We all know that there is much to be gained by making friends with our mortality, but Shannon is particularly well-versed in this area.
She escaped the biotechnology industry to set up a funeral consumer advocacy non-profit and to oversee compliance of green burials.
In this guest blog post she shares five questions for Escape the City members to consider.
1. Are you waiting for an epiphany?
When I left my corporate job in the biotech industry 2 years ago, I wasn’t exactly sure what I was going to do next but I knew that I wanted to contribute to society in a meaningful way; to be a giver and not a taker.
So, rather than waiting around for an epiphany I figured I would check out the volunteer opportunities available in my area. I was immediately attracted to the idea of hospice work so I signed up to be a volunteer where I would learn how to be with people who were in the process of dying.
While volunteering for hospice, I became interested, no actually, I became fascinated and somewhat obsessed, with society’s attitudes about death, mortality, and funeral practices. I read everything I could find on the topic and reached out to people who were doing interesting work in the field.
2. Are you focusing on the journey or the destination?
Being with people that are dying and exploring my own fears and thoughts about death has made me much more open to life, to taking risks, and to living authentically. It has also clearly delineated what is of value and what is not.
Imagine what will be important to you during that time. For example, when I imagine myself dying, the love that I have felt and expressed for people during my life will be at the forefront of my mind. I will feel grateful for the times my heart was open enough to share in the suffering of others and for having had an opportunity to try to help alleviate some of that suffering. I will think of the roles I have played in life and about how I embraced those roles yet they don’t define me.
I will cherish every word and deed that was inspired by love and I will forgive myself for those times I was less than kind and loving because of fear.
3. How can you contribute and help others?
My research and experiences led me to believe that if we could think and talk more openly about death we might be able to lead more fulfilling lives, have more peaceful and conscious deaths, and celebrate the lives of those that have died in more meaningful and personal ways.
To that end, I founded a non-profit, consumer advocacy organization (www.fcasocal.org) that assists the Southern California community in understanding their options and rights regarding end-of-life choices. It has been an extremely gratifying project so far and something I will always feel grateful for having been a part of.
In addition, I also dedicate time to furthering the concept of green burial. After learning about the very eco-unfriendly conventional burial our society has invented I was delighted to learn about the concept of green burial (no cement vault, no embalming, and biodegradable caskets) and its potential to not only help connect people with nature but also to preserve and steward land for future generations.
As a result, I have become actively involved with the Green Burial Council (GBC), a non-profit organization that seeks to protect and steward land via green burial. I immediately connected with their mission and have enjoyed being able put some of my education and experience to good use. (Trailer here for A Will for the Woods – about the green burial revolution.)
4. How can you seek out people who are like-minded and passionate?
I have met some amazing and wonderful people on this adventure. Notably, Shari Wolf, who is an enlightened and progressive funeral director in the Los Angeles. Shari and I also work together at the GBC.
As a funeral director, Shari visits families in their homes, gives them all the time they need with the person they have lost, and teaches them how to have a funeral at home if that is their preference. She charges a fraction of what others charge, and uses only eco friendly products; she is truly about serving others and it is inspiring to be surrounded by people like her.
5. Will you share these five common regrets?
This is a list by Bronnie Ware titled The Top Five Regrets of the Dying – she is an Australian nurse who spent several years caring for patients in the last 12 weeks of their lives.
- I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.
- I wish I hadn’t worked so hard.
- I wish I’d had the courage to express my feelings.
- I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends.
- I wish that I had let myself be happier.
It is my hope that as we become more capable of addressing our personal fears about death (and life!) we will consequently live more fully and die more consciously and peacefully, with few regrets.
With that said, I can’t think of a more courageous and life-affirming group to ask the following question:
What is your greatest regret so far, and what will you set out to achieve or change before you die?
Please let us know in the comments.