Podcast #111 Living Fully and Dying Prepared – Francesca Arnoldy, Author and Community Doula

Francesca Arnoldy takes us into the Big Picture overview of why conversations about mortality matter. She notes, “We need to remember what it is to be mortal… and what it is to die… and what it is to grieve. We need to learn from one another and hear each other’s stories.” How does an open-minded parent, grandparent or teacher make a difference for a child’s experience of death? What is a legacy? How does reflection help us to integrate as we learn? And why does looking back and looking forward impact how we live? Francesca’s most recent book title sums it up: “The Death Doula’s Guide to Living Fully and Dying Prepared: An Essential Workbook to Help You Reflect Back, Plan Ahead, and Find Peace on Your Journey.”

Learn more about Francesca and get her books at ⁠francescalynnarnoldy.com⁠


Diane Hullet: Hi, I’m Diane Hullet and welcome to the Best Life, Best Death Podcast. Today I’ve got a wonderful guest, Francesca Arnoldi, and she’s an author and a doula, and she’s going to tell us a little bit more about herself, how she got into this work and also some of the amazing books that she’s putting forward.

So welcome Francesca. Thank you for having me. I’m excited. We particularly are fired up to talk about her latest book, which just came out in July. It’s called living fully and dying prepared. And the preview to that is the death doulas guide to living fully and dying prepared. And it’s a workbook, really.

So we’re going to tell you all about that, anybody who’s listening, and first talk a little bit about how she got into this work. So why don’t you sort of introduce yourself, Francesca? I loved, you know, you talked about being a community doula, and tell us more about that. 

Francesca Arnoldy: Yeah, I needed a term that was a little more [00:01:00] Spacious than just death doula or end of life doula because I really started in this field as a birth doula and a postpartum doula and I also taught childbirth preparation classes.

So then, due to a number of personal losses that we experienced, my heart and mind were open to wanting to support people through the end of life journey as well. And so at that point, I became a hospice volunteer and I volunteered with a couple of different organizations locally here and in a number of different capacities and as it can, as I can fit it into the fold of my schedule.

And then the universe. allowed for me to receive a beautiful invitation to develop the training programs for the University of Vermont for the end of life doula certificate programs. And I did that. And then I ran those programs for a handful of years, loved it, found it really meaningful to work with all [00:02:00] these different people who came to the program with a variety of goals in mind.

And during that time, I was Also developing my own private practice as a doula, as an end of life doula, in addition to my birthing work. And establishing myself as a speaker and as someone who felt, I, I came to realize I was very drawn to working with people in person. It could be, you know, it could also be virtual.

I love live programming and I love for it to be very engaging. And so running workshops and speaking at conferences and also writing. So I call myself a death lit author and I like that term because for me it means death literacy. So promoting the idea of that we are mortal and that we can remember what it is to be mortal and what it is to companion one another through that journey and also death literature.

So I like both [00:03:00] in the death lit author title. 

Diane Hullet: I love that. Yeah, it sort of covers it like in the same way that community doula kind of covers the various ways in which we do love for each other. We guide for each other. We support we offer wisdom. That’s beautiful. Well, when you were just talking about that I was thinking about, you know, one of the first books that really thatIn Kind of really connected me to this work.

It wasn’t the first thing I’d read about End of Life, but Atul Gawande’s classic book, Being Mortal, was such a beautifully written narrative about his experience as a doctor. And what I loved when you just sort of said, you know, the word mortal and that book came to my mind, I was thinking that you’ve written a book that’s such a companion piece for something like that, because that book is very it’s very heartfelt, but it’s also very mental.

You’re really following him on his journey. And the book you’ve created is, is really a workbook. You know, it’s really intended [00:04:00] if people kind of can imagine it’s, it’s filled with pages where there’s some writing, but there’s also blank lines and a lot of reflection questions and a lot of places where you’ve you.

right there in the book. And so I think it’s interesting that we can read things that are both powerful to us, but they’re other people’s stories. And your book has created space for us to really make it our own story. Absolutely. And 

Francesca Arnoldy: I, I too love Gawande’s book and the documentary. I thought that actually seeing him on screen and being able to witness his deep, vulnerable humanity and humility that he’s willing to show.

Is just really beautiful. So very inspired by his book. And what I loved about working with my publisher, New Harbinger, is the acquisitions editor reached out to me and just sort of pitched this idea to write a book. And I thought, well, that sounds interesting. And I looked into this publishing [00:05:00] company and kind of sat with it for a little bit to see how it landed.

And I really had to evaluate my capacity to see if I would have the time to be able to put. Toward this because I didn’t just want to kind of toss some free time at it. If I were, if I were going to say yes, I wanted it to be a complete total. Yes. And when we went back and forth a couple of times and I asked, you know, what.

His initial vision for the book was, I felt like that was a great opening, but then he was able to kind of hear what was coming up for me. And I was saying, well, how about this? Well, how about that? And so it’s really a fusion. It’s, it’s like this it incorporates how to and healthy preparedness and lots of tips and ideas and resources, but it also offers that space for people to really contemplate.

and reflect for themselves as they’re integrating and consuming the information. And also I was allowed [00:06:00] to include stories and anecdotes from my work and my volunteering at End of Life and also my personal life because I think that that’s a really important part of deaf literacy and remembering what it is to be mortal and what it is to die.

And what it is to grieve, we do need to learn from one another and hear each other’s stories. And also for ourselves being able to process as part of the healing that we need to engage in, in order to then re embrace the rest of the life that we are here to live. So I loved that I was able to kind of come at this topic from so many different angles.

And then I felt like with. The assistance I got through editing, the kind of overarching developmental editing, and then the more nitty picky editing, and then also the formatting and organizing it, it just, I felt like we worked really well together to come up with something that’s incredibly comprehensive.

It covers so [00:07:00] much, but without the pressure of feeling like you absolutely need to complete every single page or every single offering, it’s more like. Where are you? What are you looking for? What are your goals? Who are you? What’s important to you? What would you like to accomplish? And then this is my entire doula bag that’s just sort of dumped into the pages, but in a really organized way.

Diane Hullet: Yeah, in a really accessible way. And I love the way you, you define some things in it, I think in a really beautiful way. And like one of the things that jumped at me right away as you, you talk about the difference between sympathy, empathy, and compassion. Is that something you can sort of talk about here?

Francesca Arnoldy: Yeah, that’s been very powerful for me as a doula and just as a person who is often a listening ear for other people and who I feel happy and honored to be that. But it can be very depleting if we’re not mindful of our own energy. And so [00:08:00] I’m a natural nurturer. I am naturally very interested in people’s lives and what they’re experiencing.

I mean, I think that’s the stuff like that’s the juicy part of life. And that’s how we often connect to one another. But I don’t want to take on other people’s feelings and worries and concerns as my own, because that doesn’t serve them. It’s not empowering to them and it doesn’t serve me. It can really drain me.

So that’s my outlook for providing. Support is to, you know, you start with sympathy, which is a great starting point. Just being able to recognize that if somebody is going through hardship, you could start at this place of like, I feel sad for you. I feel bad for you, but it’s like a pity and it kind of brings down your energy and Then you can move into empathy, which is an attempt to sort of feel what they’re feeling or to imagine yourself in their shoes or to remember a time that was similar.

And how did you [00:09:00] react and respond and feel during that time for yourself, but the orientation is toward yourself, not the other person. And you’re, you’re really attempting to continue to match. Their energy and kind of where they’re at, which is always in flux and always changing and kind of a distraction really from the purity of that potential connection.

And so then when we can shift into compassion, it’s really about witnessing and honoring and trusting. That person with their own experience and when we can hold that trust and kind of create the conditions around them, then they can more likely tune into their inner voice, their inner wisdom, their inner strength for themselves.

And, and we believe in that, even when or especially when they’re doubting it, which I think is really powerful in both directions. 

Diane Hullet: Yeah, it’s beautiful. You, you say about compassion, you say it really moves beyond empathy. It means learning how someone feels by becoming an ally and a witness [00:10:00] to their experience, which, you know, echoes what you just said.

I loved the way the beginning of it really lays out some language and some kind of framework for like, Let’s go into it like this. And I also found your, your tone is very invitational. As you said, it’s like, well, here’s a buffet. What do you want to pick from? Like, what do you need to do? If you want to start at a and work your way all the way to Z, go for it.

But if what you need is section D, then start there or G or M. Is it, is it easy for you to kind of rattle off the sections of the book or shall I read a few? 

Francesca Arnoldy: Oh, I’m not sure I could. Okay. So I might, yeah, I might lean on you for that. 

Diane Hullet: Yeah, there’s, you, you say part one is orientation, developing this foundation of compassion.

And that’s again, kind of some language and framework. Part two is preparedness, opening to death wellness, the idea of mortality awareness and memento mori and impermanence. Ooh, we might come back to that. Part three is pause and [00:11:00] practice, strengthening your coping techniques. Part four, processing, exploring what feels unfinished and undiscovered.

I thought that was a really rich section for people. Part five is projects. Clarifying and sharing your authentic self. Part six, planning, drafting your wishes for care, and part seven, parting gifts, saying goodbye. It’s also probably worth adding, you, you say really early on in the book too, this, this is a book for healthy people, terminally ill people, someone at the end of their life, someone coping with a new diagnosis.

Somebody getting more frail, somebody who’s in their thirties or forties or fifties who says, I want to think this through and write some of these things down. So it’s, it’s widely I think accessible to a wide variety of people. 

Francesca Arnoldy: That’s my hope. And with death literacy efforts, I do want to ideally catch people upstream and catch them in good health.

And when they have energy and they have the [00:12:00] time and space to be able to put towards some of this, it doesn’t mean that you have to complete it all. But it means that you can lean into it as you find the courage to do so, and kind of pick and choose and then build upon it and then revisit as well. So, Part of the inspiration for the book is my own death journal, which I’ve been keeping and compiling for a number of years for my loved ones.

And in it, I have sort of group messages that are to just my loved ones at large, and the people who have mattered to me and who I’ve connected with, and then individual messages for specific people. I have Poems in there that I’ve written poems that I’ve read and that I’ve found to be really touching or that might be very inspirational for people during their time of grief.

song lyrics. I have a bunch of lists in there that I ended up including in this book, in that kind of core self discovery section, [00:13:00] and my wishes as well folded in. So I add to it every once in a while, whenever. Whenever it occurs to me that, oh, this would be something that one of my loved ones might find very comforting or this is something that a memory that I’d really like to capture so that they can revisit it later on, I think, for me, as someone who has grieved losses, we yearn for that continued connection.

With those who we have loved. And so this is my offering to people, even in my absence, I have created this for you. You can come find me here on the page. You can hear my voice. You can feel my love. And I think that watching other people. Who are incredibly bereaved and heartbroken, not have those sort of final words and those messages of reassurance and comfort is incredibly difficult in their time of grief.

So that’s my aim. And at the same time, it’s also fun. It’s fun for me to reflect back on my [00:14:00] life and what brings me happiness. And what I’m grateful for, what I believe in, it’s, it’s enjoyable to be able to do that, to reminisce, so it’s, it’s sort of a win win win, I think, for now, for later, for everyone who will be able to look at that and use a death journal.

Diane Hullet: And so, so you call that for yourself, it’s something you started that’s like a journal, but for you, it’s, you called it your death journal. So does your partner, do your kids know about that? They do. 

Francesca Arnoldy: And if someone asked me in a workshop, you know, why do you call it a death journal? It’s really about your life.

And the reason I call it a death journal is because it is meant for my time of dying. So, you know, they know where it is, they know what its purpose is, and they know how to find it and where to find it. And But at the same time, I really encourage people to capture that as a remembrance gift, as a legacy project and also have the conversations now while you can.

So don’t kind [00:15:00] of hoard it as like secrets for later, but do both. Express verbally, you know, what is on your mind and in your heart now while you’re alive and you have that capability and capture it for later for their time of grief. 

Diane Hullet: That’s really beautiful. It’s, you know, it’s so interesting because I was really struck by the chapter that’s chapter nine called your life review.

And it really was kind of thinking about these phases that we go through in life. And then how do we reflect on those and what do we want to capture about those for our loved ones? Yeah. What, what more would you say about life review? 

Francesca Arnoldy: Well, what I’ve loved is, so one of my workshops I’m offering right now as part of celebrating this new book is an introduction to death journaling.

And I do this usually in person, sometimes virtually, and it’s about an hour and a half workshop. That’s very interactive. And this is one of the. segments of the book that I include in there as an exercise for people. [00:16:00] And so I encourage people to, for, for our purposes, to think back to a time in their life that was generally positive.

I mean, I think that it can be very cathartic to also look back through times that were more difficult and challenging, but for the sake of, you know, the, the level of support that I’m able to offer people at that time. I asked them to reflect back on a time that was generally positive and then and to think about it as either an era or a decade.

So it could be, you know, oh, my 20s really stand out to me or my 50s really stand out to me, or it could be the era of a certain career. Or a certain relationship span. And then for them to think about a couple of the questions that I offer, which really follow the who, what, when, where, why, how, because it’s just too much to sort of think about like, well, what was that?

And right. You know, okay, go. So I provide a lot of prompts to kind of get people thinking and then as we’re [00:17:00] reflecting together as a group and they’re offering up, you know, how was that for you to think back on that? It’s amazing how many people are saying to me, like, oh, my gosh, I haven’t thought about that in decades.

And that was so amazing to remember. And, and then, you know, they kind of go off on these tangents and their faces light up and it’s like they’re right back in the thick of that. And it’s beautiful to watch. I love that as a doula. And also, you know, there could be. Maybe they’re in the position of their grandparents now, or they’re an aunt or uncle, or they’re a beloved neighbor, and the younger generations that they’re maybe connected to have no idea who they used to be and what their life used to be.

So to be able to first reminisce and reflect and then write about it. And then share it with somebody else. It’s just amazing. I mean, you get to know people at a totally different level than our normal kind of day [00:18:00] to day, you know, catching up, what’s been going, what’s on your to do list, or what’s stressing you out, or those types of conversations.

It’s just, it’s deeper, it’s richer, and it’s, it’s wonderful to see people kind of rekindle those memories that they’ve been holding. 

Diane Hullet: That’s so neat, and I love that it’s sort of self defining, like which era was the important one to me, like I’m thinking about someone I know is, you know, kind of an acquaintance who I always see gardening, but in fact she was a scientist.

She was kind of a major scientist in Colorado and I always think, you know, she must have had this whole era that I’m not aware of where she was involved with the University of Colorado, and yet I just see her puttering around her garden. Right? So I think of her in that era, but really there’s this whole other time period, which I don’t know which one she would say was the most important, honestly, but yeah, so you kind of both in the book or in a workshop kind of break it down and help people access those important points.

I think this, this [00:19:00] stage of life review is, is such an interesting one because I think I think we go through it at different stages of our lives. I know, I think I did a bit of a life review, like leading up to being a parent, you know, like what have I done until now? And have I tied up the loose ends before this whole new chapter?

And then I’m experiencing that again, sort of midlife with an empty nest. Okay, what’s, what’s next? What’s now? And I can see my parents doing that in their eighties. They’re kind of evaluating, okay, where have I been? Where, where do I still want to go? And there’s such vitality with that. Looking back and looking forward, as you said, whether it’s through joyful memories or more challenging times, we’re, we’re integrating them in some way into our experience.

Francesca Arnoldy: Yeah. And to our wholeness and how often do we get to really embrace our wholeness? I don’t think nearly often enough. 

Diane Hullet: Not nearly often enough. I also love let’s talk, let’s touch on your other two books because you’ve written two [00:20:00] others. And the first one is called Cultivating the Doula Heart, Essentials of Compassionate Care.

What would you like to tell us about that book? 

Francesca Arnoldy: So that was the first book and the impetus for that was, as I was creating the dual programs which cover a wide variety of topics and really sort of end of life at large, I wanted to distill the essential components of what it is to provide emotional support to people in the form of, you know, it could be It could could be a friend, could be a loved one, could be a private practice doula, could also be somebody who wears a different hat, who has a different title within the end of life realm, or even in the mental health realm, because as we know, death is part of life and it doesn’t always follow this predictable trajectory.

And so I wanted to really create a guidebook that would be sort of a quick reference and A [00:21:00] succinct read for people and then the other book is map of memory lane, which is a picture book that was inspired by a conversation I had with my own grandmother many decades ago when we were standing at her kitchen sink and the light was kind of shining through the window and I looked up at her face and it just occurred to me.

I just noticed her wrinkles. And of course, in my young unfiltered way, I said, Grammy, are you going to die? Just clear out of the blue. And I remember distinctly, she just sort of like threw her head back and chuckled and then said, well, yes, I will someday, but, but that’s okay. And I’ve, I’ve lived a great life and I’m, I’m happy with the life that I’ve lived.

And that was kind of it. And it was reassuring without being overwhelming and. But that was what I needed in that moment. It also showed me that she was open to having conversations. She [00:22:00] didn’t shut me down, and she didn’t brush it aside, and she didn’t make something up. She was realistic and reassuring.

And so I wanted to honor that initial conversation that I had had about mortality in book form so that more children could have a conversation like that. Potentially with their loved ones or with a teacher or somebody else who’s caring for them and who recognizes the importance of healthy preparedness and of offering up language and stories and coping tools so that a child will be able to say, okay, now I’m actually facing loss.

Here’s a strategy that I’ve learned and I can lean on 

Diane Hullet: what’s so beautiful in the book is, is the, the, the grandmother in the book says to the child, you’ll always have me at memory lane and the child says, well, how do I get there? And then the grandmother says, well, first you find a quiet place. I just love this part.

And the [00:23:00] child says, well, Is it inside? Is, you know, can it be inside? And the grandmother says, yes. And can it be outside? Well, sure. Okay. Then what do I do when I get there? But I loved, again, you kind of broke it down into this, you know, you didn’t just say, think of a memory, kid, you, you said, find a quiet place and then remember, and then think about all our, all the memories we’ve had together and you.

You walk through the memories of these two people together, and then towards the end you say, and these memory maps look different, and the grandmother and the child sit down and they draw a map of their memories together, where they’ve been, what they’ve seen, but you show different types of those maps.

And so, I don’t know, you just really walk away from that book with the feeling of, oh, it’s inside me now, and I can access this. And I I know how to visually pull that up. So I thought it was just a wonderful, wonderful children’s book. If anyone’s looking for something to share with [00:24:00] particularly parents to children and grandparents to children, I thought it was really perfect.

Thank you. That is called map of memory lane. So Francesca, how can people find out more about you? How can they follow your work or find your books? 

Francesca Arnoldy: My website is my virtual home base. So I’m on there adding blogs, adding events and workshops. Pretty regularly. So that’s FrancescaLynneArnoldy. com or also ContemplativeDoula.

com. They both take you to the same place. And then from there, I do some social media and all of my books are widely available. So any local bookshop can order them if they don’t carry them. And they’re also available online at all the, through all the major booksellers. 

Diane Hullet: Wonderful. Wonderful. Well, I think all three of them are, are just such Such important contributions to the field and I love that they range from a workbook [00:25:00] to an essential care guide to a children’s book like you’ve really covered the gamut and I look forward to seeing what you come up with next to add to this.

Francesca Arnoldy: Thank you. Yes, I definitely have some ideas percolating and I’m building out a community series that is based off of the new book that I want to hand over to people who are also deaf literacy advocates, deaf care providers, and people who are just in their own life maybe they’re, they’re living consciously or they’re wanting to get together with their friend group or their book club or their family members to start doing some of this planning together so I’m going to hand over The curriculum for a six week community series based on as a living, fully dying, prepared.

Diane Hullet: Fantastic. Fantastic. That sounds wonderful. I could completely see taking that on. I think there are people in Boulder and Denver who would love that. Well, thank you so much for your time, Francesca. I just think this is wonderful. 

Francesca Arnoldy: Thank you so much for having me with [00:26:00] a 

Diane Hullet: great chat. So you can find out more about Francesca, as she said@francescalynnarnoldy.com, and you can find out more about the work I do at Best Life.

Best death.com. Thanks for listening. 

Diane Hullet

Diane Hullet

End of Life Doula, Podcaster, and founder of Best Life Best Death.