Yvonne Heath specializes in bringing death out of the closet. This inspiring nurse turned author, speaker and changemaker has written an incredibly wise book titled Love Your Life to Death. It is a compelling narrative that addresses navigating life to its final passage, motivating people to live their lives fully to help them die peacefully.
Yvonne has spoken internationally to medical professionals, business leaders, government staff and volunteer organizations. She has also created empowering workshops, keynotes and an online program that has changed thousands of lives. And she is also a tv and radio host, a blogger and has done a Ted X Talk.
IN THIS EPISODE, YOU’LL HEAR ABOUT THINGS LIKE:
- The lessons Yvonne has learned about quality in life as opposed to quantity of life.
- How accepting aging helps us to accept dying and why each of us should be afraid of an unlived life.
- People need “a post” to hang onto in times of despair.
- How to explain “the circle of life” to a child.
SOME QUESTIONS IRENE ASKS YVONNE:
- Why are people so scared to death of death?
- What is “the talk?” And how does preparing for death mitigate the suffering that comes with grieving?
- How can we all create more understanding and acceptance regarding aging?
Listen to the podcast here
Yvonne Heath: Author And Proactive Living Consultant
Our remarkable guest is coming to us from Ontario, Canada. Yvonne Heath specializes in bringing death out of the closet. This inspiring nurse-turned-author, speaker, and changemaker has written an incredibly wise book titled Love Your Life to Death. It is a compelling narrative that addresses navigating life to its final passage, motivating people to live their lives fully to help them die peacefully.
Yvonne has spoken internationally to medical professionals, business leaders, government staff, and volunteer organizations. She has also created empowering workshops, keynotes, and an online program that has changed thousands of lives. She is also a TV and radio host, a blogger, and has done a TEDx Talk. Yvonne is what I would call a very high achiever.
I’ve read Yvonne’s book, Love Your Life to Death, so I know that this is going to be a very wise and empowering interview. Yvonne, a warm welcome to the show. Let’s begin our interview with this question. Please tell us about your early nursing journey and the lessons you learned about quality of life as opposed to quantity of life.
Irene, thank you. I am so honored to be here. That is a loaded question. I remember graduating in December ‘87, and I was this early twenties, so naïve like, “I was going to help so many people,” and had all this knowledge. I had no idea how ill-prepared I was to face what I would face in my nursing career and personally. My nursing career was incredible. It brought me to various places in the United States and Canada.
I worked in Louisiana, Texas, and New York State and in almost every department in emergency intensive care, chemotherapy, palliative care, and hospice. It’s so interesting because there was a common thread where no matter where I was, no matter what department, we didn’t talk about grief, death, and dying. We dealt with it. We helped and supported people often on their worst day in trauma when people died, yet I wouldn’t consider it real conversations. You went through this trauma as a professional. The next day, it’s like, “That was a hard day,” and you went back the next day and, “I’m fine. Are you fine?” We all checked in, and it was this superficial.
People are asking, “How are you doing?” and they’re crossing their fingers like, “Please tell me you’re fine. I don’t want to dive in too deep.” I did that for a long time, and it was like layers of excessive suffering were building. Although, you kept pretending you were fine. In fifteen years of working in chemotherapy, when you talk about that question of quality of life versus quantity of life, is where I could no longer ignore it because the light was shining. I loved being in the chemotherapy clinic because I got to know people. I visited patients at home. When I was pregnant with my twins, this one lady went home to die.
When my babies were born, I brought them to see her. I was so enmeshed, and I suffered excessively because of it and because I was ill-prepared for grief. In watching these families, no matter what the prognosis, maybe somebody was young, and they were dying, and this family over here had raw, real conversations and allowed all feelings, emotions, and the children to be a part of it.
They grieved openly. When a cure was no longer to be had, they said, “We want quality of life. We’re going to go home. We’re going to be comfortable. We’re going to have pain medication and let her be outside and have the dogs, kids, and cats, and live her life to the fullest.” That person died peacefully. They were able to grieve and then find joy in their lives again.
Family over here, perhaps the same prognosis. Everyone was like, “We’re going to fight to the end.” It is every treatment, whether it’s working or not. No one was having real conversations and there was no talking about dying and talking about comfort measures only. The suffering that I felt was when those patients would secretly say to me, “I don’t want to do all of this.” I would beg them. I’d say, “Please talk to your family,” and they’d say, “They’re not ready for me to give up.”
Talk about giving your power over to everyone else, even at the very end.
They felt like they needed to do that for their family. I watched these people die in fear and sadness, being treated excessively with futile medicine, and then the family who didn’t have real conversations and end-of-life planning wasn’t done. Those families were fractured beyond repair. I, as a healthcare professional, am watching that. It was excruciating. I could no longer ignore it. As I shared in my book, it was one more story. I walked into work, and my coworker was like, “You’re going to like this one.”
I said, “You are already getting me fired up. It’s 8:00 in the morning,” and she said, “A lady is coming in for a blood transfusion.” She had been refusing. She just wanted comfort measures. She was at a nursing home. She couldn’t feed herself. She couldn’t walk. She was ready to die. Her doctor talked her into having a blood transfusion saying it would help her feel better, which would be very short-lived. The piece Irene that I haven’t said yet was she was 105.
He was still trying to keep her alive every single second and taking away from her quality of life at the end.
I could no longer be silent. It’s time for us to have those conversations. Imagine if we talked about planning prepared for grief and normalizing conversations about death and dying before we were facing them. This is my whole message. People think I’m a grief counselor. I say, “There’re grief counselors out there.” I want to talk about it before. Let’s develop coping skills and strategies, create a soft landing for ourselves, and normalize these conversations. What do we believe about life and death?
I resonate with what you’re saying because I have a mom turning 96. Our readers know I had my own near-death experience and all the things that happened to me. My mom and I talked very openly about everything. She’s saying, “I’m not ready to go yet.” We talked about that, but she knows. I say, “Mom, when you go, you’re not going to be gone. You’re still going to be around.” We’ve had the talk, which we’ll talk about in our interview. It makes a tremendous difference.
My brothers and I are already working as a team. Everyone is very conscious. She turned down a surgery she could have had because she said, “What do I need that for now?” It’s exactly what you’re talking about. When I read your book, I so resonated with it. I was like, “We’re doing it.” We are living what Yvonne is talking about. Tell me. What inspired you to birth both your book, Love Your Life to Death? We heard what inspired you, and the eyes showed up movement. Tell us about each and share the wave of goodness each one has created in people’s lives.
It’s funny because in all of this excessive suffering I was experiencing in my professional life, it was in 2010 when I said, “I need to do something different.” It still took me a couple of years, but in 2010, I shared openly and unapologetically. As you said, I’m an open book. I’m an oversharer. In 2010, our older son, Tyler, experienced tremendous grief.
You don’t know what you don’t know. You’re trying to help. He had tremendous dreams of being a professional snowboarder. He wrecked his knee and had lots of complications. That was the beginning. He spiraled down a very dangerous road of drugs and addiction at age sixteen. I was working in chemotherapy. We have twins who are toddlers because I decided to have twins at 40.
I sat back, and my whole world was so heavy. I thought I would not survive a tragic ending. I don’t believe I would survive it even if I was still alive. We know many people who have a pulse, but they are not really living. Now I have little children, and would I become another person to grieve? I could no longer ignore how ill-prepared I was personally and professionally for grief.
Also, for your own child.
We did everything we could. We supported Tyler as much as we could. Thank goodness, he turned his life around, and we helped him. He has had several friends who have died. That’s how real it was. There’s been a lot of pain to navigate. I started to ask healthcare professionals, “Are we well prepared for grief, personally and professionally?” Everyone was like, “We’re terrible at it.” I started to ask, and I just couldn’t ignore things.
My husband is a paramedic as well, so he knows what it’s like the professionals. When someone’s very upset. “Are you alright?” “Yes. That was a hard call,” “Yes,” and that’s the end. I became more anxious in my career, saying, “I need to be a voice for change.” As many of us have a life-changing moment, there was a popup on Facebook, “How to write a bestselling book?” I was sitting right here, and I looked at my husband over there. I’m like, “Honey, that’s it. I’m going to leave my 27-year nursing and write a book. Isn’t that amazing?” Here we are, and a mortgage depends on 2 incomes and 3 kids. He is like, “That’s great, honey, except you don’t write.” I said, “I know. Isn’t it amazing?”
It was like passion and purpose kidnapped me. The other significant moment was when I sent out an email, and said to people, “I am going to write a book. I don’t want surveys and statistics. I want people’s real, gritty, raw, unapologetic stories, being in the deep trenches of grief, how you got through to the other side. I want to hear from professionals. Will anyone share their stories with me?”
You can imagine, Irene, what happened. It’s five and a half years later, and the stories haven’t stopped coming. In my book, I shared people’s stories, ages 11 to 101, which changed my life. It was an incredible journey to be present, validate, and listen to stories. Some people had been silenced with their stories for many years and no one wanted to hear them. They just needed to be heard.
You did them such a favor. My mother is living in assisted living now and became friendly with a man who looked forward to her coming in. He was in a wheelchair. He had all kinds of physical problems. He looked forward to her coming in every day. All he wanted to do was tell her about his life. About three months after she met him, he passed. She helped him work through that.
We don’t always need a professional. When I wrote my book and started to share it, I was humbled by the feedback from people. Thousands of people have read it, and people are saying all the time, “Your book helped me so much. I was able to speak at my friend’s funeral. I listened to a story. I did my end-of-life plan,” and those a-ha moments. The book was extraordinary. I started speaking, which was never on my radar either, but I was funny. I’m sure you already can see that.
That’s why you and I are hitting it off because me too.
It is because life is already serious stuff. When I watched the movie Patch Adams in 1998, I became Patch Adams, and that’s why my background is so fun. I interviewed Patch Adams on my show, which was so fun. For those of you who don’t know Patch Adams, he brings joy and clowning to people who are suffering. He’s been at the bedside of more than 10,000 people. From the book and speaking, I then did my TED Talk. The message of my book is a wonderful resource for every adult. I wanted everyone to realize that children need to be a part of these conversations, teens, and adults of all ages.
I became anxious again like I did before. It’s like these downloads come to you. I said, “I need children to understand. When people want to be validated, we don’t always need a professional.” Anyone can just show up. I went, “Just show up when you don’t know what to do.” When I was interviewing people, I heard more than anything. People are compassionate, but they’re terrified to do or say the wrong thing. They say, “I don’t know what to do. I don’t know what to say. I wanted to help people.” When you don’t know what to do and don’t know what to say, and it’s awkward or uncomfortable, just show up. The #IJustShowedUp, that’s the movement, teaching people of all ages how to show up for themselves and each other so they are empowered and resilient when grief arrives.
That’s wonderful. Do you do that through workshops and all of that thing?
Workshops and presentations. That’s what I shared in my TED Talk. I created my online program, Get Ready for Grief, which I shared about the #IJustShowedUp Movement as well because my biggest thing is I want people to have a lifetime resource. You can’t read a book or hear a presentation or go to Grief 101-3, and you’re certified for life. Grief is a part of this journey, and it’s not just at the end of life. It’s divorce, diagnosis, and job loss. It’s experienced in every heartache and loss transition, and even in the good stuff, so it is important for people to understand.
You have a baby, and you might grieve that you can’t take off on the weekend. You might grieve sleep because it’s a whole different thing. We have to understand. Grief isn’t always crying in the corner. We are experiencing global grief now in this pandemic and everything. For some people, there’s disappointment. For others, there’s devastation, all along the spectrum, loss, and grief. It is when we can acknowledge and allow all of our feelings and other people’s feelings and show up for each other without judgment and without trying to fix it.
That’s a challenge. That’s a discipline because I’ve started to learn that. I understand and I can hear you, but, “You can fix it.” That’s the premise behind the show because I’m interviewing so many wonderful people, very much yourself included. I want them to say, “You can help yourself. Listen to one of these people. Maybe a few of them can help you. You don’t have to say stuck.”
When people say, “You make me happy. You make me mad,” I can’t make anybody anything. That gives everyone their own power back too. You are in charge of your own happiness, and that’s where the whole developing your own coping skills and strategies and creating a soft landing for yourself. Someone can give you the absolute world. They can’t make you happy. It doesn’t work that way.
That also takes the pressure off of people. If something is very sad and someone dies by suicide, opioid overdose, or whatever these heart-wrenching experiences and losses, if you can just say, “I know it’s not my job to fix my friend, but I can show up for her,” and walk in and say, “I don’t know what to say, but I’m here. I care. This is heartbreaking. I’m a mess too,” that’s okay. We don’t have to fix it.
We can be authentic and vulnerable. Tell me this. One of the things you talked about in your book is people have a death phobia. I loved how you put that. Why are people so scared to death of death? Do you want to talk about that?
It’s interesting because that is my first chapter. Why have we become so death-phobic? As a nurse, you go along. You don’t try to figure all of this stuff out. I didn’t understand it as well as I do now.
As a nurse, are people also still scared to death of death even though they’re working in that profession? They see it all the time.
Many don’t talk about it in a real, meaningful way. People assume that healthcare professionals are great at this stuff. We’re not. We avoid it. It’s like, “Let’s get the palliative care team in,” or, “Let’s get the hospice team in.” They are wonderful, but they can’t be everywhere all the time. There are patients everywhere dealing with this stuff.
We need a reframing of all of this. It isn’t our fault because it’s something that has happened slowly over time. You think back to the day the doctor came over to his little medicine bag, and he tried to fix it and did his very best. That was it. That person most likely died at home with minimal intervention. You took care of the body and laid it out in the parlor. The whole family was a part of this experience. We also lived multi-generationally.
We witnessed the aging process. These days, as technology has taken over, now we can fix anyone. You can go to intensive care. You can be on machines. We believe that we can cure anything. We also have all of these anti-aging campaigns and, “Fight aging.” I’m going to stop right there and say there is beauty and gloriousness in every decade. Can we talk about aging gracefully and fabulously?
I have that as a question for you because it’s an issue that touches everybody.
Don’t ask if it’s rude to ask someone how old they are. I’m going to get older in February, and I am so delighted. What a privilege to live this long. I hope I live a whole bunch more decades, and I’m going to brag about it along the way. Wrinkles, whatever. We’ve slowly sanitized our society. We don’t take care of people who are ill and dying at home. The hospice movement has certainly helped with that, but there are still many people that would prefer to die at home than die in intensive care. We have anti-aging. Many people live in nursing homes. We don’t live with our elders like we used to.
Are people so afraid of death because they’re afraid of dying, or afraid of being alone, or dying alone? They are afraid of death because the concept of losing control and being kaput if they don’t have another belief system is fearful.
It is the fear of the unknown, “How am I going to die? When am I going to die? Am I going to suffer? Will I be in pain?” I believe that the more we have these conversations, the better. Let’s talk about it. It’s like the death cafes are so extraordinary because you go out there and talk about, “What do you fear? Let’s address each of those things.” Because of medical technology, there’s a lot of wonderfulness about it, like pain medication.
I’m letting you know that I don’t fear my death, and maybe that will change as I go along, but I’m going to hold onto that now. I will be more than happy to be loopy on a pain pump. I’m not going to be a big hero. We have that technology to die well. We can create a beautiful death. I’ve witnessed. I’ve been at the bedside of what I would call a terrible death, and I’ve been at the bedside of a beautiful death.
How about describing each to us?
A beautiful death is when I wrote about Homer in my book, one of the first stories I was told. When he was seventeen, he lost his sight, and he just continued to live this incredible life. He married and had five children. He golfed, bull, and did radio. He did not let his blindness stop him. He said, “Just because I’m blind doesn’t mean I can’t see.” He was this extraordinary human. When he was ill and knew he was dying, he had his daughter bring a tie to the hospital so he could knot it properly because he didn’t want anybody messing it up.
He had them pick out a beautiful suit. He wrote letters to his family and had them dictated. He got lockets for his daughters and wife. He did all of these beautiful things and left this legacy of love. He died peacefully with his daughters holding his hands. It is heartwarming and heart-wrenching. That is what I would call a good death.
What a legacy he left to his daughters.
Beautiful letters to his family and thanking them for helping him have a great life, it was extraordinary. There’s the opposite where, right to the end, someone is dying, they’re on machines, and everyone’s yelling, “Do something. Save him.” It’s so painful. The person is dying in fear. You could feel it, and everyone around was hysterical. The families are fighting.
We’ve had to call security on a family because they were fighting with each other while their loved one was dying at a time when they could be supporting each other, grieving openly, and loving this person. That’s excruciating. Those are the moments that chip away at your heart and soul. They’re avoidable. People think, “I don’t want to talk about this stuff.” The truth is, we’re going to have to talk about it at some point. When that person dies, someone’s going to have to talk about it. We can either talk about it or have those uncomfortable conversations before. If there are things to work out, have that, “What do you mean we’re going to do this? I don’t know. I want to do this.”
Have those conversations before versus at the time of grief, loss, and crisis. Those conversations are not avoidable forever. It is up to us. I believe it is our responsibility to plan our own life and our own end of life. If there’s someone that you’re going to have a say at their end of life, have that awkward conversation. How do you start it? We have to talk about this because I want to honor you in your life and at your end of life.
Let us structure this. You’re right. People are scared to death of death, but they also have a morbid fear of growing old, and they don’t like the elderly. How do you suggest, Yvonne, that people diffuse that fear of getting older? How can we create more understanding and acceptance regarding aging? This is a big one for the world.
It is a big one. It’s like I always say, “Change starts with me, and it starts with you.” There’re two things that people do. They either walk around and they’re mad at everybody, “You should be doing this. You should be doing that, and no one listens because you’re that person that’s always telling everyone what to do.” What I’m choosing is to be the very best version of myself, be as authentic, vulnerable, and imperfect as I can be, and have these conversations. My son’s like, “Mommy’s hair is gray, isn’t it?” I said, “Yes, it is. Thank you for pointing that out.” He’s not a fan. I said, “I’m okay with that.” I do have laugh lines and wrinkles. Thank you very much for pointing that out.
I’m going to be a voice for change. I’m going to be a voice for acceptance. One of my closest friends in the world is 96 years old. Her name is Eva Olson, and she has survived a challenging life throughout her life, including the Holocaust. I share Eva’s message. I share her on Zoom whenever I can. She’s my good friend. She has tremendous wisdom. She’s 96.
It has nothing to do with age. It’s about letting your spirit get old. In my book, I shared Ken Raven and Sandy Raven. They’re twenty years apart. My book was a few years ago when I interviewed an old person. He’s 96 as well, and he is just living life. What I’m going to do is help people to see and have those conversations. If you’re afraid, that’s okay. You don’t need to be ashamed to be. Let’s have a conversation about it. Let’s talk about it.
You can choose to be more positive. You can choose to look at it in a different way. Some people don’t even know they have a choice.
I always tell people we always have a choice. We don’t always have the choice we wish we had. We all know, and you know, that aging is a privilege that not everybody has that privilege. Somebody says, “I don’t want to turn 70.” Somebody who died in their twenties would love to be wrinkled and gray in their 70s. Think about it. If you have your little moment, think about it. This is a privilege. However long I’m here is a privilege. Every single day is a privilege.
Why should a person be afraid of living an unlived life?
The saddest word is regret.
That leads to asking you the five greatest regrets of the dying.
When you think of the regrets at the end of life, and again, I’ve been at the bedside of many dying people, it’s never about, “I wish I had that Rolls Royce. I wish I could’ve accumulated more things. I wish I had worked more hours.” When people stop and go, “Why didn’t I play baseball with my kid more? Why didn’t I do the things that made me happier? What was so important? I worked 80 hours a week for what?” those are the things. How sad to get to the end of your life, which isn’t always when you think it’s going to be. It isn’t always in your 90s or whatever. We’re all going to have things like, “I wish I would’ve done that differently,” but that’s so different from not living your life feeling like, “I wanted to do something different.”
I remember a friend of mine, and I thought this was so fantastic because living a life of passion and purpose, whatever that passion is, you don’t have to get a popup on Facebook and leave your 27-year nursing career or start this beautiful, incredible podcast and have these conversations, but that’s what your heart is calling to. When you ignore it, that is what is going to lead to regret. I have a friend who had a very successful videography business. She worked very hard and did it for so long, and then she said, “I just want to be a dog walker.” I said, “You need to go be the best dog walker in town.”
If you have this passion, “I want to grow a thousand different kinds of flowers,” figure out how you’re going to do that. Feed your heart. We all have something. That’s passion. I believe whatever the other regrets are, that’s the biggest one. It is when you want to sing, play the guitar, run that marathon, or whatever that passion. We all have value, and we all matter. You so deserve to follow your heart, and it’s in there. There’s something in there that you love, so go for it now.
This leads me to another question. You make a great point about how important it’s to take care of our bodies while we can and why we should not look to something else or someone else to make us happy it sets us up for excessive suffering. Let’s talk about that.
I showed movement and message, and I shared it in my TED Talk and everywhere because, women especially, went from June Cleaver like we’re very submissive, and our husbands were in charge. It’s like, “I’m very independent and strong and can take care of everybody else.” It’s like, “She’s so great,” or, “He’s so great.” Men too. “He takes care of everyone else and puts himself last.” I’m here to say let’s fire that martyr. There’re no more gold stars for the excessively busy person because what you are being is a very poor example to others. You are not being the very best version of yourself.
What I witnessed in 30 years of nursing, you will break down mentally, physically, emotionally, spiritually, and financially in some way. How is that serving anyone? When I look at you, you have your fabulous hair and background and beautiful, vibrant shirt, and you’re oozing positivity and love. Isn’t that the best thing that you can do?
I love it. I’ll tell you a story. As I’ve said on this show before, every day I wake up because I lost my husband in a car accident. It was every single day with what I’ve been through. Every day I wake up and say, “It’s a new day. I’m here, and I am having a good time. Today, I’m going to meet Yvonne Heath,” or whatever is going on in my world.
I happened to walk down, and one of the people in the lobby said, “Why are you always happy? I don’t understand it.” I said, “I’m happy because I’m alive. I’m happy because I’m meeting wonderful people, and I’m having an interesting life and all of that.” What I wanted to say to this person was, “Why are you so unhappy? When you see a happy person like me, why aren’t you intrigued to see if you could get a little of that for yourself?”
You’re choosing. You have been through some heart-wrenching trauma in your life. It doesn’t mean your life has been all rosy. My life has not been all rosy, yet it’s this conscious choice. When you say, “I’m the only person that can make me happy,” it gives me power. I’m in charge of myself. When people talk about compassion fatigue, burnout, and all of these things, I believe a great part of that is you’re trying to fix everyone and make everyone happy.
You don’t have a belief about life and death that creates a soft landing for you, and you don’t have coping skills and strategies. Because I could not continue the work I was doing or doing now because I meet a lot of people who are grieving and somebody died young, a child or whatever. My heart used to be bleeding everywhere. Now, I haven’t started caring less. I’ve started accepting more that we are all here for our journey.
Some journeys are 5 minutes, some are 5 years, some are 50 years, and some are 100 years. I don’t like that. I accept it because I cannot show up for others without suffering excessively. This is what you are doing as well, Irene, when people say, “How can I go on? The love of my life died. What can I do?” As I shared everywhere, be the evidence that someone’s life made a difference. Isn’t that such a beautiful thing to hold onto?
Be the evidence that someone’s life made a difference. Live your life gritty and fully and do everything they would love for you to do or what they wanted to do. Continue sharing their spirit. We are spiritual beings having a human experience. This is not meant to last forever. Our spirit does so we stay spiritually connected. Choose to believe that. I love knowing that. I love that we stay. When I started writing my book, the twins were nine. They were at home. They’re like, “I know, Mom, nobody lives forever. We don’t know how long we’re here. We stay spiritually connected. I get it.” I said, “I’m glad you get it. We’re going to keep having these conversations for life.”
That’s right. One day, you’ll be so grateful that you had these conversations. I want to talk to you about the talk, and I want all of our readers to hear about this because we’ve mentioned it. Is there a prescribed script for the talk? Is the talk about, “I give you permission to pull that plug. I need to have a talk with you about finances. I need to have a talk with you about whether it’s okay to let me go or whatever.”
What would you say is in that talk, or is it an individual thing to each particular family? I’ve had the talk with my son about pulling the plug, not pulling the plug, financial things, and all of that. I told him once, “I don’t know if I still feel that way anymore.” I said, “I’m very social. When that time comes, have a celebration of my life.” What would you advise people about having that talk? It is because that’s so important. Do they just walk into their parents’ house and say, “Now we’re sitting down?”
It’s so funny because so many people come to me, and they have their little pens. It’s like, “How do I get my dad to do this?” They’re ready. First of all, I don’t believe that that’s where we should start. I believe we should start with us because when we’re asking other people to do what we haven’t done, it’s hypocritical. When you do it yourself first, then you also know the things that you had to sort out, the lawyer, and whatever.
That’s so smart. Even if you’re talking to your father, you don’t know if, God forbid, you get hit by a car tomorrow. Even though you’re younger, everything doesn’t necessarily progress in what we think it is in a logical way.
We don’t all die old age, and we don’t all get a warning. That’s the elephant in the room. Even though it’s disguised, the elephant is in the room. I always tell people, “Start with yourself.” You’re in the States. I’m in Canada. It’s different. What’s the power of attorney? Power of attorney would make my decisions for me personally in the event that I could not make a decision for myself. Power of attorney for finances would do it financially. Will is different. Wouldn’t it be wise to figure all that out yourself? Please register as an organ donor so you never have to have that conversation.
You come to your family and say, “By the way, I have given you the greatest gift. I have given you this gift because I love you, and this is one of the best things I can do for you. I have done my advanced care plan. I have a power of attorney. This is who it is, and I’ve chosen this person so it’s easier for you so that you don’t have to fight. Joe, it’s not you. I’m sorry. You can be mad at me if you want to. For finances, it’s you, Helen. Sorry, Rita, you’re not very good with finance.” Have those conversations. “Here’s my will. Here’s my lawyer. He has a copy. I have registered as an organ donor. This is important to me.”
Tell everyone why that’s important to you for people reading because some religions don’t like that.
It’s interesting because most religions are okay with it. I’ve got all these pamphlets. Again, I have been that nurse at the bedside when someone is on life support. There’s that time we have to have that awkward conversation. “I’m so sorry. Your loved one is in a coma. Have you considered organ donation?” What a horrific time to have to think about that and ask that.
It’s awful and, again, avoidable. I would encourage every family to have those conversations before you have to. I went to the Transplant Games in 2016, and I met hundreds of people of all ages that would not be alive if it wasn’t for organ donation. In my TV show, I interviewed a man whose son died of epilepsy, and then in the next show, I interviewed the heart recipient. It’s sad. That man is now friends.
I’ve heard beautiful stories. I know hundreds of people who are alive because of it. Have the conversation before you have to. If you feel there’s a religious issue, look into it. Imagine if you said, “By the way, I’ve registered as an organ donor. Let all your family know,” and you never have to have that conversation. This is all about eliminating that excessive suffering because those conversations will have to be had at some point, possibly. It’s not avoidable forever. When you do this for your family, you say, “I am asking you to do the same for me because I want to honor you in your life and at the end of life. This is awkward. Let’s do it anyway. It’s uncomfortable. Let’s talk about it anyway. Let’s do that for each other. I’ve done it for you.”
Give them a deadline. When someone is going to be in labor and delivery and have a baby, and you’ve got nine months, would you ever say, “I’m going to wing birth?” You plan for it. Everyone’s planning. You talk about it, but when it comes to the end of life because we don’t have that date, “I’ll get to that. I’ll get to it.” More often than not, we wait until someone dies to have those great conversations.
I hear that. There’s another thing I want you to bring out that was in your book. You talk about a person needs to have their post that they can hang onto in times of despair. Tell us about that and what your personal post was while you were going through things. I also had a post. I related so much to your book. Tell people what their post is and about yours.
If people follow me on my website, they will get tips on navigating global grief and my seven takeaways, which takeaway number six is to find your post. I created seven takeaways, which I share in all my presentations and my online program. I was going through these takeaways that I believe are the principles we need to live by, to live life to the fullest, learn to grieve, and have that talk. I was going through them, and it was like, “I’m missing something.”
I went to visit 101-year-old Minnie, and I said, “Minnie, you’ve been here more than a century. I’m missing something. I want to give people something else.” She said, “We talked about that. We’re death phobic. We don’t have these conversations,” and she said, “We all need a post, something we can hang onto no matter what in times of despair.” I said, “Minnie, that’s brilliant,” and she said, “You’re excited about post?” I said, “Yes because what your post is, is something you can turn permanent. It is there no matter what, no matter when, because life is unpredictable, prepare for anything, and change is the only constant.”
Relationships change, where you live changes, and your jobs change. Your post is a constant, something that you can turn to at 3:00 AM when you’re grieving ten years later when you have a grief attack. For some people, it’s nature, yoga, meditation, art, and music. For me, it’s nature. No matter where I am, I can find a little piece of nature. When I go and connect with nature, it reminds me of, as nature continuously changes, how broken I feel in that moment is also temporary. That’s your post.
That’s a quote. Yvonne, how would you explain the circle of life to a child?
It’s interesting because when you talk about the circle of life or how you explain death or whatever, I shared in my book that there are teachable moments along the way. They present themselves. What I’ve done with my kids and children, I wait for them to ask a question. In The Lion King, Mufasa talks to Simba, “Simba, the sun will set on my time on Earth, and it will rise, and you’ll be king.” You get these talking about the circle of life. Children are curious and are so receptive if you talk about the matter of facts of life in a matter-of-fact way.
I tell my kids, “Everything that’s moving, living, and breathing dies.” Like Mufasa said, “The leaves fall, and they die, and they become part of the earth.” We do too. People do as well. I always encourage people and parents that you don’t have to sit there all stiff and say, “We have to start having this conversation.” Those teachable moments will happen.
You see an animal that died on the road or a squirrel that got run over. It’s like, “Their heart isn’t beating anymore. That means they’ve died. They’re no longer living.” They’re there, teachable moments. These conversations should be ongoing. Make it easy on yourself. Don’t put too much pressure, just look for teachable moments. If you have to have that conversation, like with organ donation, I called my son out West. I said, “Awkward conversation coming up. I want to talk to you about this.” He said, “That’s weird.”
I love the way you introduce it. I’m going to adopt that one. I have to talk to my son.
We have to be easier on ourselves. Why should they not be awkward especially? We have to normalize these conversations certainly in our culture.
That’s for sure. Of all people on this planet, Yvonne Heath, what would you like to tell our audience about the importance of healing in order to have a well-lived life?
I believe that the greatest thing that we can do for ourselves in healing is to allow our humanness, be extra kind to ourselves, be extra gentle and patient, allow our process, acknowledge, and allow our feelings, and don’t rush it. They’ll be like, “I should be over this by now.” You don’t get over grief. You build your new life around it. Allow yourself because grief and joy can coexist. Allow joy whenever you can. Create joyful moments whenever you can.
Truthfully, I know that if we take better care of ourselves and each other, our hearts will be battered, scarred, and never the same, but they will heal. Learn to show up for yourself first, show up for each other, and ask. When you’re not doing well, please forget the polite conversation, “I am struggling today.”
If you need some support or help, it is out there. Go get the life transition coach. Go get the person who can help you. Go do what you need to do. Everyone wants to connect with you now. Tell us, Yvonne Heath, how do our readers connect with you? How do they find your book? Do you have any offers for them or anything like that?
All you have to do is go to our website, LoveYourLifeToDeath.com. My TED Talks are there, and there are resources. You can get my book, my online program. If anyone would like an IJustShowedUp bracelet, I’d be happy to send 1 or 2 to them.
That’s lovely. What is your tip on finding joy in life?
My tip for finding joy in your life is to show up for yourself first and show up for others, the two greatest things you can do.
You’re a great thing. You’re terrific, Yvonne. I cannot thank you enough for joining me on the show. I especially love this quote from your book, Love Your Life to Death, “What could you do right here, right now, to be more fulfilled in your life, to create unshakable happiness, to die with fewer regrets? If you knew your life would be over soon, what would you change? Believe in yourself and your ability to create change to create the life you want. Then and only then can you live more fully and die more peacefully, knowing that you have done all you could to become the best version of yourself and live your life purposely.”
All of our readers, you should get this book. It’s wonderful. It is incredibly wise. I am sure that every person reading this is reflecting now on the legacy of life they’re going to leave behind them. Yvonne, thank you so much for your wonderful book and this very special interview. Here’s a reminder, everyone. Make sure to follow us and like us, because we know you do, on social at @IreneSWeinberg on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter. As I like to say, to be continued, many blessings, and bye for now.