Maggie Gannon is a board-certified Adult-Gerontology Clinical Nurse Specialist and the CEO/co-founder of HAVEN, the all-in-one, under-one-roof space for legacy preservation. After taking care of head and neck cancer patients for over 25 years and with her own history of death and loss, Maggie created Haven, a customer-focused company built from the ground up to give the dying a voice. This digital, end-of-life platform compassionately helps the dying person and his or her family, along with the companies and agencies that serve them, to successfully navigate the end-of-life.
IN THIS EPISODE, YOU’LL HEAR ABOUT THINGS LIKE:
- What an Adult-Gerontology Clinical Nurse Specialist does and why Maggie was attracted to this specialty.
- Maggie’s inspiration for creating Haven was her dying sister’s “blanket of denial.”
- Why the self-written obituary is the heart and soul of any legacy.
- How people need to change the way they think about death.
SOME QUESTIONS IRENE ASKS MAGGIE:
- In what ways do you help a person create a self-written obituary?
- How does Haven improve the perception around death and end-of-life planning?
- What is the current quality of life for people nearing the end-of-life?
Listen to the podcast here
Maggie Gannon: Dying Is As Natural As Being Born. Do Not Wait To Plan For Life’s Last Chapter – Reach Out, Give The Elephant In The Room – Death – A Big Hug And Live With Purpose.
I’m delighted to have this opportunity to introduce all of you to Maggie Gannon, who is a board-certified Adult Gerontology Clinical Nurse Specialist and the CEO/Cofounder of HAVEN, the all-in-one under one roof space for legacy preservation. Maggie will be speaking with me from Broomfield, Colorado. After taking care of head and neck cancer patients for over 25 years, and with her own history of death and loss, Maggie created HAVEN, a customer-focused company built from the ground up to give the dying a voice.
This digital end-of-life platform compassionately helps the dying person and his or her family, along with the companies and agencies that serve them to successfully navigate the end of life. I’m looking forward to talking with Maggie about her meaningful personal story, her mission, the quality of life for people nearing the end of life, and the resources surrounding end-of-life planning and caring. This is surely going to be a powerful, helpful interview about living life with purpose until your last dying breath. Maggie, a heartfelt welcome to the show.
Thank you. It’s a pleasure and a privilege to be a guest. I feel so honored and I’m happy to be here.
I’m happy to know you. You’re lovely, and knowing what you’re doing and then be able to tell people about what you’re doing, which is so important. Let’s begin with this question. What is a board-certified adult gerontology clinical nurse specialist? What exactly do you do? That’s a lot.
It’s a mouthful. An adult gerontology clinical nurse specialist is one of the advanced practice roles of nursing. It’s a little bit like the nurse practitioner role in that a clinical nurse specialist can provide direct care to patients, but it has a lot of other skillsets intertwined within this role. We are trained to bring clinical evidence-based science to help improve quality of life processes around the bedside to help nurses do what they do better to help patients have a safe journey through the hospital.
You have such a meaningful personal story about your sister and what you call her blanket of denial, which is one of your primary inspirations for creating what you do, which is called HAVEN. Would you like to share your story with us?
I wrote an illness narrative describing the vigil that was held for my sister the night before she died. For those of you who don’t know what an illness narrative is, it’s a way to make sense out of traumatic events that don’t seem to make sense at the time. An illness narrative is a way to heal by writing about an experience. This was a profound experience for me when she died.
It helped me to come to terms with her death and accept the powerless of the situation. My sister died from cancer and during the course of her illness, she was unable to come to terms with her own mortality and acknowledge the elephant in the room, death and dying. For my sister, there was an intense amount of fear and denial around her perception of her illness and death. There was no way for anybody to broach its subject with her.
Just like death and dying, you ignore it, but it’s still there. With her, she continued to ignore it and at the end of the day, she didn’t die well. There was no closure. There were no necessary conversations around death and dying. We never even had a chance to talk about the practical things. What I wanted most, and everybody else in my family, was to ease her pain and suffering. This could have been accomplished if we had the opportunity to discuss how she was feeling. What was her perception of death? What feelings would come up for her?
Also, maybe discuss your feelings too, would you think?
Yes. The more people talk about the subject, it not only helps the person who’s experiencing the illness or the terminal illness, but it helps everybody else with grief and closure. By broaching the subject, it would’ve helped us chip away at it so she could find some acceptance and peace. To your point, Irene, it would’ve helped all of us find grieving and closure in a more healthy way than when it did happen.
Nobody knew that it was going to happen because she wasn’t truthful about where she was in her illness trajectory. It was profoundly sad for me, not only as her sister but as a nurse. I realized that something has to be done with how our culture views death and dying. I didn’t want this experience to ever happen to anyone else again.
Let me ask you, had you had HAVEN for yourself and had your sister been open to that, how would it have been different?
It would’ve changed everything. Instead of being paralyzed by fear, it would’ve put her in a situation where she could have accepted, “I’m going to die someday. Death is part of life and I’m going to honor this last chapter of my life.” It would’ve given her choices around, “This is what I want my death to look and here are the things that I would like to say that I’ve never been able to say before.” It would’ve helped us all to heal in a different way.
You guys probably, through your process, could have also expressed yourselves.
To have that conversation is so powerful and it’s so healing to look at somebody and say, “Thank you for being in my life.” I can’t find the words to say how important that is.
Let me ask you one other thing around that. It can happen while they’re dying, but it can also be what people do to be kept till after the person dies to give them closure. If they’re uncomfortable discussing it or addressing it full frontal, it can still be a way to address it after. That’s so important. The mission of HAVEN is to improve the quality of people’s lives by changing how they think about death. How do we all need to change the way we think about death?
Learning to find acceptance that death is part of life and then learning how to coexist with our own mortality of knowing that the elephant’s in the room. However, I’m okay with that. By bringing it to the surface, we’re able to talk about and prepare for certain aspects of it. By doing this, we’re giving it a deeper sense of love and honor. This is a way that we can make a feared experience something more meaningful and peaceful when the time comes. In this way, we’re setting ourselves up to die well with reverence and respect for that natural part of our life cycle, which is called death.
It sounds like you’re replacing fear with acceptance.
Acceptance is the answer to all of our problems.
Why would someone’s story in the form of self-written obituary be the heart and soul of any legacy? In what ways do you help people create their stories if a person’s getting lost for words or doesn’t know how they want to express this?
The first part of the question is, why is it the heart and soul? Why would somebody’s story encompass the heart and soul of their legacy? If you think about it, regardless of our walk in life, who we are, and where we’ve been, we’re all uniquely different. We’re all special, and we bring our own magic to life. We leave a footprint, and that footprint encompasses our legacy. By writing our own stories, people can gain a clear sense of self. They can remember how I had an impact on my life, and that impact, that footprint encapsulates their legacy.
Oftentimes because we don’t deal with the end of life and we don’t accept death and dying, we’re not preparing for it. We rely on everybody else or somebody else when they’re feeling shellshocked to write our obituary. That’s a big miss because there’s a big chance that that person is not going to be able to capture the entirety of you and that footprint that you created in all the lives you’ve touched because they only know a portion of you.
They know the portion that’s related to them mostly. If a person says, “I’m not good at writing. I’m so sick. I don’t know what to say,” do you help them to craft it?
Yes. We lead the user or the member through seven easy steps, and there’s a writing center. They’re able to do some life writing, and they have a life review kiosk where they can select seven different categories to choose from to get the conversation started. Think of it like a conversation and they can say, “Let’s talk about my ancestry and family.” There are a lot of prompts to get people to remember what resonates the most with them, and then they can start writing about it.
It’s wonderful. In fact, I lost my mother. My mother passed about years ago. That would’ve been a wonderful thing because she would’ve had a lot to say about her life. I eulogized her, but I’m sure that there were parts I did not know.
I’m sure it was a beautiful eulogy.
It was heartfelt, but it’s a great idea. Maggie, please share some of the wonderful legacy resources you have lined up for seniors, caregivers, funeral pre-planners, obituary writers, and more.
We have a lot of resources that we created for all of these people in this end-of-life profession to help their clients. Some of the features on our website include unlimited photos. They have unlimited space to write their story. There’s a writing center with a life review kiosk. They can choose a charity to donate to in their memory. We added something called a Living Legacy letter. This is a profound way to share last messages, hopes, dreams, and wishes with people in your life that you love. You can share the letter with everybody before you die. That’s helpful for relationships or you can choose to send these letters after death.
That’s beautiful. That’s wonderful. Tell me about other experiences in your life that have inspired you to create HAVEN.
There have been a lot. As a nurse, I’ve worked with head and neck cancer patients for over 25 years. I know about death and about dying. When I think about where we are with how our culture views death and dying, we are in big trouble. Nobody wants to acknowledge the elephant in the room, even though it’s happening all around them. Death’s happening. We have the tendency to push it away and ignore it.
Prior to the pandemic, there were 90 million Americans with serious illness. Now, after the pandemic, that number’s increased from 90 to 150 million people who are living with chronic and serious illness, and we’re living longer. If you think about the seniors, in 2035, there are going to be 75 million people over the age of 65.
In pain and suffering?
Just normal aging. You’ve got 75 million seniors over the age of 65, and only 1 out of 3 that 75 million will have any end-of-life plans in place. That means 52 billion people by 2035 will not have planned for the end of life. This sets the stage for anybody with a chronic illness or anybody who hasn’t planned for the end of life to not die well. This is why these two demographics are the most vulnerable demographic with low quality of life and unnecessary suffering. For these reasons, I realized that we had to do something about death and dying. We know that the mortality rate is 100%. It’s going to happen to everybody.
It’s as natural as being born. We celebrate births. We’re even celebrating the gender of our babies before they’re born. However, when it comes to dying, we’re being robbed because of how we perceive death. We’re robbing ourselves of a normal human experience called death. With HAVEN, my hopes were to change the way that we view death. We don’t have to suffer miserably. We can have reverence for this and embrace it. With HAVEN, it’s easy because it’s all we do is start the conversation with someone. When some people remember who they are, they remember their value and all the hearts that they’ve touched along the way, and that changes their last chapter magically.
It gives light to what would normally be a dark experience for a lot of people. It doesn’t have to be. You also have a Digital Legacy Therapy for Advanced Care Planning, and you say that it improves a person’s quality of life. Can you tell us a little bit about that, Maggie?
As a clinical nurse specialist, as I explained at the beginning of our talk, I was trained to use clinical research to translate that to help people. When I was thinking about what this platform was going to look like, I put my little nursing cap on and created the platform that was rooted in evidence-based science that’s proven to increase quality of life for not only a patient, but for the family.
I did this by infusing something called Legacy Therapy into the underpinnings of the platform. It helps people and their families start to have these necessary conversations that we talked about earlier around death and dying. It all happens with the life review. When people start to talk about their life, they feel better.
In that way, HAVEN is addressing the emotional needs of the dying and the family and the people surrounding them. How is it also addressing the spiritual and social needs so that it’s supporting the whole person and engaging the patient and family in their own care and improving the per? We’re talking about how it’s changing everything that happens around the perception of death.
First of all, you got to understand the whole concept that occurs when somebody starts to age or after they’re diagnosed with a certain illness. Oftentimes, they lose their sense of self and they start to identify themselves as an illness or as a condition, and they forget who they are. In fact, even with caregivers, I’ve been guilty of it myself. When we’re talking about our patients, we’re like, “The breast cancer patient’s down here. The heart failure patient’s down here.”
With this legacy therapy, it helps patients to separate themselves from their illness. Oftentimes, when somebody loses their sense of self, it affects everything. It affects the whole mind, body and spiritual connection. The platform, through this life review, helps people remember who they are and the life they live. This occurs by stepping in through this process that helps them bring everything into a clear focus into the reality of who they are. In this way, they can separate themselves away from the illness and they can understand that I’m more than my disease or their illness. I’m still the same person I was before I was diagnosed.
I just have this illness.
I still have the same life experiences. When this happens, it gives them the opportunity to gain a new perspective on their life, which gives them purpose up until their dying breath. At the end of the day, I feel our platform empowers people to have choices and helps them broach the subject of death and dying. When that happens, it dissipates the fear around it. When they do die, it’s a more peaceful and meaningful death when the time comes.
They’re, in a way, more ready for it than their loved ones and everyone that’s around them. Maggie, what is the Maggie Gannon message about the importance of healing that you’d like to share with our readers?
Healing, for me, is a process and it takes time. After losing my sister and other friends and family at a young age, healing through that loss took time. If somebody cuts off your arm, you don’t ever get over it. You learn to adjust and move forward. There’s always this dissembling, rearranging, and learning how to make do. It happened in small chunks, and I noticed that one positive step forward made me feel so much better.
It didn’t take the pain away entirely but made it more doable. It’s learning how, right after somebody died, to feel that acute deep pain, grounding myself and taking it one breath at a time. It’s then one minute at a time, and then it’s one day at a time, and then, suddenly, you look back, “I’m so grateful that I had that experience. It was painful, but I wouldn’t have traded that dance for anything.” That’s a process. It does take time.
If you need help to process it, there are many wonderful people. Go to the show website and you’ll find someone who can help you. My whole thesis is that you don’t have to live your life in suffering. There are ways that you can process it and move through it. Look at what you’re doing with your life after you’ve healed so much, and as am I. Maggie, do you have a special offer you’d like to share with our readers? What are the best ways to connect with you in HAVEN?
Yes, I do. If anybody would like to create a legacy, they can receive a 10% discount. All you have to do is enter the promo code IRENE, and you’ll get a 10% off at HAVEN. If anybody would like to contact me or read the Illness Narrative or have any questions, they can email me.
What is the Maggie tip for fighting joy in life?
I find joy in life, being outside and anything that I can do in nature. I live in Colorado, so those mountains, that’s where I reconnect. Whether I’m riding up a mountain pass or I’m skiing down a mountain slope, that’s where I find joy. I’m hooting and hollering.
Good for you. You’re in a good state to do it too. Maggie, I was surprised to learn that over 90 million Americans with serious illnesses experienced low quality of life and are unnecessary suffering as they approach and navigate the end of life. Thank you for helping people to embrace that big elephant in the room so that they can lessen their fear and anxiety around death, making greater acceptance and better choices possible through HAVEN. Thank you from my heart for this incredibly helpful, enlightening interview. Here’s a warm welcome. Thank you.
Thank you for having me.
It’s my true pleasure. It’s wonderful. Make sure to follow us and like us on socials @IreneSWeinberg on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter. If you’re watching on YouTube, be sure to click Subscribe so you’ll never miss an episode. As I like to say, to be continued. Many blessings, and bye for now.
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