Podcast #82 How Reading Shapes Our Experience of Death and Loss – Jade Adgate – Founder, Farewell Fellowship

Jade Adgate and I both love to read and we love to read books that expose us to new angles of death, dying, loss and grief. Sounds miserable, eh? But it’s honestly not. Through reading, we clarify our own thinking and values around these hugely human issues. Whatever you are reading, you can watch for these themes, and you can make it a point to read on hard topics long before you or a loved one needs the information. In this episode, we talk about 20 books that will increase your death literacy!

✨Being Mortal, Atul Gawande

✨When Breath Becomes Air, Paul Kalanithi

✨Giovanni’s Room, James Baldwin

✨In Love, Amy Bloom (BLBD Podcast #43)

✨When My Time Comes, Diane Rehm

✨Last Day, Dava Shastri

✨Crying in H Mart, Michelle Zauner 

✨A Matter of Death and Life, Irvin Yalom and Marilyn Yalom

✨The Book of Two Ways, Jodi Picoult

✨The Spanish Love Deception, Elena Armas

✨On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous and Time is a Mother, Ocean Vuong

✨A Thousand Mornings, Mary Oliver

✨Late Migrations: A Natural History of Loss, Margaret Renkl

✨The Cancer Journals, Audre Lorde

✨Clear Cut: One Woman’s Journey of Life in the Body, Ginny Jordan

✨Signs: The Secret Language of the Universe, Laura Lynn Jackson

✨For Small Creatures Such as We: Rituals for Finding Meaning in Our Unlikely World, Sasha Sagan

✨Death is But A Dream, Dr Christopher Kerr (BLBD Podcast #30 and #31)

✨With the End in Mind + Listen: The Art of Tender Conversations, Dr Kathryn Mannix

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Transcription:

Diane Hullet: Hi, I’m Diane Hullet and welcome to the Best Life Best Death podcast. Today I’m here with a fabulous end of life educator, Jade AdGate. Hi Jade. Hi. I got to know Jade’s work through Instagram, which is just kind of this fascinating social media platform, which has introduced me to a lot of different end of life people.

And so I think your post just kind of caught my eye. 

Jade Adgate: Cool. Thank you. I try really hard to say something fresh in that space. Yeah, you 

Diane Hullet: do. Jade’s business is called the Farewell Library, and you know, what is the Farewell Library and how did you get started in this work? 

Jade Adgate: The Farewell Library is actually the virtual part of my death midwifery business, so the entire service is called Farewell Fellowship.

And Farewell Fellowship offers in-person death midwifery to the greater Nashville area. But I’m like a huge reader and I’m a huge writer, and I wanted to have a space where I brought everything that I was reading and then writing into the public platform. And so the Farewell Library was developed to bring all of that to Instagram and social media.

I. And it kind of grew from there. I think the book club was a natural development, and then I started getting into mentorship in virtual spaces and a little bit of death midwifery in virtual spaces. So things like advanced care planning and different types of workshops. So altogether it’s the Farewell Fellowship, and then the Farewell Library is Death and Grief literacy platform.

Diane Hullet: I, I love this. Tell, say more about, like, you hear this phrase like deaf literacy, like what is deaf literacy? What does that mean to you? 

Jade Adgate: I think it’s kind of like fluency in conversations around death, dying grief and loss. I think of death literacy as like learning another language. It’s hard for us to talk about things that we’re afraid of, and I think that by reading, particularly literature, but all different types of books, we can start to get more comfortable in conversation around death and grief.

So death literacy is a way just to build comfort and familiarity in conversation on these really hard and heavy topics. 

Diane Hullet: That’s fantastic. I, I really think that part of my journey to this work was reading, being Mortal, and, you know, it was a book my parents read and then they said, Diane, you gotta read this book.

And I, I just was so touched by it. It was so well written about such a sensitive topic and the way the author kind of moved the thread of one woman’s story through the book, A woman he felt he had failed as a doctor. I just, I blew my mind and really opened me up to what was possible and how much I could take in about death through a book.

Jade Adgate: I think that’s exactly it. And I, I felt a similar way with when Breath Becomes Air. That was one of the first books that got a big following for book club and I think so many people were just thirsty to read something and be in conversation around some of these huge topics and things that were all kind of scared of.

And it was shocking to me that I think 12 people came. So when Breath becomes air, And I was in not anticipating that, I was thinking it would be small groups. It’s a hard sell. You know, read a book about death and then let’s chat about it. But there’s something accessible through literature, through hearing people’s stories, especially to me, memoir.

But it makes it easier to talk about these big things and to think about ’em with a little bit of a. A space or a distance there. Yeah. But I think that’s interesting about being mortal with your parents. I love that, that your parents read it first. Usually it’s the 

Diane Hullet: opposite, right? Yeah, yeah. No, absolutely.

Their kind of practical openness to this topic is definitely part of how I stepped into this the, the, yeah. Tell us more about the book club. 

Jade Adgate: So the book club meets on the last Tuesday of every month virtually. We meet over Zoom at 6:00 PM central time. And every month we read one book that has themes of death and grief.

So the beginning of the year, I’ve been kind of backing off. I try not to be too on the nose for every book, cuz it can be kind of a lot even for me. This past month we read Sasha Sagan’s book on ritual, Sasha Sagan’s, Carl Sagan’s daughter, and the book, let me, let me think. The, the month before that, Well, every month it’s different.

This month is going to be more of a black liberation and theology, although there’s a lot of collective grief in that space too. So we’re just trying to read different angles on death and grief through all types of different lenses, and then come together in an intimate group and talk about it for about an 

Diane Hullet: hour.

Amazing. And you kind of facilitate that on Zoom. I do, yes. I love it. How, how would people find out about that? Go to your 

Jade Adgate: website or. Yeah, you can go to the website, you can go to the Farewell Library on Instagram. It’s all over. Lots of Zoom links 

Diane Hullet: available. Fantastic. So, so for somebody who’s maybe not on Instagram, since some of my audiences older, would they go to Farewell Fellowship dot.

Com. 

Jade Adgate: You got it. Yep. That’s 

Diane Hullet: farewell. Mm-hmm. Great. Farewell fellowship.com. Fabulous. Well, I, I really appreciate how articulate you are about death literacy and why it matters and how books are an accessible way into that. So today we talked about, let’s, you know, have a conversation about some books that we think people might be interested in.

What are some of your favorite titles? 

Jade Adgate: I have a thousand favorite titles. But I think that when we’re talking about death literacy, I think that we can start with what we’re already reading. Unless you’re reading like a how to manual, there’s going to be themes of death and grief in every book. And I think paying attention to where death and grief are showing up and the things that you love to read is like a really gentle side door into this whole conversation.

For me, I just finished reading James Baldwin’s Giovanni’s Room. And it’s not on its face really about death or grief. It’s, you know, 1950s Bohemian Paris. But grief is almost a character. It’s so present. The death of his mother plays all throughout the book, and then the end of the book ends with the murder and then the grief that goes along with that death.

So just paying attention and honing in to like how these conversations in these characters are resonating within you, I think is a really good place to start. And then I think also, Not just focusing in on like on the nose books, we can just start to look at where we have anxiety or fear or discomfort in this conversation and start there.

So I was raised Catholic and the whole conversation around death with dignity and medical aid and dying physician assistant suicide, that was really complicated for me. And the way that I kind of approached it was through books. So I started with Amy Bloom’s beautiful memoir in love. I mean, that’s a, I see you nodding.

It’s like such a gorgeous story of her husband and his physician assisted suicide at Digitas. Then I read Diane Reams. It’s kind of like an NPR conversation. It’s a opponent proponent of death with dignity, and she goes back and forth and then I read fiction. Tre’s last day about this Indian billionaire mogul who gathers her children before she has a physician assisted suicide.

And through like all of these different literary lenses, I was able to really dig into this issue that kind of had a lot of confusion and complication for me. So I feel like I can give you some book titles and I definitely have favorites and I’m happy to, but I think we can look at what we’re already reading for those themes, and I think we can pay attention to where we’ve got.

Just a little resistance within ourselves in this conversation and then go find literary resources that target that because that’s probably gonna be the most helpful cuz it’s so hard to talk about the things that we’re afraid of. So maybe we could start 

Diane Hullet: there. I think that’s so great, Jade, because you’re right, like to just sort of look at something like medical aid and dying, like just from a factual point of view.

Like read like, well how do you do it in your state doesn’t begin to. Grapple with the true ethical questions and the true human questions that are embedded in something that complicated. So by approaching it both through a memoir and through fiction, it’s like a more rounded way to, to grapple with the topic.

And I think that’s such a great example of one, because sometimes people are very black and white about that, you know, like, well, that’s just not okay and here’s why, or, well, that’s fabulous and everyone should be able to do it. It is not that simple. It is way more nuanced. And so to, to find ways into that, I think is really powerful.

I think too about how we take in visuals about death. I’m always struck by Barbara Karin’s comments, you know, people don’t die like they do in the movies. So now I find myself really watching death scenes and movies and my husband and I are currently watching 1883, which is about pioneers. And people keep getting shot, you know, and they get shot and they just have like one little tiny hole in their chest and no blood oozes out and there’s no, you know, the character still looks like themselves.

They just happen to be dead now with this tiny hole. And I’m like, I don’t know a lot about this, but I’m pretty sure that’s not how a shot body looks. And yet that’s what we’re presented with about how. Shooting looks. So just as an example of how do we grapple with our edge. Mm-hmm. And I find that I do it visually as well as through reading.

Jade Adgate: I think that’s really important. And there’s so many ethical questions there. The philosopher in me, just, you know, I’m always, I. So curious about how as a culture, we are obsessed with true crime. We’re obsessed with the sensational side of what death looks like in our world. And then when members of our own family are dying, we’re all kind of hands off because it’s scary.

And so that to me is really fascinating. Like what are we attracted to and where does it make us uncomfortable? And we can definitely lean in. By reading memoir and by reading different books. I feel like memoirs for me, if you wanna be really on the nose, you wanna build some deaf literacy, just start reading memoirs and especially of marginalized communities and their experiences.

I think when we’re talking about like black grief in particular, that can be a really beautiful way to go because you can read other people’s experience from all different perspectives from their point of view. And I feel like it’s so relatable, but also I can learn so much. So there’s so many memoirs that I feel like are a really good side door in to these same conversations.

Well, do you 

Diane Hullet: wanna start there with some titles? I mean, not do start there, we’re like midstream, but like throw in some memoir 

Jade Adgate: titles. Yeah. So Crying in H Mart by Michelle’s Honor, that was probably my most popular book Club of the year last year. Michelle’s Honor is a Korean American indie rock musician and she lost her mother to cancer.

And she wrote this memoir called Crying in H Mart, and it is really beautiful from a death midwife’s perspective. She really covers the whole scope of experience. So from diagnosis and kind of the shock and the disbelief and the denial through treatment, through stopping treatment, through death, and then the grief.

And she does all of this. With a big theme of food. Her mother was Korean and the way that they connected and bonded was over Korean food. And the way that she ends up beginning to kind of navigate her grief journey is through cooking Korean food. So that’s just, it’s just full of recipe and spice and sizzle.

It’s, it’s really a beautiful memoir. 

Diane Hullet: Gorgeous. Gorgeous. Oh, that sounds like, Such a good one. 

Jade Adgate: It is, and I actually, okay, so I told you I picked one just for you based on the books that you recommended. And this is a really new book. It’s called A Matter of Death and Life. Have you heard of it? No. No. It’s pretty new and I think it’s kind of a smaller book.

So it’s written by a couple, which is kind of unusual. They were married for 65 years, so Lifelong Sweethearts raised a family together and the husband. Is a psychiatrist who focused his career on death, anxiety and grief. And late in life, his wife receives a terminal diagnosis and they write this book together, alternating perspectives, each chapter, and it’s about a year long journey.

And she dies during the book. So you watch her kind of grapple with this diagnosis. You watch him. Go through all the anticipatory grief and the caregiving and his own contemplation with mortality, and then after she dies, you watch him kind of start to navigate what it means to be alone after losing your partner of 65 years.

It’s beautiful. 

Diane Hullet: Sounds lovely. I’m putting that at the top of my list. I think you’ll like it. I had just bought the Jodi Paco, I don’t know how to say her last name. Pic? Pic book pic, I don’t know either, but I call it has a deck doula in it. 

Jade Adgate: Does. I wish you were here. There’s a, oh, someone recommended that one to me recently.

Yeah, 

Diane Hullet: I, oh, I’m totally spacing the name. This is no good. Judy, Judy Picco Piccolo. She has so 

Jade Adgate: many books. 

Diane Hullet: Jodi. Yeah. The well-known author, Jodis got a, got a great book with a main character as a death do. Several people have read it and I’ve just not read it yet. So, but that is fiction and I think I’m gonna set that aside and go for this one you just talked about.

That sounds amazing. 

Jade Adgate: Well, I mean, I think you can definitely work with fiction too. I’m trying to think of any of the books that I have. To recommend or fiction? No, but I find that, like I was saying about Giovanni’s room, I mean, even in fiction, the themes are there. You just have to look for ’em a little bit more, you know, play with it 

Diane Hullet: a little bit.

Sure. Because themes of grief and loss and love are huge themes. Mm-hmm. They’re huge themes of living, and they’re huge themes of fiction, therefore. Mm-hmm. 

Jade Adgate: I mean, my favorite, so my like, Fantasy escape when life gets too heavy. As I love to read romance novels, and recently I had a client die and I was just in a.

You know, I feel like a live wire, like a raw nerve when that happens. And so I was gonna just escape into some nice light romance. And the entire book was about grief. Yes, there was love, 

Diane Hullet: but the two, 

Jade Adgate: what brought the two characters together was grief, and it was totally accidental. But as I was reading, I was just thinking.

I mean, gosh, it’s pervasive. It’s all over our culture right now. We’re, we’re thinking about our grief, we’re thinking about death, we’re thinking about our relationships with both. And I think it’s showing in pop culture and in what we’re reading, but even if you trace it back, you know, through literature, we’ve been contemplating death and grief since we’ve been writing.

Diane Hullet: I mean, Romeo and Juliet, right. Can you think of a more grief filled story? Right. What, what’s the one, what’s the romance novel you just read? Do you remember the title? 

Jade Adgate: Oh, I can’t. The Spanish love Experiment. I think that’s the title. Really cute. I have, lemme see. Okay, so I have another book I’m reading right now is a book of poetry by Ocean Bong.

I don’t know if you’ve read his book on Earth, we’re briefly gorgeous. It kind of swept all the bestseller charts. He’s a really poetic writer. His words are tender and delicate and he. His, that novel was beautiful, so his mother died recently and he just came out with a poetry collection called Time As a Mother, and it’s stunning.

And I really like to think about grief with poetry because for me, when I first wake up in the morning, I’m kind of in this liminal state. And I just pull out this book and read one poem and all day I feel like it kind of flutters around. You know, it’s not, it’s not so on the nose that I’m gonna read it and then I’m gonna be sitting there thinking about grief.

It’s so subtle and it kind of trickles down. Throughout the day. And I, I think that’s a tender way that we can start to play in the realm of death literacy without feeling, you know, like, okay, I’m gonna pull out my tome 

Diane Hullet: of Yeah. Heavy poetry. 

Jade Adgate: Right? 

Diane Hullet: The other poet people love is Mary Oliver. I find that comes up over and over again in my, in my classes.

And partly it’s her relationship to nature, but also it’s her relationship to death and seizing life and. You know how those weave through her poems, which are so much about the natural world. 

Jade Adgate: Agreed. Margaret Rankle is a Nashville writer who I feel like is in the same vein as Mary Oliver. Her book, late Migrations is a natural History of Loss, and it’s such a beautiful book because she’s, she’s writing it.

In short micro essays, so almost like micro memoirs and some of these essays are like a paragraph. And she intersperses her journey of caregiving for her aging parents with the nature that she’s observing in her backyard. With these just really profound and tender reflections on the grief after she’s said goodbye to these people that she’s caregiving for.

And it’s really reminds me of Mary Oliver and how poetic, but still simple the language is, but how much she returns us to just like the naturalness of this. And how it fits into the lifecycle. 

Diane Hullet: Oh, that sounds gorgeous. I’m gonna look up that one too. Yeah, 

Jade Adgate: she’s really good. I highly recommend 

Diane Hullet: after, after a conversation with Jade, you can be very busy at your local bookstore or Amazon Truth.

Jade Adgate: I agree. I mean, there’s just so much to read right now and, or maybe always, I don’t know if I’m just in it. I’m reading Audra Lorde right now, the Cancer, the Cancer Journals, and it’s really It’s really surprising. So she has breast cancer when she’s writing it, and she ends up dying from cancer six years later, I think, after this book was published.

But this slim book, it’s 68 pages. It’s a teeny tiny thing, and it is a black feminist queer manifesto that’s all wrapped up into her journey treating her breast cancer. So you’re thinking about cancer and you’re thinking about the cultural implications of it. You’re thinking about what the journey on the medical complex side of things looks like.

You’re thinking about the grief of losing a breast and your relationship with breasts while also having a conversation about what it means to be a feminist, you know? So it’s, I love that. I love when death and grief can invite us into a larger conversation. 

Diane Hullet: Yes, completely. I’m thinking of another book that a, that a woman I know wrote called Clearcut One Woman’s Journey of Life in the Body.

This is written by Jenny Jordan, and this book is really about how living in her body, she keeps ending up with parts being cut off and it’s, it’s just really strong, but it starts with her connection with nature and. I don’t know if it ties in quite the same way you’re talking about to this much bigger kind of a movement or a philosophy, but it’s, but it’s a really direct, intimate kind of experience of being in the body.

Hmm. Being challenged by cancer and dizziness and various things that, that she goes 

Jade Adgate: through. That sounds really good. I think I would gonna add that one on my list. Add that to your list. 

Diane Hullet: We’ll keep each other busy for months. 

Jade Adgate: There’s so much to read and there’s so many ways that you can kind of come at this and I think I go through seasons with my reading.

Sometimes reading memoirs of terminally ill people is a lot and I can’t do it week after week and I need to kind of break it up. And sometimes I wanna hear about it. From an opposite perspective. So I’ll read lots of patient memoirs and then I’ll want to have, you know, something from the doctor’s perspective.

Sometimes I’ll wanna go to one side of the extreme. I read recently, oh, I’m trying to think of the name of it. She’s a, A Psychic Medium. The book was called Signs and the whole book is about communicating psychically with our dead loved ones. And that was actually I think, last February’s book club pick.

And then this year I went to the complete opposite side to read Carl Sagan’s Daughter on Ritual. And it’s really a way to devise, it’s called for small creatures such as we, and it’s a way to devise ritual and ceremony for people who are agnostic and atheist to kind of pull in some of that.

Tradition that’s missing when you step away from religious framework. So I feel like I flip flop from, you know, cuz there’s just so many perspectives. It’s so broad. 

Diane Hullet: I love that, that, I think that’s part of what’s so great about what’s available in this genre of books right now. There’s just a huge range.

Do you have any favorite doctor perspective or nurse perspective? Books? 

Jade Adgate: I mean, I really did enjoy when Breath becomes air. Oh, I love death is but A Dream by Christopher Care, Dr. Care. I think that one is, he’s talking in that one about. The end of life visions that many people experience. And I picked that book up because I had a client who was having really agitating visions and I wanted to understand as much as I could, maybe where they were coming from or what could be done to kind of provide some comfort.

And the whole book is just, he’s a palliative care doctor. And I would say it’s like hundreds of stories of people’s. Deathbed visions and the similarities between them, which is really fascinating. And the breadth of experience. So that one might be one of my favorites from a doctor’s 

Diane Hullet: perspective.

Yeah, I think he’s so interesting and he has such an accessible Ted talk about it too. And I, I thought it was so neat that he, he really decided to research that. So I think anecdotally, almost everyone I talk to has a story about something happening very vivid life-like dreams or visions or, yeah, as you said, and the, a thread runs through them.

Mm-hmm. But he really said, this should be researched instead of just anecdotes. I love that. That, you know, just to throw that out to listeners too, like I do think there are some really good TED talks on these topics. Like if you’re a more visual, you like to watch a video of things, boy there’s some good ones that just, you know, you can just put into Ted Talks search like end of life or death.

And you’ll find some really interesting conversations about why we’re dying medically in ICUs now, or what philosophically we can bring to our final days. And that’s just another kind of, Tapping into if you’re not a reader, 

Jade Adgate: I think that’s a really good idea. I like the TED talks too. I have to break up my reading cuz I read so much.

So one of my kind of tricks is that I only listen to nonfiction. So I listen to it on Audible or if I can get it from the library. But I like to listen to non-fiction, especially memoir if the author is reading it themselves. I feel like I’m just almost listening to like a long interview or a podcast.

And then I, I tend to read the things that are a little juicier on all my Kindle. I keep my fiction and then I keep books for poetry, so I try and regiment it a little bit so there could be some order. Otherwise it’s just like a giant stack of books. I, 

Diane Hullet: I think that makes a lot of sense. And, and you know, we all have like the joke of like the stack on our nightstand.

Right. It, it occurs to me to say, I think it’s interesting to say to listeners like, Try some of these books before you need them. Like, there’s something really about reading these books in my fifties that I think kind of softens the landing down the road. I, I, I think it’s hard. Like I look at one friend’s mom is in her nineties now.

Well, she’s not, she’s not, she doesn’t wanna sit down with a book and read about how to prepare for a good end of life. You know, she’s sort of living it. And yet, I think if she’d read a book in her seventies or eighties, she would be having an easier time with kind of the adjustment from a fix it mentality to a how do I manage these symptoms that I’m having?

So there’s something about, you know, read early, read early and often. Right. 

Jade Adgate: I totally agree. And thinking about a book from a doctor that I recommend I love. Do you know Dr. Katherine Mannox? She’s a palliative care doctor, and she wrote a book called With the End in Mind. She has another one out more recently called Listen, the Art of Tender Conversations.

But that’s, you know, talking about, 

Diane Hullet: The, the. 

Jade Adgate: Our elderly loved ones who are thinking about reading around death. Those are tough conversations to have, especially I feel like with our parents. And sometimes we need a little booth. So Dr. Katherine Mannox has both the book to read with all these stories of hospice patients and just different end of life scenarios.

And then she also has a book about how to have these conversations with your loved ones, which is super helpful and she breaks it down with real life stories. Oh, 

Diane Hullet: fantastic. That sounds, I, I think she needs to be on the podcast. She’s 

Jade Adgate: really, really good. Highly recommend her. 

Diane Hullet: Well, thanks so much, Jade. I, I think these are all just fantastic resources and even just the kind of thread of like, read early and often find your way into it, whether it’s fiction or non-fiction.

You don’t have to dive into the hardest book possible. Start with what draws you, and there’s a lot of different ways in. But any of it will kind of increase your comfort level with your death literacy. I think you hit the nail in the head. That’s it. And I think if you wanna do this in conversation with others, you should join Jade’s book Club.

That sounds 

Jade Adgate: fantastic. We’re always looking for new people. I find that people it’s not like a regular group that meets every month. You drop in when the book speaks to you, when it calls you. And I really like it to have that feel to it, because I feel like different books speak to all of us. And being able to come into a safe space and talk to other people who were called by a particular book, it really feels like a, like a blessing.

And also there’s a resource called Bival. I don’t know if you’ve heard of it, but it’s a death literacy platform and they have book reviews. They link up to bookshop they do different documentaries and songs. It’s all kinds of great resources. That’s curated for death literacy. How do you spell that?

Bival, B E V I V A L. So it’s, it’s com The farewell library is also there. And they have, so my book club works with theirs, so it’s the long before the end book club. 

Diane Hullet: Awesome. Awesome. So you can find out more about Jade’s wo**@fa****************.com. Yeah. And you can find out more about the work I do at Best Life best def.com.

Thanks so much for joining me, Jade. This has been fabulous. It was awesome. Thanks 

Jade Adgate: Diane.

Diane Hullet

Diane Hullet

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

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