Podcast #134 In Their Honor: Veterans and the End of Life with Dr. Qwynn Galloway-Salazar

Dr. Qwynn Galloway-Salazar brings her experience as a veteran and spouse of a combat veteran straight into her work as a death doula and educator. She sees the value of a multi-layered approach, believing that:

  1. We can best companion veterans who are dying by understanding their unique end-of-life needs.
  2. We can better support the caregivers of veterans through education and practical resources.
  3. We can offer insights to the medical team that is supporting an individual, to help them understand the unique facets of a veteran’s life experience and how those may play out at the end.

Qwynn and I dive into these questions and more, but at the heart of this conversation is the question: What would it look like to truly honor veterans as they come to the end of their lives?

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Transcript:

Diane Hullet: Hi, I’m Diane Hullett, and you’re listening to the Best Life, Best Death podcast. And I know I always say this. I always say today I’ve got a special guest and it’s true. They’re all special, but my guest today is really unique. Today I’ll be talking with Quinn Galloway Salazar. Quinn is founder and CEO of In their honor, she’s an army veteran, she’s a spouse to a combat veteran, and she’s an end of life doula and educator.

And her work is all about supporting veterans at the end of life, supporting their caregivers, and supporting and creating compassionate communities to take care of those who’ve served our country. As a member of this grateful nation, I’m so deeply honored to have Quinn with me today. So, hi Quinn! 

Qwynn Galloway-Salazar: Hi, Diane.

Thank you so much for having me today. I look forward to this rich conversation that we are getting ready to jump right into. I mean, 

Diane Hullet: I just think there’s so much to say on this subject and you’re the perfect person to talk to about this because you have the military background and you have the death doula background.

And so both of those things combined really put you in a unique position to talk about the needs of veterans, their communities and their caregivers at the end of life. So I’m, I’m just thrilled, you know, so I. said a little great intro about you, but I just want to shout out this really beautiful honor you’ve just received, which is to be one of the USA today, women of the year, 60 women were named, you were named in Georgia and what a beautiful, beautiful honor.

You know, when Quinn and I were trying to find a recording date for this podcast, she was like last week, Hey, I got to let you know, I just got this award. So congratulations. 

Qwynn Galloway-Salazar: Oh my gosh, thank you so much. I am still, I’m not even, it hasn’t even sunk in. It’s still all relatively new, but here’s what I love about being honored as one of USA Today’s Women of the Year.

We are putting conversations about death and dying on the map, Diane. And if there’s nothing else, like we are able to say, end of life doulas, death walkers, whatever we’re calling ourselves as we are companioning with the dying. We have a voice, we have a platform, and the world is hearing about all of our multi faceted work.

That, my friend, excites me. It gives 

Diane Hullet: me shivers, just even to hear you say it. The fact that death is right there with the important work of one of USA’s top 60 women, I couldn’t agree with you more. I think that the public wants to talk about these subjects, and they don’t always know how to get into it.

And you’ve paired yourself with such kind of a perfect, you know, venue for you to, to speak, not venue. That’s not really what I mean. It’s more like the community from which you come and the community to which you speak. It’s just, you’re the person it’s the time. So how exciting. 

Qwynn Galloway-Salazar: Thank you. 

Diane Hullet: Tell us a little bit, you know, just give us a little background.

I’m sure you’ve told your story a gazillion times, but give us the you know, elevator speech version of how did Quinn get to where she is today? 

Qwynn Galloway-Salazar: It all started with in all seriousness, when I was a little girl, I had this morbid curiosity about death and dying. Right. And I think for so many of us who are in the end of life space.

The field kind of chose us. We didn’t necessarily choose the field. And so I just had this curiosity. And when I got out of active duty, I actually thought about going to mortuary school. And I did an apprenticeship for a short time at a funeral home and realized, okay, I don’t think that this is for me.

And I put that dream aside. until the pandemic. And when I started hearing the numbers of people dying during the pandemic, it caused great concern. And at the time I had an amazing mentor because I was finishing up my PhD and she was a woman veteran that had stage four metastatic breast cancer. And she was dying.

And we would have these existential conversations about life, about fears of death, about how one’s military experience shows back up at the end of life. And then I had another conversation with a colleague because I was sharing some of these broad concepts. And she said, have you ever heard of a death doula?

And I said, what is a death doula? And I looked it up and it was almost like this role was designed for me and I immediately signed up to become an end of life doula and the rest is history down here. History. It’s 

Diane Hullet: history. It is history. And again, I think you took your own background, your military background and said, how can I impact veterans?

And I think your work is really impacting, you know, you’re, you’re impacting veterans at the end of life. You’re impacting their caregivers, you’re impacting physicians and the medical world, and you’re really impacting compassionate communities. How do those different levels interplay? So gosh, where to begin, right?

Where to begin? What, what sparks your passion in this moment to begin? 

Qwynn Galloway-Salazar: So I have a, another mentor. Her name is Dr. Karen Wyatt. Dr. Wyatt hosts the end of life university podcast. And I did a cold email out to Dr. Wyatt. I knew that she was a hospice physician. I knew that she was a daughter of a veteran. I knew some things about her and I reached out and she connected.

And one of the things she said to me early on was in the hospice and palliative care systems. There’s so much more that we can do, but we don’t know what we don’t know. And I’m paraphrasing, of course. And so I started down that road with her and trying to figure out how can we educate providers. And then before I knew it, I’m like, okay, the providers are the ones that are providing education to the caregivers and loved ones.

Well, how can I help them to do that? And then I heard. Communities want to do something too. How do I work with communities? And truth be told, I love all three of those components. But my jam is working in the community and being able to provide grassroots workshops, grassroots education to those that are volunteering their time to say thank you for your service.

in an actionable way when it matters the most. That, Diane, gives me so much fuel, so much life, because these are amazing humans that don’t get a check to do this work. These are amazing humans that are not directly tied to that veteran as a family member. These are humans that are saying, I want to support.

Whether it’s emotional, social, or providing practical support, I want to be there. And that changes and shifts paradigms tremendously. So that’s where you can find my heart. So what 

Diane Hullet: does that look like? Like, if you came to my community, if there was a, you know, cohort of people here who said, we want to somehow support veterans at the end of life, you would come to my area and do a workshop.

And what, what would we learn in that 

Qwynn Galloway-Salazar: workshop? Yeah. So I have done workshops where it looks like, how do we companion, right? How do we learn more about the unique experiences. of veterans and how do we show up? How do we learn how to ask the right questions? How do we learn what questions to ask? How do we sit and hold that sacred space?

Very practical pieces, right? It doesn’t, I tell people all the time, I will never be fully culturally competent. But I bring a sense of cultural humility, and I bring an open slate to every single veteran that I encounter. I know a little bit about every era, just enough to be dangerous, but just enough to know, for example, with a Vietnam veteran, I know that they weren’t welcomed home the right way.

So what are those things that I’ll institute? To a community to say, this is how we welcome this population home. This is how we sit with some of those regrets. This is how we sit with that need for forgiveness, that unfinished business, any guilt that remains from years after service, right? This is what it looks like to show up with a pizza, because that caregiver cannot find a moment to step away.

When we know that that veteran is actively dying. This is what these practical solutions look like. There’s a an organization here. I live in Atlanta, Georgia, and there’s an organization called the John’s Creek Veterans Association. And last February, they had a member by the name of submarine Mike and submarine Mike’s wife was at his long term facility visiting with him.

And she left that night. And unfortunately he passed away in the middle of the night. And he died alone. This group of amazing veterans decided that they wanted to ensure that no veteran ever died alone in their community within a 20 mile radius on their watch. So they reached out and said, Hey, Quinn, can you come?

Can you train us? Can you help us stand something up? So they came up 11th hour. a squadron, of course, based on the 11th hour. And what they do is they serve as an extension of that veteran’s family during the war. They show up, they have, I think it’s almost like six to eight hour shifts, rotations that they are there supporting, holding space, hearing stories, bearing witness to what life looks like at the end.

And what’s fascinating about this particular group, Diane. It’s predominantly, they’re all seniors. So when I put my public health hat on, they’re combating social isolation. They’re combating loneliness for themselves while they are serving their fellow veterans. And that is magic. 

Diane Hullet: That is 

Qwynn Galloway-Salazar: magic. It’s magic.

It is like, you know, it’s, it’s caring. It’s, it’s, it’s showing up, doing a second service. But also doing them some really good and closure and healing for themselves. Well, it’s 

Diane Hullet: like a Venn diagram of goodness, you know, right? It’s supporting the family or the single spouse. And in the case you were first describing submarine Mike’s partner.

It’s supporting the community within which these people all reside, and they talk about it, and they say, this is what I do as my volunteer work. And it’s giving back to the individuals and the community, and these Venn diagrams of supporting each other and combating, as you said, isolation is just huge.

And stepping into a relationship with the end of life, with death and dying, this is what I think is so sorely needed. And I think the veteran community, as you’ve said, has some really unique experiences at the end of life. So how do they come to understand what’s happening for them? Why memories are resurfacing that that’s not uncommon and how do their caregivers understand it and how do their medical providers and how is that all understood in a bigger context?

Qwynn Galloway-Salazar: It’s huge. It’s, it’s, it’s, it’s phenomenal. Every one of these trainings that I’ve done, whether it’s. With the state of Washington, I was in Oregon this fall. The work that I’m doing here in Georgia. I always start off with, what’s your why? Why are you at this table? And hearing their whys. If your heart isn’t wide open after hearing it, it never will be.

Hearing an 85 year old veteran who’s a retired MD come to this space and say, this is how I want to serve now. 85 years old, 85 year, 85 years young. It gets no better than that. They have a service dog that they’re training so that the service dog can go out and make visits when there’s a veteran family who wants the visits.

It’s phenomenal. It saps, it is a blueprint of what we can all be doing in our communities throughout this country. 

Diane Hullet: Ooh. I love that. I’m going to jump on that. A blueprint for what we can all be doing because we could go off on a tangent, which I don’t think we should do. But a tangent would be like, what are the other sub communities that need this kind of support?

Right? So veterans have unique experiences and needs at the end of life. There are other sub communities like that for which this kind of education can be a blueprint. Absolutely. Absolutely. 

Qwynn Galloway-Salazar: I’m so excited. My bulb just went off and I’m hoping that someone who watches this, who may serve another community, maybe you’re serving the developmental disabled community.

Maybe you’re serving the LGBTQ community. Maybe you’re serving the homeless community, rural, like it can go on and on in. Looking at what subpopulations we’re serving and we’re just bringing practical love and compassion to the bedside. Like, you don’t need, I didn’t need all of these degrees to do this.

I mean, great. I got them. However, it truly just took asking the right questions, being inquisitive, dreaming it up and taking action. And here we are. And here we 

Diane Hullet: are. Oh my gosh. Let’s let’s sort of drill in just a little bit because you have a great question on, on the website, which says, what does emotional, mental, social support at the end of life look like?

And you’ve alluded to some things, but let’s just kind of ask it again. What do those different levels of support for veterans really look like? 

Qwynn Galloway-Salazar: Yeah, and that definitely varies because we are not a monolithic community, right, that may look like just having someone listen to your story because you never shared the depth of your story that may look like.

For 30 plus years, you provided this PG 13 version of what combat was like for you. And now it’s burning on your soul to get it out, to share it with someone that won’t judge you, that won’t sympathize, that will be there to actively listen, be present, hold space, and just allow you to share. Not fix it.

Not fix it. A share right, it may look like a woman veteran like myself for so many women veterans, we have lived a life of feeling invisible in comparison to male veterans, it may look like a woman veteran from Vietnam, sharing what it was like for her as a nurse, or coming home, being told soon as you get to the airport, change your uniform into cities and go back to being who you were before.

You went to Vietnam, or before you went to Desert Storm or Iraq or Afghanistan. So there are so many different stories and different ways that we can show up and show that level of emotional support and social support, but I think it’s truly about bearing witness. To the experiences of those that have raised their right hand to support and defend 

Diane Hullet: this nation and bearing witness as a grateful nation and as grateful individuals and as grateful communities and towns and cities and regions.

How do we do this in a way that we have to realize touches both the individual who’s dying and those who are supporting. 

Qwynn Galloway-Salazar: Absolutely. And that can go, you know. Absolutely. When I think about doulas. There are so many different ways that we can come to, to service. Right. We’re thinking about the veteran population that may look like going to your local veterans of foreign wars, the VFW, or, you know, the, the American legions that are right in your communities and saying, Hey, can I offer a workshop on advanced care planning or advanced directives or benefits Or what it’s like to, to have conversations about end of life, right?

Having a death cafe, bringing in conversational games like the death deck to begin having these conversations because it’s so needed. It is so needed. If we don’t start having these conversations, we are doing such a disservice, not just to the veteran population alone, but just to humanity. We’ve got to have these conversations.

Yeah. 

Diane Hullet: On, on the page of your website about In Their Honor, I thought you were so clear about what you’re trying to do. And you say, number one, I’m raising awareness. And I think that is both of end of life, death and veterans. And number two, you say I’m engaging and empowering compassionate communities.

We’ve talked a little about that and we both got fired up about how this could be a blueprint for all kinds of communities. And then number three, you provide education and training. And so I think your mission within their honor is so, so clear. And I bet you’re seeing incredible kind of rollouts of results.

And I think what’s so interesting about your work, Quinn, is that You both impact the individual, like the one on one person that you meet or that someone who’s trained with you meets. And then you’re also impacting these extra additional levels of community and outreach. And so there’s a ripple effect there that just must feel incredible.

Qwynn Galloway-Salazar: You know, I, I don’t know if I’ve ever went on record sharing this story, but my mentor, Dr. Kate Hendricks Thomas when I did the first interview with Dr. Karen Wyatt, I shared a little bit about Kate, but at the time, Kate was living, so I did not name Kate, just, just, just, just to, just to be caring and considerate.

A few months after she passed away, I received this message on LinkedIn from a woman that said, Hey, I am taking the peaceful presence projects doulage training, and you talked about veterans, and I am a Marine, and towards the end of my friends life. I was there to support her long story short, her and my friend Kate had been friends for 20 years and she was there to support Kate towards the end of her life.

Now that doula and I, her name is Lauren Grigsby. Lauren and I have done some great work in this space and how you can’t make these things up, right? Synchronicity, coincidence, God winks, whatever you want to call it for the two of us to be brought together. Because one person, there’s been this massive ripple effect.

And for that, I will keep doing the work. Because you can only connect those dots looking backwards. 

Diane Hullet: Well said. And that the one death of this impactful friend, mentor for both of you, brought the two of you together. And that her real call to action for you was, take this work forward. this. 

Qwynn Galloway-Salazar: Move the needle, move the needle.

And I remember saying, what? I don’t even know what I’m 

Diane Hullet: doing. Move the needle on veteran end of life care. 

Qwynn Galloway-Salazar: But in a way that It’s not academic in a way that’s heart centered work and not necessarily head centered work. So I operate from the heart centered work. I operate from the storytelling, the connection, the compassion, the love, the understanding.

That’s where you’ll find me. 

Diane Hullet: I love it. I love that you declared yourself to be a storyteller. Like that just this, that just is a marvelous thing to claim, I think, because I think part of what we need are the stories. Yeah. I have a, I have a question that’s sort of an ignorant question, I guess I want to say it.

It is my impression from a privileged standpoint that a lot of unhoused people are veterans. Is that even true? And how do we reach those veterans? 

Qwynn Galloway-Salazar: Yeah, that actually that is true. And I think that it’s, it’s critical, you know, I always say to people ask the question, have you served right? Have you served?

If you are working with the unhoused population, ask that question because the Department of Veterans Affairs have robust expertise. Programs to provide care to the unhoused. Right. But then it’s also a way that you can work with that unhoused veteran to to learn more about advanced care planning. And what do you want and who, you know, if something happens to you, who are your agents right it opens up these levels of conversation for care for the opportunity to attain benefits and to create plans.

You have some unhoused. People and Diane, let’s, let’s just be honest. You have some unhoused veterans that choose to stay on housed. And for some people that may be really hard to, to, to understand that concept. But it’s true. And so just ensuring that they have something in place, having a conversation where if something does happen, these are the people or this is the person that you can reach out to on my behalf is really critical.

Diane Hullet: Yeah, there’s a beautiful I’m just thinking of the chapter in the recent book called In Vlahos, and she’s an RN and a hospice nurse. Yeah, nurse Hadley, and she writes about experiences that her clients have had her patients with end of life phenomenon, kind of mysterious phenomenon, which is far more common than we talk about, right?

And one of her clients is a person who’s unhoused. And she talks about the importance of how Where he lived in a tent in a little tight community was really important to him that that was his chosen family and I think that’s an interesting chapter to read and kind of get a glimpse, just the tiniest little glimpse into what it means to be cared for by your community when your community might be an unconventional community.

Qwynn Galloway-Salazar: Yes, yes, I had the chance several years ago to In some law enforcement departments, they have officers that are homeless coordinators, and had the opportunity to go into a tent city, right? And at the time I wasn’t in the end of life space, but we were bringing care packages like zip up bags with socks, because socks are definitely a thing that’s always needed.

Socks and hygienic items and, and little snacks. And to see this community that they formed gives you a better glimpse as to for some unhoused That’s a choice that they’ve made to find community and find chosen family within their tent cities. For those of us who are privileged we don’t fully understand that and it’s not for us to fully understand because it’s not our lived experience, but it is our experience. 

Obligation, especially for those of us that are in this end of life space to try to make connection with them. So that may mean going to your law enforcement department. Most law enforcement departments have what’s called community engagement or community outreach departments where that homeless coordinator is embedded, make friends with them and see what you can do to collaborate and to support that is being a compassionate community.

In showing those that live different than us. And educating them and providing them resources that they may need to, to end. Well, 

Diane Hullet: I love the way your brain works, Quinn, because every, every angle you go down at the end of it, you’re like, and here’s the call to action people. Here’s a thing you can do. And then.

Such a I think that’s such an exciting and curiosity filled place to come from as an educator and as an end of life doula and as a veteran, just to say, okay, if this is your interest, here’s a way in. If this is something you want to impact, here’s a way in, find your way in and help people organize in their communities around issues that matter.

And you happen to be doing it through an end of life lens. Thank you. 

Qwynn Galloway-Salazar: So cool. So 

Diane Hullet: cool. So 

Qwynn Galloway-Salazar: cool. So cool. I recently had a colleague of mine. She’s a caregiver for a veteran. She said, I don’t know how you make death and dying such an easy conversation to have. And I’m like, I don’t know either. But if that’s the, if that’s what I’m starting to do.

Great. Yeah. 

Diane Hullet: Bring it, bring it. Great. Great. I feel like we should definitely call out your curriculum because this is such a piece for people to tap into. And I literally ran into an old friend at a, you know, cafe in Boulder the other day who said to me, Oh, you know, I’m working with veterans. And I was like, Have I got a person you need to meet and have I got some curriculum I need to send you?

Because I think there are pockets of people working on developing the kind of thing you’ve developed and they should know about it. So tell us about the curriculum, which is on the psych armor. org website. P S Y C H A R M O R. org. And even tell us about that partnership if you want. 

Qwynn Galloway-Salazar: Oh, absolutely. So I.

2022, I think the year was, I was having a conversation with psych armor CEO. Her name is Dr. Tina Atherall. And we were talking about end of life. And Tina is often in DC focusing on policy and what’s happening throughout the nation in support of military and veteran communities. And I said, well, what are we doing about end of life?

Tina, what education is out there external to what hospice and palliative care organizations provide? Like what are communities doing? And it was crickets. On the line and Tina said, So what are you going to do? And I’m like, Oh, man. And so what ended up happening was psych armor, Tina and other members of psych armor had a meeting with a family of a Vietnam veteran, and they donated.

a generous amount of money to fund me building out that curriculum. And so we built out what’s called caring for veterans through the end of life. It’s a collection of three micro courses, one focused on compassionate communities, one focused on healthcare providers, one focused on caregivers and their loved ones.

Each, each course is about 15 minutes in length. You get a workbook to go alongside of that course. There’s a resource kit embedded in there. You get a certificate that goes along with each course. And here’s the, here’s the kicker. It’s free. There is no cost associated to the learner. It is absolutely free.

I had the opportunity to partner with some of the best end of life professionals in the field to put this together. Didn’t do it alone, did not do it in a vacuum. What it truly shows is when we show up as a collective. The things that we can do together, right? I’m a firm believer. We can’t do things as a party of one.

It takes a group of us to do it. And so it was amazing to have my trusted advisors join this work. One is, is the need a president, right? So Ashley Johnson for all of those that are in the, in the doula space, Ashley was one that joined it. This work, her dad is a veteran. So each person that was a trusted advisor had this connection to the veteran community and end of life work and said yes to the call.

And I’m so grateful that they did. And they also shared their stories. So you’ll find their stories woven in to the collection as well. 

Diane Hullet: I just think that is so neat. And the idea of microcourses that can impact people’s understanding. So then the question is, how do we get those microcourses out? You know, wouldn’t it be neat if like at first 20 people saw them and then maybe 200 and then 2000 and then, you know, 20, 000, you know, then 200, 000 and if they really got in the hands of people who could just take a short amount of time to watch them and have their interactions with veterans improved around the end of life, I think it’s so needed.

I think it’s so 

Qwynn Galloway-Salazar: needed to. And so for those who choose to watch. Here’s what I would say, share it, you know, Diane, you talked about this ripple effect. All it takes is that pebble to just do that to the water, right? Share it. It doesn’t, takes you a few seconds to just send the link to someone else to say, Hey, you might find this useful.

Right. And once again, it’s free, it’s 

Diane Hullet: free. I mean, the fact that a family saw that as a generous donation place, what a, what a brilliant donation, because again, the ripple effects are so big and that information will, will change lives, will change end of lives and impact people for the better. So what a, what a gift that was, what a true gift, because otherwise, you know, it’s, it’s a 50 course.

It’s, I don’t know, 75 course, whatever it is. And it just becomes a block for people. But this, this is really just very, very available and well. curated. So wow, Quinn, we could just go on and on because we’re all fired up. And again, did you notice how Quinn spun that last piece into a call to action to just send that around?

Like, I just think this is why you’re such a good community organizer because you really fire up people to actually take action and do something with the information they hear. So thank you tons Quinn for taking time out of your busy schedule. I told Quinn, this would be her warm up for her good morning America up here.

Qwynn Galloway-Salazar: I love it. I receive that. 

Diane Hullet: May it be so. May NPR be calling next. 

Qwynn Galloway-Salazar: I’m just 

Diane Hullet: saying. I think your, your work is really, really important in the world and I’m so grateful that we got connected. So thanks so much for your time. And again, let’s just repeat where the websites where people can find out about your 

Qwynn Galloway-Salazar: work.

Yes. So you can go to in their honor. info. That is my personal website where you can connect with me. Or if you’re interested in learning more about the collection, you can go to psych armor. org. 

Diane Hullet: Beautiful. And as always, you can find out about the work I do at best life, best death. com. Thanks so much for listening.

Diane Hullet

Diane Hullet

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