Lora Matz has been a leader in the field of Integrative Medicine for many years. She is a psychotherapist, lecturer, and writer who works extensively throughout the country in the area of Mind-Body Medicine and Transpersonal Development. She works in in curriculum and program development with organizations in the Twin Cities (Minnesota) and around the country. Lora teaches and works with archetype, myth, and symbol as a bridge to personal and collective spiritual transformation.
I had a chance to speak with Lora about the work she does, and how integrative medicine can affect the end-of-life experience.
Dana Sitar: Can you give some brief background to what you do?
Lora Matz: It became clear years ago when working with children that western medicine – and often even hospice – wasn’t adequate to deal with the end-of-life. I started to do research myself and integrate mind-body medicine into what I was doing with people with life-threatening illnesses. What I found was that those people who were doing those meditations, etc, were better prepared at the time of death.
Because I’ve been present myself for so many deaths, I kind of leaned in and became more present to what was really occurring leading up to death, the actual death process itself, and what people needed surrounding death to make it more meaningful and more transformative. I teach about the physical, the psychological, and the energetic stages of the process; and what kinds of integrative practices are appropriate for different stages. It’s similar to midwife training. Midwives, who deliver babies, learn about ways to help during certain transitional states of labor. Death is very similar to birth in that way.
Dana: Is your work mainly psychological?
Lora: It’s psycho-spiritual but it incorporates the physical. People need to understand what the physical stages of death are, in order to be prepared. People get frightened as the body starts to shut down. But if they have a guide, or if they’ve learned certain relaxation processes, that helps them to ease that fear.
We teach about energetic signposts along the way. For instance, often in a death that takes longer, the person will go through a stage where their legs are really hot. This is energy moving up from the feet through the spine. By the time that energy hits the torso, it’s running out. This is a stage that we can help prepare people for.
Dana: So you’re using those physical sign posts to understand what’s happening on deeper/spiritual level?
Lora: Exactly. And we use those sign posts to further explore the psycho-spiritual.
For example, imagery is a kind of a letting go into the unexpected. We also talk a lot about the importance of storytelling, and different ways to do life reviews (for example, when someone has dimentia, loved ones can tell their life story in their presence).
It can be really empowering for people to talk about what kind of death do they want to have – not only advance directives, but also, what would be the most beautiful death you can have? Who do you want there, do you want flowers there, how would like your body to be handled immediately after death? Do you want to be dressed in your favorite things. (for example, some teenagers want to be buried in prom dresses, etc). It’s empowering to know that they have control right up to the end.
Dana: Like an emotional advanced directive?
Lora: It incorporates the emotional, but also the idea that death is a sacred event. It transcends the religious. Just like birth, there can be something so sacred and beautiful about death.
Dana: You say “can be”. Do you think that opportunity is missed sometimes?
Lora: Yes, but I think death is intrinsically sacred. I have no doubt that there is something beyond this life, and death is preparing us for another consciousness. But, family members can be so wrapped up in their sense of grief, helplessness, and what appears to be suffering, that they miss the whole other level of what’s happening.
So we train people how to facilitate authentic empowering discussions, so there can be as few regrets as possible after the death.
Dana: How do you integrate the emotional or spiritual work you do with medicine or science – since these are so present in the lives of many of the people you are working with?
Lora: Most integrative practices are research-based. They’re a wonderful adjunct to western practices. Most hospices do a great job, but they are also insurance driven, so oftentimes they don’t have enough time to spend the kind of time coaching people on some of these other dimensions, or don’t have the skills.
Dana: Do you see often that medical professionals often feel helpless to have conversations with patients about the end-of-life?
Lora: Even for professionals in palliative care, physicians, unless they have been specially trained, talking about death feels like a failure.
Dana: Do you think that we can get that conversation into hospitals?
Lora: I think we are more and more, and some of the work that the White House did in the past few years has helped a lot. I see the growth with all the times I get called to do trainings.. I think people are desperate because they know the old system isn’t working. And they want more. I think it’s just a matter of time before those other dimensions of the death experience extend into hospice and hospitals.
Dana: Do we need more training for medical professionals as well, to help them change the way they think about death?
Lora: They can feel helpless as well. I’ve found that most of them have had unusual experiences that they’re uncomfortable talking about, and when they’re able to open up about their own pyscho-spiritual experiences, they are much more at ease with the work they’re doing with patients near the end-of-life.
Dana: Is there anything I haven’t mentioned that you’d like to share with SevenPonds readers?
Lora: I think it’s so important to give people the opportunity to talk about what’s really happening. Helping create that bridge, a way to talk with loved ones about death, can create incredible intimacy and meaningfulness to help people with this passage. When people don’t talk about it, there’s a secondary suffering from the loneliness and lack of understanding.
Often people struggle with finding the meaning of their life, and they can find meaning in their death – creating that bridge of communication can help make the experience meaningful.