Podcast #103  How Talking about Death Changes Your Life Diane Hullet and Aimee Yawnick, Death Doulas and End of Life Coaches

Aimee and have a conversation about why we think talking about death changes your life. We touch on various ways to bring up this taboo topic, resistance to talking about death, and what we find matters most to our coaching clients, class participants and podcast listeners.



  Hi, I am Diane Hullet and welcome to the Best Life Best Death podcast. Today I’ve got a really interesting episode with a colleague, Aimee Yawnick. Hi Aimee. Hi Diane. Aimee is a certified conscious dying coach and an educator and a doula. We were both trained by the Conscious Dying Institute, and I think we’re gonna have a really unique conversation today because we both coach individuals and we teach classes.

Mine are called Best Three months. Aimee’s are called What Matters Most? Our goal is to start conversations about the end of life and to, you know, just raise this uncomfortable discussion. So today we wanted to kind of bounce back and forth together and talk to you, our podcast listeners about why we think a conversation about death matters for how you live.

How talking about death changes your life because we both see how much that matters in our own lives and with people we’ve worked with. So let’s kind of just jump in there, Aimee, you know, how have you seen talking about death change your life?

Well, for me personally, it has made me more present, more aware.

I’ve thought often about when you go to the eye doctors, You’re getting your lenses fixed, you know, and they turn that little thing, you know, which one’s clearer. I feel like these conversations just move things a click so that everything is more clear. You really see how important your relationships are.

You see the beauty in the world around you. You just see things more clearly.

I love that image. I think that’s been really true for me too. Especially relationships have come, they’ve like been highlighted. The people that I love really matter to me and I get distracted like massively, especially by this little black thing called my phone that I hold in my hand, right.

So how do we bring ourselves to the present and bring ourselves to what matters most? Yeah. I love that. I think we’ve, I’ve seen so many different changes with people I’ve worked with too. There’s just, there’s something about the way that death and grief and loss are taboo in our society, that people are relieved to talk about it.

I find for the most part it’s it, you know, it seems like sort of this scary thing to get into, but the people that I work with are mostly relieved and curious and inspired more than they are scared or. Traumatized or upset by the kind of conversations we have. Is that what you find too?


Honestly, what I think is that our society has created this sense of fear around the conversation and that when somebody has the opportunity to talk to other individuals and know that they’re in a safe place, they open wide up. It’s like they’ve been looking for a way to talk about these things, and the fear comes from not being sure that their thoughts are quote unquote normal, or if their fears

are real,

but they don’t know how to express where it’s coming from, right?

Like they haven’t identified. Why am I feeling this fear? And these conversations help to unearth that.

I think the fear is so interesting because as. I saw a quote recently that I think is a Katie Butler quote from her book, the Art of Dying Well Practical Guide to a Good End of Life, and she said, I don’t think people ever were free of fear of death, but clinging to life and being so unprepared for it is a modern experience.

Hmm. That just summed it up to me. It’s like, fear is normal. Who’s, who’s not afraid? Yes. But the, but the clinging and the, the, the, I don’t know, the, I wanna almost call it paranoia, which is not the best word for it, but like the, the neurotic fear around it and the. Arm’s length fear. I mean, when has not talking about something ever improved it in your life?

Never. I just don’t experience that. Not discussing it makes it better. So I think for me, this death dying end of life, aging, frailty, not discussing those things ahead of time does not make them go away. And it does not make them any easier. It’s like gremlins,

you know, when you, when you shine the light on them, they retreat.

Yeah. Yeah. The, fear it gets smaller. It loses power when you, it loses power. You put the conversation out there, you start talking about it, you break it down into small pieces. Let’s talk really about what that fear is about, you know, where is it coming from? How might you create a solution around that fear?

Yeah, conversations are important. I.

Yeah, I, I think, I think often about this piece, about curiosity. Like if we can find just a little thread of curiosity and follow that, it, it can lead us a lot of places, even when we’re afraid or sad or traumatized. ’cause I, I think people bring so much to these conversations, their own experiences of death and illness, people in their family, friends, the media.

We’ve, we’ve got this onslaught of information that makes it. You know, terrifying to sort of grapple with your own end. But I think thinking about what it is exactly that you fear can sometimes help shift it and resistance to these conversations. I don’t know. It’s a really interesting one. I’m sure you find this, you know, I pull out my business card and people either sort of lean in and go, oh, tell me more.

Or they lean back and go, ah, no thank you. Yeah. Yeah.

Like, that’s so cool. How did you get into that? You know? Yeah. What’s, what’s it like? Yeah. A lot of the questions that I get, I think the questions that we ask the people who we’re having conversations with are really important too, because they, you know, where the, the fear is so big.

Thinking about mortality is so big. Where do I even start? We give them specific places to start.

Yeah, let’s say more about that Aimee, like, talk, talk about the structure of your class. And I think, you know, Aimee and I are here to promote our classes today. They’re, they’re available, they’re out there. We both love to teach both on Zoom and in person.

But I think what I wanted to do today was partly just give people like a tidbit of it, like a taste of it. So talk about the structure of your class and what kind of questions you ask people.

So I Think the most important core class of the workshop is the very first one. Because we set the stage, we wanna be sure that the people in the workshop feel like they’re in a place where they can be brave.

Creating a safe place is key, and letting people know that they can share as much or as little as they want. They can observe if they only want to, and. I find that most of the time people who start out observing might turn into the ones who share the most towards the end, but it really is creating a place where people know that whatever it is they’re sharing, they’re not going to be judged.

That everybody is coming from kind of the same starting point. It’s a level field, and that we’re all here to just explore and be seen. That’s really important to me is that the PAR participants feel seen and heard because that’s important. I think we’re all looking for that. So that very first class, I think, sets the stage for the rest of the


I agree and I always, in my first class I name the date of death. So my class is called Best Three Months, and the premise of the class is that in 90 days, we will all die. And I usually set it up that in 90 days or 88 days, something will happen, some health event, some accident, and you will be. Not able to speak and not able to make your choices known and you will die on the 90th day.

And I name that date and people find it, you know, a little shocking usually when I put that date out there. But I think it’s key to what happens inside when you really feel that 90 days, I should have calculated 90 days from today, whatever. If you’re listening, Count 90 days ahead and name that as November one, number one.

Great. Okay. There you go. We’re recording this on August 1st, so 90 days from now you’ll be gone and there’s an urgency that comes in your heart. There’s kind of a quickening of your brain when you hear that kind of a date and really, really consider that as a real possibility. So that first class, yeah, setting a safe container and naming a date then inspires us for the work that we do From there.

It’s very powerful, you know, and, after I name the date and put it up in bold on the zoom, you know, screen, and then we just sit in silence and I ask them to feel it in their bodies. Like, imagine November 1st. You are not going to share Thanksgiving with your family. You are not going to share the holidays with your family.

We’ll be mourning you during this next holiday season, like, and really making it like tangible within their bodies.

Yeah, it’s powerful. Really powerful. A little squirmy for some people. Very, yeah. Powerful. Because the intent of our work, I think, for both of us is to help people then create action steps towards what they wanna put in place and create priorities and really say, wow, if that’s the case, here’s what I definitely wanna do before that date comes.

I think of a great awakening for a lot of people. So we work with the map, the vision map, right? And part of that is to identify your current reality and then identify where you’d like to be. And I think. A lot of people are surprised when they actually name what their current reality is after having a glimpse of what they’d want their life to look like.

And some are very surprised at, you know, in some areas of their life they’re really close, like they are nailing it in living. The current reality is the vision, but then there’s other areas of their lives and they’re like, wow, I’ve got a lot of work to do here. If I’ve only got 90 days to live and the small stuff falls away like that stuff that’s just not important, all of a sudden is like, oh, I’ve been wasting all my time or so much time doing this.

And that’s not what’s important to

me. Can you think of an example of a current reality and a vision somebody had that we’re pretty far apart?

So in, in the winter I had a mother-daughter in one of my classes, and the mother lives with the daughter and her family now, but she has other children who live in a different state.

And her vision was to spend more time with her other kids and their children, her grandchildren, and she wasn’t. And in the testimonial that she wrote, probably three or four months after the class ended, she spent a couple of different trips visiting with those kids and. You know, that was her, that was her vision, was to spend more time with other chil her other children and grandchildren, and she’s done it a couple of times since then.

Actually, that’s a great example. ’cause she was kind of just living where she lived thinking, oh, I’m gonna see people, but not actually making the plan to make the trip. And so in some ways that 90 day date of death inspired her to say, I better go now, not put this off at for a year or six months. I better go now.

That’s, you know, that’s relationships, very important. Family spending time, creating memories. And then there’s the more kind of practical things like this same woman actually has a bunch of recipes. She wants to share with her family. And in the workshop we talked about her writing stories about the recipes, and then creating a book that she can leave for her family, and she started doing that as well.

So now she’s creating a legacy for herself.

I love that, and I bet that had been on or mine to do for years, but never rubber meets the road, actually get it started. Right? And what a cool legacy. I, I always say to people, I always feel like it’s the stories behind things, so that matter, whether it’s a recipe or an object, what matters to me is not the recipe for beef stroganoff, it’s the fact that this came from so-and-so’s grandma from Ohio, and they always had their.

Dairy cattle farm, not a dairy farm. They always had a cattle farm or something. And why, why? It really connects to the family history or the personal history. That’s what matters. Are those stories. I love that she made a recipe book. Yeah.

I’ve had other clients. One woman wanted to make a a teddy bear for each child and on her mind all the time.

Her mother had made them for her kids. She started doing that. Another woman, she had talked to her children about this course, about her wishes, about how things have changed, updated her will, and they bought her StoryWorth as a holiday gift.

Love it. And StoryWorth is a wonderful way that you online create a beautiful memory book.

In fact, I’ve got one right here. This is my dad’s StoryWorth book and we did that, gave it to him one year for Christmas. He worked on it for about nine months. And it’s, it’s a collection of stories and photographs and we all love it so much and I think it would’ve been too overwhelming without the StoryWorth format.

You could certainly d i y stuff like this, right? Just type it up and get it bound somehow. But the story worth, Boy, I thought it was really worth the money to make that into a beautiful bound hardcover book, so I love that. Yeah, recipe book, storybook photos, all these important things that we want to do.

So there’s something about having conversations about the end of life. In a group setting or with a coach that somehow help these things move from good ideas that you wanna get done vaguely to actually having timeframes and getting started.

I, I think the group setting and the coaching piece give people an opportunity to be held accountable, and that’s, that’s the important part for me as a coach.

Having accountability in place has always been a big part of the success of the client is to be held accountable to what they say they want to do, to what they say is most important to them. So in creating these smart goals, our action steps, we’re giving people an opportunity to set a date and to to break things down into the smallest.

Easiest action step. They might not be simple, but they’re, you know, it’s an easy step. It’s not a big bite.

Right. Right. I love that because a lot of times for someone a a, the big thing can be I need to finish my estate planning documents. And I always say that in of itself is not an action step. It’s way too big.

Do you need to get a referral to an attorney? Do you need to Google d i y wills online? Do you need to make an appointment with the attorney You already have. Do you need to send a text to your partner saying, Hey, when could we put this date on the calendar? Like, what is the super simple thing that will take you less than five minutes, but we’ll get the ball rolling.

The question I usually ask is, what’s the very first thing you need to do? Like you said, it’s too big of a question, you know? How do I start redoing my will too big?

Way too big way too. So how do way too big, you break it down to the very first thing you need to do. Very first thing. Well, let’s, let’s bounce back for a second.

So Aimee alluded to this vision map, which again, is part of the curriculum we were trained in through the Conscious Dying Institute. So the vision map is this one page piece that holds your current reality. Your vision of where you’d like things to be and the action steps you’re going to take to get there.

And we do this in five arenas, and I sort of have found it fascinating working with this in my best three months class over time because. On the one hand, it’s very artificial to break your life into these categories. And on the other hand, life with a capital L is so hard to talk about without breaking it down somehow.

So these categories overlap. They’re not siloed, but we talk about. Physical. We talk about your physical body, we talk about your spiritual beliefs, plans, hopes. We talk about your emotional life, which is a really, really interesting one because that’s often very rich and complex for people. We talk about your legacy, as we’ve alluded to, and we talk about.

Practical after death care. So kind of in those five categories, we, we ask questions that are reflective questions for people to think about. Usually we do it in writing, right? We give them ahead of time and we say, respond to these questions in writing for yourself so that you have some thinking in these areas.

And I, with my class, we do them one week at a time. I think you do the same thing, Aimee. So we spend a week on each of those things and. And, you know, as the teacher of this kind of work, it’s so much fun. I, I’m always finding new resources that I wanna bring to the table. I often show TED Talks and sometimes they are obscure TED talks, but they really stir people’s thinkings in these areas.

Sometimes they’re a little short article about something that gives people enough context to kind of think for themselves what they want in this area. I, in a funny way, I find the spiritual area one of the easiest areas to talk about because people kind of know what they think. So there doesn’t tend to be a lot to do in that area for people unless they wanna add some spiritual practice that they’re not doing now, and they feel that they’d like to.

But that area seems to have less movement than some of the other areas. It just kind of is what it is, and yet there’s this beauty in kind of naming it. Sitting with it saying, this is what I believe. Have I shared that with my partner or my close friends? How might that play out at the end of my life if I’m unresponsive in this day 90 kind of scenario?

Do I want something to be read to me? Do I want some music to be played? To me is there’s some aspect of my spiritual life that I want brought in there that nobody would even know about if I didn’t tell them. Now. So those five areas are what make up this vision map then. And I think the vision map is a really interesting way to contain it all on one page.

And conceivably you could have your will and your vision map in one place and if something were to happen to you, your family and friends would know what you hoped for. Yeah. Yeah. The,

the. Different areas of life. Like you said, they do overlap and the spiritual piece, I feel like the spiritual piece.

Threads through everything, because I don’t see how you can talk about your own mortality without kind of raising your, your consciousness, raising your level of spirituality in some way by looking at your life through the lens of your own mortality. So even though I, I, I agree with you about the particular like questions and where people are within that domain, I feel like throughout the entire course that.

Just gets richer. The, the relationship with their spirituality just is in, is enhanced.

That’s a perfect way to put it. There’s something about looking at the arc of your life, the whole arc and saying, this is where I began. This is what I’ve done. This is where I am now. That’s like this life review, that you’re absolutely right.

There’s something that really deepens and enriches through that. Yeah, and I think

this exploration. Is what enhances our living a a lot. And I don’t know if you experienced this in the workshop, but a lot of our conversations are, I’m having a hard time remembering that I’m gonna die in 90 days, but hoping that I’m not.

And you know, so far it’s been good. Nobody’s died on their death date, but there is this fine. Balancing act between doing the work, under the scenario of I only have 90 days, but also considering, well, if I’m setting a goal, like one of my, my visions, there’s no way I could complete this in 90 days, but this is important to me.

So there’s this balance between living a full life beyond 90 days, but using that urgency. To help to create a focused understanding of what matters to you. And I think that beautiful dance is what helps to create the gratitude for the life that we’re living. That’s, that’s how I see that.

I love that Aimee.

And that gratitude for the life that we’re living is what, you know what? Energizes and innervates our whole living. This is why conversations about mortality enliven us and make us more attuned to what matters, what we want, what we’re focused on. All of those questions that are kind of big to grapple with come into focus in the fire of this knowing that it will end.


Then, you know, people will come, you know, usually around the fourth, fifth, sixth class, and I, I try to ask them. So over the past week, other than when you were working on your reflection questions, did you imagine that you only had 90 days to live? Like. While you were at work or in a conversation with somebody and it, it’s interesting because when you’re arguing with your kids and all of a sudden you remember, Hmm, if I only had 90 days to live, like, how would I be different in this conversation?

And it’s magical. You know, when people come back and say, you know what? Cleaning their room really wasn’t that important to me. We went outside, we went for a bike ride and we had moments together. And so it’s just, it’s an interesting way to look at your life on a day-to-day basis.

I love that. I think that’s a really good example.

One of the things I wanted to be sure we touched on was what people take away like weeks and months later, and I think that kind of gratitude and granular appreciation is what people take away. I.

Yeah, I had one student who started a gratitude journal, I think she calls it a blessing journal, and did it for several months and then found that she didn’t have to write it down anymore because she was living that way, noticing the things that are blessings in her life, and other people just share that They’re more intentional.

In the way that they live. They’re not just kind of going through life, allowing life to happen, being a, I’d say a victim of circumstance, but actually feeling more empowered because they’re making choices and they’re being more involved and they’re living more consciously, I guess would be a great way

to put it.

Yeah, that’s probably, that’s probably the biggest takeaway of where these conversations about mortality impact our day-to-day lives is with a degree of deliberateness and choice and consciousness. Yeah. I think especially, I think about it in relation to technology. I do think about, you know, our phones and how much they impact so many of us.

How asleep at the wheel you can be. And a lot of time goes by if you really track how much time you spend on your phone. Some of it’s useful, A lot of it’s really powerful. I love the connections that I’ve made through texting and social media and so on, but wow, it can be a time suck and there went three hours of your day and was that really, really where you wanted to put that time?

So I think time, you know, time is the thing that’s ticking along. That’s all we’ve got. Yeah. And it’s so precious. So how are we using it and how do we best want to use it given our limited lifespan?

And with whom? Who do you wanna be spending your time with? Yep. Because the person in the phone that you’re scrolling, you know, through their Instagram, may or may not even know you’re there.

Right, right. And there goes that time. There goes that

moment. Yeah. I. Well, I love this, Aimee. I think this, you know, this topic of how talking about death changes your life is, it’s so at the core of how I got into this work and why I love what I’m doing, and I think the same is

true for you. Yeah. I, I I’ve never done more inspiring work.

It, it truly is a. A privilege to witness people when they’re talking about something so intimate and so vulnerable, and that they trust us to have these conversations and then to be in a, you know, in a Zoom room or in person with strangers, you know, much of the time. And it is, it’s a, it’s a privilege to have these conversations and to know that it’s creating a ripple effect.

Because when these people go home and talk to their partners, talk to their children, talk to their coworkers and friends about these conversations that they’re having, it just, it opens up more opportunities for other people to say, huh, well, if she is talking about death, maybe it’s okay for me to talk about it.

And it just gives more people

permission. I can’t tell you, you know, the number of people who’ve had a class or listened to a podcast and then tell me that it impacted them the next month or the next two months when somebody in their family was dying, and how they brought a different perspective to that experience that impacted, as you said, the ripple effects impacted everyone involved.

That’s, that’s, that’s really what matters most to me. Mm-hmm. Yeah. Well thank you for your time, Aimee. This is fun. You know, you can find out more about me as always at best life, best death.com, and you can find out more about Aimee’s work @ www.leavinginlove.com, leaving in love, and I think we both have more conversations in our future.

I, I would agree. Yes. Thank you, Diane.

Thank you. You’ve been listening to the Best Life Best Death podcast. Thanks so much for joining us.

Picture of Diane Hullet

Diane Hullet

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