The empathy in her face and voice tugged at my heart. A dear friend was telling me the story of her aunt’s struggles with end of life paperwork. Faced with a life-threatening lung infection, this sweet lady couldn’t speak enough to advocate for herself, leaving her distraught family to second guess how best to get her end of life affairs sorted out.
I’d long been interested in changing the conversation about death and end of life paperwork. Thoughts of helping people navigate that stage of their life had been meandering round my head like that song you hear once and then can’t stop singing. When I heard my friend’s story, the song became a roar, a rallying cry for all those afraid to look at their end of life affairs, unsure where to start.
There was a need, right here. And I knew that space was calling me to go in, shine one damn big light, and make end of life planning much less daunting.
I didn’t know yet that by helping people prepare for death, I’d be galvanizing them to take action and build a life they could look back on and think “fuck yes, that was a blast!” It would take a miracle in a San Diego coffee shop and an off-the-cuff workshop for a group of yogi women to show me that. But I’m getting ahead of myself.
I wondered what made us so afraid to get our end of life affairs in order?
Most of us – over 80% – agree that getting our end of life paperwork sorted is a stellar idea. Yet more than 75% of us avoid doing it. We body swerve it with the same single minded dedication usually reserved for putting off a root canal or ducking out of an awkward conversation with that one friend who always overshares about their ingrown toenails.
I wondered if shying away from sorting our shit out is a way to avoid staring smack bang at the fact that one day, we’re all going to die? I mean, we are. No getting away from that (unless you’re a vampire, in which case get off my blog, Edward Cullen.) You know it. I know it. But we don’t like talking about it.
Before long I was pondering a simple idea – could I take end of life paperwork and make it easy, and at least three times less terrifying?
I came here to drink lattes and talk about death. And I’m all out of lattes.
On a balmy California day in September 2016, I took a detour on my way to complete my 500 hour yoga teacher training to visit friends in San Diego. They’d recently moved there and had a pile of to-do’s bigger than a giant pancake stack and not half as delicious. I told them we’d catch up later in the day, and settled in at my favourite coffee shop, The Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf, with my journal (it was emblazoned with the words “Amazing things can happen” – turns out that journal was psychic.)
I had so many ideas racing around in my head that I wanted to explore – what is death coaching? Does the world need it? I ordered my favourite latte from the barista, and before my butt even hit the chair in the only free spot on the crowded patio, I heard a woman at the next table say “I can’t believe what a mess my mom’s funeral was. I just wish we had someone who could have helped us through it all.”
ARE YOU FRICKIN’ KIDDING ME?! A shudder of excitement raced through my whole body as this complete stranger confirmed exactly what I was thinking – that people desperately needed help navigating the confusing and sometimes scary waters of end of life affairs.
I scribbled notes as fast as my fingers could write while I listened to my new neighbour. Her mom hadn’t done her EOL paperwork, which made planning the funeral at such an emotionally painful time feel impossibly hard. Not only that, but her mom had wanted her ashes scattered in Paris – how on earth was she supposed to arrange that!
I couldn’t help it. I had to talk to this woman (for one thing, I wanted to apologise for listening in on her conversation!) I got up, took a deep breath and told her what I’d come to write about. Before long we were deep in conversation and I was writing pages of notes as she told me that my coaching service idea was exactly what she wished she’d had when her mom was reaching the end of her life. Before we parted ways we hugged tight, agreeing that serendipity had brought us together.
Sept. 23, 2016 – The day I arrived as a yoga teacher and left as a death coach
By the time I arrived in Burbank, CA to finish my 500 hr yoga teacher training, I was practically vibrating with excitement. When it came time to circle and share what was happening with us, I burst out “ladies, this year has been good, but the last month has been OUTRAGEOUS!” After I told them my San Diego coffee shop story, my yoga teacher Christy said to the group, in that sweet Tennessee accent that made me think of sweet tea on a summer’s day, “if something has come across your radar recently that you’d like to try out with a bunch of women who love and support you, now is a great time!”
With a wide smile I declared “I’m gonna do this!”. During our lunch break I installed myself in the nearest Starbucks and hammered out a plan for my very first Crossover Café – to be delivered as the the final project of my yoga teacher training. Feeling blessed to be surrounded by so much warmth and support, I got up and delivered a 60 minute workshop to my yogi ladies and it was hands down the most phenomenal workshop I’d ever facilitated! The energy was racing through that room like the Hoover Dam had just burst. Clarity was found. Truth was spoken. There were tears, hugs, and discussions galore. My teacher told me “Tammy, you held sacred space and brought humour into a tough discussion – you NEED to bring this to people!”
Turns out that talking about death gets crazysexycool results
You know those super enthusiastic people who can’t stop talking about that one thing? That was me when I got back from Burbank. I talked to anyone who would listen about my idea and the response was an overwhelming “YES I need this!”
Funny thing is, I still thought death coaching was all about talking through people’s fears so they could get their end of life affairs straightened out. But then something unexpected happened.
When people started talking about death, it got them thinking “holy shit, I’m gonna die one day for sure – and I have things I want to do!”
Before long my clients were telling me about the amazing results they’d had from my death coaching process. They were going after their big dreams. Dropping the things that no longer brought them joy. Getting super clear on what they really wanted from life. One woman told me that her biggest death bed regret would be not taking her son to see her favourite places in the world. When she was invited to a wedding in South Africa, her new-found awareness was the catalyst she needed to book them both on a beautiful life-changing trip.
Turns out that planning for death (because let’s face it, we’re all going there one day) turns your excitement for life up to the max. When you know it’s not forever, you want to make the most of it – right now.
I started out wanting to make end of life paperwork easier. Turns out, there’s even more to talking about death than I guessed. It’s the key to a heart hammeringly fantastic life.
Ready to face death with warmth and humour so you can get clear on how to make the most of life? Let’s chat!