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The Final Frontier


The Final Frontier: Saying Yes to Death

When we’ve discussed the “D” word before, it’s often been in the context of humor. But for one demographic, death, while potentially far from where they are in their life trajectory, is very much top of mind.

We’re speaking, of course, of the Millennials, whose digital innovation touches upon every aspect of life — including death. Last month we took a look at an app that helps patients reflect on their medical wishes and facilitate family discussions. Now some innovative young entrepreneurs are taking it a step beyond, creating death apps that guide people in planning their own passage, where even the memorial service is likely to be worthy of Instagram uploads.

reverse mortgage newsCurating one’s death, no matter how far in the future, also seems like a natural extension of digital estate planning: if you’re going to make sure your Facebook and Twitter accounts are in good hands once you shuffle off this mortal coil, it’s prudent to do the same with your own passage. And in keeping with the potential humor inherent in life (and death) discussions, death apps put a positive spin on the formerly sarcastic expression, “It’s your funeral.”

Millennials point up the disquieting truth that it’s never too soon to think about one’s own death. This may actually be easier to do when it’s a vague vision in some distant decade — though even those in midlife (ahem) may have difficulty deciding to actually complete that Advance Directive sitting on their computer desktop for a few years now.

One mortician describes how, in the Middle Ages, people prepared to face death via a religious vehicle known as the Ars Moriendi, or Art of Dying: an instruction manual that taught Christians how to die a good death. She laments that there is no such manual available to us today.

How to Prepare for Your Own Death

That’s not quite accurate. A few years ago, a hospice volunteer introduced me to an exceptional resource that has kept a fairly low profile: Deathing: An Intelligent Alternative for the Final Moments of Life. Published in 1989 by Anya Foos-Graber, Deathing is the real deal on conscious departure. Her definitive guide spells out clearly how each person can prepare for an informed death.

The first part of the book presents two teaching stories, illustrating first an “unconscious” death (how most of us in Western culture experience dying) followed by a conscious one.

Part 2 is a step-by-step manual, with complete instructions and simple exercises, such as breathing, visualization, and how to direct your attention during the death transition.

We have a lot of help entering the world, with attendants such as doctors, nurses, midwives, spouses and friends ready to welcome us and tend to the birthing mother. But in Western culture there is no corresponding death ritual to support us in exiting the body we’ve inhabited.

This is a stunning work, especially comforting for people who may have no belief system or structure for facing life’s final ascent. It may be a useful tool to refer to certain reverse mortgage clients or their families, depending on your relationship with them.

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Editor in Chief:
As a prominent commentator and Editor in Chief at, Shannon Hicks has played a pivotal role in reshaping the conversation around reverse mortgages. His unique perspectives and deep understanding of the industry have not only educated countless readers but has also contributed to introducing practical strategies utilizing housing wealth with a reverse mortgage.
Shannon’s journey into the world of reverse mortgages began in 2002 as an originator and his prior work in the financial services industry. Shannon has been covering reverse mortgage news stories since 2008 when he launched the podcast HECMWorld Weekly. Later, in 2010 he began producing the weekly video series The Industry Leader Update and Friday’s Food for Thought.
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  1. Amara,

    I think your latest blog re: death is excellent, and a subject many avoid.

    I think facing death has two perspectives:
    The individual who is dying and the family of the person who is dying.

    Most hospice facilities have booklets they provide to the families of a person on death’s path. In it they explain all the signs that will appear along that path and are usually pretty accurate determining when the passing will actually occur. It is somewhat of a guide for the living, and in many cases gives sufficient notice to be able to say those “last goodbyes”.

    I have attached a prayer for you that has long been in the Hebrew Union Prayer Book and is one I have read several times at funerals. I hope you will like it.

    Many blessing to you.

    Birth is a beginning and death a destination;
    But life is a journey.
    A going, a growing from stage to stage:
    From childhood to maturity and youth to old age.

    From innocence to awareness and ignorance to knowing;
    From foolishness to discretion and then perhaps, to wisdom.
    From weakness to strength or strength to weakness and often back again.
    From health to sickness and back we pray, to health again.

    From offense to forgiveness, from loneliness to love,
    From joy to gratitude, from pain to compassion.
    From grief to understanding, from fear to faith;
    From defeat to defeat to defeat, until, looking backward or ahead:

    We see that victory lies not at some high place along the way,
    But in having made the journey, stage by stage, a sacred pilgrimage.
    Birth is a beginning and death a destination;
    But life is a journey, a sacred pilgrimage,
    Made stage by stage…To life everlasting.

  2. Dick,

    Thank you as always for your very thoughtful and on-point response. The Hebrew prayer is beautiful, heartfelt, and applies across all religious traditions (or none, for those who are agnostic).

    Yes, death booklets are highly useful tools; I sent for several sets to share with my family when my mother was dying. Hospice nurse Barbara Karnes offers a suite of such booklets that are very meaningful:

    Blessings to you,

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