Gifted With Grief
“Life cannot exist without death. New life springs up, depending on the time of year. If we all talked about death as much as we talked about birth, the world would be a very different place” says Jane Duncan Rogers, a TEDx speaker , an author and end of life expert. “Life happens and we have a choice to go with it and make the best of it or not”.
Jane was devastated when her husband died. This was not in their plans. Her greatest fear had come true and she was on her own again at age 54. Little did she know that three more years after he passed away, she would’ve published a book called “Gifted by Grief.”
Stats for end of life planning are alarming. 90% of people say end of life plans are essential, but only 14% actually get around to any kind of plan. The reality is that putting in place plans to ensure that you can have the best end of life possible, means loads of energy is released to be present and fully enjoy life.
Jane’s background of 25 years in the counselling, coaching and training field has been perfect. “Before I Go Solutions” founded in 2016 is now a six-figure business.
Top Tips: Courage, Chats & Context
1.How to have a conversation.
3.Have a context.
4.Have a death chat focusing on the practicalities; allow people to talk about death without into drama. “Somebody has to have the courage to broach the subject. I encourage people to talk about the people that they know and love who have died. You’re having a conversation and you’re gaining relevant information.”
5.Write down the results of that conversation
Jane admits that with all the planning in the world, death can come as a shock
“I knew my husband was going to die. I was there with him when he died. And I was still incredibly shocked. But if you can move little by little to accepting the loss, of a loved one, that is really important”. In the face of death, success comes to mean something different. It can be emotional or spiritual success rather than material success” .
00:00:00 Paula: Welcome to “TesseTalks” with your host Tesse Akpeki and co-host Paula Okonneh, that’s me. Where we share with you top leadership and management strategies. This is and continues to be a journey of discovery. We have learned that leadership is personal and professional, and we hope you our guests and our listeners will walk with us in this adventure. Our guest today is Jane Duncan Rogers. And something she said jumped out at me. She said, “if we all talked about death as much as we talked about birth, the world would be a very different place”. Our topic today is “Gifted with Grief”, and I’ll tell you a bit about Jane before we start the interview. So Jane Duncan Rogers is a TEDx speaker. She is an end of life expert, intriguing, inspiring, and impacting lives. She is practical, honest and inspirational to many. Jane was devastated when her husband died. This was not in their plans. Her greatest fear had come true and she was on her own again at age 54. However, little did she know that three more years after he passed away, she would’ve published a book called “Gifted by Grief”. And how could she be gifted by this terrible loss? Yet she was, and that has led her directly to doing what she now does. Her background of 25 years in the coaching and training field has been perfected by the now six figure business that she founded in 2016 called “Before I Go Solutions”. And together with her worldwide team of End of Life plan facilitators, she offers programs and products to help people complete their end of life plans, which 90% of people say is essential, but only 14% actually get around to doing that. Wow. Welcome to “TesseTalks” Jane.
00:02:23 Jane: Thank you. It’s great to be here.
00:02:25 Tesse: Hi Jane. It’s marvelous to meet you. I’ve read about your work. I’ve heard your talks. I am a follower in many ways. And I, you know I have a curiosity and that’s about how anyone can be gifted by loss. Cause when the word loss, death, bereavement, when that word is mentioned, my brain is immediately thinking trauma and pain and suffering. That’s what comes to my mind. So my question is, what are the unexpected gifts that grief can sometimes bring? And what are the things that can happen that we don’t anticipate from this indescribable gap that can be created when we lose a person that we love.
00:03:09 Jane: Well, let me first say that if in the, especially in the early weeks, even the early months of grieving my husband, if anybody had told me that I would be gifted by this, I would’ve been very cross indeed. If anybody had given me a book called “Gifted by Grief”, at that point, I might have been polite and said, thank you. But I would’ve just put it on a shelf or thrown it out or something. Because it was too soon. Now I did know from my background, I have a long background in counseling and coaching, so I knew that in theory there would be some kind of blessing in disguise in this situation. Because that’s usually what happens in any situation of adversity if we’re willing to look for it. But I didn’t want to look for it to start with. I wasn’t interested. I just wanted the whole situation not to have happened. But I did have the attitude that one day I would be able to look back and see that despite this being at the time, the most devastating thing that had ever happened to me, that I would be able to find some, what I called in the end “gifts”. And that’s what that book is all about. There were lots and lots and lots of small gifts, big gifts. I’d say that the biggest one for me was the understanding that we are so much more than a body. In fact, our body is just the beginning of it. There’s a phrase, I can’t remember what it is, but anyway, “who we are is flowing through the body, our body is not who we are”. And that was a huge gift that I received. But the other gift has turned out to be the work that I do now, which is a direct result of the book that I wrote and reader’s response to that. And I could never have planned that. Mind you I didn’t plan my husband’s death either. So, you know life happens and we have a choice to go with it and make the best of it or not. And I think that in itself that attitude is a gift actually.
00:05:09 Paula: life happens. Yes, and that is a gift. The quote that you mentioned at the beginning, that if we all talked about death as much as we talked about birth the world would be a very different place. Is so true when you say life is a gift. Well, how do you get around that word? Because as Tesse mentioned a few minutes ago, when she hears the word death she thinks of trauma, she thinks of, you know heartbreak. She thinks of tears, people just, you know, sobbing. How do you get around that? You know sometimes, you know even for me, when I see the word death I jump.
00:05:50 Jane: Yeah, well, the reason though that you jump is because we don’t use it in our everyday life. We have euphemisms when we’re talking about a human being dying. We don’t talk about them dying. We don’t use the word death. We don’t want to talk about somebody who has died. We say they’ve passed away or they’ve kicked the bucket, or any of the other things that we say. Now, there are times when that is appropriate. But I personally feel that we don’t use the “D” word as I call it, because we are afraid. And the reason that we’re afraid is because death, if you like, has been taken over by the medical profession and the funeral directors. Now, I don’t want to say that’s a wrong thing to do, is just the way that it has happened. It’s not so long ago though that when somebody in the family died, it would happen at home. They didn’t last as long as we last these days, and it would be a family event. The body would be laid out by members of the family and maybe laid out in the front room ready for people to come and pay their respects. Now, that’s not so long ago, but we’ve lost the essence of that. And one of the side effects of that is the general person becoming very unfamiliar with death. So it’s scary. Cause anything that we don’t know much about is scary. That’s understandable, and that’s before you go to the idea of, well, what happens after you’re dead? And you know, that’s really scary for some people, because that’s the unknown as well. So I do think the thing that I feel most passionate about, the very first step is to have people start using these words the way they are and start to look around. If when you look around in nature, you’ll see that life cannot exist without death. Even walking through the woods, you see it everywhere. Dead twigs, dead leaves, dead bits and pieces of animals, whatever it is. And then you also see new life coming up, depending on the time of year obviously. But either new life or vibrant life already in its maturity, whatever it is. You can’t have one without the other. So to me, it seems completely bonkers not to be talking about death as a natural part of life.
00:08:09 Paula: I’ll let Tesse, because I could see she is, there’s something on the tip of a tongue. Tesse go ahead.
00:08:15 Tesse: Just thinking about you know, what can people do instead of avoiding the “D” word. I’m just thinking about accessible things that people can actually you know go to, how they can think about it, and it becomes more of a habit as we lose the people that we love. It is, inevitable that we lose people we love.
00:08:40 Jane: Absolutely. Absolutely. And one way that I would encourage people, is to talk about the people that they know, who they have loved who have died. Because you know the old story of how somebody crosses the street when they see a bereaved person, because they don’t know what to say. They don’t want to upset them. But that’s part and parcel of the same thing. If we were able to be comfortable with talking about the people who have died, feeling okay with the fact that maybe we would cry in front of somebody, which you know it’s not the end of the world. If we felt okay about being vulnerable to show our feelings, obviously in a safe space. Although when you’re grieving, and it doesn’t always happen in a safe space.
00:09:29 Paula: You are right.
00:09:29 Jane: I actually remember walking into a shop, I don’t know, a couple of months after my husband died. It was into a department store and it was in the men’s section, and I’m burst into tears because I was never going to have to buy him any clothes again. Anyway, nobody saw me. I went into a little corner and I, you know, just tidied up my tears. But I think talking about it, you know, whenever I say if I’m in a mixed group of company of people who don’t know me, whether it’s social or business networking. And I say what I do, and usually it’s something along the lines of I help people to make good end of life plans, or I’m working as an end of life planning consultant, or I’m training people to be end of life plan facilitators. I’ve learned that I have to keep my mouth shut when I say that, because it’s a shock to most people. Cause most people don’t talk about it. And I’m not even using the word death there. I’m talking about end of life, right? It’s still a shock though. But if I keep my mouth shut, somebody will always come up with a story that they really want to share about their experience of death or dying or somebody close to them who has died. And that’s wonderful because that then gives permission to other people to do it as well. So that’s what I would say is start talking, tell your stories, let people know.
00:10:48 Tesse: Yeah, I think that’s something so practical. Cause I know often when someone talks of someone they love and they’ve lost, other people get uncomfortable about it. But it’s in getting the uncomfortable about it and they’re not talking about it, that hurts even more, because as if that person was never there, and they were, we all know, we know them. You know, and actually there was something Paula actually highlighted that saying about planning for the end of life as we would for birth. So I was really struck, Jane, by your mission to make end of life plans as common as birth plans, and you know, tell us more about that.
00:11:30 Jane: Well, it strikes me that most people know of the existence of birth plans, whether they’re doing them or not. I mean, I know not everybody has babies and maybe men are not so involved in birth plans. I don’t know, because I’ve never actually had a baby so I’ve never had to do a birth plan. But they are relatively speaking common in our society. But we don’t have a death plan. Nobody talks about that ever mostly because they don’t exist generally speaking, this is a new thing. But you know, if you think about it, we plan for births, we plan for weddings, we plan for big events in our lives. Why are we not planning for this last one? You know, it doesn’t make sense. It doesn’t make sense to me anyway. And one of the benefits of being willing to do this, is that when you look at the end of something and you face up to the fact of that, and for human beings there are things that need to be put in place to ensure that you can have the best end of life possible, even though we have no idea when it will happen or how it will happen. When you do that you don’t have to be worrying about it anymore. You don’t even have to be thinking about it anymore. You don’t have to spend any time procrastinating or wondering what you’re going to do or who you should talk to, because you’ve done it all. That means you free up loads of energy to actually be here now fully enjoying life. That’s really important.
00:12:58 Paula: Do you work with estate attorneys, do you work very closely with them?
00:13:04 Jane: Yeah, with some of them we do. Yeah. We work also with people who are quite often counselors, coaches, celebrants, funeral celebrants. People who can see really clearly that this could be an add on to what they already do. Particularly, for example, life coaches. You know, I’ve said it already, you can’t have life without death. Now, you might not be working with every single client about this, but there will be some people. Because most adult children will have aging parents. Now at some point those parents are going to get to the point where they are having to face up to the fact that their bodies are not doing what they used to do. And it’s the adult children who are going to be left behind with the challenges of somebody who hasn’t planned for their very old age, or they haven’t planned for their death and the aftermath of that. So it’s really the adult children who are the ones who need to be getting a move on here. But one of the problems is that adult children understandably don’t really want to broach the subject to their parents. And you know, I’ve worked with lots of people who have sometimes been in tears at the point of thinking about doing this. Because you know, it’s like they don’t want their mom or dad to think that they’re wanting them to die. Of course, they don’t want that. But I have to say that in every person that I’ve worked with in this way, I think they’ve all been pleasantly surprised, because the parents secretly want to be able to talk about it as well. So somebody has to have the courage to broach the subject. Particularly if and if you’re an adult child listening to this and you don’t know whether your parents have a will or not, or if they have powers of attorney in place, or if they have an advanced directive or any of these other things. Or your parents have got loads and loads of stuff and you don’t know what you’re going to do with it, then really I would be encouraging you to take the first steps towards broaching the conversation.
00:15:13 Paula: Totally agree. And you know, interestingly, you mentioned that a lot of adult children are hesitant in approaching that topic with their parents. And I smiled because really and truly at Tesse and I we kind of thought that that was more like a Nigerian or African thing, where if you mentioned the word will, first thing they say, “ah, are you trying to kill me”? Or do you want me to die? You know? And so to hear from you that it’s more than culture, but it’s a human thing, it’s very freeing, you know?
00:15:44 Jane: Yeah, it is a human thing. There’s no doubt about that. And that’s so common. Are you trying to bump me off or whatever it is, you know?
00:15:50 Paula: Yes.
00:15:51 Jane: It’s a natural reaction. But you know, one of the things that we teach is how to have a conversation. It does take courage, I have to say.
00:16:00 Paula: Yes.
00:16:00 Jane: It does take courage. You have to have courage. You have to have a context. You can’t just arrive at the breakfast table or at the dinner table one day and say, what would you like for your funeral? Or what kind of coffin would you like? It doesn’t work, you know. Take it from me don’t even bother going there. But if you have a context, so a context would be something like, well, in the UK we had an excellent context when the Queen died. Because it was perfectly normal then to say, well, what would you like for your funeral? Or, how do you feel about, you know, what is happening here? And to start a conversation. But, you know, not everybody has a queen who has died in their country. So it might be something much more local to you. It might be somebody else, a local personality who has died, or a famous person. Or it might be a project has come up in the locality that begs the question that people need to plan ahead. All sorts of things. Once you start thinking about the fact that you need to have a context to make it a normal thing to say, then you can start a conversation. And that’s what the third “C” is, what I call it, a death chat beginning. That’s where the “C” is the chat. And that’s because most people think that these kinds of conversations have to be very black and gloomy and macabre and horrible, but actually they can be quite light. Not lighthearted, but light. And if you come at it with that kind of attitude, especially if you’re talking about the practicalities, especially. Because it’s the practicalities that people need to know about. The funny thing happens with talking about the practicalities, we’re not going down the emotional route. We’re focusing on the practicalities, and that allows people to talk about it somehow without needing to go into the drama if you like, of oh, how awful it will be when you’ve gone sort of thing or whatever it is. And then that’s really helpful because you’re having a conversation, but at the same time, you’re gaining some information. And you know, if anybody’s listening does have a conversation like this with a parent or a friend, a relative, whoever it is, please make sure you write down the results of that conversation cause that’s really important as well.
00:18:25 Paula: Very, very good tips. I love that. Courage is big.
00:18:30 Tesse: Yeah. I’m just thinking. I’ve love to come across the book. Yeah. Yeah.
00:18:34 Paula: Courage is really important, because depending on your relationship with your parent, it may be something that you are afraid to approach
00:18:43 Jane: I know. Let me just give you an example about the first woman this happened with. Her name was Audrey, and this was some years ago in one of my first courses that I was doing. She was in tears at the thought of having to talk to her mom and dad. She was the main carer for her parents who were in their eighties. They all lived together in the same house. She didn’t even know if they had a will or not. She knew they owned the house that was all. With our encouragement and our pointers about what to do and the presence of the three Cs. She decided that she was going to put her big panties on and take the courage. And she would come back the following week, and she did come back the following week having done it. She had a great big smile on her face because she was the first one who felt delighted because her parents said, “I’m so glad that you’ve mentioned this, because we’ve been thinking about it too, but we didn’t know how to say it to you”, you know? So yeah, be the courageous one.
00:19:40 Paula: I love that. I love that. Be the courageous one. Yeah. Yeah. It does take that. So Tesse before we wrap up, any questions?
00:19:52 Tesse: Yeah. Again, as Jane talks about end of life and courage and the chats and also the context, what comes to my mind is, a reframing of success with these things in mind. And I’m quite curious, Jane, about your thoughts in this context as you are in this mission and we hope to join you, where we look at the gifts that can come from grief.
00:20:21 Jane: Mm-hmm. Mm-hmm.
00:20:23 Tesse: What is success in that context?
00:20:26 Jane: Well, acceptance is the one thing that comes to mind. You know, when we are not accepting something, regardless what it is. In this context, we are talking about the death of somebody. When we are pushing against what is or what has happened, we are causing ourselves distress. Now it’s completely understandable in the context of death when you’re grieving that you would do that. Because even when you know somebody’s going to die, like I knew my husband was going to die. I was there with him when he died. And I was still incredibly shocked. I still could hardly believe it. But if you can move towards little by little to accepting that is really important, that then becomes a success. Because you’re then not allowing that event that happened to over define your life for you. Yes, it might define your life for a bit, but that’s healthy Grieving. Grieving becomes unhealthy when you allow an event like that to determine your happiness for the rest of your life. Or determine the things that you do, and you filter things through the fact that you are a bereaved person as opposed to filtering life through, how can I make the most of this opportunity even though this person is no longer here with me? How can I bring my whole heart to this and get engaged. That’s the kind of success I think that I would be talking about here. This is not material success, this is emotional success. Perhaps, if you like, or spiritual success. That sort of thing. I hope that makes sense.
00:22:04 Tesse: It’s lots of sense. Actually I love the thing you’re encouraging us to do is to let it shape our thoughts and reframe our thoughts about what becomes possible as a result of the legacy of the love and the life that was left. And that’s hard to do, but your encouragement for us to do that is a very positive and inspirational one. So thank you for that, Paula?
00:22:32 Paula: I want to end with a quote that if we all talked about death as much as we talked about birth the world would be a very different place, said Jane. And this is relevant. Without birth, there will be no death, but without death, there will be no birth either, you know? It’s a cycle. It’s a cycle. And that we cannot, and we will never be able to do without. It needs someone to be born. But the minute you’re born, as someone says, you’re beginning to die.
00:23:02 Jane: Exactly.
00:23:02 Paula: Because that’s just at the end.
00:23:05 Jane: Yeah.
00:23:05 Paula: You know, that’s part of your journey in life to die.
00:23:08 Jane: Yeah. Absolutely. Yeah.
00:23:10 Paula: So thank you for the work you are doing.
00:23:13 Jane: It’s a pleasure. Thank you. Thank you for having me here. It was wonderful to talk about it.
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