You're always fine

[Interview] The truth about death with Dr. Maurya Cockrell

September 19, 2023 Even Health Season 1 Episode 5
You're always fine
[Interview] The truth about death with Dr. Maurya Cockrell
Show Notes Transcript Chapter Markers

What if you had someone guiding you through your final journey, someone who understands emotions, legacy, and the significance of remembrance? We're thrilled to introduce you to Dr. Maurya Cockrell, an internationally acclaimed author, speaker, and practitioner who has passionately dedicated her life to be that guide, a death doula. Dr. Cockrell's unique career path, starting from her early experiences with loss, led her to healthcare and spiritual care, and finally to becoming an ombudsman in nursing homes. She vividly shares her insightful stories about confronting fears and regrets, and emphasizes the importance of end-of-life discussions, helping us understand the critical role of a death doula.

As we explore further, Dr. Cockrell sheds light on the comprehensive support a death doula extends to individuals and families, emotionally, informatively and educationally. Unravel how personal stories shape our purpose as she shares her own journey, leading to profound discussions around death and its common misconceptions, and the fear it often incites. The episode takes a deeper turn as we delve into the topic of sudden or unexpected deaths, underlining the necessity of having a strong support system to convert grief into something positive. Don't miss out on the powerful conversation, filled with practical tips on handling grief and loss, and the crucial role of death doulas in honoring the memory of our departed loved ones.

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Speaker 1:

Welcome back to You're Always Fine a space to show up for yourself and embrace the mess that lives underneath. Because, let's be real, it's exhausting always being fine. So grab your headphones and allow yourself to listen, laugh and even cry, because you are not alone. And we aren't always fine, and that's okay.

Speaker 2:

We are back with another episode of You're Always Fine. I'm your host, christine, and this week I'm excited to welcome our first guest host to the show, dr Moria Cockrell. Moria is a highly experienced professional and distinguished international author, speaker and practitioner. Dr Cockrell's dedication to enhancing people's lives in various aspects is well recognized through her specialized focus in intergenerational healthcare, communication improvements and end-of-life acceptance. Welcome to the show, moria. Thank you for having me. I know I gave a brief formal background, but can you reintroduce yourself, moria, and tell us what led you down the road to becoming a death doula?

Speaker 3:

Hi everyone Again. I'm Dr Moria Cockrell, and just a little bit about my background. Growing up I was blessed to be surrounded by so many arts and uncles and grandparents, but I definitely experienced a lot of racial loss along the way, and so in my personal life I had two major losses, both in my grand mother and one on my mother's side lost to breast cancer and then on my father's side lost to just an arm robbery, and so dealing with grecian loss early on really made me want to focus on how to help people. Back then I was so young I didn't know in what way I would do that, definitely falling along the path of healthcare. But that always stayed with me, that personal experience. So in college I had a study health management with a minor in theology, and just really focused on spirituality and the role that can play in healing and finding purpose and belongingness from pain. So that really did stay with me and that led me to work in spiritual care at a hospital here in St Louis, and there I was involved with some pretty interesting projects around grief and loss. The care chaplain were providing not only to patients but staff, compassion, fatigue. I did some projects looking at metrics of how long healthcare professionals were staying with patients, based on the type of loss or trauma they were going through. So I experienced a lot of just learning of how to deal with grief, death, medical ethics around making those decisions. And then I had to volunteer experience as an ombudsman, and so as an ombudsman, you're going into nursing facilities, making sure residents know their rights or respected their, heard their value. But a lot of people were at the later stages of life and there I had a lot of end of life discussions with them, seeing people struggle with regret and fear of what's to come and what's next, and so that just really made me want to be more proactive, help people look at legacy and how to be remembered, and at that same time, I was doing some teaching for an online college and they introduced a program called DECDUALA, so reading over the curriculum and they're seeking faculty members, and I said this is work I've actually been doing for years. I didn't know that there was a formal name for it. So then I became the faculty members for the DECDUALA program and that's what I officially started, using that title.

Speaker 2:

I'm not really sure that I know what like that official title. Can you describe the role of a death doula in supporting individuals and families?

Speaker 3:

It's non-medical support, so focus on emotional, informational, educational support, really being that person that can sit there with you through that grief or planning. And so there is the term death doula. You might also hear end of life doula, a thanadoula provider, grief walker, death coach, death buddy so there are a lot of different names for it, but it's someone that's really there, that can kind of fill in the gaps in care Again, not recommending medicine or providing medicine, but really being that companion, that emotional, that spiritual and educational guide.

Speaker 2:

Is there a moment in your life, in your career, in maybe a case you had, that you realized wow, I'm exactly where I'm supposed to be.

Speaker 3:

Honestly, I feel like it was all the moment that kind of led up to me being a formal death doula. I look back after seeing the curriculum and I felt like that's just why I experienced those moments, like I said, very traumatic losses in my life that I really couldn't make sense of. Like why would someone so young I was supposed to have really five grandparents in my life and I lost all of them so for me it really made sense finding purpose in the pain that I went through that led me to that point. But everything since then has just been little weights of confirmation as I work with people on their life reviews or planning their vans, directives and wills. It's signals of you know. I went through this previously with Stanley and friend and that's what helped me be equipped and feel the help. So I still like it's just really the personal moments that really solidify why I need to do this work.

Speaker 2:

Our personal stories do shape us and make us who we are and kind of sculpt where we're going. I know for myself I've also dealt with grief and loss early in my life. But my wife, she, we were together when she lost her first grandparent and I think that there's a really big difference there. One of the major differences, I see, is I am much more comfortable talking about death and dying than she is. I think that is attributed to my mom who made sure that going to the cemetery was a fun, normalized thing. It was like our way of connecting with our loved ones and being together. No-transcript, I do think the exposure and when you're exposed makes a difference, because I know my wife. She struggles a lot more than I do with the concept of death. But, moria, what do you think is the biggest misconception around death or the work you do?

Speaker 3:

An exception that it's kind of not safe to discuss and that's really one of the biggest struggles just for this, to have people so comfortable and open, having those conversations, to give them the mindset you know let's talk about it now, let's create a plan, then you can put it away, you don't have to think about it. But you know that it's not just there's whole negative and I know it can be kind of a depressing and sad topic, but I call them frequencies. Our beginnings are in and just appreciation for being here and having these moments. So really trying to get more of a positive outlook and mindset for it. But just the connotation of talking about it will make bad things happen or just that fear.

Speaker 2:

I have been heard that fear from my clients. Funny because we're always telling people affirmations and manifest and I can understand how you could go down the rabbit hole of feeling like if you say it out loud, it will happen. We spend a lot of time telling people that they should, you know, put into existence what they want, etc. This is like a tricky line here.

Speaker 3:

And it's really about how you frame it. You know, like I said, not dwelling on it, but if you're thinking of manifestation and affirmation, saying you know, I want to have a peaceful death, I want to have a life well lived, I want you to end my end of life wishes so that my family won't worry, my family won't be stressed, and that's really what I help clients do is look at it from that perspective and I think that can help.

Speaker 2:

I really found a lot of peace in those affirmations that you shared. I think that they're really powerful and bringing them into these difficult conversations or conversations that someone may not want to have feels like a great place to start, just very centered and peaceful. I'm going to pivot a bit and head into more sudden or maybe unexpected deaths. September is suicide awareness month and sometimes we're not afforded the luxury of planning and working through these wishes with our loved ones. How do you find that your work differs from long term planning as opposed to being there as a support for someone who may be grieving a sudden loss or lost suicide that they've may not understand?

Speaker 3:

going through those two different lines. My grandmother really helped prepare me. Like I said, one was kind of the layer with breast cancer you see it coming and then for my other grandmother to be murdered. It was very traumatic and sudden and I think just having that personal experience helps me just be with people in that moment, because you're immediately going through a shock. You know, did this happen? I can't believe this happened to me. In really processing, so, instead of it being more of helping an individual plan for their end of life, just really supporting the family, you know, helping with legacy and remembrance, even helping with, like funeral preparations, helping design obituaries and logistics and things like that but just like we have some cabana sessions getting comfortable with the unknown and just knowing that we don't have control over everything and that's okay, and to know that you survived all your worst days and that focusing on creating that circle of support is key. And whether that's with friends or family or finding a creative outlet, it's important to kind of channel that grief into something. And I think that's extremely important because when you have such a shock and traumatic loss, you need the time to process, to feel those emotions, to express that anger, the sadness for making sure that person is not alone. And then two, when working with the families and loved ones that person who has transition, giving them support and resources. I've worked with an individual who lost their son to suicide and you know that loss was extremely difficult to process and so she too had her own journey with those ideations and so speaking to her, giving guidance and normalizing therapy and counseling that it's a part of the process. Just like we have urgent care, we go to the doctor, it's okay to focus on your mental health and wellness and just navigating those conversations and a lot of my work is holding space. I think a lot of times people are very uncomfortable with silence and not really what we do best. We can just sit there, we can listen to the breath or we can hold the tears, hold the phone or, in person, just hold a hand and be that comforting presence, because sometimes you don't have to say the right thing or tell them what to do next, but really just be that present.

Speaker 2:

So many times when we interact as humans or someone comes to us and shares something that they're going through, we get uncomfortable and we want to fix it. We want to make it better, we want to make the uncomfortable go away, and I think that's where these empathy misses really happen. It doesn't have to be that difficult. All you have to do is show up and say you know how can I help, as opposed to feeling like you have to fix it. I get asked a lot in my practice for advice. When maybe someone they love is going through something. Clients will come in seeking guidance on hey, how do I support someone who's going through this, or how do I help my friend who's going through that? Or I just don't know what to say to this person. You know, whether it because they don't have an experience did or they're just are no words, because sometimes life is like that. I find that many people really struggle to hold space for things that are uncomfortable for them. Do you see that in your practice?

Speaker 3:

Yeah, and sometimes I feel that silence in the face. They get caught up in their own emotional emotions and kind of there's something that I see and it doesn't have to be complete silence. I mean you can put on maybe some relaxing music or do some reading together and different ways to civically be there. But, like he said, not in perfect words because in so many cases there's nothing to say. You just have to seal it. And that's why I love one of the terms for death duel is grief walking. It's not trying to go over, is not trying to avoid. It is taking that time to literally walk through those emotions in the pain. Because we have to honor those feelings and just knowing that it is okay. And again, if you're someone that's not yet comfortable with the silence or being there, definitely finding a death duel or a family member or a spiritual guide or, you know, recommending someone to a licensed professional to really help them navigate those moments. But it's okay not to have the words because most times you won't.

Speaker 2:

Yes, because at the end of the day, it has to just work for you and the person that you're with, and I love what you said, so I'm gonna underscore, underscore, underline, underline, feeling the silence. There's something to be felt there and there's something you might have to go through, so don't shy away from it. Lean into that, and I also just love the idea of reading together, being in the same space, to get that connection without having to speak words.

Speaker 3:

Yeah, I think back when I was working with someone who recently lost her father and you know finally going through the first days after the loss, crying, not wanting to eat, all the typical signs and just wanting to be there, and you know sitting in silence, bringing my book with me, you know sharing some quotes or just being there, sitting there, being cool, with nothing going on, and I come with like adult books and all these things kind of in my tool bag just to allow someone that space to process and you know if they want to read or you know, put on to the low-flying background. But music is honestly very important to me. I grew up in a house school full of music by a music musician and I actually have those healing properties and even working in spiritual care we had a lot of music therapists come in and for some legacy projects, making songs from left-winter heartbeats and things like that. So I feel like there's power in music, the harmony, the chords and the notes, and I feel just like music can kind of give you words when you don't have the emotion to express it and I just always love to kind of have some playlists or just recommendations around or someone wants to kind of dance it out. That's okay, but sometimes I got to do it myself. I mean, if you're having a rough day, just like dance it out, sing it out.

Speaker 2:

I'm so there with you. I can't even lie. I think it was like two weeks ago. I went through a like 10 day straight phase where I would wake up and have let it go from frozen on repeat because, for whatever reason, I found an extremely empowering and it set me up for a good morning, a good week. I was ready to go. So I think your right lyrics can sometimes pinpoint emotions we have yet to explore. Maria, I appreciate all the work that you have done to really bring creativity and authenticity into the grief process. Now, if someone wanted to find a death doula, how would they go about doing that?

Speaker 3:

A lot of us are trying to get more on social media, on websites, because we know a lot of times we are working with the sandwich generation, to those who have younger children, and working with older parents, and so most times they are on social media. So trying to just share the resources and who we are. I know me personally I tried to host some community workshops, whether in person or virtual, just to spread awareness, letting people know who I am, what I do. But anytime I kind of meet someone or going through grief I mentioned, you know, have you worked with? You know who's your caretaker, who's your support system? Do you have a therapist that you're working through?

Speaker 2:

So just to clarify, this is not particularly going to be a service that maybe the hospital brings to you with the discharge packet, or hospice is going to bring to you for lack of a better like metaphor this isn't something that is just going to like fall into your plate or fall into your lap. It's a little bit more active than that. It seems like you have to kind of seek out somebody. You have to try to put the time in to build that rapport as opposed to being like more common. Is that correct, for?

Speaker 3:

it, since we have less restrictions around timings and just not, unfortunately, right now covered by insurance. It's a lot more flexibility on how much time, how many people we can see. So you might find them and it does not hurt to ask, but I know right now a lot of hospitals kind of have their own volunteer their programs, but you might find someone in that role. That is a trained death, I know for me.

Speaker 2:

I want to now update my life plan to include a death doula, update my end of life plan plan to potentially include a death doula because I know, if I go first, like I said in the beginning of this episode, my wife, I think, is really going to struggle with documents and keeping it all together and the grief part of it. She's talked to many people. Is this like an uncommon thing or is this something that kind of falls within your guys role?

Speaker 3:

Yeah, that definitely is something that we can do. A lot of times I'm working with individuals who don't want to kind of go through their documents or planning alone, and so death doula can come in. Whether you have, like online or so many websites now that give you the virtual end of life plans. There are also some great books and even I've made kind of a pd of you know writing down your contacts, you know your financial information, your lawyer, your final wishes, even what information you want in your obituary. So that's one of the services that we offer is sitting there doing your planning, helping you brainstorm or just being that supportive present as you kind of talk through what you want, what you don't want. And then sometimes it's helpful to have a death doula, because some individuals don't feel comfortable expressing what they truly want, say around their family and friends, especially when it comes to, like end of life treatment and you know how long you want to stay on life support and things like that. So death doula can kind of be that you know non-viars party coming in just to explore, conversation and then helping make sure that person's wishes and want to express and written down. So it's definitely a service that we can help with. That's so helpful.

Speaker 2:

We went ahead and linked a bunch of stuff into our show notes for you guys, so that you had a few resources and links to learn more. Let you go. Can you give our listeners who may be experiencing grief or are looking for creative ways to cope with loss a tool or a tip so that they can take it with them?

Speaker 3:

Yeah, well, I would say it's just a US estimate of your circle of support, the people that you feel like you can go to to really express how you're feeling, your thoughts, your wants, and someone that's that supportive listening ear and you know recognizing. Maybe if you don't have that person and that's okay and that's they do you can reach out to professional or search for us in grief support group that don't want you to isolate and be by yourself. That's extremely important. The next thing I would say is to find a creative outlet. You know, when you're going through grief and processing loss, you know a lot of time you're seeking solitude, maybe you're withdrawing from your usual routine. But go think about the things that you really find joy in, whether it's or dancing, and finding a way to kind of channel that grief and using creativity is extremely important. So maybe trying a different medium. They usually use writing a poem, you know, writing some lyrics to a song, even using some coloring tools or painting. Even they have those kind of deconstruction rooms where you can go and writing that in a notebook. Or I can discuss there's so many creative ways to jewelry or cookbooks or photos. Just making sure you keep that person's memory alive. I think that's extremely important and can help process your grief.

Speaker 2:

I love all of those and I think all of them are so practical. We can take them and build on them as we move forward. Maria, thank you again so much for being here bringing your expertise. The work you're doing, I think, is so important. I know our listeners and our in-app Cabana members are so fortunate to have you moderating and alongside them for the journey. Lauren and I will be back next week. If you enjoyed this episode, please take a moment to subscribe and leave a review. It means the world to us. Until next time, mind your health. Seriously, you're fine. You're fine because you have the power to access your place of peace anytime you need it. However, if you get stuck or right at the palm of your hand to help check out our show notes for this week's source list, recommended content and Cabana live group schedule, we'll catch you next week for a brand new episode of You're Always Fine.

Journey to Becoming a Death Doula
Death Doula Supporting Individuals and Families
Death Doulas and Coping With Grief