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Transcript - The Last Adventure of Life:
Facing Death With Courage
Interview with Rev. Maria Dancing Heart Hoaglund
Transcript - The Last Adventure of Life:
Facing Death With Courage
Interview with Rev. Maria Dancing Heart Hoaglund
Karen Wyatt: Hello and welcome to End of Life University. This is your host Dr. Karen Wyatt. And today I’m here for our last interview of the series with my special guest, Reverend Maria Hoaglund. Reverend Hoaglund was born in Tokyo, Japan – daughter of Lutheran missionaries. She spent her childhood growing up in Japan attending Japanese public schools to the eighth grade. As a result, she is bilingual and bicultural, and has used her language and cultural skills in a variety of ways through the years. After finishing high school at Canadian Academy in Kobe, Japan, she moved to the United States for college.
She graduated from Yale College, and later attended seminary and received her Master’s of divinity from Chicago Theological Seminary in 1984. In 1985, she began parish ministry at Church of the Crossroads in Honolulu, Hawaii, where she was ordained in the United Church of Christ. She continued in parish ministry for ten years serving a variety of UCC churches in Hawaii and in the great Northwest. She changed her focus of ministry in 1995, when she began working as a bereavement coordinator for a hospice program in the Puget Sound area.
She added spiritual counseling to her repertoire that same year and has continued with this work to this day. Maria also trained in spiritual direction and served as a spiritual director and consultant. Because of her broad universal perspective, her ministry has an interface quality. She also continues to preach and perform weddings, memorial services, funerals, and other rituals sharing her universal perspective. Maria self-published her books – The Last Adventure of Life; Sacred Resources for Transition and The Most Important Day of Your Life: Are you Ready?
These books can be helpful for those who desire to deepen their spiritual life by examining their questions and doubts around death and dying. Maria is also passionate about using the holistic modalities at the end of life. She has developed some unique and beautiful Soul \Bundles - Japanese style. The bundles, and essential oils, and CD’s are available at Soulbaskets.com. Maria, I’d like to thank you so much for being here with us and being willing to take time out of your busy schedule to share some of your wisdom and expertise with us.
Maria Hoaglund: Thank you, Karen. It’s wonderful to be here with you. I’m so happy we found each other recently.
Karen Wyatt: Ah, yes. Yes. I feel the same way. I’m just very interested in the work that you’ve done. And I have to ask this right off the top because your bio intrigued me by mentioning Soul Bundles or Soul Baskets, which is something I’ve never heard of before. I was wondering if you could explain to us what those are.
Maria Hoaglund: Well, after writing my first book, I was getting it out there. But, I wanted a way for people to experience some of what I was talking about especially in the last chapter, where I have quite a bit about the different holistic, body, mind, spirit modalities. And so one day my sister-in-law and I were talking about gift baskets or something. She’s a nurse and somehow we got on to the topic of baskets.
And I thought, “Oh, yeah. Maybe I could put some baskets or Japanese style bundles – in Japan, people carry their gifts in a Furoshiki, which is a square, beautiful piece of cloth. And I just had this image. I like to do things a little differently and it’s possible with an Asian touch or a Japanese touch.
So, that’s how the Soul Bundles came about. And I include usually a book or a mini book, and then some essential oils, and CD’s mostly all for relaxation. And then I have information sheets on like the finger holds from Jin Shin Jyutsu – a form of acupressure point holding. And I have ideas on relaxation and a little bit on grief.
Different pieces that might help a person or a family who’s going through grief, or transitions, or even I have a Final Gifts basket to help people prepare for the actual transition process.
Karen Wyatt: Well, that’s great because it leads into exactly what I was hoping we could talk about in part of this conversation with your experience using these holistic resources to help people who are grieving and who are at the end of life. So, I would love it if you could tell us more about – I know you mentioned essential oils. You mentioned some acupressure points. Would you mind just teaching us some of what you know about using these modalities?
Maria Hoaglund: Well, the essential oils I find can be very healing because many of them are relaxing and they smell so good. And one of the reasons all of these holistic modalities are helpful at the end – especially at the end though all the way along really – is because at the end, a person is not so interested in food. And here in our culture, we’re so used to feeding people as a way to make them well, or make them whole, or make them happy. But, it’s like a whole other dimension can open up when we start focusing on other things like the essential oils, which bring the aroma in, or music, which brings the sound.
Of course, you could use color. And then touch. That’s another area. But, for the essential oils, some of the most relaxing oils are lavender and Ylang Ylang. The oils that I deal with are Young Living primarily and they have one called Peace and Calming that’s wonderful for relaxation. And I’ve made a blend where I combine lavender and frankincense because frankincense is one of the ancient oils, as everybody probably knows, that the wise men brought to Jesus when he was born.
But, it connects you to spirit almost instantly. It’s a well-appreciated oil and incense in the spirit world. So, I combined lavender and frankincense, which happened to be some of my favorite oils anyway. And I use that to bless people, anoint them at the end of life. But, they can also be used just as a mood enhancer when you want to relax or as a healing device. Actually, both of those oils are very good for the skin. So, people can go to my website Changewithcourage.com to get – well, I guess I don’t have information there so much.
It’s more the.com – another site that I have where I have a whole protocol on one page about which oils are helpful for what kinds of things. For instance, nausea can be helped by ginger and nausea can also be helped by holding the index finger because the finger holds are about holding each finger for about three to five minutes. And you can hold either finger – either your right hand or your left hand finger – with your opposite hand.
And just hold on to the finger very gently for three to five minutes and it will help you to relax. And actually –
Karen Wyatt: So, you hold any part of the index finger or…
Maria Hoaglund: Actually the whole thing. To sort of grab the whole finger –
Karen Wyatt: Oh, grab the entire finger.
Maria Hoaglund: – with your other hand and hold it for three to five minutes. And you can do this for each finger. And each finger is representing different body parts. Like the thumb is good for the stomach, and the spleen, and it’s very helpful to relieve insecurity. You know how kids will suck their thumb when they feel insecure. It’s the same idea. We can hold our thumb as a way to relieve our insecurity and bring in more sense of security.
And then the index finger is the bladder and kidneys. And by holding that finger, we can help relieve fear. And they say that many people who are about to give a talk are caught holding their index finger. So, it’s like we know in some unconscious level –
Karen Wyatt: Instinctively. Uh-huh.
Maria Hoaglund: Right. And interesting enough, the third finger is the angry finger. So, instead of giving people the finger [laughter], you ought to hold the middle finger, I’d say. And that’s for anger, and it’s where the liver and gallbladder are associated. So, if you have liver issues or you have anger issues, hold your third finger [laughter].
And then actually the fourth finger I should share too because that’s the grief finger. That’s the lung and umbilicus finger. When we have things stuck in our lungs, that often means grief. In fact, that’s sort of said that if you have a cold coming on, hold your grief finger. Or the old wives’ tale goes, “Watch a sad film and just cry your eyes out because then you can get rid of your cold. You want have to get sick because you’re releasing your grief.
Maria Hoaglund: And actually, I’ll go ahead and share the pinky while we’re at it because that’s something we probably all need to holding. That helps to relieve confusion and denial [laughter]. And I say who’s not in a bit of confusion and denial these days [laughter].
Karen Wyatt: Exactly. Well, that’s one of the goals for this entire interview series – is to help get people out of their denial. So, [laughter] you’re exactly right.
Maria Hoaglund: Yeah. We can all start holding our pinky right now [laughter].
Karen Wyatt: Well, these are such simple tools, but we can use them on ourselves. But, we can also do them with a loved one who is in distress and just hold their finger, it sounds like.
Maria Hoaglund: Exactly. And if they like the oils, the two make a lovely combination. You can get some oils out, and put a few drops on your palm, and maybe energize it in the clockwise direction. And then start holding the fingers of your loved one or the middle of the palm is the harmonizing point. So, that’s also a very good place to hold. I say if you’re holding your loved one’s hands or hand and they need a little harmonizing, you can just scoot your three middle fingers into their palm and give them a little harmonizing feeling there or harmonization.
Karen Wyatt: These suggestions are so wonderful and I’m really taking the point of view of a caregiver who’s caring for a loved one who’s ill. And I played that role myself with my mom in January when she died. And the overwhelming feeling at times is of helplessness because it feels like you don’t know what to do. And as you mentioned, when our loved ones are still eating and we can feed them, it feels as though we’re nurturing them by giving them food. But, when that goes away, there is a bit of a sense of emptiness or helplessness when we’re not sure what could I do to help. How could I make a difference? So, I’m so grateful to you for sharing these modalities. And tell me more. What else do you have to share?
Maria Hoaglund: Well, one thing I might share is even though we feel helpless at a time like that, it’s so meaningful that we do bring our presence to our loved ones. And sometimes just holding their hand and being there. We don’t have to say a lot. But, just holding their hand, and making sure they’re comfortable, and doing okay is a tremendous comfort and reassurance to them. So, I would say let’s not underestimate that power of presence or being a loving witness – what that really brings especially in these days when we’re so much into the doing and we forget about the power and presence of being.
And it’s really helpful for those who are facing death. And sometimes they might want to talk, so to just be there to listen to them or share if there’s anything coming out of them at that point. It just depends on where they are at their stage of passing.
Karen Wyatt: You’re so right about that – about the emphasis on doing. And sometimes, I think, that’s a reaction when we ourselves are somewhat nervous or fearful about what’s happening. We tend to keep ourselves very busy so that we don’t have to stop and feel our feelings or process what’s going on in the moment. And I think it’s so important that we do the opposite then and get quiet, and sit, and just be present.
Maria Hoaglund: Right. And if the tears come, not to be afraid of that either because a lot of times we don’t want to show that we’re grieving in our culture. But, it’s okay to as they say, “Let the heart chakra open”. And then you give permission to the people around you that if they need to cry or if they want to open their hearts, they can go there too. Yeah. Now, in terms of music, there are all kinds of music pieces and CD’s that can help people too. The one that immediately comes to mind is Graceful Passages. Maybe you’ve heard of that.
There’s a double CD. One has the spoken language on it and the other has just the music. But, it’s a collection of beautiful pieces on life, and death, and helping people become more conscious around this. I’ve had grieving people listen to these CD’s and they’re very, very meaningful. It’s one of the best gifts, I feel, to give someone who wants to become more aware of the connection between life and death, and how integrally they’re connected.
And there’s just some magnificent pieces and amazing people speaking on there. Elizabeth Kubler-Ross is on that CD and so is Rabbi Schachter-Shalomi, the Rabbi in Colorado – Boulder – who works with conscious aging. And I love what he says about why we’re so awkward in our culture around death.
He says, "It’s because we’ve taken death to the hospital in the last 100 years.” And I think to myself, “Wow. There’s some real truth to that.”
Karen Wyatt: Oh, that’s very true. So, that sounds like, as you mentioned, that could be a wonderful gift to give to someone who’s dealing with grief or a family who’s facing loss in the future. So, would that be something that might be included in one of your Soul Bundles?
Maria Hoaglund: Yes. In fact, I’ve just ran out. So, I’m just getting some more. I just ordered some more so I can include them in the bundles ‘cause they make a perfect item in there. And then I have some other CD’s. A harpist has put together some things. And in fact, he sent me a CD that’s specifically made for hospice patients or hospice people. Also, there’s a gentleman, Jim Oliver, who has some beautiful kind of instrumental music and I hope to get some of his CD’s in to include in my Soul Bundles.
And then there’s another harpist. He’s a little more of a lively harpist. But, Peter Sterling has some beautiful material that he’s put out – beautiful CD’s. Well, there are many other harpists of course ‘cause the harp is very well-known for helping assist people – better at crossing over. But, I think of some other CD’s as well like Steven Halpern has some instrumental pieces that are great.
And then I have other ones that include in my Soul Basket. Like there’s a woman Mary Delaney out of Cave Creek near Sedona here where I live. And she’s put together two beautiful guided meditation that help people relax into their breathing because we tend to breathe very shallow in our culture –in our rush to doing culture. And so she helps you to really slow down and think about your breathing.
But, there would be many CD’s that people could find out there to help with guided imagery. Of course, there are guided imagery CD’s too and hypnosis CD’s to help people get over illness too. And sometimes these can help with actual healing from the illness. And then that leads into meditation. Just the act of breathing can be so powerful at the end of life.
So, that reminds me. I think I’ve written about this in my first book. There’s something called co-meditation. And I was told it’s more for the advanced person or the advanced practitioner. But, you sit with a dying person and you breathe with them. And you count the breaths, as I recall, from one to ten. I haven’t very often actually used this form of meditation, so I’m not an expert.
But, there’s that and there’s also the Buddhist way of grieving, where you are breathing in the suffering of the person and then you breathe out to release the suffering. I’m not remembering what that’s called at the moment.
Karen Wyatt: Oh, Tonglen.
Maria Hoaglund: Yeah. Tonglen. Exactly. And yeah. When you start scratching the surface, there are all kinds of interesting modes of meditation that can be used for helping people with relieving.
Karen Wyatt: As with each one of these modalities we’ve talked about, it would be helpful for the patient, who’s transitioning, but also for the caregiver, who’s participating in the breathing, and the aromatherapy, and the music. I can see that it’s a mutual relaxation happening.
Maria Hoaglund: Exactly. I might share a brief story around this.
Karen Wyatt: Yes. Please do.
Maria Hoaglund: I was still working at the hospice in Seattle area and I learned that a gentleman was having trouble with his breathing – and I knew that he was on our hospice unit the week before. Well, I got word that Monday morning that he wanted me to come and anoint him again ‘cause I had anointed him with the frankincense that last visit the previous week. So, I somehow got the urgency of this and I decided to just scratch my schedule for the morning and just went to visit him. And what happened was quite amazing.
I entered his room in the hospice unit. And his daughter was on one side and his granddaughter on the other. The daughter just happened to be an emergency room nurse, so she was somewhat comfortable with the dying process. Well, they told me that they had been with him all night trying to help him go and give him permission to go ‘cause he was holding back a little bit because one of their daughter’s had died a few months back. And so he didn’t want to bring on more grief for his family.
But, clearly he needed to be let go. And so his family was there through the night encouraging him to go. But, the problem was he had an oxygen mask on and he really was having trouble catching his breath. So, I just moved in and I did this all intuitively. I hadn’t really studied it or anything [laughter]. But, I removed his oxygen mask briefly and put some oils. I think I had some myrtle or some Believe oil from Young Living that I put on his mouth area and nose area, and then I put the mask back on.
And put a little more myrtle, I think, on his chest – or maybe it was Believe on the side of one of his lungs. And then I went down to the feet and put a little down there. And then I always like to go to the head and put some frankincense on his brow. Well, literally within minutes, his breathing slowed down, and then he opened his eyes and he looked up.
And his daughter said, “Oh, he’s dying.” And I thought to myself, “Well, maybe. It’s possible. But, with the birth and death, you never know when exactly it’s going to happen.” But, sure enough, we just waited together. We were all in this sort of great expectancy ‘cause it seemed like something was about to happen. And he just kept slowing his breathing down slower and slower.
And I would say within 15, 20 minutes of my entering that room – it’s hard to tell time at times like that – he just slowly took his last breath. And his daughter was pretty convinced that when he opened his eyes, he was seeing the daughter who had died or someone who was welcoming him back home on the other side. And then we finally thought, “Well, we better call the nurses in.” So, when the nurses came in, they checked his limbs and they were surprised that there had been very little mottling.
His limbs were the still the regular color and so forth. So, I think he just saw the opportunity. He asked for me to come and he knew I was there. He knew he was getting the anointing and oils. And, of course, I was praying. And then I had some music. There’s a beautiful Gregorian and Sanskrit chant CD called East West Chants by Cynthia Snodgrass. And I put those in my bundles too sometimes.
And I had that Ubi Caritas piece going. Ubi caritas et amor. The beautiful piece about where God is love is, and where love is God is. And I thought, “Well, if I were dying, that would be the music I would like to go with. And like I say, within minutes he was on his way. So, we were all a little bit stunned, but also realized this is some kind of sacred timing or sacred space we were able to create together to help him go, which is really what he was ready to do.
And it reminded me of the power of these oils because they’re very oxygenating too.
So, if somebody’s having trouble catching their breath, it might be the perfect gift to help them relax. And of course then the smells are in the room and help everyone.
Karen Wyatt Well, that’s very interesting. Already in my mind I’m imagining the beautiful scents from those oils and what a wonderful touch that would be for everyone in the room to be sharing in that. So, it sounds like the oils, they’re totally safe for the skin.
Maria Hoaglund: Yes. Well, especially the oils I use. It would be best to get the organic variety, the higher frequency ones, and the Young Living ones. And there’s some others out there that are organic and wild as much as possible. And then Gary Young distills these and makes sure they’re at the highest possible therapeutic value. So, those oils would be especially good. And back to the finger holds.
The finger holds are just the tip of the iceberg of this whole modality called Jin Shin Jyutsu, which is a Japanese form of acupressure. And I’ve heard of a nurse who practices Jin Shin Jyutsu helping a gentleman who was impacted by using the hold for constipation because this gentleman was so constipated, they were thinking they might have to even do surgery or do something rather drastic. But, this nurse just could put her hands on the points that were for the flow for constipation and by morning, this gentleman had been able to have a movement. That’s quite a gift when you’re stuck like some people can get on hospice especially.
Karen Wyatt: Oh, I’ll say. That’s wonderful to have that kind of knowledge and that resource to be able to use that’s totally harmless and safe for the patient.
Maria Hoaglund: Exactly. And totally non-invasive. So, I think it could behoove many of us to learn more from some of these more Asian – of course, people have had miracles with acupuncture too with the needles. But, I like the acupressure because there’s no needles involved because sometimes the needles scare people. And, of course, you have to be a little more of an expert to be able to bring in the needles and all. When touching is so meaningful at that time anyway.
Karen Wyatt: Uh-huh. But, the acupressure points, even a lay person could learn where those points are and learn how to use those, it sounds like.
Maria Hoaglund: Exactly. Yeah. There’s just so much to share. This is why I like to do a day seminar or even a weekend retreat. It could probably build into a whole week of sharing these various modalities and various things. I was also thinking in terms of meditation and guided meditation. Bruce Goldberg has put together a lovely book quite a while back called Peaceful Transitions. And in his book, I found a before death and after death meditation.
And Tonglen is in here. I’m just sort of reviewing my first book. And in the seventh chapter on awareness I talk a lot about cultivating the art of meditation. Because people who are comfortable going within, and sitting with themselves, and doing meditation are often more comfortable with the idea of dying, probably not surprisingly. And then when I came across these meditations that Bruce Goldberg had put together, I thought they were very unique and helpful for people preparing for that kind of time.
Karen Wyatt: Yes. Absolutely. That’s another thing that I found when my own mother was dying. I really felt a need for music and yet didn’t really have access in her house to music that would have been appropriate for her. I should have thought ahead and brought it with me, but I had to rely on the CD’s that she had already in her home.
And so I really wished I had more music available. But, this idea of a guided meditation that the two of us could have listened to together, that would have been very helpful to me at that time.
Maria Hoaglund: Yes. And then in my book, in the last chapter, I have quite a few other pieces I’ve found over the years like one of my friends works with Mandalas and the healing powers of a Mandala and of working with the hands and Mandalas. And then I had a chiropractor who wrote up a little piece on how he befriended a woman close to her death, who was very alone in her life, so he could provide touch and just that presence with her when she was getting close to her death.
And then I have a piece on diet, and the connection between cancer and like yeast, and fungus, and the acidic nature of our system. A lot of times if we can just start alkalizing how we eat, we can get better. We can recover from cancer. But, of course, diet at the time of death too has to be thought through more carefully. And sometimes you just want to feed the person if they feel like eating anything I suppose.
Then I have something on Essiac tea, which is also an alkalizer and a healing tea for people who want to detoxify. And people who take Essiac tea, sometimes they recover from cancer and sometimes it’s just a wonderful way to feel better and live longer. I’ve noticed that cancer patients who take the Essiac tea usually outlive their doctor’s prophetic date that they say they’re going to die. That kind of thing.
Karen Wyatt: Yeah. I’ve heard of that.
Maria Hoaglund: Yeah. And also hypnotherapy. A friend of mine, her brother was dying or very sick with cancer and he was able to get at Stamford some medical hypnotherapy that was very, very helpful for him to touch in with the expansive nature of the universe. And I think it really helped him in getting ready for his passage to the next realm. And then I have a little piece on John of God, but he’s all the way down in Brazil. That’s a little hard to get to for most people. Kangen water.
You want to be careful. Take your water if you can in the high PH. And Kangen water from Japan actually is a wonderful way to get healthier water. And then the labyrinth – I share a piece on the labyrinth. And nowadays, you can go to ispiritual.com and get smaller handheld labyrinth or you can make up a finger labyrinth just from a picture of a labyrinth and help people with that spiritual tool at the end of life.
Massage, medical intuitive, reiki, and other forms of healing with the hands and with touch. Of course, reiki usually doesn’t have touch. But, touch is so powerful at the end of life.
Karen Wyatt: Uh-huh. And I think sometimes caregivers are nervous about touching a dying patient because they’re afraid of causing more pain. And so they’re a little bit uncertain about how much to touch or how to touch. But, I love the idea of the acupressure points – using that as a starting place for touch.
Maria Hoaglund: Yes. And doing it just very gently. And if you get any signs that it’s not comfortable, of course, you quit. No. The other thing I’ve heard just recently is that there are people who have loved ones dying, but they’re afraid to touch them because there’s almost this feeling of I’m going to catch what they have or they’re not their whole selves.
And it’s more difficult for loved ones to even touch their loved ones. So, that’s something to consider as well, I guess.
Karen Wyatt: Oh, that makes me feel very sad to hear that.
Maria Hoaglund: I know.
Karen Wyatt: I already shared this in an earlier interview with someone else. But, when my mom was dying, one of the most beautiful moments we had was that I put her face creams for her at night because she for her entire adult life had used these very special moisturizers on her face and eyes. And I put her face creams on for her one of her last nights of life. And it was the sweetest ritual for us for me to touch her face. And she was so thrilled that she had her moisturizers on her face. That was so important to her.
Maria Hoaglund: Oh, and that reminds me. In our workshop that I just did this morning, the minister was sharing about a Quaker man – I think Parker Palmer – who had been going through the dark night of the soul for quite a while. And so he wasn’t dying, but it was another form of death. And the most meaningful thing that happened for him was that a gentleman he knew and must have been very aware of the power of touch and presence would just come and rub his feet for him. He wasn’t there to preach at him or tell him to get to feeling better, or get out of your funk, or whatever.
But, just came and rubbed his feet. And so the power of that touch, and giving a foot rub, or a hand massage. Or I’ve heard spiritual counselors who take the nail polish and do the nails of the women they’re working with and that kind of thing too.
Karen Wyatt: Well, it’s interesting ‘cause on one of my mom’s last nights alive, she asked me to put lotion on her legs. And previously, her legs had been very tender, so I had been very careful about touching them. But, she asked me to put lotion on for her. And it just occurred to me how much I would have loved having one of your Soul Baskets with me during those days when I was caring for her – how helpful it would have been – because I’m sure I would have found all kinds of things.
I would have had CD’s. I would have had oils. I would have things I could have used to provide her with more comfort that I just didn’t have the knowledge or the opportunity to have any of that available when I was with her.
Maria Hoaglund: Yeah. And then you can start mixing things too. I’m such an alchemist. But, if you have good cream that doesn’t have a lot of scent, then it’s really nice to add the oils into that cream, and then the oils and the cream mix very nicely. Kind of like you don’t have the oils straight, so you can always dilute them in another oil. And olive oil is a good oil to dilute. But, jojoba – the j-o-j-o-b-a – oil is even better because it’s very good for the skin.
Well, olive oil is too, but it doesn’t go rancid apparently – jojoba. So, I’ve learned a lot about these various healing and holistic modalities over the years and it’s been very instructional for my own self-care too.
Karen Wyatt: Yes. And I was going to say in our Western medical system, which is so focused on drugs, and technology, and procedures, we sometimes lack these richer, deep, culturally influenced methods for helping people be more comfortable. And so for me, this is just fabulous – these resources – and to be learning about these. And I’m sure a lot of our listeners are feeling that as well.
Like, “Oh, gosh. There’s a whole list of things now I want to buy and start utilizing.”
iiiiiiiiiiiiiiiii wanted to ask you because of the fact that you are bicultural from your upbringing in Japan – earlier in the week I had a conversation with Don Schumacher, who’s the CEO and president of The National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization, and he was telling me that for the future, hospice needs to become more multicultural. And it seems to me that incorporating some of these healing modalities and rituals from other cultures could be one of the things that could really help hospice branch out.
Maria Hoaglund: Yes. I would agree because we really do have so much to learn from all the different cultures. And as they say, our culture is such a melting pot. And we do have the gift of so many different cultures represented, so why not learn from each other, and grow, and share these rituals with each other.
Karen Wyatt: Yes. And even though hospice care in the U.S. is deeply informed by Western medicine, there’s no reason why we can’t reach out and just broaden that scope. And then include some of these practices and rituals that have been proven over the centuries to be helpful in other cultures.
Maria Hoaglund: Yes. And then as we incorporate those more, it seems like we can build more trust between the cultures. And it may be a way to help the other cultures, and people of other cultures and countries become more comfortable with the style of hospice too.
Karen Wyatt: Yes. Exactly. So, it can go both ways. It’s reciprocal. As we learn from them, we’re able to also share with them the knowledge that we have.
Maria Hoaglund: Yes. It’s kind of a give and take. Exactly.
Karen Wyatt: Yes. ‘Cause I think one of the gifts that we offer from here in the U.S. is that we’re very good at setting up the systems. We’re good at creating the structure, and the systems, and having functioning hospices that know how to go out and deliver the care. And I could see that could be lacking in some other places. And we do have a lot of knowledge in that area to share. But, on the other side of things, we do somewhat lack in our own sense of ritual.
And it seems to me that that’s the work that you do in large part – is creating rituals for people who are grieving or people at the time of death. You show them how to have their own ritual moments like by anointing people, and using oils, and…
Maria Hoaglund: And prayer and guided meditation. Yeah. I guess you’re right. Right. And there is so much we have to learn from them. I’ve loved to learn from the Japanese. For instance, there’s a beautiful film called Departures that probably some in the audience have seen. But, it’s about a musician who becomes a helper for an undertaker in Japan. And in Japan, the big ritual is to cleanse and clean the body, and put the clothes on that they will be cremated in.
And so I highly recommend that film because you’ll learn a lot about the way things are done in Japan. And it’s beautiful because it shares the music and it’s very lively in parts. It’s a very life giving film as well. It shows how for the people who work with death – eating is a big deal. After they’ve been through a funeral or one of these rituals, they really want to wolf down the food because they want to kind of get back into life, I guess. But, there’s a lot of good humor in this film as well.
And then there’s a beautiful ritual that’s used in Japan after the death occurs, where the priest or someone from the temple – the Buddhist temple usually – goes to the home of the deceased to share in the chanting, and in the incents, and all of what they do after the death every day of the month that, that person died. Like if a person dies on the 15th, then every 15th of the month for the 1st year, the Buddhist temple people go and honor that family. And in a sense, not only remind them, but maybe give them permission to do the grieving that maybe needed to flow and needed to be worked on more. So, it’s a beautiful way to honor.
Karen Wyatt: Oh, I love that idea. Which would be a simple thing that we could incorporate ourselves. And just by marking that date each month, as you said, for a year after a death. Marking that date each month so that we have a special ritual every month to honor our loved one.
Maria Hoaglund: Yeah. And then you could do whatever fits you whether it’s going to a church or just maybe you have a little altar, or a little space at your home with a picture of your loved one and you just spend time with them, or you go out into nature. Do something that floats your boat, so to speak, for that kind of ritual and spiritual enrichment.
Karen Wyatt: Well, one question I’ve been wanting to ask you, Maria, is that one of the things you mentioned about your book is that your book really helps our society culturally to deal with the transformational times that we’re living through. And we’re running short on our time, but I was wondering if you could talk about that because part of the reason for doing this series is that I feel we’re on the verge of a transformation on the whole in how we handle death and dying in our country. And so just as a lot of transformations occur, there tends to be lots of confusion and sometimes a feeling of crisis or things falling apart.
But, that usually precedes a time of transformation. But, I was hoping you would share some of your thoughts on those times in life when we are going through a transformation and thoughts that you would share for all of us that might comfort us or things we can do to help ourselves get through these times.
Maria Hoaglund: Right. Well, it’s interesting you bring that up because at times I speak about or have written about the fact that it’s as if we’re all, maybe the whole planet is going through a hospice experience because we’re having to die to the old to welcome in the new. And if the old is still there, there’s no room for the new. So, in a sense, we have a great deal to learn from hospice and the dying because we’re all going through a form of big, major letting go, and forgiveness, and letting go of judgment.
I could go on, and on, and on with this [laughter]. But, I feel that my books are reaching out to especially the baby boomers, who are more open to a new approach to dying. And my hope is to reach the baby boomers before they are dying so that they can be more and better prepared. Of course, many are dealing with their own parents death and they are maybe caught betwixt and between. They might not always like the way their parents are, say, following exactly what the doctor says to do.
The differences between the generations are coming up. But, we do have a great opportunity here to create a new way. And we don’t have to keep our head in the sand about death and wait for hospice or wait for the death to occur before we deal with it. So, yes. I highly recommend that my books and many other people’s books on death are wonderful pieces to start gathering and reading. Whatever sparks your interest and curiosity really. Even the near death experience can be such an eye-opener for why we don’t need to be afraid of death.
I think the fear of death is the biggest enemy out there, if you will, if there is an enemy [laughter]. But, we’ve let our culture and sometimes even our religion make us be afraid of death. And there’s absolutely nothing to be afraid of death especially when we have hospice, and these different people and organizations, who can stand by our side and prevent pain usually. And there’s so many ways to help us cope. So, I guess I just want to encourage people to have an open mind and be curious.
The reason my first book is called The Last Adventure of Life is thanks to a hospice patient of mine, who had a wonderful perspective on death. And one day she says to me, “Maria, I’m looking forward to the last adventure of life.” And I thought to myself, “Wow. If only everybody could look at death that way, and have that kind of curiosity and sense of adventure about it.”
So, she was a great teacher. And then I started preaching a sermon called “Making Friends with the Last Adventure of Life” because I truly believe we can be more forward thinking and more conscious around this whole issue.
Karen Wyatt: Absolutely. And that just perfectly sums up my reasons for wanting to create this end of life series and wanting to put this together. And my intention is to do it every year so that we keep fostering these conversations, and spreading the information, and attracting more and more people to listen and learn about the end of life.
Maria Hoaglund: That’s wonderful. I’m all for it. I want to support you wholeheartedly [laughter]/
Karen Wyatt: Well, you have because your contribution today in this interview has been wonderful. I’m so appreciative for just the resources that you’ve shared. I have a whole page full of notes I’ve taken already from our talk today.
Maria Hoaglund: Oh, wonderful.
Karen Wyatt: I’m sure other listeners have done that as well. And the thought just occurred to me as we bring this conversation to a close. And once again as I say, this interview is the last interview of our series. I’ll be doing a little closing talk after this, but in light of your comments that in many ways we are at a time of letting go of the old and needing to change and transform, I wonder – I’m putting you on the spot here ‘cause I didn’t ask you about this before, but if you have any type of blessing you would be able to recite for all of us, for all of us listeners who have participated in this series.
And now the series itself is coming to an end and we’re getting ready to go off into our own lives again, if there’s any kind of blessing that comes to your mind. Something you could say to send us off.
Maria Hoaglund: Yeah. Two things. One, I’m going to have to go out to my place here to get because it comes from one of my very first books – the first edition of a book. But, in the meantime, I have a very short blessing that I love ‘cause it’s so universal and it goes like this. It’s the Melchizedek Prayer. And I used to use it on our hospice – at our team meetings a lot. May there be love, truth, beauty, trust, harmony and peace for all living things everywhere.
And then the other one is a beautiful Irish blessing that I’m just finding here. I shared it with our folks earlier today. And it’s called A Blessing for Death:
I pray that you will have the blessing of being consoled and sure about your own death. May you know in your soul that there is no need to be afraid. When your time comes, may you be given every blessing and shelter that you need. May there be a beautiful welcome for you in the home that you are going to. You are not going somewhere strange. You are going back to the home that you never left. May you have a wonderful urgency to live your life to the full.
May you live compassionately, and creatively, and transfigure everything that is negative within you and about you. When you come to die, may it be after a long life. May you be peaceful, and happy, and in the presence of those who really care for you. May your going be sheltered and your welcome assured.
May your soul smile in the embrace in your anam cara. And your anam cara is your soul friend, who I guess in the Irish tradition when you had a soul or spiritual friend for life, they saw you through your death.
Karen Wyatt: Ah, that’s very beautiful, Maria. And that is just a perfect way to end our conversation and to end this series also. And I want to thank you so much for your willingness to be here and to share all this information.
Maria Hoaglund: Oh, you’re so welcome. And thank you, Karen, for your beautiful vision and for what you’re creatively undertaking at this time. It’s very, very needed in our country. Actually, I think in our whole world.
Karen Wyatt: Well, thank you. And Reverend Maria, I look forward to speaking to you again someday before very long. And take care.
Maria Hoaglund: And you too.
Karen Wyatt: Goodbye.
Maria Hoaglund: Bye. Bye.
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