Ep. 133 Healing During End-of-Life Experiences with Dr. Christopher Kerr

Ep. 133 Healing During End-of-Life Experiences with Dr. Christopher Kerr

Listen Here:

In this episode, we discuss:

  • Dr. Kerr’s studies of the nonphysical experience of dying
  • The shift from “abandonment” to getting closer to the bedside as someone is dying
  • How dreams shift from the living to the deceased as you move closer to death
  • The differences in the grieving process of sudden loss versus diagnosis of terminal illness
  • Why Dr. Kerr has become less scared of the dying process from his work
  • How our view of death has negatively changed over time & why we need to reframe it
  • The changes we need to see in our patient care

Additional Resources:

BOOK: Death Is But a Dream

Christopher Kerr is a hospice doctor. All of his patients die. Yet he has cared for thousands of patients who, in the face of death, speak of love and grace. Beyond the physical realities of dying are unseen processes that are remarkably life-affirming. These include dreams that are unlike any regular dream. Described as “more real than real,” these end-of-life experiences resurrect past relationships, meaningful events and themes of love and forgiveness; they restore life’s meaning and mark the transition from distress to comfort and acceptance.

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Episode Transcript:

Welcomed the Uncensored Empath, a place for us to discuss highly sensitive energy, illness, healing, and transformation. My name is Sarah Small and I am a life and success coach for empaths who want to create a thriving body, business, and life. Think of this podcast as your no-BS guide to navigating life, health, and entrepreneurship. You will get straight to the point, totally holistic tips from me in real-time as I navigate this healing and growth journey right beside you. This is a Soul Fire production.

Sarah: This conversation is honestly, actually, one of my most favorites I have ever had on the show. And my guest, Dr. Christopher Kerr is truly amazing in the work that he does. I was honored to receive a copy of his book called, ‘’Death is but a dream. Finding hope and meaning at life’s end’. And I had so many eye-opening aha moments. It was unreal, so I was super, super excited to then, invite him onto the show and have this conversation today. He is the CEO and chief medical officer at Hospice Buffalo and has received his Ph.D. in neurobiology, as well as completed his residency in internal medicine at the University of Rochester. The research and case studies that he presents in today’s episode, and also on his website, drchristopherkerr.com is truly fascinating to me. Even if death and dying does not fascinate you, and pique your interest and curiosity the way it does for me, I know you are still going to gain so many beautiful insights into the death and dying process today. While it may not be the lightest conversation, there is so much healing inside of this conversation, and the medicine that Chris has to share with us today.

Do you feel like there is something interfering with your happiness, or your ability to be your best fucking self? Your most joyful, aligned, freaking self? For me lately, there is this energy of unfinished business. There is this energy of wounds that were not able to be healed in the 3D world, that when my brother Joe died, I did not know what to do with all of that. We had a session booked together, the week after he died. And I was never able to have that therapy call with my brother Joe. What I have chosen instead, is to continue with therapy myself and trust that the work I do is not just on my own. And it is still healing that can take place with him, on the other side or whatever form his soul may take at this point in time. My therapist over at Better Help has been super helpful. We have done some cognitive-behavioral techniques. She has given me tools and she has, more than anything, just held a really beautiful space for me, to be able to discuss all the unknowns that I have with grief. And also, the confusion that I have been experiencing. It makes me feel less alone and the things I am thinking, and feeling are not so weird or crazy. It is actually really fucking normal.

So, if you are dealing with any sort of grief, any sort of misalignment, if you are feeling stuck or sad in your life. If there is an issue that you want support with or help to work through, or you just want someone to listen to you, I highly recommend you give this service a try. It is affordable therapy. You can start communicating in under 24-hours. It is not a crisis line. It is not self-help. It is professional counseling, done securely online. And there is a broad range of different experts, and expertise within these counselors that you can access, that may not actually be locally available to you. They service clients across the world and you can log into your account at any time, to send a message to whoever you are matched with. Visit trybetterhelp.com/uncensoredempath and get the help that you may be seeking today. You can get 10% off your first month at trybetterhelp.com/uncensoredempath.

 

Sarah: Welcome to the show Chris, I am super excited to have you on.

Chris: Thank you for having me.

Sarah: So, I would love to start by hearing a little bit about your journey, and how you ended up in hospice care, and the CEO and chief medical officer, more specifically of Hospice Buffalo. In your book, I remember reading a line that just rang really true for me, which is most doctors get into medicine because they are so set on the opposite of keeping people alive at all costs. So, I would love to hear your journey and what inspires you to get into hospice?

Chris: Well, I wish I could tell you it was inspiration, but it was more accident or fate than anything else. I was no different than anybody else. I was pretty enamored with the acute side of medicine. And actually, as a resident, I petitioned to get out of my hospice rotation, because I did not think there was anything to do. It is embarrassing to say now. What happened was in ‘99, I was a cardiology fellow and I needed extra income to support my family. And I actually saw a want ad in the paper, asking for a hospice doctor on weekends. So I came here, really not knowing what to do or what to expect. What I found was eye-opening. When I got to the bedside realizing that there was a larger role to play as a physician. That of being present, and being a comforter. And over time, a few months I realized it was actually the most meaningful work I had ever done. And actually, appealed to the best instincts that I think, that we go to medical school with. Yes. So that is how it happened.

Sarah: I honor the work that you do, and I think it really does take a lot of heart and soul to be in this line of work. I wanted to just read a short line, a sentence from your book. I read it, and I underlined like a crazy person throughout the entire thing. Little nuggets that just really resonated with me. But I would love to talk about how you also were then, inspired to explore more of the non-physical experience of dying. That death is not just a physical decline, but there is also some more subjective ways to study it, and spiritual experiences. And you wrote, “The acceleration of science has obscured its art. The art of dying. And medicine always less comfortable with the subjective, has been more concerned with disproving the unseen, than revering its meaning.” Can you talk to us about the non-physical experience of dying?

Chris: Sure. More and more we view dying through a medical paradigm, that is really based on organ failure. It is less of what it is, which is a human experience. That in dying, medicine has reached futility and really nature takes over and it becomes a very profound human experience, which is a closing of a life. It is not about system failure. Medicine more and more, as it becomes more technical, more interventional fails to recognize those other dimensions like personhood. And people die in totality. They do not die in parts. And when you realize that you are forced to reckon that there are some pieces to this, that you cannot image, biopsy, and measure. That they are experiential, and they are also very meaningful and profound.

Sarah: There are so many amazing stories in your book. Your new book called, ‘Death is but a dream. Finding hope and meaning at life’s end’, and you tell these amazing stories that are based on over 1,400 different patients. And those experiences that you were able to witness, and study over a decade. What originally prompted you to start researching that non-physical aspect of dying, as a hospice doctor?

Dr. Kerr’s studies of the nonphysical experience of dying

Chris: Well, I think, first of all, I realized I had to play a different role. And whether I understood it or not, I need to at least have reverence for the fact that people are having these experiences. And then, what really turned it for me was the fact that they were obviously so therapeutic, not just for the person but for their loved ones. And then, why I studied it was interesting. I looked in the literature and found that the humanities have always spoken about this. In ways that we do not even realize, whether it is Orson Wells or Rosebud at the end of his life, or in Shakespeare or Plato, it has always been talked about, very little in medicine. And when I tried to teach other doctors, the response I always got, well, there is no evidence for it. Or that these were people who were just confused, or they were medicated, or deoxygenated, or whatever. What I did was really done to prove a point, to validate them. What we did is, we took people, we ruled out confusion. We videotaped many. So they sound like you and I. And we asked them questions every day as they approach death, about what they were experiencing. And we were stunned to find out there were some very universal themes. That the vast majority, 90% of the patients were reporting.

Sarah: Where you seeing those themes just in your day to day rotations and work as a doctor, before you did this study as well?

The shift from “abandonment” to getting closer to the bedside as someone is dying

Chris: No, not at all. Sadly, what happened, particularly in training, I was guilty, like many of my colleagues were saying, the worst thing a doctor can say to somebody who needs them, which is there is nothing more we can do. Which really defines our role only as interventional. So, in other words, when you are no longer curative, then I do not have a part to play. Those are the terms of the contract often between physician and patient. And we are really guilty then, of abandonment. So, I am sorry to say that I stood back. I did not get closer to the bedside when people were dying. I went on to the next. And that was how I trained. But no, I did not have an appreciation. It really took people who do not abandon the bedside, who actually deliver care, like nurses, and pastoral care, and volunteers, and music therapists, and social workers. Who stay engaged whether the patient is deemed curative or not.

Sarah: I remember, I think you actually opened the book in this way, where you were talking about when you first got into this area of medicine. That the training would say, okay, let us give them medication to relieve the pain, but then, at some point I cannot do anymore. And it sounds what you were also able to discover is that there was a lot more you could do beyond that. And I remember reading that there was a nurse that actually, maybe inspired you to get a little bit closer to the bedside. And to observe, or just provide that love and that care. That actually reminds me of another line I wrote down of your book, which is, “end of life experiences testified to our greatest needs. To love and be loved, to be nurtured and feel connected, to be remembered and forgiven.”

Can you talk a little bit about those basic needs that then, if you do get closer, which you do that, get closer to the bedside, as people are experiencing death and dying? What is the importance of that beyond just what may be a pain medication could provide us comfort for somebody?

Chris: Dying is lonely. People do not stop craving to have relevance and to connect. And if you are looking at a white ceiling and you are immobile it matters to be human to one another. And when you do that, and you do get closer, what you find is that dying is this kind of inward reflective process. And people are drawn to the things that mattered most to them for having lived, and for having matter. And that mostly revolves around their relationships and who they loved.

Sarah: Can you share with the listeners and an example of one of the patients that were a part of this decade-long study. And anyone who particularly touched you, or helped you realize, what their dreams were doing for them and what they were experiencing as they were experiencing the dying process? I think that is really going to… I am trying to remind myself that I have read the book, and not everyone listening has read it. These amazing, just really eye-opening stories. So, I would love for you to maybe share a case study.

Chris: I think one of the most inspiring ones because I was so naive to it, was early on, the patient named Mary who had four living children. Towards the end of the life she was lucid, but intermittently she would be cradling a baby that we could not see, and referring to him as Danny. A reference the children did not know. And the next day, her sister came in from out of town and explain that Danny was actually her first child, that she had lost. And the wound was so deep that she had never been able to really talk about it. It is this idea that we are all wounded for having lived. And sometimes this dying process makes us more whole. And what has always struck me about that event was, I could not explain it, but what was clear to me, was it was so obviously therapeutic for her. She looked at peace,. she looked whole. To die, people not only have to be physically comfortable, but they also need to be psychologically comfortable. As dying has progressive sleep. And if you cannot relax, or you are not at peace to sleep, it is very hard to die well. And so, here she was being put back together. Her physical wounds could not be addressed, but her spiritual wounds were. And yes, I have just seen it time and time again.

Sarah: So interesting. And again, the stories you tell in the book just sound so healing. And not always comfortable, but healing. And a lot is showing up in their dreams. And I think that a lot of the eyes of medicine would look at the experience of these dreams that these people are experiencing. And think, Oh, they are just high on medication or they are crazy. Can you also discuss why that is actually not the case? And that these people are having really real experiences?

How dreams shift from the living to the deceased as you move closer to death

Chris: Well, one of the worst things about any of this work, there are two problems. One is everybody always views it as a vantage point in which to look at the afterlife or religious paranormal. And what we do is, just look at the dying process in and of itself without interpreting. The other is that most people are confused close to death. They do go through delirium stages where they are in and out of consciousness, etcetera. What is really clear is the vantage point. We are not talking about the moments before death. We are talking about the days, weeks, sometimes months. And we did a university-approved study, which means you have to sign a consent, have witnesses. And every time we interviewed them, or they did a questionnaire, they were screened for confusion. And then, of course, we filmed them, because there is nothing like seeing it make the case. These people are intact, all are doing bills still, managing their households, and they are still having these experiences. So, it is very, very important. It is demeaning, it is dehumanizing to dismiss them as confusional states. One of the interesting things when we did the study and we graded realism on a one to 10 scale, with 10 being the most real. The most common number circled was 10. The people who are experiencing these, are very unlike dreams and they appear almost virtual to them.

Sarah: And are they all experiencing them in an actual sleeping state?

Chris: Well, that is a great question. About half the time they say they are not. And one of the things that happen in dying, as I said, you are sleeping more and more. And our sleep architecture often is broken up. So you are coming in and out an awful lot. And what one of the interpretations is the lucid dream. So, they are at a level of sleep, where it feels virtual.

Sarah: Yes. Well, you just mentioned too, that part of this is like a progressive relaxation process. So they are getting more, and more relaxed. I am also a hypnotherapist and it does not sound so unlike being in a light or deep trance state, where you are able to use more of different parts of your brain.

Chris: It is actually funny you mentioned that, because I have talked to other people.I know nothing actually, of hypnotherapy, but those who do speak of it in that kind of altered state. Yes, that is exactly right. The colors are brighter, the smells are strong. The imagery is potent, and the remembrances are also very vivid.

Sarah: So, your study revealed that, as patients near to death, their dream content shifted from a focus on the living to a focus on the dead. Can you also talk about that or give some examples?

Chris: Yes, so what happened is, we had a menu list of things they could choose from, in terms of content. And it was interesting, because one of the things I learned early was, nurses often could predict somebody’s death, based on whether they were seeing the deceased. And that is actually very common in other cultures. It is actually a means of connecting to ancestors. They view it as a lineage thing. And so, it turned out to be true. So, when we look at the content, as people got closer to death, the dreams are more and more populated by people who they have loved and lost. And it was very interesting, as who appeared. Those people who withheld or condition love were edited out. And those people who were securing and unconditional in their love were prominent. When we measured comfort, relative to content, the most comforting dreams were of the deceased. So, if you put all the data together, there is this natural trend, of, as you are getting closer to death, increasing frequency of seeing the deceased, and those that you love and increasing comfort.

Sarah: Yes. I remember a story in the book as well about a little girl. And it is interesting, because children likely, at least, have not experienced a lot of death of people close to them in their life, just by the mere fact that they are children. But I remember, in this case, the little girl actually began dreaming of a dog that had passed, as she neared… Or her dreams had shifted from the dreams of the living to dreams of the dead.

Chris: Yes, you are right. So, children obviously do not have the same language for death nor the same reference point for mortality. And they often have not known somebody who is deceased. And two of the children in the book and they are also videotaped. It was just really interesting. We can talk about it later, but you go to the author’s site and see the actual videos of the child. But what they do instead is, they all have known animals. Whether it was their animal, or somebody else’s pet when it passed. And they come to them, and both children basically, use the same language to describe it. And they intuitively understood that the significance was that, they were not alone. That they were loved and that they were going to be okay.

Sarah: I think an interesting component that we have not brought up yet, which is, not only are the people who are experiencing death and dying going through experiencing these very real dreams, that feels like reality. But there are also the people that love them and are maybe around the bedside with them. How do these dreams affect the people, mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, children that might also be going through that hospice process with a person who is dying?

Chris: It is remarkable. I think this is as interesting as what the patient goes through. So we have done two studies, a total of 750 bereaved people. We have either interviewed, or surveyed, and there were videos of them as well. And the best way to sum it up is, how we see somebody die, very much affects how we process loss. And how we remember them for the final. And, if what is good for the patient, the old adage is, what is good for their loved one. If they see that person comfortable, psychologically at peace, sometimes even enlightened, were united with those they love. Imagine your two parents, and you have spent 60 years together, and you have lost a child together. And that spouse is, feeling the presence, or the memory of that lost child. That pulls you in, in a very different way. The context is different. Instead of emptiness there is a reunion. It really is remarkable. When we looked, we actually used, there are scales for grief. And when we looked at those, people who had shared these experiences actually did show very positive gains in terms of how they grieved and process loss.

The differences in the grieving process of sudden loss versus diagnosis of terminal illness

Sarah: It is fascinating. It seems that the person who is experiencing the loss of the loved one, would also be able to let go a little bit easier. For example, if a mother, somebody whose mother was in hospice, and about to pass. If they heard from their mother that she was reuniting with their father, it just seems like it would be more of a peaceful goodbye. And also, okay, you are reuniting with the love of your life. And so, I am this know human 3D reality and body here while still on earth.

I can let go. I can actually be more at peace with it all.

Chris: Yes. Beyond our fears of them suffering physically. We want to know that they are okay, and we all wonder where is somebody when they are at the end of their life, and their eyes are closed? Where are they going? Are they okay? And even for the demented, for example, it is very interesting that you still have these inner lives and histories. There is a great video of a woman who is describing her mother at the end of her life. And we live in Buffalo, and the thing here is you get married in Niagara Falls, right? And her mother is trying to get dressed. And she tells her daughter that she has got to get to Niagara Falls for her wedding day.

Sarah: Wow.

Chris: She is nearing the end of her life, but she is actually reliving the best day of her life. And that completely reframes loss. And it really gives meaning where you think there might not be any.

Sarah: Yes, absolutely. I shared with you before that I have lost both my younger brothers. And they were both sudden losses. So, it was a very different experience, then many of those written in the book. And I just wonder on a personal level, how the grieving process has potentially been very different or altered for me? Based on a sudden loss, versus, like you were just saying, the comfort that can come from these dreams being shared with family members.

Chris: There is really no way to draw a comparison. It is kind of what we are experiencing now, with this pandemic when people die, they are isolated from us. Our very humanism and our ability to cope and endure tragedy it resides in our ability to be compassionate, to gesture, and show concern for somebody. You are denied that. You are actually denied touch. You are denied connectivity. That is how we are human. And that does not happen. In particular, in some loss, some people feel it might be better for the deceased. On the other hand, grief instantaneously becomes complicated. The doubts of course, will never end there. Those are just wounds that do not heal. The one thing I have often wondered about is, when you talk to people who have had near-crashes in a car, there is a statement that they always say, which is, I saw my life flash before me. And it is an interesting expression, that I wonder, captures something that people who have had a more acute death experience at some level.

Sarah: It is interesting. And grief is so different for every single person. And you mentioned this in your writing too, that it’ is multi-dimensional, it is flexible, it is highly personal. How much interaction do you have with the grieving process? Well, I guess the grieving process begins for the people in hospice before the person has actually died, I would think. So, you are very intimately connected to this person.

Chris: It is really a great way to put it. We get grief all wrong. We talk about grief as though it is a reactive process. There is a before, and there is an after. And actually, in the state of illness, grief starts at the time of diagnosis. That day, that moment. It is not when there is a funeral. It is, this undulating process. It includes times of hope and despair and all those elements.

Sarah: I relate to that. In my brother, Joe did die suddenly. However, he was addicted to drugs. And so, I felt I actually started grieving him six years before he died. Because I could see his body declining. And so, I just relate to that, in some sense of, I think it would be similar as if someone were diagnosed with a…

Chris: It is not indifferent, in that, it is an illness with a physical manifestation. So, you were having to witness and readjust your perception and your reality of who he was. And who he was to your relationship, in terms of the relationship. So, that grief has adaptation, and you were also adapting through all of it. And yes. No, it is not different at all.

Sarah: Yes. You also mentioned that “A good death is dying on one’s terms.” Can you talk about that and explore just how you have been able to witness, or see that in your work?

Chris: Yes. It is as you described grief. It is highly individualized. It is personal. It is what it is not, it is not the doctor’s death.

Sarah: That is really important to mention.

Chris: So it is not a sterile death. It is not a dehumanized death. It is whatever that means to that life. And sometimes that is a need to be reconnected, to be loved, it is to be forgiven, it is to ask for forgiveness. It is all of those things. It is specific to the life that was led, on those terms. It cannot be institutionalized. It cannot be politicized. It cannot be any of those. There is no universal experience to die. And quite frankly, it is hard to have a good death, if your life has had so little goodness in it.

Why Dr. Kerr has become less scared of the dying process from his work

Sarah: Right. Do you think, well, I guess on a personal level, do you feel death is less scary for you? I just feel so many people are scared shitless of dying. It is their greatest fear. And you witness this, all the time. So I am curious about how your relationship to death has changed? And also, why are we all so scared shitless of dying?

Chris: Well, I think we were not scared shitless of dying. We would not have survived. It is in our innate struggle to remain present. So, if we had not run from the cyber tooth tiger, they were too tired. We would not have survived. So it is instinctual. We also would not have kept their children alive at all costs. We would not have stood in front of the bullet to protect the loved one. It is how we move forward, as a species. I am as scared as the next person at the prospect of dying. Mostly because I have lives that are dependent on me. And that worry does not go. Although it gets easier, as people live the full circle of their life. So, to a nine-year-old death is different than a thirty-year-old. I am much less scared of the dying process from this work. Because what you learn is there is a better story to the process of dying. That most people do reach an acceptance that there is an understanding that the illness has overcome them. And they do put themselves together in some ways. And in the end, it seems as though what our patients tell us, is the best parts of having lived do not go away. They are still there. They are returned to us in some way. And you see this when a 95-year-old man remembers the words of a mother that he lost when he was five. Time seems to be irrelevant. Life is measured ultimately, in terms of our relationships. That is the accomplishment. And that is what we go back to.

Sarah: I remember another story in the book that was, correct me if I am getting any pieces wrong. But it was a man who I think was incarcerated. And he reconnected to his daughter in hospice care. And again, if I am remembering correctly, she was hesitant about coming, but then came. And it was that reuniting and healing needed to take place for both of them. So that she could remember him in a different light, but also that he could experience, maybe her forgiveness. And then feel at peace enough to, I know you do not study the other side. But crossover to whatever people’s beliefs are. And, move on and complete the dying process. I just am seeing so many mutual benefits, beneficial components here, of what the dreams are bringing up for people. And what that healing that invites into their life.

Chris: Yes. It is interesting. So about 18% of people have very distressing or discomforting dreams. So you die as you live. And if you have had regrets, or injuries, or harm, or love withheld, those do not go away. And Dwayne was his name, and he was actually fully captured on video, as part of a Netflix production in the fall, and a full documentary. And it was really fascinating. So he is in his forties, tortured life. He was on crack when he was young, and he had actually spent more of his life in jail than out. And he had neck cancer, which means you had open wounds around his neck area. And while he is talking about his dreams on film, he just starts to decompensate. Now, normally, he was the most obvious jovial guy. We called him ‘The Mayor’.

He had one of those lives that you could not look backward, and you could not live in regret. To survive, you had to just keep putting one foot in front of the other. And what happens is, he is talking, and he just starts to cry. And he was having horrible dreams. And what he is dreaming of is, the people who had harmed him, were trying to stick knives into his wounds. And he was trying to explain himself for the first time, then it was not him. It was the drugs, etcetera. But what happened was he woke up, and he had this need to reach out to his daughter. Who, we were able to get a hold of and he needed to say he was sorry, really for the first time. And express his love for her. And after that, the nightmares went away, and he was able to sleep and die comfortably two weeks later, and she never left his side. So, the point is, that the dreams that he experienced did not deny his reality. But it helped him. He got there through the side door, but he got there, to a point where he really could address what he needed to address. To be able to be at some sort of peace. And obviously, that changed his daughter greatly in terms of how she viewed him in their relationships.

Sarah: You also studied that of a normal functioning brain to somebody with special needs, and how that might shift the dreams that they are experiencing. And what did you find?

Chris: Well, for me, that is actually some of the most interesting things. I think we get people who have different cognitive levels entirely wrong. We talk about people with dementia in terms of measures of deficit, what they can and cannot recall cognitively. What gets lost is that they often have emotional histories, and emotional lives, and emotional tone. And those are often there. There is a beautiful story in the book, of Sammy who was in her thirties and had down syndrome. And she had always been powerfully and maternal, had dolls, slept with dolls, bathed them, fed them, changed them. And she ends up, unfortunately, diagnosed with ovarian cancer, which put a lot of fluid in her belly. So, she had this protuberant abdomen. And in her dream, she was not ill. She was giving life. And even at the end of her life, she thought the pain was the baby kicking.

And as I said to the lady, the demented woman, who thought she was going to her wedding day. There was even a woman who was very demented, who had to escape Nazi Germany. And she had then lost a three-year-old boy. And she was described as a very bitter, angry person. And blamed everything somewhat understandably, on her war experiences. At the end of her life though, she returns and she is a mother again. And she spends her days looking at the picture of her lost son, blowing kisses and saying she loves him. And she was so able to come back to a better spot, psychologically and emotionally, that, when she looked in the mirror, she would scream. Because she did not like the old lady in the mirror. And they had to cover up the mirror with a blanket. So my point is, people still have these rich inner lives. Whether it is, they can remember what the date is, or who the president was.

How our view of death has negatively changed over time & why we need to reframe it

Sarah: Thank you so much for saying that. And I think it is so amazing that you have now the case studies and research to help us all understand that on a deeper level. I do feel… and I come up with this, in wanting to talk about my brothers. Because I liked talking about them and I part of talking about them helps me remember them and celebrate their lives. But I do feel much of society still sees talking about death and dying as taboo. Do you think there is a reason behind that or a shift that needs to occur? So that we can have more conversations about something that is ultimately inevitable in every single one of our lives?

Chris: Yes. We have lost our way with dying, and we used to do it better. Our grandparents, great grandparents. When you lived in a village, it was a shared experience. Including your church, or with your extended family. There were wonderful traditions where people were supported. That even things like Schivitz, where it became a communal point of support. And it was not institutionalized, and it was not sanitized, and it was not about failed medicines. It was about life at its end. And it brought us more connection than less. So, we have somehow, need to reclaim it as a more human event. And I think that would make it healthier. I think we have lost even the language to support one another. There is awkwardness. People do not know how to comfort. There was a time, and you can see this with other cultures, and in immigrant communities. Where they rally to support. Where I think we have become so discomforted by it. Plus, we are a very ageist society. And we always believe there is something you can do for something. It is funny when people talk about some of the diseases, they are surprised they can be dying from this. Because you got to die from something. It is always about getting spot welded. I think the ageism, I think we are death denied, as a society. And we are youth-focused. We are interventional, and we are more isolated as people. We do not share experiences in the same way.

Sarah: Yes. That is really coming to the surface right now. And we are literally, isolated. And my hope is that maybe through this more forced isolation, we might be re-inspired and reinvigorated to create more real connection, and ritual, and community, and life on the other side.

Chris: I think it certainly forces us to reassess some of our values.

The changes we need to see in our patient care

Sarah: So, I am just going to read one more short sentence from your book, which says, “Dying includes more than the physical suffering that we observe. There is a better, less fearful aspect to the end of life. One that validates the life led. Lessons of fear of death and often returns us to those things that we have loved the most.” Do you think our society needs a spiritual renewal in patient care? Where have we gone wrong, and where can we improve?

Chris: Oh boy. I think one area is, we need to stop the healthcare economy that allows for abandonment. In other words, if the only way you get care, is because for the act of doing something, there is no ICD code, there is no billing code for being a comfort to somebody. You can get vaccinated, you can get a pap smear, you can get whatever and you get a colonoscopy. But it is very hard for these more intangible things, that people suffer from, that are actually more relevant, including mental health. So, I think as healthcare puts the premium on, value as opposed to volume, not the number of people you see, but how they do in your care. That might change things. I think that really, it is not okay to abandon your patient. You should not fall off the cliff. When you need more caring, ironically, you are receiving less care, in our current system. So, I think a premium placed on those things, but as long as it is a fee for a service mentality. And I think doctors need to be educated in different terms, and from different disciplines. I think they go to medical school with the right instincts, but I think we beat it out of them.

Sarah: That really rings true for me because, I mentioned also before we started recording that, I initially in college had aspirations to become a doctor. And I did not like everything, just full transparency, I did not like everything I was seeing. And that actually led me down a different path and I do not regret that. I am super glad about the path I went down. But I also consider that part of the change is, maybe being in our healthcare system, and being the change within that space. And I love that you said that it would be beneficial to have people trained in multiple different things, multiple different ways. And just provide more perspective, and a more holistic view, and new ideas that versus, everyone following all the same rules. And it is feeling more sterile and sanitized like you mentioned previously as well.

Chris: Yes. Exactly.

Sarah: So, as we wrap up here, I just would love for you to share any last takeaways with the listeners, as well as, where we can find out more about your work and your book.

Chris: If there is any advice, it is to be a participant in the care of your loved one, at the end of life. It is very possible, to get on this assembly line of care. And be removed and be less proximate to the person you love. And I think that that needs to be reclaimed. And to remember something that we hear all the time from caregivers that it is the best, hardest thing they have ever done in their life. And that ultimately, it is a very life-affirming process to give care to somebody you love. So it is something not to shy from, but to get closer to. You always do better for having done it. You breathed differently for having done it. You can go to drchristopherkerr.com. Just encourage people to watch the videos. Because, again, I cannot do them justice, but they are remarkable.

Sarah: I have not had a chance to watch those yet, so I am definitely going to go over. And everyone listening, if you are interested, curious, want to understand death or dying process, and for any reason in any further respects, I highly recommend you pick up this book. I feel if I could wrap up the emotion that I took away from reading the book, it would be that I felt more comfortable talking about death and dying. But in getting more intimate in that conversation, it also inspired me to love deeper. Just be more alive, and to not shy away from what is inevitable for all of us. To take advantage of the time we do have here, in this life on this earth. And I just thank you for that Chris. I appreciate it so much.

Chris: Thank you very much.

Sarah: Thank you so much for coming on the show today and I appreciate you and your time and your work and your wisdom so much.

Chris: Thank you.

Sarah: I hope you love today’s conversation as much as I did. I went over to Chris’s website after our conversation and I was able to go to their links on YouTube. And I just finished watching the video titled, “Dwayne’s dreams restore his relationship with his daughter”. And it is so moving and so touching. I highly, highly recommend you go check out some of these videos. Especially, if this topic of grief really hits home with you. And maybe you have lost someone that is close to you in your life.

As always, thank you so much for tuning in today’s conversation and I will see you in the next episode.

Connect with Dr. Kerr:

Website: drchristopherkerr.com

Book: Death Is But a Dream

TEDx Talk: I See Dead People: Dreams and Visions of the Dying

IG: @hospicebuffalo

Facebook: Hospice Buffalo

Twitter: @hospicebuffalo

Connect with Sarah:

Instagram | Facebook Community | Pinterest | YouTube

Work with Sarah:

Online courses | 1:1 coaching | Send show requests to sarah@theuncensoredempath.com!

This post contains affiliate links. We may receive a small commission for purchases made through these links. Thank you for your support!

May 22, 2020

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