Easing into the End of Life

Where does the US stand on the subject of death, dying and comprehensive end of life care?
hospice, hospice facility, hospice patient, elderly patient, end of life care

Credit: politico.com

People like to know what’s ahead. Yet, life is unpredictable. Perhaps one of the reasons death, something natural and something we all share, is still tainted with fear. How do you plan and prepare for an experience filled with uncertainty?

In 1967, Dame Cicely Saunders, a nurse during World War II, attempted to find the answer by creating St. Christopher’s Hospice in London to help people easily transition into their last stages of life with love and support. She believed that everyone deserved dignity and help at the end of their life for both the physical and psychological aspects of the process.

However, it appears that our perspective of the end of life has changed. A recent New York Times article highlighted the fact that in 2009, only about 45% of end of life patients received care at a hospice center.

hospice care, hospice hands, elderly hands, holding hands

Credit: wojdylosocialmedia.com

While many factors contribute to the increase of people spending their last days in a hospital, it appears that the advent of administrating the latest, high tech treatment has transformed the last days of life as a physical, not emotional, experience. In The San Diego Union-Tribune, writer Paul Sisson stated that these “endless tests and procedures confine them to hospital beds rather than allow them to spend their last days at home with their loved ones.” For the most part, death is not something that we can control. It can be a long process not only for the patient, but also for the family members. For example, the central story in the same New York Times article centered on Maureen Stefanides finding a way to fulfill her father’s dying wish: to spend his last days at home. Yet, the process turned into an endless path of dealing with hospitals, nursing homes and insurance companies. Her father Joseph Andrey was shuttled between one place to the next, making everything more stressful than need be.

ira byock, Ira Byock, Dr. Ira Byock, Dartmouth Medical Care, The Best Care Possible, Hospice doctor

Dartmouth’s Dr. Ira Byock of has long been a champion for more comprehensive, personalised end of life care.
(Credit: mtprnews.com)

Luckily, more and more health care physicians are seeking ways to change this complicated process. One of these plans includes giving a financial incentive for doctors to speak openly with their patients about how they wish to be treated at the end of the life. While modern medicine has increased human life expectancy, death should not be an experience entangled with insurance companies. It’s a natural part of life. If we can make the patient’s voice a priority in the end of life conversation, we may be able to assuage their uncertainties and fears of death. Helping them have the chance to plan their last few days returns us to what death is about: helping a person prepare for the next journey.

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“When your time comes to die, be not like those whose hearts are filled with fear of death, so that when their time comes they weep and pray for a little more time to live their lives over again in a different way. Sing your death song, and die like a hero going home.”

plane of life

Credit: http://www.emilynicoleblog.com

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Dreaming of my Mother

How a recurring dream shaped my grieving process

This is Danielle’s story, as told by Angela Borrello. Our “Opening Our Hearts” stories are based on people’s real-life experiences with loss. By sharing these experiences publicly, we hope to help our readers feel less alone in their experience of grief and, ultimately, to aid them in their healing processes. In this post, we tell the story of a young woman who lost her mother to a stroke.


Credit: Faithhalifax.org

About 3 months after my mom passed away, I started having vivid dreams. They always started out the same. I would be in my childhood room sitting on my bed when all of a sudden the door would open. Just before I could see who was there, I’d wake up. The clarity and consistency of the storyline drove me crazy with curiosity. Who was coming into my room? I wanted it to be my mom so badly and in my heart I felt it had to be her. I would go to sleep every night hoping that night would be the one I’d finally see her. But for months the dreams went on always ending just before I could see who was there.

I would go to sleep every night hoping that night would be the one I’d finally see her.

My mom died unexpectedly at 55 after suffering a massive stroke. I go to art school across the country and by the time I got the news my family had already begun the funeral preparations. It all happened so quickly that it felt unreal for a long time after she passed. I couldn’t stop beating myself up because it had been a long time since I’d been home.

I felt haunted and trapped by their perpetual occurrence.


Credit: Tattichesiamesi.blogspot.com

The dreams became my only source of comfort. It felt like a piece of hope every time I found myself back in my old room waiting for the door to open. I just wanted one last moment to see her. But as the months went on and the dreams continued to end without even a glimpse of the figure on the other side of the door, I began to feel less and less happy about their occurrence. They started to wear me down. How many times could I stare at the door waiting to see my mom? I felt haunted and trapped by their perpetual occurrence. At a loss for what to do, I confided in a friend who asked me why I didn’t just “try asking whoever’s on the other side of the door to come in?” So that night before I went to sleep, I said out loud, “Mom, can you please come in?” She must not have liked my request because after that the dreams came to a sudden stop.

When I was home for Christmas a few months later, I discovered my sister had been having a strange recurring dream. All she had to say was, “I’m sitting in our old room, and I knew it was the same one that had been haunting me. I told her about my experience and we sat in wonder trying to make sense of what was going on. Neither one of us is a particularly superstitious person. And if it hadn’t been our own experience, we probably would have rolled our eyes at the sheer improbability of it all.

When the door opened, I felt an overpowering sense of calm wash over me and for the first time I saw my mother standing in the doorway.

Screen shot 2014-09-27 at 7.56.13 PM

Credit: www.dailymail.co.uk

That night, my sister and I decided to sleep in the room we had shared as little kids. After several renovations and additions to our house, the room had since been converted into an office. With no beds to sleep on, we grabbed a pile of blankets and pillows and set up camp on the floor. That night after months without it, I had the dream again—only this time it was different. The room felt overwhelmingly bright and I could hear noises from outside that I didn’t remember hearing before. There was a low humming and distant traffic in the background; and this time my sister was there with me. When the door opened, I felt an overpowering sense of calm wash over me and for the first time I saw my mother standing in the doorway. She walked over to my sister and me, touched our heads and said, “I was hoping to see you both”— and then she smiled. A big warm smile like the ones she would give when I came down in the morning for breakfast or when I showed her a painting I was working on. And then just as usual the dream ended almost as quickly as it had started. When I woke up, my sister was pacing around the room. We looked at each other and without words understood instantly that we had both seen her. In that moment, it felt as if the door I’d been waiting to see behind for so long had finally closed. It felt as if she was officially gone. But I was at peace for the first time since my mother’s death. To this day, neither one of us has had the recurring dream. My sister thinks it’s because our mom needed to see us together one last time.  And once that was done, she was free to pass on. Whatever the reason, I know I wouldn’t have been able to heal without seeing her that night. I’ll be forever grateful that I got that final moment.

Were you touched by this story? Read more Opening Our Hearts stories here.

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Monday Hearts for Madalene

Page Hodel creates the most beautiful hearts in an ongoing celebration of love

IMG_2703_2_2 copyRemembering Fall Foliage

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 on individual cards and 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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Expressing Grief with Style: A Woman’s Healing Journey into Fashion

Alyssa Wasko’s fashion line, Donni Charm, turned her grief into a discovery of expression

Credit: Elle.com

Alyssa Wasko has a picture of herself as a little girl flying through the air on a swing. Her smiling father is on a swing next to her. “Our eyes are deadlocked on one another, making sure that as high as he got, I was right there with him,” Alyssa recalls in her article titled “How my Fashion Line Helped me Grieve” on Elle.com. Her father, Donald was her motivator—cheering her on to greater heights, until, on the first day of her sophomore year in college, he was gone. Alyssa remembers her bereavement: she felt as if she landed on her back and had the wind knocked out of her.

“‘You play the hand you’re dealt’ – that’s what he always said. So that’s what I did,” she explains.

In her grief, Alyssa saw two choices. She could take a semester off and wait for her pain to stop, or she could do something. She knew her father would want her to choose the latter. “‘You play the hand you’re dealt’ – that’s what he always said. So that’s what I did,” she explains.

Returning to school a week after the funeral, Alyssa took on an ambitious course load and even made it on the dean’s list. During that time, even her busy academic career made her life barely tolerable. Alyssa eventually went into grief counseling, but found no solace in therapy. What she really wanted was to still have her father as a part of her life.

“I was in my own personal therapy session, expressing my grief while pouring my heart into this project,”


Credit: Elle.com

At home, between classes and with no schoolwork to distract her, Alyssa found herself with a basket of fabrics, charms and thread from a local craft store. As her hands went to work making scarves, her healing began. “I was in my own personal therapy session, expressing my grief while pouring my heart into this project,” Alyssa tells in her article.

That’s how Donni Charm came into being. Donni after her father Donald and Charm for a good luck charm that’s sewn into each scarf. Soon Alyssa found herself in a network of people who reached out to her in gratitude for sharing her story and inspiring them to express their grief through creativity. “I became even more inspired and motivated,” she writes. Her inspiration soared higher than she thought possible. Today, stars like Beyoncé, Jessica Alba, Hilary Duff to name a few, sport Alyssa’s labor of love.

Though Alyssa still feels that her father’s death was unfair, Donni Charm gives her a sense of purpose, “It fills me with pride when I hear that one girl has found strength through this story. Now, whenever I see a Donni Charm pass me on the street, I can’t help but smile.”

Just like Alyssa wanted during those difficult months after her loss, her father is a part of her life through luxurious, cozy scarves made in America, and through the numerous charities that receive a portion of all profits from all Donni Charm purchases.

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What Is a Memorial Quilt? An Interview with Lori Mason

Lori Mason Design creates beautiful, personal memorial quilts for those grieving the loss of a loved one

Today SevenPonds speaks with Lori Mason of Lori Mason Design in Portland, Oregon. Lori is a fabric and textile artist who creates custom quilts, often for those who wish to commemorate an event or memorialize a loved one’s life. She uses the clothing of the loved one who has passed on to create unique, meaningful pieces.

Lori Mason, Lori Mason Portland, Lori Mason Design, Portland Designer, Portland textile, Portland fabric, Memorial quilt, Portland quilt, Portland fabric

Lori Mason.
(credit: Bolt Neighborhood)

MaryFrances: How did Lori Mason Design begin?

Lori: I started out in the arts and crafts medium. And then I went to New York for a year and came back and worked for Nike in the late 90s, designing prints and textiles for apparel. After about three years, I realized I wasn’t corporate material [laughs] but an artist.

I wanted to make quilts when I thought, ‘What do I really, really want to do?’ Time is precious, and the two things I realized were: I wanted to reconnect with print design, but also focus on this idea of mind of a memorial quilt.

MaryFrances: Were you inspired by a personal experience with loss?

Lori: I had a very close friend in college whose father died in what I think was our last year. He lived in LA, was a lawyer there and had been married three times since her mother. The only thing she really felt she had of him was this bag of teck ties. So a couple years later, I made her a quilt out of them. I thought, ‘Wow, this is really something that can make an impact, something I can offer people.’ Then my grandmother died, and I was very close to her. We were wondering what to do with her clothes, and after the construction of a memorial quilt – I ended up making four actually—I realized the experience of having touched and worked with her clothes like that was such a powerful experience. Now, I feel like [the quilt is] a reminder to relatives that they can go to a place and breathe beside her. A connector.

MaryFrances: How do you better understand your client’s loss/needs?

Lori: I try to be very open about asking about how their loved one died. I try to be very direct but aware.

Lori’s 3 Grieving Tips:

1) Let the grief come.
2) Realize society’s not very patient with the grieving process, but that doesn’t mean you can’t be.
3) Grief is physical too. Listen to your body.

MaryFrances: How do clients feel when they receive the finished quilt?

Lori Mason Design, Lori Mason, Mason, quilting, memorial quilt

A close up of “Ronny’s Ties”
Ronny had a great sense of humor. This quilt was made from his lifelong tie collection.
-Lori Mason
(credit: Lori Mason Design)

Lori: It is something very powerful. And I hear from people after they receive the quilt, open the box – I always want to hear back from them – and they tell me a kind of story about where they’re going to hang it, of how everybody [in the family] is so moved. Sometimes they open it in a large gathering, but sometimes it’s just an intimate moment with a mother or father. It’s so personal – grieving is so personal.

MaryFrances: If you weren’t working with fabric, what medium would you pick?

Lori: I don’t think I can disconnect myself from my love of textiles [laughs] and of clothing, in particular. It’s so visceral because it touches that person. [The connection] is immediate. It made up a part of their personality, of what we saw in them everyday.

MaryFrances: How long does it usually take to make a quilt?

Lori: It generally takes 12-15 weeks. It’s a very time-consuming process. I receive the fabrics. I have to think about what kinds of colors and patterns can go together.

MaryFrances: I imagine you have families coming to you, saying, ‘We want this kind of design’ and that you have to work carefully within your ability and their vision to execute what they’re imagining. Do you feel a need to know a bit about the person the quilt is being made to commemorate?

Lori: I like to hear about what that person was like, to have that conversation where I learn about what they were like, their passions, etc. You learn about what was important to them. Sometimes a feeling about someone doesn’t visually translate with ease. Not at first. But I always have that motivation in the back of my mind, always working. I come into the studio; I light a candle and I sit there for a minute and just meditate a bit on that person.

Lori Mason, Quilting, Memorial Quilt

“Eva in New York” by Lori Mason.
Eva made a statement wherever she went. This quilt is made from wildly printed couture clothing that Eva bought over the years on New York’s 5th Avenue.
-Lori Mason
(credit: Lori Mason Design)

[Consider] the quilt, “ Richard’s Conversation.” It’s made for a man who owned a hotel and just loved chatting with people. He would wear a different tie every day as a sort of conversation starter. I made the squares completely different with the various ties.

MaryFrances: Have you ever gotten a really odd or difficult piece to work with?

Lori: No, nothing really odd. But the really stretchy fabrics are difficult. It mostly depends on materials that can get crazy. I think I got a knit pantsuit once.

MaryFrances: Thanks so much, Lori.

Lori: Thank you.

Watch this video to learn more from Lori about her quilts.

You may enjoy:

  • Passage Quilting: “Remembering, celebrating, honoring relationships” through unique quilts
  • The Bead Quilt: A collaborative art piece cherishes loved ones lost on September 11th
  • What is the Art of the Dying? An Interview with Deidre Scherer: The fabric and thread artist who captures the journey of the dying process

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