The passing of Dr. Wyatt’s father prompted her to move from a family practice physician to hospice care. Dr. Wyatt wanted to help others make their transitions. Little did she know that there were valuable life lessons waiting for her as she did this work.
Dr. Karen Wyatt is the bestselling author of the book “7 Lessons for Living from the Dying”, which contains stories of patients she cared for as a hospice doctor and the spiritual lessons she learned from them at the end of their lives. Dr. Wyatt also hosts End-of-Life University Podcast, which features conversations with experts who work in all aspects of end-of-life care. She is widely regarded as a thought-leader in the effort to transform the way we care for our dying in the U.S.
In addition, she is valued for her application of spiritual principles to illness and healthcare and teaches that in order to live life fully we must each overcome our fear of death and embrace the difficulties that life brings us.
You can find more about Dr. Wyatt at: https://eoluniversity.com
Hi there, welcome to grief to growth podcast. Your host is Brian Smith, spiritual seeker, best selling author, grief survivor and life coach. Brian believes that the worst tragedies of life provide the greatest opportunity for growth. Brian says he was planted, not buried, and he is here to help you grow where you’ve been planted by the difficulties in life. In each episode, Brian and his guests will share what has helped them to survive and thrive. It is his sincere hope this episode helps you today.
Brian Smith 0:47
Hey, everybody, this is Brian Smith back with another episode of grief to growth. And I’ve got with me today Dr. Karen Wyatt. I’m going to read Karen’s bio and then we’re going to have a conversation like we always do.
Dr. Karen White is a family physician has spent her 25 year medical career working with patients in challenging settings such as hospices, nursing homes and exit indigent clinics. She has founded a free medical clinic in a homeless shelter, a company of three medical mission teams to her and Doris and led a nonprofit clinic for the uninsured is growth from a four year per four hour per week all volunteer operation to a full time full service Medical Center. Motivated by a compassionate heart, she’s put her spiritual beliefs into action by being of service to others in need, and by developing create creative handling LLC, which is an initiative to integrate spirituality in a traditional medical practice. She has twice testified at senate briefings on the cutting edge model of integrated medical care, combining physical and behavioral health, which she helped create and implement in her clinic for the uninsured. And in addition for her devotion for helping others Dr. White has had a passion for writing since she was a child so during medical school, she helped organize a group of students
into the not ready for exam time players and wrote before skits and song parodies to entertain the school’s entire medical community. Applying her writing skills to medical topics, Dr. White has written a book seven lessons for living from the dying, and we’re going to talk about her book today. It details her experiences as a hospital hospice physician. She also wrote a chapter entitled an integral approach to the end of life for the book consciousness and healing integral approaches to mind body medicine, edited by Marilyn Schlitz and Tina amarak. In addition, Dr. Wyatt wrote and and self published the book a matter of life and death, stories to heal loss and grief, and the ebooks loss and grief Survival Guide and coping with life threatening illnesses. And you can find Dr. Wyatt at Karen white MD calm and find out a lot more about her there. So with that, I want to welcome Dr. White to Grief 2 Growth.
Karen Wyatt 2:50
Thank you, Brian. It’s a pleasure to be here with you today.
Brian Smith 2:53
Thanks. I’m really looking forward to having this conversation. I just looked up your bio right before we got in the x you sent me a very short bio For the for the podcast, you’re very modest. You’ve done a lot of really interesting things and fascinating things. But one of the questions I want to ask you off the top, I’ve talked to people who have been hospice nurses who have talked about the afterlife and what people experienced at the end of death. And I’ve seen a lot of nurses talk about that. But frankly, I haven’t seen many doctors. So do you know if you have any idea why that might be?
Karen Wyatt 3:24
Well, I think a lot of times, it’s amazing. But in medical school and medical training, we don’t learn about death and dying as doctors and a lot of times I think doctors tend to avoid death because they don’t feel comfortable with it. And they view the death of their patients as a failure. And so it’s it’s not something that they are comfortable with for the most part unless they’re, unless they have received training in hospice. And so it’s unfortunate because I think doctors would be able to provide much better care for the whole patient, if they could just embrace the end of life.
And, and deal with that and address it with their patients. But at this point, we still don’t have enough education for doctors around death. Yeah, I think I’m hearing there, there might be some changes now where they are teaching some things about death to doctors. Is that true? Yes, it’s starting to change and a lot of medical schools and residency programs are incorporating some at least some workshops or, or modules on death and dying. But one problem is, it’s a kind of a lack of people within the profession who are actually able to teach it who actually have enough experience to be able to teach the students so sometimes, the faculty members who are teaching about death, haven’t had that much experience with it themselves. They’re just trying to create a curriculum, so it’s changing and it will get better over time. But yeah, I was worrying about that because I was wondering if it’s like, because the doctors aren’t around when patients are dying is typically the nurses or if it’s the training because doctors are you know, there’s so scientific
If they can materialistic or if it’s just like you touched on, it’s just a death is seen as the ultimate failure if you’re a doctor, I would imagine. Yeah, that’s part of it. And you were right. The first thing you said that doctors often are not around when the patient actually dies. And I even remember in our residency training program where we are assigned patients to work with that will be good teaching cases. If a patient is terminal and expected to die soon, they don’t assign them to residents, because they don’t view that as a, as a good teaching patient that you could learn from. And that’s just so unfortunate, because if every doctor during their training had been with even just one patient as they were dying in their last dying hours, I think it would change everything in medicine, but we’re working toward it. Hopefully that will happen. Yeah. So how did you get interested in hospice as a doctor? Well, it’s my story came about because of tragedy and
grief with which I know you’re familiar. I was I trained in family medicine. And so I was a young doctor, and just had just started in my practice. I had my own clinic, and my father died by suicide. And it was absolutely devastating to me. And just as much as it would be for anyone losing a father in that way, but for me, in particular, as a doctor, and in my medical training, I’ve done extra training in psychiatry and psychology. And to know I couldn’t help my own father with his depression, and I couldn’t save my own father. It really shattered me. So I was dealing with a huge load of guilt and grief, both that I was carrying, and ultimately, I wasn’t, I wasn’t getting better for three years I was floundering, not functioning very well as I was carrying all this grief and I one day just got the inspiration. I should I should call
hospice and see if they, if I could volunteer there because it occurred to me, maybe I need to dive in to the middle of the pain, dive right into death and dying and grief. In order to deal with it any thought I will either sink there will either sink or will learn how to swim through this. And indeed, that’s what happened. I once I got to hospice and started seeing patients there, I realized that that was actually where I was meant to be all along. I fell in love with the practice and being with patients and I ultimately shifted my whole career path at that point to hospice full time. So you started out there as a volunteer, and then you decide to go in and do it full time. Yeah, I did it full time. Later in later years. I went back into family medicine. So that’s when I did though, clinics and homeless shelters. For some, you know, the hospice work really inspired me to see medicine as a spiritual path. And so, no matter where I was, no matter what I did, I wanted to use my medical skills
and knowledge to help me grow spiritually but also to be of service to my community. So.
So I always worked in hospice. And then on the side of Family Medicine, I kind of did a combination of both of them in the later years. Wow. So what were your spiritual beliefs going into hospice? And did they change after you started working in hospice? Well, one thing that’s interesting, I had this epiphany when I was a teenager, about love that I am here to learn, to, to love to learn to give and to receive love. And that was my overriding philosophy and belief system. When I went to medical school I saw love is what heals Love is the force that can heal people. And but I saw I was naive in some ways, and idealistic. And it was really that’s one of my beliefs that got shattered by my dad’s death because he was one of the people I loved most in the world.
I had to ask myself if my love couldn’t save my own dad, how do I think my ability to love will save a patient? So I had to go back and start all over again thinking about love. What is love? How do we actually share love with people? And hospice allowed me to do that, because that’s something I saw all my patients struggling with to at the end of life, this idea of love, so I feel like it gave me a chance to learn more authentically, and more spiritually about love instead of the rather naive way I thought of love before this tragedy happened, if that makes any sense. Sure, absolutely. What were your beliefs is in terms of the afterlife when you were going into hospice? And did that change any? I was, um, I would say I was aware that there was something bigger than just this physical existence, but I wasn’t sure what that was. But after many experiences of being at the bedside,
With hospice patients, it became really clear to me that that we continue on in some form or another after death, because so many patients had loved ones visit them, or talk to them or connect with them in a way before they died. And, and they would tell me all about that, I think partly because I was open to it. So I let them know I was willing to hear whatever they wanted to share. And it convinced me that, that those experiences are real, that it’s it’s not
drug side effects the patient is experiencing or anything else that it’s a real spiritual experience. So whereas before I knew there was something but I wasn’t sure if we continued on or or what it was
beyond death, but after hospice work, I became certain that there is an afterlife, and perhaps many afterlives for us, perhaps many lives.
Brian Smith 11:00
Yeah, you know, as you mentioned that it’s really interesting that some listeners may know this, some may not know this, but a lot of times when people are coming close to the end of their physical life, they’ll be visited by loved ones on the other side. And I’ve seen it with actually, both of my in laws, we’ll talk about someone that just came to visit them. And it’s almost always if not always someone who’s already deceased. So it’s not like they’re just hallucinating because it’s hardly ever anyone that’s still on the side. And they’ll say, they were just here. You just missed them. Yes, yes, I’ve seen it over and over again. Also, some patients tell me that they had gone somewhere else that they themselves had traveled somewhere else, and they came back from there and wanted to talk about it. So it was similar to a near death experience and talking about seeing lights and feeling love and how beautiful it was. And in every case for those patients, it was so reassuring. It took away any fear that they had and and it really
Karen Wyatt 12:00
help their families at least when we could talk about what was happening that this is a positive experience and your loved one is at peace now and feeling comfortable with with what’s taking place because because they feel loved and they feel protected and secure. Yeah, so you saw that too, because I interviewed Deborah diamond, who’s a medium who’s volunteers a hospice, and she talked about this, like the patients are traveling back and forth, there between both worlds. So did you see that too? Yes, before for the first few years, I didn’t quite know what was happening. It seemed clear to me, the patients were not there. They were in a comatose, state and unresponsive and I knew something’s happening there somewhere. They’re working on something. But it became clear when some of them were able to start talking about what they had experienced when they were in a coma. Some were able to become alert again and talk about it. And then I realized that this they definitely are there. It’s as if they have
Brian Smith 13:00
Have a foot in each realm and they’re going back and forth. Yeah. And I’ve heard of, I call it terminal lucidity. I’m not that’s a real term. We’re not interested in that. Okay. Yeah. So
Karen Wyatt 13:12
tell me about that. Some patients who’ve been at comatose, perhaps for several days, will suddenly wake up, they become totally lucid. They might even sit up in bed and start talking normally and, and whereas they were completely debilitated before and unable to sit up or swallow and could barely talk. They suddenly have this surge of energy through them and they can talk. Sometimes they have messages that I found I just remember really clearly happening with one man when I was in the room and he sat up, looked at me and looked at his family, and he said, Don’t say it if you don’t mean it. And that’s all he said. But that message was so powerful to me that it I actually took that with me wherever I went, and I
thought he’s saying you have to be authentic and have integrity about every single thing you say. And that’s a really powerful message he gave to us. So another patient I thought of, who had had all timers, and hadn’t been able to speak for one year, had not spoken. But her wife woke up one night and heard him heard him speaking in the other room, and went in. He was sitting up in bed, and appeared to be having a conversation with his brother who had died a few years earlier. And she said, it was like 10 years earlier, he was speaking completely normally and totally coherent. And I understood every word he said, and having a conversation and apparently his brother was there waiting for him, to accompany him. So let me ask you as a doctor, is there any medical explanation for something like that?
Well, I don’t think so. I mean, I don’t I don’t
Brian Smith 15:00
Think that we can explain that happening. A base. I mean, it hasn’t really been studied thoroughly. Because those those events are rare enough. And so we don’t know what’s happening metabolically for the patient. But I really believe that it’s something spiritual that science will have a hard time measuring and addressing and looking at so that’s what I see. It’s something that’s beyond the physical realm and that’s what makes it so hard for science to explain or even study. Yeah, cuz I think about like an Alzheimer’s patients and I’ve heard that someone who’s been nonverbal for a year or more, and we say it’s because their brain is, you know, deteriorating or has the plaque or whatever it is, it’s causing this and it’s, so it’s like that suddenly goes away right before they before they before they transpire. It’s like It’s like, like you said, almost like a boost of energy. I kind of view it as I look at the brain is kind of reducing valve that filters consciousness and it seems like that last burst. It’s like the consciousness of
Karen Wyatt 16:00
Just kind of breaks through or breaks free of the brain or something. Yeah, I have, I have had this image in my mind as people die that the physical body begins to dissolve away and fade away in some ways so that the spiritual body becomes more and more evident and more and more powerful in a sense and so that we can not we can see it more but also hear hear from it like it’s moving functions
to a greater and greater extent as the physical body begins to fade away. So after you did this hospice work, what what inspired you to write the book, seven lessons for living from the dying? It became clear to me over time that I almost had the feeling that I’m being I am being given certain patients and to follow and to go on this journey because they’re teaching me things I need to know that I need to learn from my own life. So it was as if I was in the
curriculum in a way in hospice learning from every patient. And over time, I saw how powerful those lessons were I was learning and how much they changed my life, including helping me deal with my grief and learn how to carry that grief with grace, but go on and still have a productive life. And so, I ultimately heard from several patients who told me, they were just now learning things at the very end of life, that they wish they had known their entire lives. And they said, but we are not able to share these things with other people. We won’t be here. And so a couple of patients said, would you would you tell people my story, would you share this with others, and that’s when I knew I needed to write this in a book. It took a long time for me to actually get it written, but I knew that someday, I needed to share these stories and talk about these lessons. So others
Seven lessons, we won’t have time to go through all of them. But if you had to pick one, which which one would you want to talk about? Well, I would say the lesson of forgiveness as one of the most powerful lessons for me personally, and also for my patients. It’s something I saw,
essentially every person working on at the end of life trying to figure out how do I forgive people that have harmed me in my life? And how do I feel forgiven by others or forgive myself? And most of them said they just did not want to carry with them any longer the burden of anger and resentment that they had been feeling. So I saw them working on how do you do it? How do you let go of something and how do you forgive someone, and it impressed upon me that that’s something I wanted to start working on now earlier, not waiting till my deathbed to work on and I really do believe that forgiveness is one thing that can it can change our physical health, but definitely
emotional and spiritual health as well. If we learn how how to practice, and it’s a lifelong practice that, that really we have to work on a little at a time every day. Yeah, it’s one of those things that I think we all know we should do. But some of us really struggle with it. You know, how how do I do this? Do you have any any insight into that?
Well, one of the things that I’ve learned is to, first of all set aside the idea that what has happened in my life shouldn’t happen. And that included my father’s death. That was one of the biggest things I had to forgive my father for taking his life. I had to forgive
God, I guess, for allowing this to happen or for putting me into a lifetime where I would experience it. And so getting over the belief that things shouldn’t happen the way they do is one of the first steps and just accepting that this is, this is what happened. And now I want to find a way
That I can be at peace with it. And for me in terms of when I need to forgive another person, I usually spend some time trying to put myself in that person’s shoes and understand what they might have been feeling or what was happening for them. To help me get that perspective, the moment I can, I can take a perspective that’s bigger than just my own point of view, suddenly, I can see that there are a lot of sides to every conflict and every issue that happens, and then that really helps me move forward and begin to find more room for for acceptance of the other person and even compassion and understanding of what that person has experienced. So I I do a journaling practice at times where I try to write the story of what happened as if I were the other person. What would they say about what happened and how would they describe it and that process is really
Brian Smith 21:00
really helpful? I think that’s a great process. I hadn’t heard that before. Yeah, I think he touched on the two key things. You know, I’ve heard it said that forgiveness is giving up all hope for a better past. So first of all, we have to accept what happened. But the idea of putting yourself in the other person’s shoes that doesn’t come naturally to most of us. But if that I like that idea of doing a dialogue or monologue or dialogue from that person’s perspective, because they’re always two sides, every story. Yeah, and it’s interesting writing it down is really helpful because sometimes in the process of writing, I think the subconscious Can, can come through and you might start writing down things that you never thought of yourself, you wouldn’t think of consciously that the other person might think or feel about the situation. Yeah, when did you know when you talked about I think suicide in particular, but also just the fact of someone transitioning, I very used rarely to use the word die but some of leaving us right there. So they transition out of
Karen Wyatt 22:00
This life, a lot of times we carry anger to that for that person. And again, especially in the case of suicide, because it’s like, How could you do this to me? And we don’t think about maybe what they were going through. Yeah, that was very true for me in the case of my dad’s suicide, and it took me a lot of years to even admit that I was angry at him because I, I felt bad about being angry, I was embarrassed that I was angry and ashamed. And so I hid that from myself, even for a number of years until I could look at that and and then allow myself to be angry at him. Like, it’s okay. Like, he left my life and I had two little babies and he didn’t see them grow up. And, you know, there was so much pain and so much loss and that it’s alright for me to have the anger. And once I acknowledge that it was such a relief, and that’s when I really could start moving forward toward actually actually healing it and beginning to recover. Yeah, you have to feel all those feelings.
And until you can acknowledge that you’re angry, like you said, then you can’t forgive him. Because first you have to acknowledge that you’re angry with him. Yeah. Yeah. And I don’t know why. I don’t know why I, I didn’t feel that I had a right to be angry. I guess I, I guess I understood in some ways that he was in terrible pain. And that’s why he made that choice. And it seemed wrong to be angry at someone who was hurting. But yeah, I was angry.
Brian Smith 23:30
Well, that’s that the rational mind would say, Okay, well, I’m not supposed to be angry. But we all have emotions for you. We’re human. And so I really liked that exercise you talked about, I think they I think it was a really too important case. I would hope everybody picked up on that because a lot of times, I’ve talked to so many people that struggle with forgiveness. I know I’m supposed to forgive, but I just can’t, I just can’t let this go and understand that we’re doing it for ourselves. I think it’s another important
Karen Wyatt 24:00
thing that to understand? Yeah, that it’s actually one of the most beneficial things we can do for our health and it’s amazing the weight that lifts off your shoulders, but also off your heart when you actually have forgiven someone, it really frees up your energy and to be more in the present moment because you’re not keeping alive. Old anger and resentments from the past. And so it’s it’s a really worthwhile practice but knowing that it takes years like for me and my dad years of work for that to actually happen, but I could see it getting better and better over time. It’s one of those things if you practice it becomes easier. And I’ve even heard people say you can learn to proactively forgive if you get if you get good enough at it, you can you can start letting go of things before they even happen. That’s exactly that’s exactly what I’m trying to do right now is I’ve decided I just don’t want to add anything in
layers to the for all the forgiveness I’m already working on and on a day to day basis when things, especially small things that happen, I just don’t want to be mad at the person who cut me off in traffic. I just don’t want to feel that. So I try right away to say, it’s not worth it to me to be angry about that. And to, to kidding, carry around that negativity. So I’m going to let it go. Yeah, I think that’s I think that’s fantastic. So the spiritual essence in your book, how would they apply to people? We’re going through a lot right now. I think everybody on the planet. So what’s something that someone could take from your book now that they could apply, you know, right now?
Well, one of the lessons is to learn how to surrender and just go with the flow of what’s happening. And I think I think a lot of us are struggling right now with all the changes that have taken place in our lives. I mean, day to day changes that we couldn’t even have imagined in the past. And we really do
have to learn that just as we were talking about with grief you you have to accept that this is what has happened. And so learning how to, to surrender to it and stop trying to change things to go back the way they were before, and let go of trying to control what’s happening, and be where we are, in this moment, the way things are, and find a place of curiosity. That’s probably what helps me the most is saying, this is really fascinating, like what’s happening right now. It’s never happened before in my life. This is something totally new. And I’m so interested and curious to see how it plays out. What will I learn from it? What will come next? And for me, that’s a better place to be curious than to be feeling frustrated over. The things I’ve had to give up or the things that that have changed that I didn’t want to change. Yeah, and I want to stay with that for a while because I think that’s so important because I’ve seen we’re all struggling
Brian Smith 27:00
With the loss of control, and I’ve seen people behaving in very, very bad ways, blowing up over little things, and I think it’s largely because of this loss of control. No, I haven’t had to do this before. Why do I have to do this now?
Karen Wyatt 27:14
Sadly, yeah. Yeah, I think that’s one of the things that we do when we when we’ve lost control in so many areas, we find whatever areas we can have some sort of control, even if it’s not rational, it doesn’t make sense, right? act out in, in those ways, simply simply just to give ourselves a feeling of still being empowered, I think, because it’s very uncomfortable to feel out of control. It’s frightening. But usually, I would say, you have to find a new locus of control and that the control that you do have is over your own behavior and your own attitudes, and even how you choose to cope with what’s happening. Can you do self care, practice?
practices, meditate in journal and do things to care for yourself better. You have control over that you have control over those choices that.
Brian Smith 28:10
Yeah, that’s, you know, I think we’ve been conditioned to take control of our lives, and to go out there and to make things happen. So a lot of us feel frustrated when we can’t do that. But you made another excellent point. Let’s take control over things we can take control over. So what can I can I start a meditation practice? Can I start to take better care of myself? Can I decide how I’m going to look at this? How am I going to react to this? And that’s those are all things that we can control? Yeah, yeah, definitely. And so I think that that’s, that’s something to focus on every day. And we get overwhelmed easily by all the things that that we don’t have control over. And it’s actually it’s sad and it’s really hard, but at the same time, we’re being invited into this new space.
Karen Wyatt 29:00
creativity and finding new ways of coping and new ways of caring for ourselves. Yeah. And you talked about it before, you know, curiosity, what’s what’s going to come next, which,
I guess if we can take a longer view of things a bigger view, if we if we keep these seven lessons in mind, we can start to maybe expand our horizons a little bit, as opposed to, this is what I can’t do today. You know, I just I really want to I want to go out to eat or I want to go to a movie and I just can’t do it. Yes, definitely. And I think the other the other lesson that I’m really focusing on right now is the lesson of love again, to even talk about love. It always sounds trite, I think because we hear it everywhere in our society. And we apply love to all kinds of situations like we love hamburgers, and we love cars. Yeah, but, but I really do think this is a time in our whole society where each one of us and
needs to think about, how can I be more loving today? How can I bring more love because our whole planet is hurting right now. And we need all the kindness and compassion that we can find. And so I feel like if I get, try to bring myself to that place of how can I, how can I soften my heart and just feel more love and compassion and not not get angry at people who don’t agree with me about things or see the world differently? How can I recognize everyone right now is hurting and everyone needs all the love I can possibly share. We’ll get back to grief to growth in just a few seconds. Did you know that Brian is an author and a life coach? If you’re grieving or know someone who is grieving his book, grief to growth is a best selling easy to read book that might help you or someone you know, people work with Brian as a life coach to break through barriers and live their best lives. You can find out more about Brian and what he offers.
www grief to growth com www dot g ri e f the number two gr o w th calm or text growth gr o w th 231996. If you’d like to support this podcast visit www.patreon.com slash grief to growth www.ptreon.com slash g ri EF the number two gr o w th to make a financial contribution. And now back to grief to grow.
Brian Smith 31:38
Yeah, well, you know, it’s interesting because I’ve interviewed a lot of people who have had near death experiences and one of its universal everyone comes back. Like they have different lessons and there’s about there’s about 10 that are pretty, you know, pretty standard. But the number one lessons always love and it’s kind of like what you said, Well, it seems kind of trite to talk about love but that’s really what it’s all about.
out. And especially in a time right now, when people are just feeling so out of sorts, and disconnected and out of control, and are acting out. So I think it’s really important. Keep that lesson in mind that, you know, maybe it’s just smiling at someone you know, or, you know, stepping aside and letting them go first, you know, things of that just just give people a bit of extra grace. Yeah. And the nice thing about it is, it’s simple to remember I mean, we can boil everything down to just that one word on that one app, try to just remember love. So if you can’t think of anything else during the day, and everything else is falling apart, keep that as your default, default mode.
Find as much love as you can. So Karen, how can listeners be better prepared for for difficult times that are coming up in our lives? What what kind of things can we do to get ready for those things? Well, I feel like it’s really important to have a spiritual practice of some kind that we
Karen Wyatt 33:00
really do need to spend a little time every day, intentionally looking within and really trying to work on ourselves in a spiritual way. And so, so I something like yoga or meditation or journaling, just a practice that we give a little time, even 15 minutes a day to, so that we’re always tuning in with ourselves and looking within and working on growing to be the best people we can be. And then
I think again, cultivating the attitude that, you know, honestly in life, nothing lasts, everything changes, our whole planet has been set up that way, life wouldn’t go on if there weren’t changes. And if there weren’t death, death is part of the whole cycle of life. And so the more that we can get comfortable with that idea that everything here on the planet has been set up that way. Every living thing will die.
Brian Smith 34:00
Some point and and once we accept it and stop resisting that, I think that also helps us to view each moment that we have here as precious and to be able to make the most of our time. It’s none of us knows how much time we have, we really don’t know how long we’ll be here. Right? Well, you know, that’s another difficult thing for us. I think it’s, you know, it’s interesting, our culture, you know, they, they, it’s kind of taught us to hold on everything, you know, and grab everything and get it while you’re here. And, you know, hold on to your youth, but I’m getting to the age where I’ll be 60 next year. And you know, I see people trying to hold on to being 35 or being 40 and people are doing everything they possibly can to keep our bodies young and it’s you’re you’re fighting it’s father time. So there’s I think there’s there’s a general denial of the fact that everything in this earth passes through.
Karen Wyatt 34:58
I think we’re kind of a youth focused culture. If you look at advertising, you know, it’s always like always showing us If only you were younger and more attractive and stronger and fitter like these people in advertising, but it’s just one of the great
illusions in a way of life here. And so for me, it’s been the most helpful to prepare myself knowing things will change. Like, I everything feels great for me right now in this moment, but things will change, because life is always changing, and there will be things I will have to deal with down the road. So I already acknowledged it, and I already feel like I’m being prepared for it in a way. So it’s not going to come as a complete shock to me I won’t feel blindsided if something does happen because as I’ve been working on myself and preparing myself and and I guess what I’m working toward is kind of balance and equanimity and being able to
find my way back to being at peace with no matter what is happening in my life. Yeah. But you know, the thing is, and the great thing about is what we’re talking about is we don’t have to give up everything by saying everything that everything changes and everything goes away because it doesn’t mean there’s an end. Right? There’s always something new and even death is a new beginning. Exactly. That’s right. So so the physical things around me in this moment may pass, but yes, not come to an end because the love the joy, the beauty all of that’s going to continue on and, and who we don’t even know we have no idea how much more there will be for us when we do Pass Pass on from this physical existence. So you’re right. I think that gives us a tremendous amount of hope, too.
Although I hurt for the people who don’t have that kind of awareness, because I realized that
life can could feel much more frightening if
Brian Smith 37:00
All you see is that is a hard stop your last breath. And that’s it and there’s nothing there, you’re headed for a brick wall. I think I feel sorry for those people I really do. And I hope this is why I do what I do. Because I want to give everybody the hope, whether it’s, you know, faith based or based on science or based on philosophy or based on whatever to understand what we really are as human beings. And you talked about that practice and I think it’s twofold. I think it’s one to steal against those things that are coming up to give us make us stronger so we can endure those things and, and grow through them. But also to everyday to remember that this is not all the rest. What I see around me is not all there is what I see is my body. This is this is not me. I think that’s a very important practice to say, you know, my look in the mirror, my body is getting older, but it’s just my body. It’s not, it’s not who I am. Oh, exactly, exactly. In my book I write I call it the taking the galaxy view, which I got from Edgar Mitchell.
Karen Wyatt 38:00
started the Institute of noetic Sciences, which was an astronaut. And he described looking down on Earth from being in a spaceship orbiting, and the tininess of the earth, compared to the vastness of the universe made him realize, you know, all the problems that I find in my physical life on Earth are just so tiny. And there’s something so much, so much greater going on here than that. And he said, it changed his perspective forever. And so, so I write about trying to take that the galaxy view from the higher view always of what we’re going through and realizing, on a physical level alone, this is hard, and it’s challenging, but there’s also something so much greater going on in the universe. And this is just a little blip in in that eternity and in all the time that’s there. The time in which I’m growing spiritually and my soul is developing. Yeah, well
Brian Smith 39:00
That’s what the the people in the in the ears tell us, right? They tell us that, you know, despite all that what looks to be chaotic, but looks to be terrible, it looks to be tragic. There’s actually an order, there’s actually a beauty to everything that you’re going through. So that’s the only place where I kind of ask people have faith is like, you know, have faith in that, that everything’s going to be okay. And it really can just, it doesn’t take the problems away, but it makes them seem not so overwhelming. And
Karen Wyatt 39:29
yeah, definitely. And one of the things I mean, I suggest to people, to not be afraid of being around death, if they have that opportunity, if they have a loved one, even if it’s a distant relative who’s dying, they’re able to go and be there and sit with that person or somehow participate, that being close to someone who’s in that space, that kind of liminal space between the two worlds. I think that’s
One of the best ways to actually open your own mind to the fact that there’s something bigger here. And I don’t really have to be so afraid of death. And so I do encourage people to not to shy away if someone they love is at the very end of life and they’re able to go there and be with that person. It could change everything for them. Yeah, that’s
Brian Smith 40:23
interesting. You say that cuz I had I started off with a really big fear of death and had it most of my life. And so when I think about being someone who’s dying, I’ve actually stayed away from like, when my grandmother passed away, I was in my early 20s. And, and I just could not be there when it happened.
Unknown Speaker 40:39
So that’s interesting to tell people to it, but we talked too early. We have to lean into things that scare us, I think, I think so. It’s a good thing to maybe try to work yourself up towards. Yeah, yeah, exactly. When my mother died, I took care of her in her home in the last days of her life, and my older brother was not able to
Karen Wyatt 41:00
to come and see her I, I really wanted him to come. I mean, he, he actually he poked his head in for a few minutes and left right away. He couldn’t be there. But interestingly, five years after that his daughter died of breast cancer. And he was with her the entire time. And so I felt like maybe experiencing
the fear over our mom’s death. And looking at that, that might have helped prepare him a little bit. So he couldn’t be there later on. So like you said, a little at a time and, you know, we
Brian Smith 41:37
we can get comfortable with it as we go. Yeah. So how do we help an elderly parent or somebody, how do we help them prepare for end of life, especially if it’s someone that doesn’t really like to think about that or talk about that?
Karen Wyatt 41:52
Yeah, one of the things one of the things that has worked really well for me with my mom and I and I recommend it to other people.
is to actually bring up the conversation by asking them what it was like for them when their parent died or or another loved one in their lives. And for my mom, she really wanted to tell me the stories of when her father died and when her mother died, because she had she been carrying those stories with her for a long time. And that was quite a comfortable way for me to just listen and let her tell me everything that happened and how she felt about it and how, what it was like, and from there, I was able to say to her, Well, what would you like to be different when it’s your time? And having her having already explored the story and her telling me her mother didn’t want CPR but she got CPR in the hospital and didn’t want to be in the hospital but died in the hospital and was unhappy about it. And let me say what how would you feel about that? What do you think? What do you what would you What would you want if it were you
You were in grandma’s shoes. And so it was an easy way to open up the topic in her having already told those stories brought her into the place where she could just put herself into my grandmother’s place and talk about, about that about what she would want if she were my grandmother. And so that got us started. And that really helped open things up to have additional conversations down the road. And that’s another thing like you were saying, like being with someone who’s dying, we have to take our time with it, and maybe talk a little bit around it initially, and then go back other times and ask other questions, to try to delve into it more deeply. But I found asking them to tell a story first, is something that really does open up their hearts and make them more willing to talk about it. Yeah, I think that’s a great way to make it a little bit less personal. So to let them talk about a third person
Brian Smith 44:00
You know, making their transition. Because again, I think a lot of us still have this, this.
This fear, I mean, death is an unknown for most of us. And if we don’t if we don’t study it, you know, like, like you have and like I have, it remains this big mystery and we fear what we don’t know. And so if we view death as a big black box, we don’t know what it is, then is we’re going to fear it. Yeah, exactly. And then that fear can really kind of take up a large part of our life energy in a way, you know, because we spend our lives either trying to deny it or are hiding our fear or running away from it. When once we face the fear and kind of move past it, we’re so much freer to just live life and and accept it however it is. Absolutely. I was interesting. I was talking with a friend the other day, who purports to be an atheist materialist, and thinks that you know, when you die, that’s it. You know, lights out, okay.
That’s fine. But then this person told me, but I’m scared of dying. And I said, you know, and she’s a very rational person. So well as a rational person, you realize, fearing non existence is not rational, because you won’t be around to know that God doesn’t exist. So you truly don’t believe you’re not going to exist. And I think that’s, it’s interesting. I was talking with Kelvin Chen, who wrote the book, overcoming the fear of death. And what the first belief system he talks about is just this belief that we’re not going to continue, but people fear it. And I think it’s a really interesting kind of paradox. I guess, that we’ve, I think we just even as human beings, we can’t imagine that we’re not going to continue even if we say we do. Yeah, that’s so true. Because if we’re we’re fearing not being here, but we’re fearing, knowing that we’re not here. You’re fearing, staring into the darkness and experiencing it after we die. But that isn’t consistent with with that belief system, actually. And so, yeah, you’re so right about that.
contradiction. Yeah, in how they’re looking at it. That’s why I think it’s really important. You know, the thing about death is it’s so uncomfortable for us. It’s just, it’s a taboo subject, you know.
But it’s the one thing that we all know that’s going to happen. You know, they say death and taxes are the two things are just starting. It’s really only death. As we know, as soon as we’re born, we have a destiny to transition, you know, as we talk to everything this world kind of passes through. So I really encourage people to face that because I spent many years decades of my life worried about it, fearing it. And when I finally turned and faced it and started studying it, the more I studied it, the more that fear just went away. Yeah, and I think we’re especially disadvantaged in kind of modern Western society, because death has been removed from our day to day existence. If you think about over 100 years ago, most people died at home. And so even children
Karen Wyatt 47:00
Grew up having had, you know, an elderly grandparent died at home and having experienced it and witnessed it. And we’re so removed from it. When, in the past, most people died in hospitals now more people are dying at home because we’ve consciously made a shift that direction. But also, funerals are always outside of the home and away from us. And so, so we can distance ourselves as much as we want. Seeing in our society makes it easy for us, but so much to our detriment, because as you said, it’s something all of us are going to experience. It’s inevitable and universal. And it’s very sad that we go through life not being prepared for the one thing that we can count on is going to happen. Yeah, I think goes back to that looking at it as the end and nobody wants to face the end. So if we can start to look beyond that horizon, I think that makes all the difference in the world. I also think
Think of it as the one thing that unites us with every other human on the planet too. And so when we’re getting lost in how different we are from other people, if we remember, we share this very fundamental characteristic, but we will all die and we all have some discomfort or fear or pain around death. And that would be a way that we could connect with anyone. Yeah, we could connect with any human simply by talking about our grief. You know, the pain of having someone we love die, that would bond us to anyone. Yeah, and I was that was actually the next question. I was going to ask you, what do you say to readers or to listeners who are struggling with grief and terminal illness and you just touch on one thing? No, grief is also a universal thing. If we’re, if we’re around long enough, we’re all going to go through grief. Yes, definitely. And I do think it’s helpful. Well, I remember when I was in the midst of this, like, terrible
darkness around my dad’s death. It was hard for me to believe that anyone else had ever experienced that I remember thinking I’m so different from everyone else. No one would ever understand me, which is strange to think that way. But that’s how I felt like I was in this completely isolated place all alone, and there was no one to talk to no one who would ever relate to it. Now, I look back at that and see, you know, there were people everywhere all around me, who could have I didn’t know how to get out of my dark space to connect with anyone else. And one of the things I would say, two we talked about already is is being willing to feel all the feelings that the grief is bringing to the pain and the anger,
to be able to feel all of it because I spent too many years trying not to feel any of the feelings and that’s why I got stuck in the darkness. I was trying too hard not to feel the feelings. The other thing that I finally recognized
To is that, in the early years after my dad died, I would wake up every single day. And think someday I’m going to wake up and I will feel exactly like I felt before dad died someday, it’ll go back to normal. And I will feel that way. And finally, when I recognized, wait a minute, and event this big in your life is meant to change you. It’s meant to change everything. You’re not going to go back where you were before you’re moving towards something else, you’re changing. And when I finally saw, it’s okay to let my self change. That’s actually when I did that is actually when I opened up to the idea of working in hospice because I realized I have to allow myself to let this change me into the next newest person I meant to be. And it actually was the best thing that I ever could have done because I found my true path and where I was meant to be. Yeah, that is that is really profound.
Brian Smith 51:00
And it’s something I go through with a lot of my clients because that that first really big grief event, you know that the one that really just hits you right in the core. A lot of people like you said, we were always looking for we’re always looking to go back to normal, what we’re going through right now, the changes we’re going through, why can’t we just get back to the way things were. And we have to understand that that’s not the way life is designed. We’re not just we’re not designed to go out and that’s a good thing we can we can become a better version of ourselves. So I try to tell people, it’s like, well, you’re not going to be the person that you were. But you can be a better version of the person that you are you can you can use this to motivate yourself. Exactly. It took me so many years to realize that part because I didn’t have a grief counselor like you. Tell me, you know, to help me see that I had to figure that out over a long time. But I realized as you said right now today, what we’re going through with the pandemic, that’s exactly where all of us are. Most people are starting are counting the days until life will go back to exactly where it was before.
Karen Wyatt 52:00
This all began. But But that isn’t really what it’s about, like an event this big that involves up the entire planet. It’s meant to change us all. And that’s what we have to look toward is, how is this changing me and shaping me? And how is this going to help me become, as you said a better version of myself? Yeah, that’s the that’s one of the keys. I think of the spiritual practice. We talked about it as looking forward to, to, to making ourselves into a better person and to really understanding that we’re here to expand and to grow. And and that’s a desire that clinging on to who I was when I was 25. You know, if you’re 75 you’re the same person you were when you were 25. I think you’ve missed the whole point of life. Yeah, exactly. Yeah, one of the things that I also think about just is I think of life as a classroom, and think of the fact that I came here for the purpose of learning as much as I can learn
A lot of the learning will probably come through discomfort, it will happen through things that are painful for me or that I initially don’t like very much. But that’s how I will learn and that when I accept it that way it makes it makes me that’s where the Curiosity comes from while I’m in this classroom. So what is this about? What is it what’s here for me to learn? And how will I grow from this? And that actually gives me a lot of reassurance because no matter what happens, I don’t stop and spend time thinking, this shouldn’t be this should not have happened. Yeah, don’t ever spin my wheels thinking that way. I stop and say, Whoa, I’m back in the classroom. What’s the lesson going to be? what’s the what’s the curriculum here? Yeah, you know, and what will I end up learning from this? And many times, I have no idea. I have no idea what what I will end up learning but it comes. Yeah, I think that you know, it’s interesting. That’s I think that’s a great metaphor, but actually take it literally
Brian Smith 54:00
I’m just like you. And I had an event that happened to me literally just yesterday. And it really, you know, set me back, my wife was laid off from her job. So we’ve gotten to this COVID thing, she works in the healthcare field, and we kept cutting her hours and cutting her hours and finally told yesterday, we’re not coming back. So I’m lying their bed last night, and I’m thinking, Oh, this is terrible. How is this going to work out? What are we gonna do for insurance also? And then, you know, it takes a little while. I mean, it’s like, the shift is immediate. But then I’m like, but what’s going to come next? You know, what’s gonna happen next? Maybe something better will come along. It’s always worked out before. And what am I supposed to learn from this? You know, and here I am advising people on how to do this thing, right? So what what am I going to do with it? So, you know, you make that shift, that shifted perspective, that we’re all human and we it doesn’t allow us to bypass the feelings, we still have the fear and we still have to live with, you know, all the limit limitations of being human. But we can quickly kind of shift to what’s the higher perspective Yeah.
Karen Wyatt 55:00
Exactly. And I think another important thing that I had to learn too is not to compare my journey with anyone else’s journey. And I see that a lot. With my daughter talking to her, she’ll always call and say, but this person had this workout and it was so much easier for her and why did it go that way for her? And I said, Well, she’s in a different classroom, she’s taking a different course right now.
I use that I use that with her to, to help her think like, we’re all here learning our own things. It’s something different for all of us. And so we just each have to pay attention and, and make the most of our own lessons that come to us. But they are not going to be the same as the person sitting next to us. They’re on a different track. They’re, they’re learning their own things. Yeah. And that’s and that that’s what goes back to what’s a good thing, what’s a bad thing because you know, if you’re, if you’re, if you’re here, you taking an advanced course, you’re gonna get you’re gonna get more difficult lessons. You’re gonna get
more out of it, you know, when you leave here, you’re going to have more more growth. But it’s going to be more uncomfortable because people only grow through this comfort. I hate to say that, but I just think is true. If everything were always exactly where we wanted it to be, none of us would ever change anything. It’s so true. And I look back at times in my life, you know, when things seemed relatively wonderful and amazing, and I can’t say that I grew very much, I think those were little times to rest up and recover. But I can’t say that those were times of a lot of growth, or change. And you’re right, it’s, it’s it is the challenges that help us grow. And that’s another thing we have to accept that, that this is how growth happens here on planet Earth at least. Exactly. Yeah. So how are you different after writing this book, but how have you changed since writing the book? Well, it It opened me up so much
To become a more spiritual person, the person that I was really meant to be, and to, to really stop wasting time getting mired down in
emotions and jealousy and things that just weren’t worth my time and anger and to start trying to live more authentically and be more vulnerable and more loving in my life. And then that helped me in everything that I did immensely. You know, we made a move at one point
where I gave up my hospice job moved to a new community that didn’t have a paid job in hospice. So I had to go back into family medicine. And I was devastated because I thought Wait, hospice was my path. Hospice was the thing I discovered, and it’s, I’m losing it now. But because of what I had learned spiritually, I just knew, Okay, interesting. A new classroom. There’s something new here. What’s what can I make of this and how
So it has helped me so much to find so much peace of mind no matter what the ups and downs are no matter what I’m going through in my life and then also to feel like I’m able to bring forth my gifts and what I have to offer and share them with other people. Yeah, absolutely. So Karen, I understand you’re speaking at the ions conference, it’s gonna be virtual this year is August 14, through the 16th. It’s going to be online. I want to give people the website to go to register. It’s virtual conference.ai ns.org that’s ay ay ay ay n ds. And you’re speaking on Sunday, I believe, Sunday, August 16. And the title of the talk is love over fear lessons from the dying so I’ll be talking about these lessons. And why especially right now we need to emphasize love and not get caught up in the fear of the circumstances that we’re in. And and part of that approach to is realizing, you know, isn’t it interesting, we we all came
to planet earth to be here right now in this lifetime for what we’re going through right now and to think of how amazing that is really, that we’re, we’re all here together going through this. And it’s, it’s kind of a privilege actually to be here right now and experience what’s happening on our planet. So
Brian Smith 59:21
can we choose love and not sinking to fear? Yeah, well, it’s a challenge. But as you said, it’s really interesting to see because I’m curious where we’re going to end up in a year or two. You know, what, what changes will we see because of what we’re going through. So I gave your website earlier your
Karen Wyatt 59:38
it was the Karen white MD calm, but also they have a website for your podcast. So tell me about your podcast. Yeah, I started a podcast, the whole the inner interviews I started doing seven years ago with basically people who work in any aspect of end of life care. And partly for me because I wanted to learn things and I wanted to share
What I was learning with other people, and then turned it into a podcast. It’s called end of life University. And I broadcast once a week every Monday, so people can find it on Apple, podcasts, Spotify, the all the usual places. Okay, and if they’re interested in listening, but they can also go to the website, e o l University COMM And the the podcast is posted there and I have blogs and some courses there as well. Yeah, I’m sure people will be interested in checking it out. You’ve got so much to say so much, so much wisdom, so much.
Brian Smith 1:00:37
This, it’s really fascinating to talk to you and to listen to you and hear you know what you’ve learned and the lessons that you put into the book, which I want to read again, it’s seven lessons for seven lessons for living from the dying by Dr. Karen Wyatt, MD. Karen, it’s been really great getting to know you and have you on grief to growth is anything you want to say before before we wrap up today.
Unknown Speaker 1:01:00
I think mainly for people to just remember what we were talking about that it’s, it’s really about love. If you can keep it simple in everyday just just think of that. Just remember to try to be more loving. I think we’ll get through this all together. That’s awesome. Thank you very much, Karen, you have a great day. Thanks, Brian. Well, I hope you enjoyed the episode, I want to make it really easy for you to reach me. So just send me a text 231996 and simply text the word growth gr o w th. In fact you can right now just say hey Siri, send the message. 231996 and when Siri asked you what you want to send, just say growth. You can do the same thing with Okay, Google. Thanks a lot. Have a wonderful day. Thanks for listening to grief to growth. Brian hopes that you find this episode helpful, and we’ll come back for future episodes. Brian’s best selling book grief to growth planted not buried is a question
resource for anyone who is coping with grief or know someone who is. If you enjoy the podcast and would like to support it, there are three things you can do to help. The first is to share the podcast with someone that you think it will help. The second is to go to iTunes rate and review the episode. The third way you can support the podcast is by becoming a patron. Head over to www.patreon.com slash grief to growth. That’s pa t ar e o n.com. Slash grief, the number to growth and sign up to make a small monthly donation. patrons get access to exclusive bonus content and knowledge that you are helping to spread the message of grief to grow. For more about Brian and grief to growth, visit www grief to growth calm
Transcribed by https://otter.ai
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