Monday Hearts for Madalene

Page Hodel creates beautiful hearts as an ongoing celebration of love
Handmade heart

I Fall More in Love With You Every Day

It’s an honor for SevenPonds to share with our readers the story of the Monday Hearts for Madalene project, a true account of the power of love in the midst of death.

The project’s origins take us to 2005: the moment Page Hodel encountered Madalene Rodriguez and fell “instantly, dizzyingly in love with her.” The couple’s first meeting was electric, and Page felt inspired to do something unique for the woman who captured her heart. So, she began leaving handmade hearts – made from flowers, leaves, and other materials – on Madalene’s doorstep.  The hearts became a ritual, and they were there to greet Madalene as she left for work every Monday.

“To start her week with a visual reminder of our beautiful love.” Page Hodel

Just seven months later, Madalene was diagnosed with ovarian cancer and passed away on June 20th, 2006. But Page’s love for her hasn’t ceased, and she continues to make a heart for her every Monday in celebration of her life.

If you would like, you can also receive Page’s “Monday Hearts for Madalene” by emailing her at page.hodel@gmail.com with “subscribe” written as the subject. Images of the hearts can also be purchased  in her beautifully compiled book, Monday Hearts for Madelene. Please also visit her website and Facebook  page. A portion of all sales will go to the Women’s Cancer Resource Center in Oakland, California (www.wcrc.org). See more Monday Hearts for Madalene here.

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Hard to Swallow?

Maximize comfort and control when the ability to swallow diminishes

Join SevenPonds each month as Tani Bahti, RN, CT, CHPN, offers practical on-hand guidance to demystify the dying process. As an RN since 1976, Tani has been working to empower families and healthcare professionals to have the best end-of-life experience possible both through education and the development of helpful tools and resources. As the current Director of Pathways, Tani is also the author of “Dying to Know, Straight Talk About Death and Dying,” considered by SevenPonds to be one of the most practical books on the topic. Founder Suzette Sherman says this is, “the book I will have at the bedside of my dying parents some day, hopefully a very long time from now.”

He’s choking!  When attempting to swallow the water needed for his medications, Bert began to cough violently as the water
trickled down the wrong pipe.

Elderly woman being fed from a spoon

Credit: nutritioncaresystems.com

Difficulty in swallowing is called dysphagia, and can be frightening for the person and the caregiver. The ability to swallow can change over time, especially in those with dementia, Parkinson’s disease, stroke, and those nearing death. Understanding the cause and the benefit and burden of interventions is important for comfort and safety.

Can you imagine waking up suddenly to someone pouring a drink into your mouth?

Before attempting to give medications or food, first make sure the person is fully awake and aware, and that the mouth is moist. If a person is dehydrated or producing less saliva due to the side effects of medications, the breakdown of the food in the mouth and the ability to swallow can be impaired, resulting in unwanted choking.

Imagine having a very dry mouth and someone offering you a handful of salted pretzels. You would not have the saliva to help break down the food, and you would be more likely to choke.  Soft foods or foods with gravy and sauces provide the moisture needed to make eating and swallowing easier, and lessen the energy needed to chew.  

Next, use positioning to help the body do it’s job in the safest way:

* Sit the person upright in an erect position, supporting with pillows as necessary.

* Tilt the head forward, with the chin down. This closes off the airway, directing food and liquid into the stomach. Using a straw helps in this position and gives the person more control.

* If your patient has any facial weakness (e.g. due to a stroke) make sure you place food into the stronger side of the mouth to promote careful chewing. This also gives those with cognitive problems time to realize there is something in their mouth and to respond appropriately.

* Offer small spoonfuls.

* Do not rush feeding. If the next spoonful is being held in front of the person, there is a tendency to rush to swallow before it’s time.

person with dysphagia drinking a thick drink through a straw

Credit: pixabay.com

Thicker fluids are easier to swallow because they enter the throat slowly, allowing time for the pathway to the lungs to be closed off. Some people may choke on water, but do fine with thicker soups, shakes, and some juices. Another option is providing bulk to the liquid to make it easier for the person to feel in their mouth and provide time to prepare to swallow. Gum-based thickeners are usually more palatable than starchy powders. The bottom line is to try techniques and products to see what the person likes and can swallow safely.

Tube feeding

While there is a benefit to short-term tube feedings in some cases, they are not appropriate at the end of life. There are a number of reasons why this is true.

* Tube feedings increase the risk of aspiration. When the stomach is overfilled by artificial feeding, excess fluid can rise through the esophagus and then spill back into the lungs. Not only is this uncomfortable, the fluid in the lungs is now a breeding ground for bacteria that can cause pneumonia.

* Tube feedings can negatively impact quality of life due to increased discomfort and risk of infection.

* When the body is shutting down and unable to utilize the nutrients, tube feedings cannot improve nutrition. (Read more about the nutritional needs of those who are dying here.) Many studies have shown that tube feedings can actually hasten death rather than prolong life.

The swallow and gag reflex may be completely absent in the final phase of dying. Do not offer fluids at this time as there is no need. Instead, provide good mouth care (avoiding an overly wet sponge that may drip and cause choking), and keep the lips moist.

 Providing comfort and safety is the one thing that is not hard to swallow.

Take a look at a copy of Tani’s book “Dying to Know — Straight talk about Death and Dying” to help demystify the process and find words of wisdom on many aspects of dying. 

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Qatar World Cup Memorial Commemorates Migrant Worker Deaths

Memorial architecture lends massive presence to hundreds of silenced mourners
Qatar World Cup Memorial concept art

Qatar World Cup Memorial concept art
(Credit: 1week1project.org)

The proposed Qatar World Cup Memorial project was designed by French architects Axel de Stampa and Sylvain Macaux, who founded the 1Week1Project collective. 1Week1Project comprises approximately 25 designs that are primarily speculative in nature, meant to serve as social commentary.

The Qatar World Cup Memorial was inspired by a report by the Guardian, which said that over 500 Indian and 400 Nepalese migrant workers have died since construction began on various projects in and around Qatar in preparation for the 2022 World Cup. According to the Guardian, “The grim statistic comes from the Pravasi Nepali Coordination Committee, a respected human rights organisation which compiles lists of the dead using official sources in Doha. It will pile new pressure on the Qatari authorities — and on football’s world governing body, FIFA — to curb a mounting death toll that some are warning could hit 4,000 by the time the 2022 Finals take place.”

Sketch conceptualizing the number of migrant workers who have died in Qatar

Progress(?)
(Credit: 1week1project.org)

The Qatar World Cup Memorial would be constructed in a spiralized design comprised of concrete modules continuously stacked as the death toll rises, each sectional piece numbered to reflect each life lost. Each floor of the memorial would comprise four modules and two staircases. A crane would remain positioned at altitude until construction is completed in 2022.

Closeup of pillars of stone indicating the number of dead workers they commemorate

View from outside
(Credit: 1week1project.org)

Aside from drawing public attention to the negligence and callousness of Qatari contractors and the failure of the local government to put better safety regulations in place, this memorial concept also highlights several pertinent issues pertaining to collective memory and grief. It raises questions such as, “Which lives are worthy of commemoration?” and “Who decides?” In this sense, the Qatar World Cup Memorial pays tribute to all lives that are considered “disposable.”

One function of public memorials is to knit together the grief of individuals into a common web of understanding and experience. The most economically impoverished and those who do not enjoy a socially, financially, or racially privileged place in society are often left out of the collective story, which is written and designed by people in power. Additionally, memorials are often inspired by large-scale and highly visible events, whereas those who die from medical accidents (a taboo subject) or chronic diseases such as cancer are left to cope in isolation.

inside view of the Qatar Memorial

Floor view from inside
(Credit: 1week1project.org)

The ongoing nature of the Qatar World Cup Memorial could be taken to heart by individuals interested in commemorating their loved ones in a more structured and intentional way, just as all our ancestors made a place for their deceased loved ones on an altar; at a family temple; at the extra plate set on the supper table; and in their prayers. Grief that is disenfranchised (unrecognized by society for the full impact it has on those who feel it) can be given a dignified place to rest, even if that is a personal altar at home. To memorialize is to assert the value and living memory of someone who is no longer physically present. We all have the power to do this for ourselves and each other.

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How Do I Memorialize a Loved One with Jewelry? An Interview with Claire McHan: Part One

An expert talks about making diamonds from a loved one's hair or ashes

Today, SevenPonds speaks with Claire McHan, operations manager and support manager for Heart In Diamond, a company that specializes in making diamonds out of loved one’s hair or ashes and converting them into beautiful pieces of jewelry that serve as memorials for those who have died. From her Georgia home, McHan speaks with families about their wishes, suggesting the perfect diamond option based on color, size and cut, and taking into account the loved one’s personality. Her goal is to personalize the grieving process, empowering families to choose how to remember their loved ones and their pets. 

A portrait of Claire McHan, who is an expert in memorial jewelry

Credit: Claire McHan

Marissa Abruzzini: What originally got you interested in your work with Heart In Diamond? 

Claire McHan: I came to Heart In Diamond via a very personal journey with a friend that had lost her husband. I witnessed grief in its rawest form, and I followed her through a shift in that grief as she took her own journey through the Heart In Diamond process.

Marissa: What does your work with Heart In Diamond entail? 

Claire: A typical day starts out like most others. I check my email to see what overnight inquiries have come in. These are a priority, and I answer them and send the person detailed information about our diamond-making process. I tend not to call unless specifically asked to. This is a very personal journey and I respect a family’s privacy at all times.

I then take care of current customers, ensuring all update reports that are due have been sent out. I take care of our Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest accounts. I try to keep these posts light and informative. With our pet page, I post pet-related topics as well as amusing and informative videos. I deal with jewelers to discuss client settings, as well as funeral homes and veterinary hospitals. I’m always looking at the news to see if there is a newsworthy story we can support. We like to be as charitable as we can.

Marissa: What do you want your clients to get out of their experience with Heart in Diamond? 

Claire: I am confident in saying that our clients get the most caring, thoughtful experience with us. My international colleagues all have their own personal journeys that they’ve been through. As for myself, I’ve gone through this process too , and I really get what is required  to be the soft voice at the end of the phone. My goal is to be the person that empathizes, and not sympathizes. As a company we have shared many tears over the years witnessing the varied ways that we have formed our connections with our clients. They will feel secure and respected throughout the whole process, always.

Marissa: Do you have any stories from your clients to share?

Claire: They all stand out, and I still send emails to some of my families to check in on them from time to time. I make a mental note when it is an anniversary or a symbolic date, and I’ll just send a quick email and say, “I have been thinking about you, so I thought I’d just see how you’re doing.”

Two stories that stand out are a young girl who had lost her mother to cancer, and three years after that, her family home burned down. She lost her father, grandmother and two siblings in that fire.

Claire McHan's yellow diamond ring, a piece of memorial jewelry that she made after her dad died

After her father’s death, Claire had a yellow diamond ring made in his honor.
(Credit: Clare McHan)

She and another sibling were taken to the hospital, and sadly, she was the only survivor. I got a call from her godfather to see if we could help with a discount, because this child had nothing — absolutely nothing. We could not think of anything less than a 100 percent discount. How could we take from a child who had nothing? We are all mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters, aunts, and uncles. We had to do this for her.

Another poignant story was a brave girl from Texas whose son was stillborn at full-term. She had a mixed reaction to her grief, which prompted her to write a short story entitled “I’m Not Afraid To Talk About It.” She then contacted me, and we started her journey. We are firm friends now, and I’m happy to say she has welcomed another son into the world.

Marissa: Why should someone consider having their loved one’s or a pet’s ashes converted into diamonds? 

Claire: First, a diamond is the visual essence of your loved one that you take everywhere with you. Second, having ashes at home is an easy way to keep them with you if you’re part of the immediate family. But if you’re part of the extended family or a friend, you do not have that same home connection.

Also, when you keep ashes in an urn, there’s always the dilemma of who to pass them down to when you die. Who really wants them?

Lastly, when you have a diamond, you don’t feel compelled to visit your loved one’s graveside. If you move elsewhere, you still have that person with you in diamond form, and you do not have the guilt of not being able to visit the grave. You can also include a lock of your own hair in with the ashes, giving you a sense of continued unity.

Join us next week for part two of this two-part conversation with Claire McHan!

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Our Weekly Tip: Send Your Loved Ones Ashes Up To The Sky In a Biodegradable Balloon

Florida based company Eternal Ascent Society provides a unique memorial service
ashes in balloon memorial

Credit: eternalascent.com

Our Tip of The Week:  “I don’t care what you do with me — just have me cremated and send me up in a balloon,” said Clyde to his wife Joanie as they sat around the gift balloon shop they run, chatting with family about their last wishes. Out of this conversation, the Eternal Ascent Society was born.

The Eternal Ascent Society sends your loved one’s cremated ashes into the skies in a biodegradable balloon. The ceremony creates a memory out of watching your loved one floating up into the clouds — a calm and peaceful image amidst the turmoil of grief.  For those that find comfort in the idea that loved ones who have died are somewhere in the skies above looking down on them, this service is a perfect way to make that idea concrete.

Family on a beach releasing a balloon containing loved one's cremains

Credit: Eternal Ascent Society

How-to Suggestion: Once you receive your loved one’s ashes from a funeral home or crematorium, you can deliver them to Eternal Ascent Society, or the company can make arrangements with the funeral home or crematorium directly. The Eternal Ascent Society then places an appropriate amount of ashes in each balloon. They use enough ashes so that you can see them clearly through the bottom of the balloon, but not so much that they prevent the balloon from flying properly. The family chooses the release site. (If the site is more than 100 miles of the company’s flagship office in Crystal River, Florida, there is a transportation fee.) Each balloon is quite large, measuring five feet in diameter. If children are participating in the ceremony, they receive smaller balloons to release after the primary balloon takes off.

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“Some people die at 25 and aren’t buried until 75.”

- Benjamin Franklin
Depressed elderly dying inside

Credit: cliparts.co

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