire cremation is horrible for the environment. Everything that is in our body, the mercury in our teeth, silicone in our breast implants, and other things, the burning itself is terrible for the atmosphere and it takes as much gas as a cross-country road trip. It’s a bad choice. The people in the funeral business talk about ash. There’s no such thing as ash. It’s ground bone. The fire burns away the tissue and then what’s left is the bone that’s put through a pulverizer. When it’s in a fire cremation scenario, that bone is filled with gas.
If you scatter it, there are no nutrients. The gas is bad for plants. It often kills plants. One of my friends from college, Erin, her mom died and she was fire cremated. They wanted to plant a bush and put the cremated remains under it. They’re thrilled about that. It immediately died. It’s another death. It’s a very painful situation. People don’t know. I’m straightforward about stuff that can backfire sometimes.
They’re determined to do that and that’s their tradition. There are cultures, which that is their tradition.
I’m not talking to people who are typically from the culture that you need to destroy the body for the soul to do its work. Those people are not typically my clients but it can be off-putting because they don’t want to know. Quite honestly, I don’t care what they choose. I don’t have any judgment about what method of disposition they choose. I just want them to make a decision based on knowing what they’re choosing. Sometimes that backfires.
Once, Jim, who owns Feldman, was at a cemetery where we do a lot of burying. This woman came running out and said, “Jim, Jamie told somebody that when they’re cremated, their bones are pulverized.” He said, “Yeah.” She said, “We shouldn’t be telling them that.” He said, “Is it untrue?” She said, “It’s true but we don’t want them to know.” Jim said, “We do want them to know.” That’s how I demystify. You get the real truth from me. I’ll say, “Please tell me if you don’t want to know and I’ll tell you only as much as you want to know. If you’re making a decision and you think that you’re doing something that’s environmentally sustainable, you should know that it’s not. There are other options.”
What is environmentally sustainable?
In Colorado, there’s something called alkaline hydrolysis, which is known as aquamation. It’s what Desmond Tutu had. Instead of fire being used to burn away the tissue, it’s alkaline that’s similar to liquid soap and water. That rapidly decomposes the tissue. The bones are left and they are put through a pulverizer. They are filled with nutrients still. If you want to scatter them, they will help plants grow. The water becomes the ultimate miracle growth. That can be used on plants. It can go to a flower farm. It’s beneficial for the environment.
There’s also, in Colorado, a method called natural reduction. That’s where the body gets put into a vessel along with organic matter that’s four times the body weight. After about three months, everything has turned to soil. There’s nothing human about it at the end. The bones do have to be pulverized in the mid-range because it’s not long enough for them to turn to soil but they go back in and then they also become soil. By the end, it’s not a mum anymore. It’s dirt that is used to reinvigorate the earth and the earth needs it.
The other choice, which is a very old choice, is green burial. We’ve been the specialist in that for 90 years. It’s no embalming. There’s no reason to remove the blood and add chemicals to the body to preserve it. Sometimes there’s reason but it’s very rare that you need it. We bury in a biodegradable container or no container at all.
Is that like a coffin?
Yeah. A biodegradable casket or nothing, just a shroud or whatever somebody wants. The body goes back to the earth. My understanding is that typically, everything would go back to the earth in 4 to 6 years. One of the things that can be so nice about green burial is in addition to the fact that it is good for the earth, it’s good for people’s bereavement. Having rituals surrounding the death of someone they love and taking them from where they are to where they need to be, can be powerful and healing. If they need to go back, they can. There’s a permanent memorial for somebody. It can be a beautifully healing way to process death.
I’ve experienced something like that and I agree with you. It gives you an opportunity to do a lot of grieving and be surrounded by the community around it and all of that. Our specialty is having these difficult conversations with people. Do you have any insights or approaches about how to have difficult conversations about sensitive issues, which we could use not just about death but everything on this planet? Any advice for people? They got to talk to their son about this, their daughter, or their boss. What’s Jamie’s advice about how you have those conversations?
Vulnerability is a strength. Authenticity and courage are strengths. If we can embrace those things and however we’re showing up, if we are scared and say, “I’m nervous to have this conversation with you but I feel like it’s important, let’s give it a try,” that’s helpful. Opening the door can be so helpful. I once had a client who called me and she said, “My parents are aging and I want them to put funeral plans in place but I’m afraid to talk to my mom about it.” I said, “Just do. I need you to know that it does not make anything happen. Give it a try. Tell her that you were talking to me and you realized you need to do this.”
She did. She went to her mom and her mom was like, “I’m so grateful you brought this up. I’ve wanted to talk to you about it but I was afraid it would scare you.” Those things are so important. Start practicing from a very young age. Do this with your children. I was listening to This American Life and there was a story on there about this classroom of third graders. There was this drawing some kid made. They named it Bob’s Sister and it was on the wall. One day, it disappeared and they had all these theories as to what happened to Bob’s Sister. They were talking about it all the time and were very upset by it. Ultimately, the kids decided they needed to have a funeral for Bob’s Sister and they did.
The teacher talked about how it became this very emotional and expressive thing that these kids could do in this classroom. There were kids crying. One kid was very upset. His dog had died so maybe it allowed him to tap into that. Here are all these eight-year-olds practicing. What a gift to these kids. We need to allow children to be part of this stuff. Sometimes we want to protect them from it and that’s not good. We need to allow them to practice.
Instead of when their goldfish dies running out to get a new identical goldfish so they don’t know, have a practice funeral for that goldfish. Say some nice words about that goldfish and bury them in the backyard or send them to burial and see whatever you need. Allow your kids to be part of that. Invite them to funerals. If a grandparent or a friend dies, invite them to come in. Don’t make them. If they’re little kids and they’re like, “I don’t want to go,” that’s fair. Allow them to make that decision on their own. Many of us try to protect them from this reality when it’s such a great time for them to practice.
The other thing is to be honest about stuff. There’s an incredible place in Utah called the sharing place. It’s a place for kids who’ve had a death of a parent to go and have support. You’d be shocked at how many kids have a death of a parent before they’re eighteen. Before COVID, that statistic was 20% of kids have a death of a parent before they turn 18. I’m quite certain that that has gone up with COVID. I don’t know the stat. In this place, what the kids do is tell the real story of what happened. Being able to talk about it using the correct language allows them to feel less isolated and less alone. That is a gift. We need to learn how to approach these things.
I was involved with a charitable organization for a while and their goal was to offer peer support for children who had lost parents or siblings. That peer support with these children who had all had losses made a dramatic difference in their lives.
They can feel like they’re not weird. What I’m convinced about and committed to is using the correct language about this stuff. I say, “Somebody died.” Even if I believe and I do believe that they went somewhere else, their body died. Their soul went somewhere else. I find it so fascinating. We have all these mass shootings that I am going to start calling terrorist attacks. When I hear people talk about them on the news, they’ll say, “A victim of the Buffalo shooting passed away.” I’m yelling at the radio, “They didn’t pass away. They were murdered. Don’t call it pass away.” That is so detrimental to our ability to deal with lots of things if we make it sound like it’s not real.
Let me ask you this. In your direct way, what do you teach people about dealing with the waves of grief and it not being a linear process because that’s another part? A person was murdered or they died or whatever happened. You’ve got the people who survived them and they’re going through all this emotion. How do you handle that, Jamie?
What I want them to understand is that they don’t know much about grief. Whatever happens, however they do it is the right way for them. The only thing most of us have ever learned about grief is what we learned in ninth-grade Psychology. That’s when we talk about Elisabeth Kübler-Ross and we hear about these stages. We think, “The first stage is going to be denial and the next stage is anger.” I don’t even remember all the stages.
First of all, Elisabeth Kübler-Ross was studying people who were accepting their inevitable death. She wasn’t talking about people who were bereaved and who had the death of a loved one. She never intended for it to be linear. It was a way to write it up. I try to help people to understand that it is not that way. It isn’t what we learned. We have to do it in our way and understand that we can survive it. If we allow it to come in, wash over us and allow ourselves to sit in it for whatever timeframe we need, that’s better. It doesn’t feel good but that’s better.
The more that we push against it and push it away, the worse off we’re going to be. The other thing that I try and teach people is how to be with people who are grieving. Sit there quietly. Don’t feel compelled to have answers. Show up. That’s the thing that so many people believe there are these magic words that will fix things but they don’t know the magic words. They’re terrified and they think, “Since I don’t know exactly what to say, I’m not going to say or do anything.” That’s a lot worse.
I also teach people, instead of saying things like, “Tell me what I can do or let me know if I can be helpful,” to say what they’re going to do. “Can I bring you a meal? Can I come to clean your house? Can I come to sit with you on Tuesdays? Can I take your child to school? Can I walk your dog? Can I bring the trash cans to the curb every week?” Say what you’re willing to do and that person can say yes or no. When you say to them, “Let me know if I can do anything,” first of all, they don’t know what they need.
They’re grieving. They can’t even think straight.
They’re not going to ask. It’s very hard to ask. You want people to know. If somebody can show up and say, “Here’s what I’m willing to do. Does this work for you? I can do this or this,” that’s so much of a gift to people. You need to keep showing up. If they are your close people, put the death date in your calendar and reach out to them. Put the birthday of that person in your calendar and reach out to them. Use that person’s name. I don’t know, Irene, if this happened to you but a lot of times the loved one’s name never gets said again.
In my case, not at all but yes, I’ve seen that happen.
We’re afraid we’re going to make them feel worse if we remind them that their person died. I guarantee they remember.
Not only that. Instead of it being something to be so upset that they have to face that their person’s gone, how about the fact that those memories and talking about that person is a blessing and you’re not behaving that part of their lives? They had that person in their lives.
Go with them in the way they want. I was with some clients who came to do their funeral plans and they shared with me that their son Brian had died. I said, “Would you tell me a little bit about Brian?” The mother said, “Do I need to? I don’t want to.” Who am I? She doesn’t need to share her person with me if she doesn’t want to. I still think it’s a good idea to say, “I’d love to know about your son Brian.”
Many people thrive by continuing to remember the loved one who died and honoring them. How do people talk to kids about death? How do you advise that about death and grief? This little kid is 8, 10 or 3. They lost their mom, dad, the dog or whoever. How do you advise people to talk to kids about that?
You have to do it with the advice that you have about teaching them about sex. You have to go with them where they are and ask them questions about what their understanding is about this. I would never tell somebody that somebody went to sleep. That can terrify them. Help them to understand that while everybody dies, the other people who love them are going to be around for a long time because this is scary for them. They’re concerned about mostly what’s going to happen to them.
That’s one thing I would encourage, whether you’ve had somebody die or not, when kids are little kids to talk about all the people that they have and hopefully, they do have some people. With my children, when they were young, I would talk about all the grownups who love them so they know how safe they are. I would allow them to say whatever it is that they need to say. Allow them to come to the communal events that are happening around death and do whatever it is that they need to express it.
Tell them the truth about things. Don’t try to cover things up. If, God forbid, somebody took their life, you can share it with them. “Daddy had a very bad illness that made him feel like he was better off dead. He took his life and it’s because Dad had a bad illness that made him do that.” Allow them to express things and talk about them in a real honest and upfront way because those things that we keep in the dark are a lot scarier. When we turn on the lights, it’s easier to know that we can survive.
You could make up a story or a fantasy, which is a lot worse than the reality.
It almost always is much worse.
Tell me also, Jamie, you have an inspiring story about visiting the cemetery, which was 25 years after your friend Michelle’s death. Talk about coming full cycle. Do you want to share that with us?
I shared a little bit about going to her son Max’s wedding. The fact that Mark, her husband and I, who had been such close friends since we were four, were not that connected anymore. We love each other deeply but we don’t see each other regularly. We’re not in each other’s lives. That hurts me. For many years, it would cause me a lot of pain. I had this story in my head that I’m not that important. I had some things.
We tend to create stories, don’t we?
Yes, we do. Michelle’s mom died and I went to the memorial service but I wasn’t invited to the burial. That was private. The memorial service was beautiful. The next day, I said to my husband, “I need to go to the cemetery.” I did. I was quite certain I’d know exactly where Michelle was buried. I could picture myself there. I was wrong. I had to get in touch with Mark to say, “Tell me where she is.”
I found the grave. I stood there and cried so hard. It was like she had died the day before. What I realized is I was grieving the loss of potential. I was grieving the trips the four of us would’ve gone on had she lived. I was grieving our children being raised together had she lived. I didn’t get that future. Mark has a wonderful life but it isn’t with me.
You were impacted. You were grieving your disappointment.
I was grieving my losses. My losses were not so much Michelle because Michelle’s with me all the time. For some reason, I always feel like she’s on my left shoulder. It was like I missed out on all of this stuff because she died. It was interesting. I’ll share it with you. I haven’t shared this much but I was listening to music while I was there. When I got to her grave, the Dolly Parton version of I Will Always Love You came on.
There’s this whole talking piece and it was Michelle talking to me. It was a deep message from Michelle. It was Dolly saying it but it was Michelle’s words. Another song came on and that didn’t mean anything to me. I said, “Send me another one. I want another message.” You’ve Got a Friend came on. I’m going to cry again. I know she’s with me all the time but it was a nice validation that she’s with me all the time.
Speaking of that, what do you tell people when they come to talk to you about their free funeral planning and all? Do they ask you about the afterlife or communicate through mediums? Does any of that ever come up?
It does sometimes. It depends on where they are on their journey. I was doing an arrangement with a couple. The wife had cancer for a long time and she had 21-year-old twins. She was very worried about what is their life going to be like without her. She was a scientist so she was sure there was nothing more because there was no proof of there’s anything more. I said, “I hear you. I know there’s more. Here’s why.” I gave her some thoughts and shared with her about my friend Bella dying. I said, “I don’t know how you received that but I want you to know I am certain there’s more.”
She died. I should try and see if she’d come to give me some validation about what she believes that she died. Also, with her, she was going to have a fire cremation. We talked about how if she got buried, that would be healing for her family. That’s ultimately what she did choose to do. I’m sure that our conversation was helpful to her.
The other one that I can think of was a woman whose husband died by suicide and I did an arrangement with her. She shared with me how she’s sure Ari is out there. The two of us were both going to see a medium. It was a large group reading and I said to her that day, “I’m going to put out my thoughts to Ari to make sure he comes through,” and he did. I saw her afterwards. She gave me a big hug and said, “Thank you so much.” I didn’t do anything but I was there. He heard me and it was more people asking for him to come through. He might have come through anyway but I’m so glad that he did. She needed it.
In what ways does embracing our mortality and making plans to give our loved ones a ritual to process death become an important healing gift to them? Do you have any special offers for our audience?
I do. When we take care of these things, we get a lot of peace of mind. It’s a way for us to take care of our loved ones, even when we’re not physically present to do it. It’s the first time when somebody dies that we have to make decisions on their behalf without them even being physically present. It’s such a gift to say, “This part is done. It’s like I’m here holding your hand. You can know you’re doing exactly the right thing.” That’s such a gift.
For my clients that do it, it’s such peace of mind for them and it’s a way for them to start acknowledging the fact that we’re all mortal. We are going to step out of these bodies at some point. That’s okay. That’s a wonderful thing for them. As far as offers for our audience, if anybody is in the Colorado area and would like to put plans in place, I would be honored to help you. If you mentioned this show, I would be happy to give you $150 off of any plan that you would make. Say, “Irene sent me.” We do everything available. We do fire cremation, aquamation, body composting and burial.
I have another thought that I’m going to ask you. Do people ever ask you about having a celebration of their lives? I hear a lot about that. They go like, “Give me the traditional thing but I want a party.”
That whole idea is an interesting thing. “I don’t want anybody to be sad when I die.” That’s what I hear a lot. “I want it to be a big party.” I am a big believer that a lot of people don’t feel celebratory. When we’re telling them what they’re supposed to be, they feel like they’re doing it wrong and we’re not allowing them to access whatever emotion they might have.
I am not a fan of a celebration of life. I always believe if you want people to celebrate, do it while you can be there physically and hear all the nice things they say about you. That’s a beautiful thing. A memorial service or funeral is powerful in allowing people to feel whatever they feel. That doesn’t mean there can’t be moments of laughter. There could be lots of moments of laughter but not saying, “Here’s what we’re doing today.”
Different cultures have different ways of doing it. Truly, for some cultures, it is a celebration that they’re going to be with God. However your culture approaches it, I honor that but a lot of secular people want to tell their people not to cry. I’m not sure why. Why can’t we be sad that somebody’s dead? Even if we know that they’re somewhere else after, I know that but I’m still sad they’re not with me. That’s okay.
What is Jamie providing joy in life?
I have been working on this. I have not always been somebody who can feel joyful or at least I don’t label it that way. I’ve been working on it for the last couple of years. I want to approach my life with a lot more joy. I’m learning some things that are fun and wonderful. After many years, I went back to skiing. I will tell you that is such an empowering, joyful experience. I love it so much.
You’re in Colorado. How do you beat that?
That’s been fabulous. It is this new experience. My family’s all been skiing for years and I never went with them. It’s fun to be with them and to be with friends.
You allowed yourself to change and expand to enjoy your present moments with them more and enjoy what you’re enjoying.
To recognize that I’ve had this identity for many years that I’m not a skier, that doesn’t have to stick. I have a different identity. I am a skier and I love it. That is one of the things that is important in having a joyful life. It is to say, “I haven’t always been this way but I can open to new things.” I’m also learning Spanish again. Something that’s always bothered me is that I am only an English speaker.
As Americans, it’s upsetting to me that we expect everybody else to speak English, even if we’re in a different non-English speaking country. Most people do. We can just be American there. It’s always bothered me. I’m back to learning Spanish. My husband and I were in Costa Rica. I tried using it. It was uncomfortable and that felt good too.
Being on the edge of uncomfortable is not a bad thing. I spent most of my time on the edge of uncomfortable. You’re learning new things here and taking those steps. You can always take a step backward if it doesn’t work out for you.
That’s when we grow. You’re exactly right.
Jamie, I want to thank you for so courageously helping people to recognize that their lives are finite, which empowers them to live their lives more fully and meaningfully at each moment. I want to thank you from my heart for this very illuminating interview filled with these important insights about death and grief for our audience. Here’s a loving reminder. Make sure to follow and like us at @IreneSWeinberg on Instagram, Facebook, and wherever you get your social media. As I like to say, to be continued. Many blessings. Thank you so much, Jamie.
Thank you, Irene.
I appreciate it, Jamie. Thank you.
It’s such a pleasure.
- Jamie is offering $300 off a funded prearranged funeral plan for folks in the Denver Metro area and a 10% family consult for folks anywhere else. Contact her for more information via the Feldman Mortuary website
- Follow Jamie on LinkedIn.
About Jamie Sarche
Jamie’s calling is helping people be less afraid of death. By arranging for them to provide their loved ones with a planned and funded funeral or memorial service, together you create a path for bereavement, long before it’s needed. And by facing their mortality, her clients can live better, more meaningful lives.
A seasoned speaker, Jamie brings deep experience in death care to a broad range of audiences around the country, sharing insights and approaches on how to have those difficult conversations and how to address sensitive issues. Extending well beyond death and dying, Jamie’s message resonates across industries and individuals, bridging her passion to demystify death while enlightening communicators on overcoming challenging conversations.