Have Extra Time on Your Hands? Talk About End of Life (Seriously)

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The Psychology
9 min read

Have Extra Time on Your Hands? Talk About End of Life (Seriously)

Have Extra Time on Your Hands? Talk About End of Life (Seriously)
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Words by:

Tracey Wallace

Illustration by:

Words by:

Tracey Wallace

Illustrator:

Contents

Liz Eddy is the co-founder and CEO of Lantern, an end-of-life platform that helps you work through the process, whether you are planning your own end-of-life or having to navigate that world after the loss of a loved one.

She started the company based on her own need. Because the reality of what to do when someone you love dies isn’t something any of us often think about. For most of us, our experience with planning funerals and celebrations of life is because we’ve had to –– not because we’ve planned for it.

In fact, the data shows that 80% of Americans say they want to die at home, but only 20% do.

There is a lot that goes into that stat and what is preventing Americans from achieving that goal, but many think a stigma around even having the conversation with friends or family about what they would want is a huge miss.

Instead, our loved ones make decisions for us, never knowing if they were the right ones. Grief comes, but so too does guilt.

Not with Lantern.co. That is Liz Eddy’s goal.

Below, you’ll find our full Instagram Live chat with her, and the transcription. We address the need for end-of-life planning services, the pandemic and the grief we all are feeling, and even crisis hotline help you can text –– just in case you need it.

Dani: Welcome, Liz! Can you start by telling us a bit about who you are?

Liz Eddy: I'm Liz, I'm the co-founder and CEO of Lantern. We help people navigate life before and after death. What that means is if you're pre-planning for yourself or you've recently lost someone and you're navigating the process, we take you step by step through the process to make sure you understand what needs to be done.

In fact, knowing what needs to be done is often the hardest part. If you've never done it before, and so many of us haven't, you don't know what's expected of you.

Dani: How did you get into this?

Liz Eddy: It truly came from personal need. I lost my grandmother and was faced with a personal challenge. I was responsible for everything with her end of life and death, and truly didn't know how to navigate it.

I got a phone call on a Saturday morning and went up to her nursing facility in Connecticut. I was met by two police officers, a nurse and her body. They looked at me and said, "What do you want to do?"

I was 27 at the time and truly clueless. I've since learned that it doesn't matter what age you are, nobody knows how to navigate these situations until you go through it.

Dani: So, what did you do?

Liz Eddy: I initially turned to my phone and Googled, “What do you do when someone dies?”

I expected to find something like Lantern. I just assumed. Every other life event has these sort of single locations and platforms that help to walk you through every aspect.

But with end of life and death, it is so fragmented. There's tons of amazing resources and services out there, but it could take you days, weeks, months to find them all.

Dani: And that’s when the idea of Lantern came to you?

Liz Eddy: Yea! I went to my co-founder who was then my co-worker, turned best friend, and said, "We've got to do something about this."

She's an incredible systems thinker, and is really brilliant with product. She literally started breaking down the process and saying, "OK, I think there are tech and product solves here that can make this process a lot easier."

Dani: When did you launch?

Liz Eddy: We launched in September with the post-loss product and now we do pre-planning as well, which launched in January.

Even since then, the company and the product have evolved dramatically based on our user needs. We're seeing it grow every day, especially right now. It's kind of an exceptional thing.

I'm sure you guys feel this way too, to wake up in the morning during this incredibly heavy and challenging time and know that what you're doing is profoundly impacting people on a day-to-day basis.

Dani: What about your own experience with a loved one’s end of life has shaped how you view the end of life now? What advice might you give people?

Liz Eddy: I think for anybody that has lost someone, one of the first things you start to realize is, "Wow, we are really unprepared for this." In reality, of course, you never know what the grief is going to feel like until it happens, but you can know what to do and you can plan for it.

It is so much easier to plan for something when you can have the conversation with the person in real-time. I think there's always been this stigma of if you plan it, that it's going to make it happen faster.

There is absolutely no correlation between doing an end of life plan and dying. One does not cause the other.

But I think it can sometimes feel like if you start talking about it and planning for it, that it's somehow willing it into existence. In reality, we die the way we live. So if you don't have your affairs in order, that's a lot for your family to sort out.

We really believe as a company that it is the most empathetic and kind thing that you can do for someone you love.

Dani: Absolutely. Planning for your future is a way of protecting your loved ones.

Liz Eddy: Yeah, and it's sort of counterintuitive, but a lot of research has actually shown that addressing your own mortality and meditating on it, thinking about it, can be really healthy and can make you have less stress, can make you more efficient with your time, can make you have better relationships.

So, there's actually mental health benefits to doing these kinds of things.

Dani: We often find that when people talk about the way they want to be remembered, it can be a good entry point for talking about how they want to die, and what will happen. Have you seen that?

Liz Eddy: Yeah, it's a great entry point. When you're trying to figure out how to talk to someone else about an end of life plan, it can be super awkward.

A lot of people think that an end of life plan is a will. That’s a part of it, but it's not the entire process. That's what you do with your money, your possessions, you figure out your guardianship, what happens to your kids.

But there's all these other pieces of an end of life plan that we forget to touch on. Things like where these important documents are stored, for one. Because it doesn't matter if you have the documents if no one knows where they are and that they exist!

Also, yes, how you want to be remembered, and what you want a memorial service or funeral to be like, as well as your legacy and history. I think that is one of the most beautiful parts that's often forgotten in an end of life plan.

  • What do you want your family to know?
  • What do you want your great, great grandchildren who you may never meet, what do you want them to know about you?

With my grandmother and with my dad, there's all these questions that I never asked them and I never really thought to ask. I've heard the story of how my mom and dad met and their proposal from my mom, but I never heard it from his side of the story and what he was thinking and how he felt.

I so badly wish that he had it written down somewhere. I think that’s a gift. When you pass away and someone you love isn't just getting, "Here's all of my bank account numbers." It's also, "Here's my story. Here's my love letters."

Dani: What about for folks who do plan in advance, but it backfires? Is there a way that you've seen that people can navigate those situations, too?

Liz Eddy: Oh yeah, when something like that happens, it's one of the most heartbreaking processes. Oftentimes, when somebody passes away, especially if they were sort of the glue in a relationship, things can crumble. There can be miscommunications.

I think first and foremost, if the person is able and capable to talk to their family members in advance about what their plans are and be able to hash it out and have a real conversation, that's obviously the ideal scenario.

Does that happen in reality? Very rarely, unfortunately. Especially when people have different expectations of what they think is going to be done and then it turns out it's something else.

One of the things I think that's really helpful with Lantern and something that we think a lot about is we're introducing collaboration capabilities.

We find that a lot of the time that family members go head-to-head when there's miscommunication around what somebody wanted for their funeral or who's doing what or who's contacting this person.

So, being able to have better insight into what everyone's doing and the decisions they're making can at least reduce some of that stress.

That said, it’s hard. Emotions are already high and then you're adding a lot of logistical and legal and financial things on top of it. I am a firm believer, though, that communication is key and being able to really explain to your family members why you've made certain decisions, if you can, can make a huge difference.

Dani: On that, do you have any advice for folks to start having these conversations?

Liz Eddy: I see it as though there are two different categories that people tend to fall into: the realist or the empathy card. It's up to you to decide what kind of category this person falls into before you begin the conversations.

There's the realist side, which is that everyone's going to die at some point and it's important that we prepare for this.

For some people, like for me, that really speaks to me, right? It's like, yeah, this is just reality and I accept it and I acknowledge it and let's make sure that we're thinking through these steps.

On the flip side, there are some people that might be like, "Yeah, I know it's eventually going to happen, but I don't want to think about it. I don’t want to talk about it. I've pushed it as far in the back of the closet of my mind as humanly possible."

The empathy card can sometimes work really well in those situations, which is more like, "I want to make sure that if something were to happen to you, that I would know exactly what to do. It really stresses me out to think that I might not be able to plan a funeral that would be meaningful or what you would want,” or “I want to make sure that I'm doing the right thing for your dog or cat or for your kids," or whatever it is.

Whatever it is, pull on that thing that really tugs at their heartstrings.

Again, the entry point isn’t, “Where's your money at?” That's not where you need to start.

It can be as simple as like, "Life is so short, things are happening in this world, I want to know more about you. I want to know what you would want and I want to share with you what I want. Let's open this dialogue."

Dani: What kind of tools and tactics have been working for you that's helped you stay connected in keeping these conversations open? Especially in times like these, during the pandemic.

Liz Eddy: My co-founder does an amazing job keeping our team really engaged on a daily basis. We use Slack, mostly, to communicate and then Google Hangouts, and Zoom. But in general, I’m just doing a lot of wellness checks with everyone. I ask, "Hey, did you get up and walk around since this morning?" Even things like that to really make people feel connected.

We're a team of four and so far three of us have had birthdays in quarantine. So that has been a really interesting thing, trying to figure out how do we make people feel really special and loved during a day that is celebratory, but also challenging?

Personally, I am a big fan of online workouts. It feels good to move and get some of that energy out. I've also been doing the Five Minute Journal. I don't know if you're familiar with that. I'm not a journal-er at all, I'm the type of person who writes two pages and then starts a new journal.

But the Five Minute Journal, I've actually stuck with. I don't know if this is quarantine Liz or if this is a new habit, but every day you write about three things you're grateful for, you set an intention for the day and then at the end of the day, you write three things that were really great and then one thing you would have changed or want to work on.

It's just a really nice quick way to document your life and also be able to reflect and show gratitude. So, I really love that.

For the world, we're working on some documents to help people with addressing their own mortality and also helping healthcare workers address mortality. It's interesting because it's not commonplace to have education around actually dealing with death as a healthcare worker.

This is a climate where healthcare workers are seeing a lot more death, but they're also facing it head-on without family members present. So, we’re really trying to offer our support and guidance around how to have those conversations and make sure that at someone's end of life, that they're being supported in the best way possible considering the current climate.

Dani: That’s amazing. There is a collective sense of grief, from front line workers to all of us staying at home.

Liz Eddy: It might be the first time that everyone, globally at least, has a sense of what grief feels like. It is incredibly uniting.

I, of course, so wish this wasn't the way everyone found out about it. But I'm hoping that it allows for an extra level of empathy for people that have lost someone and are going through this process.

Because you do feel, right now, that it might not be the loss of a loved one, but it's a loss of normalcy, it's a loss of safety and security. That really is a deep grief that I think we're all feeling right now.

Dani: Do you have any other recommendations, tools that you could leave people with if they wanted to get more information?

Liz Eddy: Yeah, I mean, of course, come to Lantern.co if you're interested in what we're doing. My previous life was in mental health and I think now more than ever, we need people to talk to and reach out to and get support from.

My previous life was at Crisis Text Line, which is a free 24/7 crisis support line through SMS. I would really highly recommend it if you're feeling like you need that extra support. You can text 741741, and be connected with a trained crisis counselor.

I think it's empowering to at least know it's there, even if you never use it.

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