Episode 03 Making Death Plans, Petting Bunnies
Posted November 7, 2019
This is And The Next Thing You Know, it’s a podcast about how our lives go exactly not as we planned them. I’m Suzie Sherman. My guest today is the multi-talented Nannette Mickle. Nannette’s work life is a surprising and diverse series of nextthings. She’s been a candy and cigarette girl. She’s worked in social services providing housing opportunities for unhoused folks. Back in the ’90s. She once understudied as Bobby Brady in a notorious live show directed by Jill Soloway. And these days, she sits bedside with dying people, and helps her clients create self-actualized death plans. I wanted to talk with Nannette because she embraces new work opportunities in her life with so much curiosity and joy, and makes plans to move on if the work fails to compel her. As someone who has struggled in my own life with finding satisfaction in work–ok, ok, I’m a bit of malcontent in most aspects of my life–this conversation was a real salve.
One quick mea culpa. In this conversation, we refer to Jill Soloway with the pronoun “she.” This is incorrect. Jill identifies as non-binary and uses the pronouns “they” and “them.” And Nannette and I did not know this at the time that we recorded. I offer my apologies that we used an incorrect pronoun for Jill. This is my conversation with Nannette.
And it’s funny ’cause like, of course, we were like naturally catching up and stuff earlier.
Nannette Mickle 1:32
And now it’s like, oh, we’re being recorded. So suddenly, there’s a spotlight on it.
I’m already over it.
All right. Good.
Right. So and the next thing you know, you became a death doula…
Yeah! Very unexpectedly.
What the fuck is a death doula?
Oh, yeah, it’s, um, well, it was something I didn’t even know existed. But I had done some crazy internet research, when I fell down this rabbit hole, trying to figure out if there was a job like this, because it basically came around when David Bowie died, January 10 2016.
Three years ago now.
Yes, three years ago. And when he had died, he left such like the most amazing gifts, I think, to his fans and his family. He had completed so many art projects that he had been working on, it was just this beautiful gift. And his last album was, yeah, it was just amazing. And so I, I really thought to myself, gosh, like, I wish we all could do that. I wish we all could be able to like curate, you know, our last year of our life kind of thing and have that option. And I was like, actually, you know, we do. We just don’t, and why don’t we?
So then it just became sort of this, like I said, this mad internet search to be like, do people do that? Is that something that’s, is it someone you can hire? Or what does that look like…
To help you plan your death?
Yeah, or yeah, exactly. Or just yeah. To even approach your death or to discuss your death or any sort of thing that isn’t necessarily in like a medical community, and not necessarily something that’s therapy, but really more about the environment that you want to be in and kind of maybe what legacy you want to leave behind. And so yeah, so I actually came upon some people who, I guess would do training for end of life, doulas, and some say “end of life doula,” some say “death doula.” I say death doula, just because it’s easier to understand. Sometimes “end of life” can get confused with people who are actually ending their life, because that is considered also the term for you know, end of life. You know, when someone is going to be taking the medication to end their life. So I say death doula, because it just encompasses all death. And…
And it’s not a euphemism.
It’s actually saying “death.”
Yes, yeah. I’ve tried to steer away from you know, “passed away” and “no longer with us” and those types of terms. I’ve really tried to embrace and really lean in to the word “death,” and to not be afraid of using it. I’ve, I mean, I’ve always been comfortable speaking about death and thinking about death. But I think my hesitancy was always because the reaction of other people, that other people tend to get really bizarre. They get kind of scared to talk about it, or they think it’s a real bummer. You know, that it’s like, what a downer to talk about that.
People get uncomfortable.
…aren’t able to really be present with it.
Yeah. Just even the thought of it, I think for some people is just too much. So to find actually a community of people who do this kind of work, I was really excited. And the idea of a doula sounded really cool, too, because I’d only heard of birth doulas. And it just made all the sense in the world. It was like, Well, of course, you’d have a death doula, you have a birth doula.
Why wouldn’t you have like, a person ushering you into this other phase?
Right. It makes so much sense in terms of just the circle of life and death…
It’s really part of, it’s all part of the same process.
Right. And that we don’t have to necessarily, you know, do it alone, that we actually can reach out and reach out to our community and reach out to the people that we care about, and really discuss our wishes and really discuss, you know, I don’t know, how we want our end of life to look like, as opposed to just sort of like, well, it’ll look like how it’ll look. And just, I’m not going to talk about it.
And be in denial about it. And therefore just, yeah, just be in sort of a perpetual state of, oh…that’ll happen…at some point, and…
Yeah, I’ll think about it at some point. And you know, oh, yeah, I’ll make the plans. Oh, right, wills and all that kind of stuff. And, but, yeah, we usually don’t get around to it.
So to be conscious about it, and to really dive into it was kind of exciting for me. And to know that there were others that were interested like that, too. Yeah, it was pretty exciting.
So going back to Bowie’s death…
…for a second, or that timeline…
…three years ago…
…that’s when you really got interested in being…being part of that process of helping people at end of life.
So is that when you started volunteering as a, y’know, in a hospice, or was that…had you already been doing that?
No, it was sort of a gradual process.
It all kind of…that was, that was one of the initial germs. That created the idea for you.
That was the originating germ, yes, definitely. David Bowie. And I thank his spirit for that, because…
…that’s another gift, I believe, that he has given all of us is the, the chance to talk like this. And to think about it and in a beautiful way. And so yeah, so basically, after that I, you know, went through all the kind of internet research, found different organizations that did different trainings. And I thought, yeah, I’m gonna sign up for, you know, for something and just kind of dip my toes in and see what I think. And, at the same time, obviously, we were going through like a lot of political stuff in 2016. And things were really ramping up in terms of just my anxiety and my stress, and just worry. So I thought, gosh, there’s gotta be some things that I can do to sort of put myself in a better state of mind. So that’s actually when I started thinking about meditating. And so the process of meditat…I’d never meditated before. And so I, through my internet research also came across, like this 10 day meditation retreat, where it’s like a silent retreat. And I was just like, I’m gonna do this. And so I did, I just, like, jumped in. And I’d never meditated, but I was just like, might as well do it the hard way, you know, to see if it’s for me, and…
That is serious trial by fire!
It was. It was a silent meditation. I didn’t know any of the people just went to this place. And for 10 days, I was quiet and meditated like eight hours a day. And it really gave me an opportunity to sit with myself, and to really sit with my feelings. And to just mull over a lot of things, you know, from the past, what I’m doing now, and maybe what I want to be doing. And, what I kind of realized in that was like, I really didn’t want to be doing a lot, I actually wanted to release a lot of things, and just let go of a lot of things that I thought maybe I should be responsible for, or I should stay up on, like, the news really was getting to me. So it was a way of not necessarily escaping, but giving myself peace, in the midst of all the kind of craziness. So I did develop a meditation practice. And with that, it kind of slipped into, um Zen Hospice was the first organization that I thought, oh, that would be kind of cool, because it’s kind of Zen meditation. Again, I don’t know anything about it, but it just kind of seemed like it went hand in hand. And Zen Hospice Project, they deal a lot with people who are, you know, who are dying. And they had, they used to have, a guest house. And I thought that would be amazing to work at the guest house and volunteer, but unfortunately, it closed. But I am…
Not til much more recently, though.
Much more recently, yes, exactly, within the last year. But I did get an opportunity through Zen Hospice, after their training to volunteer at Laguna Honda Hospital, and in their palliative care hospice ward. And so yeah, that’s what I’ve kind of been doing recently is just is for the last three years is sitting bedside. And really being with people, you know, in their final moments, and really being present with that, and not shying away from it, or, yeah, just to really confront it in a in a way that’s very loving. And in a way that’s very compassionate. And if I can ease anyone’s sort of suffering in those last few moments, like, that’s great, but I can also just be present.
It’s funny, I…have you ever read the Tibetan Book of Living and Dying by Sogyal Rinpoche?
I have not.
You haven’t? So, and it’s not in the Zen tradition. It’s, uh, it’s in the Tibetan Buddhist tradition.
Obviously, per the title. And, you know, I don’t know if you know this about me. But when I changed career paths back in the mid aughts, and went to grad school to become a therapist…
…um, and I didn’t end up becoming a therapist. But part of that process for me, and part of the inspiration for me was reading that book.
And I had read that book, I think, when did I read it, probably in the, like, the early 2000s, or, you know,
Somewhere around there. And one of the ideas that really struck me the most about it was that being present for people during their transition…
…to death, is one of the most noble things that you can do in this life. It’s one of the most helpful, useful, noble things that you can do.
And there’s a lot of, you know, a lot of intricacy to the Tibetan practice.
But, you know, at heart, doing service for people who are dying, and people who are bereaved…
Is one of the most important things that we can do. And we all are going to go through it. And we all have people that we love…
…who’ve died. So it, it definitely there is something you know, that was, for me, one of the big inspirations toward becoming a therapist, that branch of my career path.
That’s so cool.
Yeah, there’s definitely, like, like I said earlier, like, I was always comfortable around the concept of death, I kind of just thought, Oh, it’s because I’m goth. You know, and that, that was sort of like, why I was kind of comfortable with it, because I always listened to like, that kind of music…
Drawn to the shadow side.
Drawn, yes, exactly. The dark side was very comfortable for me. But, you know, it might be a little bit of that. But also, I think it’s because I am the kind of person who just wants to jump into something. And I thought, gosh, I really haven’t, haven’t really confronted the idea of death. I haven’t been witness to anyone die. I’ve, you know, had people in my life die, but I’ve not been witness to it. And I thought this is really something that I know need to expose myself to. And yeah, just sort of see where it goes with me. And…
How old were you three years ago, when you started this journey?
I am 51 now, so, math, 48. (Laughs.)
Um-hm. Somethin’ like that. Late 40s . I’m not even…(laughs). I love that I’m, I’m a bookkeeper. I can’t just be like, you were definitely 48.
I know, please help me with that. Right?
Oh, my god, there will be so many embarrassments about myself that I will be sharing during this podcast…
Love it, love it.
It’s gonna be great. It’s gonna be good for my own letting go process.
And so at that point in your life, and we’re around the same age, right, I’m 47 now, or I’m about to turn 47. So, um, being at midlife…
…and starting to look at the inevitability of death a little bit more, I think, is quite natural for people.
So, do you have a sense of any earlier period in your life when you became more interested in, in the topic of death and dying or more fascinated by it? Or did you have any deaths that were close to you that made a meaningful impact on you that maybe got these wheels turning earlier than Mr. Bowie’s death?
Yeah, I mean, there’s, I’m sure for most people, you know, early death experiences can sort of color your idea of, you know, how our culture handles it. And mine wasn’t actually very positive. When my grandmother had died. It was just really awkward. My family didn’t really talk or share their feelings. And I knew my dad, because it was his mother, was devastated. But, you know, we never talked about it. And it was just a really sad time. And I didn’t know how to even process it. I was, I think, about nine years old. And it really kind of bummed me out. Because I just really wish that I had gotten something, you know, from that experience, as opposed to just feeling confusion, and feeling like just it’s sort of more something you shut down, as opposed to something that you really embrace or you acknowledge. And so that, I kind of knew even at the time, I was just like, uch, this sucks. This sucks the way that that this is handled, and I can’t even really talk about it with anyone. So yeah, I think having that sort of initial experience, maybe sort of understand, like I said, culturally, how we don’t talk so much about death and dying. And if we do, it’s just in hushed tones. It’s, you know, behind closed doors, not in front of person who’s dying. I mean, there’s so many weird kind of rules that it seems like we all operate on, that are almost doing unconsciously when it comes to the topic of death.
I’m thinking kind of to put it into cultural political context…
We’re both, I agree with you, that we’re a culture that shies away from really talking about the reality of death, right? And on the other hand, we’re a culture that glamorizes and glorifies death.
Right? So like, there’s so much violence in our media.
It’s a militaristic culture…
and we glorify a very destructive force…
…you know, in the world that we’re responsible for. Right, like…
…you know, there’s, you know, we still have the death penalty.
We still think it’s acceptable to end people’s lives, to play God like that.
…to end people’s lives. Even when there’s ample evidence that we’re killing innocent people, um…
Yeah, I mean, it’s basically weaponized.
But it’s not spoken of in any other way. Death is, you know, it’s not considered something that’s like very holistic or something that, you know, it’s part of your life process. You know, even though people think of birth, and they think of, you know, graduating from college or certain things that are…
Lifecycle events, yeah.
Yeah, very important times in your life. And that, you know, a lot of times you plan for those, you know, you send out invitations to your graduation, you have, you know, your guest list for your wedding, what have you. And here’s like one thing that we know, for sure, it’s going to happen, 100%. But we don’t treat it with any of that same level of preparation, or, you know, a desire to have it be a certain way. It just is, yeah, it’s shut down.
We’re totally shut down. And we are really busy trying to ward it away such that we are unconsciously driven by it…
Not driven, I’m not talking about Freudian death drive.
It’s bullshit, the idea that we’re driven toward death, but that we’re letting our unconscious denial about death, drive how we do our lives.
Absolutely. And just get in the way of…
…because we can’t accept it.
Yep. I totally agree. And, you know, recognizing that, like I said, I didn’t have that full actualization at nine years old. But I definitely knew from those first concepts that it was like, wow, like, this is not something that’s, yeah, this is not really something to be discussed. And I did kind of just sort of bury away and you know, I grew up areligious, so we didn’t have church or anything like that. So, you know, the idea of where would you go after you died, you know, none of those things were really discussed in my household. So part of me was happy about that, because I was free to kind of figure out whatever I wanted to figure out and believe whatever I wanted to believe, but also not having, like an ability to speak with people about some of those greater topics. And I know fellowship, and church and fellowship in all kinds of communities offers that opportunity to have conversations, and I really didn’t have that. So it was much more of an internalized thing for me.
Do you consider yourself spiritual?
Not really, I think that there are things that are very sacred, there are things that I consider an honor to be witness to, and to be present for. I don’t necessarily ascribe any sort of belief system to it, or have any idea what possibly is happening. But I think being present is the most important part.
It’s funny, I, you know, I’m Jewish, and I’ve scarcely ever been to a church service. But I actually went to my friend, Lisa’s church last weekend…
Oh my gosh!
…when I was visiting her in Modesto. And it was kind of amazing, because it was a, you know, a very progressive, it’s a very progressive church…
…and the pastor is gay.
It’s not explicitly an LGBT church, but it’s a very welcoming, affirming church. And so there’s probably a disproportionate number of queer and trans folks who are part of that church community.
And the pastor was all about, you know, all all about cultivating that sense of presence,
You know, and I think it was probably the first time that I ever was able to really make the connection that this is what spiritual community can offer,
across the board, you know, regardless of what community you’re talking about, and what branch of any religion you’re talking about…
…that sense of presence and communion and connection to something larger than you. And I know, this is all really cliché like, this stuff gets talked about all the time, but myself, as you know, having grown up a very secular Jew, and don’t consider myself particularly spiritual, but also sort of have been influenced by Eastern…
…religions and philosophy and, and just being in progressive culture and being in hippie culture and, and kind of coming through all those different influences.
I still also wouldn’t necessarily say that I’m spiritual, but I would say that it’s meaningful that people can connect…
…to something bigger.
And that we, and that it helps us, it forms a bridge to connect with each other.
Um-hm. Yeah, and just being as present as possible in that moment, and not, you know, try to cling to something and not try to resist something, but to really just be, you know, there, present, acknowledging what’s going on around you. And I, like you said earlier, we do live in a culture where, you know, there’s so much like unreality, and we just like, I don’t know, we absorb that, I feel like all the time, that it’s like, we’re not actually facing some real truths. So yeah, so I think, you know, that’s probably really awesome to be able to have a congregation like that. I mean, as a queer person, I feel like I’ve always had to create my community, as opposed to being able to, you know, find one easily. I grew up in Arizona, and it was really, really conservative, not queer friendly. And so it, I guess it in some ways, because of these experiences of, I’m feeling different inside, I have different thoughts inside. I don’t think I can share those, at least with the people that I knew at that time, my family and, you know, friends at school and such. So, I think growing into adulthood and moving to San Francisco, was, it was the, it was the start of that blossoming.
Finding, chosen family is such a hugely important experience.
Yeah. Yeah. For queer folk, I think maybe especially, but, you know, yeah, finding your finding your people that you can really have heart connections with…
…who accept you.
And I think one of the benefits too of that, is that we know that we can do that, you know, I think that maybe a lot of the people that are still living in my hometown, you know, don’t know that they can do that. But you actually can, you know, go to other places in the world and connect with other people. And that you really can grow into different types of relationships, and not just the ones that are prescribed, as you know, you should you know, who you should hang out with, or who you should be with. And maybe there’s that boldness,
Sometimes also, it’s access to being able to have that mobility, right. So, of course, most people I think, feel consigned to and materially are consigned to, sticking it out where they grew up.
Absolutely. I mean, I consider that for me, like a major privilege that I was able to come here to San Francisco. I was broke (laughs). But I had the opportunity to do that. And…
Right, it was like the 80s when you came to San Francisco, yeah, or early 90s.
Yes, it was. It was December 1990. When I moved here, so yeah, you could actually still be kind of broke in San Francisco…
Yeah, you could rent a room for a reasonable amount of money. And you could be a barista.
Or you could work at a diner…
Exactly. Yeah. I mean, I did plenty of jobs when I first moved to the city. Because…
This is such a good segue, ’cause, you know, I want to talk…
…to you more about all the different weird shit that you’ve done.
…before coming here.
All right. That’s a lot of stuff.
I interrupted you, though…
I got into your flow.
Yeah, um, well, I mean, I did come with some career in mind. Because I actually studied at Arizona State, I studied broadcasting and journalism. So I thought, okay, so I’ll work in, you know, television or some sort of, you know, film field or something along those lines. And, you know, when I came here to San Francisco, I did actually start working for KOFY TV 20. Which locals will very much appreciate.
Yes, there you go. And I did, I did realize I was like, okay, so it’s in the entertainment industry, but it’s like an office, like everywhere. And so I think the ideas of working in the entertainment industry as somehow being more interesting. Or would somehow, I don’t know, really get my excitement going, I was like, Oh, wow, this is really just kind of like working in any other job. It’s, you know, you were in an office. And yeah…
You’ve got these tasks that you have to check off your list. And…
Exactly, so I was like, oh, okay…
Yeah, not as fun as I kind of thought it was gonna be, but in college, you have no idea what is going to come before you. And you know, you pick this major, and you think, Okay, I think I know what this is gonna be like, and you kind of just go into it. And either it’s going to work for you or not. And I think sometimes you feel pressured to make it work for you. Because you did spend all that time and all that money.
And now you better do that. But if it isn’t really ringing true, what do you do then? And, yeah, for me, I was, I kind of just gave up on the idea of, I’m gonna have this career, I’m gonna be this person that works, you know, for years and years and years at a certain job and, you know, move up along the chain or what have you. I was like, I think, I think now that I’m in San Francisco, I think I just want to experience everything, do everything I can. Yeah, there were like a lot of different things that I wanted to try. Like, I wanted to be a Peachy Puff. Like I wanted to be a candy and cigarette girl. And only because I’d seen them in movies. And I thought that would be really fun and hilarious. And it was a great way to go out and know, I don’t know bouncers and bartenders, so it was actually really perfect in my 20s. To be to be there selling candy and cigarettes. It’s a really good hustle, too. So you learn a lot about, you know, dealing with people kind of sales,
Making a sale.
Making the sale.
Being really like effervescent with everyone and building rapport with people.
Exactly. And recognizing maybe where your strengths are, or maybe were things that like, Oh, I’m kind of shy in this way, or Oh, wow, I’m really bold in that way. And kind of letting those talents move me. And maybe those things I wasn’t so great at, like I wanted to try harder to get better at. So, so yeah, that was kind of the Peachy Puff thing.
How long did you work for them?
I think it was about two years.
Yeah, I’m actually still in contact with some of the women that were Puffs with me at the time, which I think it’s like, you know, when you go through, like really hard jobs with certain people, like for some reason, like, you really connect, and you will like throughout your whole life stay with those same people.
Touch back in. Um-hm.
Exactly. And even though you might not see them every day. But you know, I’m friends on Facebook with a bunch and what have you. At that time, also was when the Real Live Brady Bunch came into town.
Oh, my God, this is so crazy. So my roommate, he had heard about this show that was coming into town. And he was like, Oh my gosh, we have to go. It’s this theater troupe. And they come here and they do Brady Bunch episodes on stage. And they do it word by word. And I thought this is hilarious. So we went. And we had an amazing time. It was, they opened the show with what was considered a game show. They called it the Real Live Game Show. And I got picked to be on the game show. Which I don’t know. It’s just really funny. And I actually ended up winning at the game show and just had a ball. It was really great.
Was it trivia about the Brady Bunch? Was that what it was?
No, they actually had us do, like one of the things was we had to like wear headphones, so we couldn’t hear. But then we had to sing songs. And they would have cue cards, which, you know, I’m not really a shy person. And when it comes to like really weird stuff, I’m totally down for trying it. So the idea of getting in front of an audience, that people I don’t even know and just singing. I think it was like Madonna or something. I was like, Oh, yeah, I can totally do this (laughing). I can win this thing. It was great. We had a great time we…
You performed under pressure!
I was able to do it. And won. Yeah, won the game show. And we came back the next night because we wanted to see the next episode, because they were doing multiple episodes. And it was then when they were like, Oh my gosh, look who’s in the audience. Oh, it’s our winner from last night! And so, you know, I kind of got recognized by the, by the cast. And then the, the person who was running the whole show, basically, at the end of the program, came up to me and asked like, Oh, are you an actress? And I was like no, no, but who wouldn’t want to be?
Was that Jill Soloway that came up to you?
So she was, yeah. At that time was, I don’t know, was just, I, I don’t know whether just thought I was funny, or just thought I was interesting. I don’t really know exactly. But when, when Jill asked me, like, if I was an actress, I was like, no, but you know, again, who wouldn’t want to be and asked, basically, if I wanted to join up with their troupe and go on the road. And it really struck me as kind of a surprise that, you know, someone that I literally just met, would ask me to do something that crazy.
And while I was actually entertaining the concept of like, doing it. I really thought about, this was at the time I was really exercising yes. Meaning like, rather than being like, Oh, no, no, no, that’s okay. Thanks. Anyways, oh, no, I really appr…how can I say yes, more? And so I thought this would be a really good challenge. To be able to say yes.
How did you describe it as “practicing yes?”
Is that the wording that you used?
So how could you…how could you say no to that offer?
Exactly. So I was like, yes!
If that was your modus operandi in that moment.
Totally. And the idea of like, well, this is something new. I’ve never done anything like this before. This will be a great experience. I have no idea if there’s any money in it. But that really wasn’t a driving factor. It was just this is something cool and new. So I said yes. And went on the road for I guess it was almost two years. And we performed all over the US. And it was a great experience. I mean, who wouldn’t have enjoyed that?
Did you play multiple roles? Or did you have just one role that you played?
I was actually officially hired on as the stage manager, wardrobe mistress, prop mistress. What else? I handled all of the understudy parts. So basically, if anyone got sick, and they couldn’t go on, like, I would go on for them, even if it was like Bobby,
Either gender, gender roles.
Didn’t matter. Yeah, I had to be able to, you know, at a moment’s notice. And then…
I can definitely see you as like Bobby or Peter or Greg, or, you know,
…any of the girls, provided you had a blonde wig.
I was Bobby one night.
I thought it was a pretty good Bobby. Um, so yeah, so it was really it was fun. It was an amazing experience. I learned a lot about myself.
Was Jane Lynch traveling around with you all at that time?
No, she was…
I know that she was in she was in the show.
She was. She was in the cast. Um, Ana Gasteyer.
Was actually our Alice and she was…
…phenomenal. And yeah. I mean, there’s like a whole bunch of, you know, really cool actors that have come from that. I mean, it came originally from Chicago. So I think that whole comedy Chicago theater scene really was just amazing.
It was Chicago? I thought Jill Soloway started in Boston is that right?
Yeah. But I think this whole Yeah, the whole theatrical Brady Bunch episodes it was was Chicago. And I think it was because of sort of like Second City and that kind of thing. I think that there was a lot of comedy going on. And people just really wanting to sort of try new things. And the idea of doing, you know, the Brady Bunch on stage was just, it was novel. So I loved doing that. And when I came back, I didn’t you know, back to San Francisco when the tour was over, I didn’t have a job.
Had you sublet your apartment? Or did you just leave your housing situation. Do you remember?
I did sublet. And yeah, the person that ended up subletting, he ended up staying, and then we ended up dating.
It kinda just worked out.
It was sort of like, Oh, great. I’m home and cool. Here’s this, like, basically, Insta-boyfriend. That’s cool.
I’ll do that. And so, so yeah, we did that. And, you know, I didn’t have a job to come back to I went on unemployment, which I’d never done before. And I’m, I mean, oh, my god, I loved it. Because basically, I was like, some 20 something in San Francisco, I would just like hang out at New Dawn, and write in my journal, or…
I miss New Dawn cafe so much.
I miss it!
This is a very, like inside San Francisco conversation in a way that we’re having.
But as part of, you know, New Dawn Café was definitely, for our listening audience, was such an awesome, you know, local dive where you could get like a pile of biscuits and gravy…
…as you know, as tall as you were for like four bucks or whatever.
And there would always be a surly dyke, you know…
…at the counter serving you and the menus were all like scrawled…
…in like, in like grease pencil on mirrors, or something.
Totally. Covered in syrup.
It was not necessarily…
I really miss it.
…the cleanest place. But yeah, I loved it. There was also like, where you get the coffee? Like, you could just like refill yourself. And there was like this giant statue of Jesus. And I just remember just loving like, the idea of like everyone coming to sort of worship at the coffee Jesus.
Just to get us going in the morning. But so yeah, so I basically just did that for like the next year…
You’re on the dole, you’re writing in your journal at New Dawn.
Exactly. And so it’s, at that point, it was like, yeah, it’s time for something different. What do I want to do? Like, what do I want to learn? And I thought, gosh, San Francisco has a really big problem with homeless, and I knew nothing about, you know, anything about the community, I knew nothing about the resources. And I thought, gosh, this is really something I should know about, because it’s a really big issue in the city. And I really am so removed from it. So I went to work at a homeless shelter, I worked for Catholic Charities, and worked at, it was a shelter specifically for families. And it was usually women with their kids, sometimes there would be a man involved. It really, it gave me some insight into the lives of people here in San Francisco, who didn’t have it as lucky as I had it. But you know, didn’t have someone come up and say, Hey, do you want to be on stage, that this was really people struggling. It felt, it felt right to be doing something important after doing something so just fun and silly.
So yeah, it was it was very hard. It was it was something I was not prepared for. But that’s fine. That’s kind of my M.O. also is like, I don’t necessarily need to be prepared for something because I’m gonna experience it. And I we’ll figure it out. And I kind of give myself a little bit of room to to feel kind of uncomfortable, or just sort of figure it out. So yeah, I enjoyed working there, which then led to working for Walden House, which was also for the, what was called Sister Kin. And basically the um, was for young women who were kind of straight out of juvenile hall. And they maybe are not going to juvie. But they are going to this like place where they can, you know, get drug counseling, or they can go to school. It was basically kind of like a halfway house.
And same sort of situation, I didn’t really know anything about it. But it really felt like this is something I want to learn. And I want to expose myself to. And it really keyed into all the things that really brought me to San Francisco in the first place, which was like, I want something new, I really want to try things and not just necessarily stick to the one thing because life is short. And the idea of just like having a single job in an office like that just that just sounded awful. And you know, for those who love that, that kind of like nine to five job, more power to you. For me, I really wanted at that point in my 20s just to try the most oddest strangest, every experience I could. So yeah, this was a tough one also, because, you know, I was dealing with young women, young women who were going through a lot. And I think I’d kind of taken the pendulum, you know, from one side to the next I went from being something that kind of felt frivolous and fun, into something that was really heavy and really serious…I didn’t kind of know where I was gonna go from after that it wasn’t gonna stay doing that. Because I felt like what I had learned was sufficient in the time that I spent there. I think that, had I spent any more time doing both of those jobs, I think that it might have, I might have burned out because I was working graveyard shifts. And I think I just needed to have a little bit more levity in my career. I wanted to become…
Yeah. I wanted to become a diner waitress.
(Laughs.) Wait, wait, timeout.
Okay, so. So this is, it’s such an amazing breadth of different jobs that you’ve had…
…over the course of your adult life. So we’re still in your 20s, at this point, or we’re getting into your 30s now?
Getting into my 30s.
Getting into your early 30s maybe now?
Yeah. Yeah. Yeah.
And when you say, so, I and I get the sense, I mean, like as because I was a psychotherapy and intern…
…for many years and working a lot and not getting very far in my career. And, you know, when you’re in those situations where you’re doing very, when you have to be very present…
…in the care of people who are at various, various stages of having support or lack of support in their lives, and you’re playing that pretty heavy support role. I mean, burnout is really common, obviously.
So you did a couple of really intense jobs back to back at that point, how many years was that kind of combined Catholic Charities, and then Walden House?
Um, I would probably say that probably the two jobs were about maybe like four years.
Between the two
So, a chunk of time really doing that intensive, one on one…
…really having to be present. Yeah. For people at who have like, various kinds of institutional trauma in their lives, and, yeah…
Multi-diagnosis. I mean, all kinds of things going on.
Yeah. So when you say you wanted to be a diner diner waitress that was actually a goal of yours? Or was it something that you just sort of slipped into?
Well, you know, a lot of people who have worked in service industry have said, you know, everyone at some point in their life should work in the service industry, because then they would understand and respect…
…people who who do work at a register, or work, you know, at a restaurant. And it’s hard work. And I really thought, Okay, well, I guess maybe this is the time that I do that. Because I also ascribe to that, the idea of like, yeah, I think that when you when you take a job, and a job specifically that serves, there’s so much you can learn from that. And I really wanted to like learn as many lessons as I could, but also kind of have fun. (Laughs.) Because it was, it was specifically Sparky’s Diner, which was the sort of late night, after the club, go for your chili cheese fries, kind of diner.
And, as opposed to my sadness about New Dawn closing many years ago, when Spark…Sparky’s finally closed its doors just a couple of years ago.
I didn’t cry.
I didn’t shed a tear. I spent a lot of really great, you know, late nights…
At Sparky’s. For sure. Because I lived in that neighborhood. And it was definitely the go-to diner but like, Oh, my gosh…
Where do we begin?
Yeah, it did run its course.
It was definitely done.
Yeah. That was, you know, it kind of brought me back to sort of the Peachy Puff kind of days where it was sort of like, Oh, right. Now this is back to a hustle. Okay, that’s right. So I’m, you know, having to I don’t know, serve people and interact with customers and try to get tips. And I’d just never really done that specific type of a job before. And so yeah, it just sort of like I wanted those skills.
And you worked there for a really long time.
I did. It was, I think about six years…
…that I worked there. And for the majority of it was on the graveyard shift. And that’s really, that was baptism by fire. It was, you learned so much and experienced so much like, you know, I, I knew how to break up fights. And I knew how to chase down people who were leaving, and not leaving money for their check. I mean, it was just like all kinds of madness. And the people that work there were also totally insane and crazy and fun. And yeah, it was it was really what I needed at that time. And but it was also really stable. And it was something that when you went there, you did your shift. And when you’re done, you went home, there was no inbox that you would come back to the next day. There was no project that you still had to be working on. It was literally day by day.
And there was something about that being present in that. I have no idea what’s going to happen tomorrow. Cool. It just felt very fresh.
Yeah, the idea that anything could happen was was kind of exciting. And so I enjoyed doing that for the, for the time that I did. And I’ve I think I’ve formed some of the closest relationships. And I think probably anyone who’s worked in the service industry understands that, that the people sometimes that you work with at restaurants, like you will be like, friends to the end. Cuz you’ve just been through a lot.
You acquired at least a couple of BFFs.
Yep. Oh, yeah. People that I still see, like, weekly, and will always see. So that’s, that was another really amazing gift for a job that I think a lot of people would just see a sort of throwaway job, like, oh, whatever, waitress, whatever. But it was really important. And it was really pivotal for me. And I would say it’s probably one of my favorite jobs that I had.
I think just because it was each day was going to be a new adventure. And, you know, I told one of my co workers, because, you know, he was asking, like, how do you know, how do you stay on all the time? Like, how are you able to like, keep your energy up. And I had said to him, I said, well, it’s like, this is like our stage. It’s like, we get to play parts, we get to play personas, we get to play with all of these other characters. It’s like improv. And he thought it was like the craziest thing. But he really agreed it was like, Wow, it really kind of is like improv, you have to figure out who these people are, how you’re going to interact with them, and how you’re going to extract tips from them. (Laughs.) So yeah, it was actually a really fun experience. I really enjoyed it.
There’s something really special about the way you’re able to immerse yourself in an experience. And, and we’re just mainly talking about your career path right now…
…and not other branches of your life, but how you’re able to immerse yourself and really be able to get out of the experience something positive…
…or something, you know, something about developing a skill or something about actually enjoying the experience. And I think, you know, so much of work is, can be a drudgery…
…it can be tedious, it’s obligatory, we are tied to having to work because we have to make a living for ourselves…
…and money is incredibly stressful. I wonder how you how you avoid some of those pitfalls, because it’s really inspiring to me, you know, knowing you and you know, I don’t know, listeners if you figured it out. But Nannette is a friend of mine.
So you know, so it’s something that’s inspired me about you. And you know, it’s something that I’ve struggled with a lot in my in my career path, which is like a sense of, you know, there are people in the world who seem to know what they want to do.
And they just go for that. And that’s what they do. And that’s their career for their entire lives.
I know, lots of people like that, maybe maybe fewer and fewer, because I think the job market, and sort of expectations about staying with the same employer have really changed over the last, you know, during this phase of late capitalism (laughing) that we’re in.
Right? People are very portable.
There’s no gold watches, none of that stuff is happening anymore.
That’s right. So we’ve, we’ve come of age, as Gen Xers through this. Through this time, I think it’s you know, there’s, there’s, there’s very few people of our generation, I know, I know, a handful of people who were like, at the same company for 20, 25 years,
30 years, or whatever. But I think the the, the majority of experience now is we do a lot of different things. And we’re trying to find ourselves and find our groove and find, you know, a better fit in, in our jobs.
So I’ve had a lot of my own ennui about my career path, kind of not going the way that I thought it would go, or not finding the thing that I wanted to do…
And it’s really only been in my late 40s, that I’ve really started to make some peace with this process. And the fact that, oh I can look back on all these different influences, and all these different jobs that I’ve had, and all these different life experiences and realize, oh, like, everything that I’ve done, even if it’s not a very, like, a clear linear path.
Everything I’ve done has contributed to who I am. And that’s just fine.
And I’m okay with that. But I wonder, it seems like you had access to that sense of, that sense of satisfaction from much earlier than I did, even though you didn’t do one thing, you did a lot of different things,
But like, that sense of satisfaction of actually just immersing yourself in the process of work.
It’s true. And it really was a mindset, for sure, that I didn’t approach my going to work as, oh, a drudgery, you know, I have to do this thing again, today, I always told myself that I will stay at a job as long as I’m entertained by it. And if I’m no longer entertained, I will leave. And I’ve always promised myself that, so if it did get awful, you know, I would I would leave, or at least leave before it got awful…
…because, you know, I didn’t want to have that kind of experience, specifically around working because I know it can be awful going into a job you don’t like. I mean that I can’t think of anything that’s more demotivating for like just existence, than having to get up and do something that is draining and exhausting, and something that you just do not enjoy doing. And I’m fortunate enough to live in a city where there are a lot of weird jobs. And there are a lot of funky things that you know, you can get involved in. I’ve also accepted the fact that I will not have a lot of money. (Laughs.)
That was like a big part of it. I was like, as a lot of people, you know, kind of going into the tech industry or really trying to find those jobs where they would be able to make the big bucks. I did kind of give up on that idea of like, I’m probably not going to make a billion dollars being a waitress. But gosh, if I don’t enjoy being a waitress!
That wasn’t what you were motivated by.
Um-hm. Yeah, me neither. Yeah, like I, looking back on my job history. It’s like, I was a peace activist. And I was I scrubbed hot tubs…
…in Santa Cruz, and I, you know, like,
There’s no money in that!
Like, I’m a bookkeeper, but I didn’t become, you know, a CPA…
I didn’t become a controller…
I’m just a bookkeeper. And that’s a very pink collar job, in a lot of ways, having studied to be a therapist, at the masters level is also the pink collar of, you know, of practicing therapy, because people who go on to get their PsyD, or their PhD, or become, you know, licensed psychologist or psychiatrist even and have a full, you know, the full MD training…
…as well as the specialization in, um, psychology, those are jobs that ultimately end up paying a lot more money…
…than masters level therapists, especially if you’re working in nonprofit community mental health clinics…
The time investment is heavy…
…to be able to get to those places.
And, you know, I very much respect that, I respect anyone who, you know, goes through those kind of processes, that wants to be a lawyer or a doctor, or those things where just takes so much, you know, school and devotion and dedication. And I don’t know, for me, I guess I just wanted to, I dont’ know, feel a little bit freer…
…and not feel that I had to do a certain kind of a job. And yeah, like I said, even if it meant that I was broke, that’s fine. I know how to be broke (laughs). I grew up fairly poor. So that was never really a big concern, like money, I don’t know, it just it’s not been a motivator. I love to travel. I love nice things. But it doesn’t necessarily mean that any of those things have to cost a lot of money.
Um-hm. So what happened after the diner?
Alright after the diner, let’s see, um, I did leave for a short period of time, there were like a couple different relationships that kind of waylaid me in different directions. One almost to Australia, that did not work out. And another one to Michigan. That did not work out. But he did come here. So that actually became me coming back because I went and visited. And so coming back, I was like, Okay, cool. Now it’s time for a new job. What do I want to do? What do I want to learn? Same kind of situation, I didn’t want to just take a job because I, you know, needed to pay for the rent, even though I did need that. But, I saw a job opening for working at the front desk of a hostel. And there was just something about that, that really struck me as interesting. And, you know, yeah, I’m in my 30s. And maybe that’s not really the job for, you know, someone in their 30s, it’s maybe something for a younger or, I don’t know, more like a backpacker type. But I was just fascinated. And I I’d never stayed in a hostel. So working at Hosteling International was an amazing opportunity for me to really learn how to travel on the cheap.
Oh, for sure.
Yeah. And I actually stayed there. That’s the longest job that I’ve stayed at. So I was there for 10 years.
Um-hm. And that really became more of a Career with a capital C for you.
Yeah, absolutely. And I kind of was surprised in myself to that I was staying somewhere so long. And but again, I, I kept telling myself, so long as I’m entertained by this, so long as I enjoy joy when I’m doing, why not just keep doing it?
And your role changed over time. And you were able to challenge yourself at different levels in the organization, do different things.
That always helps.
You weren’t behind the front desk the whole time you were there.
No, I would probably say like the first two years was behind the front desk, and then I became the front desk manager. And then after that, I sort of developed the Group Sales Department. And so it was all about bringing groups of people to San Francisco and staying in the hostel. And they didn’t have that role before. So it was also exciting for me, it was something that I could invent, because they didn’t have anyone that had done it before. So that was kind of exciting. And, and gave me that motivation.
I’m sorry, I don’t know if I caught this. Or if you said this, did you actually pitch that role? Or was that something that supervisors, or you know, people who were in management, were…kind of conceptualized and said, Hey, you’d be a good fit for this, or…?
No, it was something that I was more like, that I pitched. It was one of the responsibilities of the front desk manager was to answer, you know, calls. So if say, a Boy Scout troop was looking for a…
Group bookings, um-hm.
…place to stay, the front desk manager would have to handle that. I just thought, gosh, this should be its own job. I mean, there’s a lot of groups that come and stay in hostels.
Yeah, a lot of group bookings. And, you know, they’re, they’re lucrative for hostels, and especially during downtime, it’s one way to keep your hostel keep going is, you know, having these big groups come in. So I did sort of, you know, pitch it, as you know, I think I could spend more time doing this. And so then it became like, Okay, let’s do part time, front desk, and then part time group sales. And eventually, it just shifted over, because, because I was good at it! And I liked it. And it was, it was making a lot of money for the hostel. So, it was a win-win for everyone. And, so yeah, I stayed as the group salesperson for like, I don’t know, I guess that was probably like six years. And it was great. Again, it afforded me opportunities to travel, you know, to know other people at other hostels that I could just like, go to New York and stay for free there or, you know, go to different cities, and just know that there was some place that I could go to. It was cool. So my most recent job that I’ve now had, since 2013…
So this is your day job, while you’re training yourself to be a death doula.
So I work at San Francisco Ballet. I had wanted to work at an arts organization. And that was kind of another thing, like I’ve never worked for an arts organization. I didn’t know anything about ballet. I never took dance or any of those kind of things. But I always just thought it was beautiful, I’d seen The Nutcracker. But luckily, and because I came with some skills, with group sales, I was able to come in and I have learned so much about ballet, I am obsessed with it now.
And just become that like the hugest fan. And I think it’s very par for the course for me to again, jump into something that I know nothing of, but just the joy of learning. And the joy of, I don’t know, having mastery of a skill that you didn’t know before, or to be able to speak on a subject that you knew nothing about, you know, even just months prior. Like that’s really that’s, that’s exciting for me. It’s really motivating. So, now, yeah, I would say my incarnation now is very ballet-centric.
And, yeah, I go to the I go to the ballet, many, many, many times a week now. So I’m very fortunate.
You actually see performances many times a week.
I know, I’m, I’m pretty much like, I think I pretty much watch the ballet as much as the performers perform it. It’s, yeah, it’s just a beautiful art form. And it’s something that I thought, this is an amazing perk for a job, because I don’t have to pay for these tickets. And because I’m not getting paid a lot, it’s actually a really good benefit. And I’m gonna make use of it. And even though I think a lot of my co-workers don’t really do that, I think they sort of see it as sort of like, well, the end of the day, I just want to go home. But at the end of the day for me, I want to see like what I worked for, you know, it’s like, all day long. I’m, you know, in the office. So yeah, what is this for, and it’s I think that’s also really helped with longevity, for me is that the idea of like, I can still reap something amazing from my job, which, you know, maybe some days isn’t as, you know, exciting as the next, but knowing that there are people on stage performing, and that, like, I helped on some level make that happen. I don’t know, I just think that, like, it’s just really satisfying.
That’s wonderful. Because it could be if you had a different temperament about you, if you had a different frame of reference about you, it could be just, like, an office job…
…that you have, you could actually just clock in, clock out, you’re doing group sales…
…you have a role to play in the organization, but you don’t necessarily need to engage on the on the art side of the program that the…programmatic side of the organization…
And it’s become one of your great loves.
Yeah. And it just sort of proves to me over and over, whenever I’ve tried something new that I can do it. And it’s worth trying stuff. And it’s, you know, to be bold, and to make big steps when you need to or when you want to and you know, I might fail, I might be really bad at it. I might not like it, but I’m going to at least give it a shot. And then it’ll be just one of those other things that I’ve done in my life, that, you know, again, brought me to who I am today. So yeah, I love working for the ballet. And it’s it’s something that’s also very healing for me, because I think being in the arts, being around the culture, being around dance, it also allows me the space, I think, to do the the doula work that I do now. Because it’s so much beauty, and it’s so much joy, to see the performers, that I can really nurture myself…
…and really fill the well, and enjoying art. And that I think affords me the opportunity then to give to others because I have, I feel like I have so much.
That’s right. It Yeah, I could see it being a really good balance for you, especially as you take on more doula clients and make this more a viable part of your career…
…and stay at the ballet and have a completely different role. And, and, you know, I mean, obviously, if, if eventually you change jobs again, you’ll still have the art of ballet to enjoy, right? But like…
I know, yeah!
…just being connected to the organization, still having a role to play at the organization would be a really good balance.
I um, one of the things I really appreciated about when I was a therapy intern was, you know, sitting with people in therapy is a very abstract thing to do. Like you’re, you’re, you’re sitting with people and their internal experience, and how they express their internal experience, how they can externalize it through language. And it’s a very weird, murky, abstract kind of thing to do. And then I’ve also, for many, many, many years, been a bookkeeper. And I was a bookkeeper during the entire time that I was a therapy intern. So I always had that balance between very abstract and more concrete than almost any other thing, like ticking off my task list of, of bookkeeping, you know, chores, and I’ve always appreciated that about bookkeeping. It’s that it’s, it is one of those jobs that I can leave at work, and, you know, fulfill myself creatively in my life outside of work.
That’s awesome, to be able to have that balance and to, to really take advantage of that balance in your life. Yeah, I can’t think of, I can’t think of anything that’s gonna make me want to stay at a job longer than knowing that, like, I’m enjoying that job, and I also have other things in my life that are really, really fulfilling. And I think, yeah, if I can do something that will continue my doula work, if if need be, if it means I have to have a second job that this this one is pretty, pretty awesome for that.
I did actually, I don’t know if you know this, but I did actually start another volunteer opportunity, not maybe about a year ago, because, I, you know, I don’t know, I was just looking for another experience, as you know, as I do, and I found rabbit rescue. So, like…
No! I didn’t know this!
Yeah, so there’s this organization that basically takes rabbits that have been, you know, turned in to like, you know, the SPCA or what have you, and tries to rehome them, try to get them adopted. And so they were looking for people to socialize the rabbits, which basically means playing with bunnies. And I was like, Oh my god, that actually sounds really nurturing.
So yeah, so maybe like a couple times a month, I just go and I just play with bunnies…
At the SPCA?
It’s actually at Petco.
Okay. Oh, uh-huh.
Yeah, they’ve got like a couple hutches that they leave for our organization to be able to put bunnies in. So can adopt through that, which, so it’s really nice that they, you know, allow that space in their store and it really gives them more visibility. And I, you know, as classic Nannette I know nothing about bunnies. I’ve never had a bunny, I never even held a bunny. And I was just like, oh, but that sounds kind of cool. And bunnies are great, I had no idea.
You have cats. Are they anything like cats?
Not at all. Their temperaments are completely different.
Do they like to be held?
You know, they are their own thing. Like I, I’ve tried to describe them as like, they’re kind of like this. No, they’re not really like a dog. And well, no, not like a cat. They’re really like a bunny. I mean, they just, they’re playful. They are smart. But they don’t engage you in any way that you’re used to that pets normally engage you like, you know, dogs wanna go on a walk. Bunnies don’t wanna go on a walk. You know, cats are a little bit more standoffish, but bunnies want a little bit more attention. So maybe they’re somewhere in between cat and dog, that they’re playful, but they’re also still a little aloof. But yeah, so I’ve actually found a great fondness for bunnies I am not planning on getting one now. I’m not going to foster fail and end up with one in my house, though. There have been a few that are really cute. And I don’t know, I might get one at one point. But I’m trying not to.
This could lead to any number of things. I mean, and the next thing you know, you’re like, working with Future Farmers of America or whatever.
Right! (Laughs.) Yeah.
Is that the name of the organization? I might have totally fucked that up.
Yeah, that’s it!
Is that what it is, Future Farmers of America?
Absolutely, you’re right. So yeah, I encourage, if anyone’s stressed out there, go pet a bunny. It really it works.
It helps with that. So with my meditation practice, and my bunny petting, and my time at the ballet, I feel like I can take on, you know, all sorts of like heavy topics and do it, like still full of joy, and just really wanting to you know, be of service and to be available to other people. So yeah, I’m grateful that I have that opportunity right now in my life, because I can, I can afford to do it. I’m make my budget work. So this works out. Of course, I would love for one day to maybe actually have the doula work be an actual career. At this point, because being a death doula is not lucrative. There really is no professional organizations or anything that really advocates for it being like a legitimate job that you would get paid for.
Um, medical industry like, there isn’t like insurance that would pay for a doula or anything like that. So I think it’s gonna be probably similar to birth doulas, where initially that was considered a, you know, a wacky hippie thing or whatever. But now, like, it’s very normalized, and doulas are covered under a lot of insurance. So, I’m kind of thinking I might go eventually that direction.
Um-hm. Right. It’s an emerging profession. Really.
Perfectly put, yes.
You’re in on the ground floor.
Yes. Yes. And, you know, and everyone keeps saying that there’s this big, what, are they calling it a gray wave? Silver wave?
Oh, sure. Yeah.
Because there’s so many Boomers who are now aging.
Exactly. And you know, and the more that people will actually have to start to consider their death at some point. And that the death positive movement that I’m a part of, really wants people to consider it and to think about it. So I think that we might be seeing a little bit more of that to come…
…a little bit more awareness of it and more comfortable talking about it. There’s, there’s a couple cool things like, like, there’s a really cool group of people, they’re called, what is it, You’re Going to Die. And they do really, like great shows where basically, they invite people up on stage and talk about death and dying. It’s just not something that you would normally expect to experience when you go out to a club. You know, on a night.
They do like performance pieces?
Yeah. And sometimes it’s literally just someone who gets up and just shares.
So it’s spoken word, sometimes people sing. Yeah, sometimes just people talk about their diagnosis, or they talk about someone who has died. And it’s really healing. And it’s, I think it’s something that a lot of people are so surprised that they’ve actually enjoyed going to, because I think somehow the idea of like, Oh, you know, we need to be somber. And, you know, there, there can’t be joy around this, like, you can actually talk about death and dying and have it be like a joyful experience, it can actually be like, fun. And I think people are starting to kind of clue into that, and maybe embrace the idea that, yeah, you don’t have to say it like in a hushed tone, or you don’t have to be very, you know, like I said, solemn, when you talk about dying, that we’re all going to do it, it’s all going to happen. So.
How do you want to die? Have you thought about it, since you’ve been so active in this field for the last few years?
Absolutely. And my death plan will change. And I encourage people to make death plans, because it’s a really great way of looking inside. And recognizing what really is important to you, I have an idea of what my environment would look like, I have an idea of the people that I would want around me. Of course, these things are not guaranteed…
…nothing is, but the idea of envisioning something, and making efforts to have a peaceful transition. Like, I really embrace that. And I don’t want to sort of leave something unknown. So yeah, I’ve actually gone through my death plan with some friends. And I’ve worked on some friends’ death plans as well, too. So that way, we actually know…
…what the other person wants, I mean, very easily, someone could, you know, become incapacitated and not be able to advocate for themself and to actually know what your friends want. That’s, I think that’s just really powerful. And it’s something friends should give to each other.
and should be made aware of, and, you know, this is the person I would want my room, or don’t let this other person in my room. And, you know, do you want to have a, you know, a rabbi or a priest present? All of these things are decisions that, it really is helpful for the people that are still around, that are conscious, that are trying to help that person who’s dying, it really helps them be able to offer that person, what I think is considered a good death, a death that is peaceful, a death that is very present, that you’re able to experience it consciously. That for me, is what I hope for. I hope that my death is, I’m very conscious, I’m very peaceful. I’m very aware. And I feel everything.
Friends around you.
If you’re experiencing pain, you would, you might have to make a decision about how much consciousness you’re willing to…
…give up in order to mediate the pain.
Absolutely. Yeah. And you know, what measures I would want taken or not taken. So, you know, like, I have, you know, my advanced directives setup as well, too. So that way people know, no, I don’t want, you know, a breathing tube. No, I don’t want, I don’t want CPR even at a certain point. Because if it’s gonna do more damage, than it would actually bring me back to a quality of life. No. So yeah, it’s important to look at those things. And I’m, I dunno, like, I think that the fact that I’ve like lived my entire life without some idea of what I would like my last few days to be like, I think it really is because I’m getting older.
It’s just not something you think of when you’re in your 20s. I think that it’s taken all of this experience and where I am now, to get to a place where I would even consider it and desire a certain outcome.
I um, I’ve been a little bit more of a lifelong, I don’t know how to put this, but I’ve had more of an awareness, an acute awareness about death, lifelong, because I had an early loss experience, right, my dad died when I was very young. And but you know, for years and years, in my 30s, I had intended to make a plan and do an advanced directive and write a will and stuff. And I just was, it was one of those tasks that while I was maybe, maybe slightly more aware of the imminence of death than many of my peers, because of these early experiences. It was just one of those tasks that was like, I was just going to put off and put off and put off, and I knew that I wanted to do it, but I just didn’t get around to it. And then after my mom died…
…in 2010, it took me a little longer to kind of, of struggling with it and being ambivalent about that task and avoiding that task. But not long after my mom died, probably within a couple of years of that. I put a plan together.
Good for you!
Yeah, um-hm. So I’ve got an advanced directive, I’ve got an “in case of my death” contact list…
…so that all my loved ones are contacted properly.
So that it’s not just an announcement on Facebook.
I’m sure it will be that, as well.
That’s part of it. Sure. Why not?
It’s actually interesting, the role that that social media in particular, and in particular, Facebook is playing in helping people to build communities to memorialize our friends and loved ones. I have now probably about five or six, dead Facebook friends, ah, whose pages are still active, because whenever people are feeling inspired, they will leave a note on that person’s page and the whole community community can see, you know, and, and reminisce and, and support each other and stuff. So.
Um-hm, yeah, it’s interesting…
Yeah, digital memorials are really sort of an emerging thing. And I think, the idea of curating that, you know, I mean, it’s, it’s something that you do need to think about, because, are you going to just close your account, which you could, but it doesn’t allow for maybe the people who were there with you at that time to be able to share those kind of memories, or it’s like, an anniversary or something like that, it. It’s a beautiful space where people can kind of come together.
And there’s a way to notify Facebook that you want to have your account memorialized in case of your death, so you can actually go through a whole process to do that.
Finally, yeah, I know that there’s still a lot of glitches, there’s still sometimes people who will show up in different sort of like, Oh, hey, remember this picture? And it’s someone who has died that’s close to you. And that can be kind of hard…
…for people who, maybe it’s still very raw. So I think that…
…there’s still a long way to go.
There’s…yeah, I think the one, one of the main complaints that I’ve heard from people who’ve lost a loved one about how Facebook continues to kind of treat that person as if they’re still an alive person in a way is to remind you of their birthday.
And that that can be really painful. Yeah. And in the same way that, you know, your your memories pop up. And it’s like, your ex who you had a really awful breakup with (laughing), or whatever. It’s like,
Totally, thanks for reminding me of that painful thing.
Thanks, Facebook. Yeah. Yeah.
We all have to mediate these things.
Well, yeah, and I think that that’s part of what I was also fascinated by, which is legacy, and doing legacy work. I really, honestly didn’t even think about something like that, before kind of embarking, you know, in this adventure, learning about being a death doula.
Can you define what you mean by legacy work?
Yeah, um, well, for example, you know, a lot of people want to write a will, because they want to know where their stuff is going to go and who gets what, but there’s a lot of other things that don’t necessarily get accounted for. So it’s sort of like I say, like, it’s about the values, not the valuables. And how do you pass those things along? Pass your teachings, or what you learned, just those deeper things that aren’t necessarily an object. But something that was from your experience. And how would you want to share that? Who would you want to share that with? And what form does that come in? I mean, it could be like, literally just, you know, a journal, it could be a video that you make, it could be a scrapbook, I mean, there’s so many different ways that you can create a piece of art or some communication form, that if there’s someone that you want to, you know, to receive this, not everyone has someone that they, you know, necessarily want to give that to, or even have someone that they can give that to, the ability to speak of those learnings. And those lessons, I think it’s a very powerful part of your dying process is a life review. And I think a legacy project allows you that opportunity to do a life review. And, yeah, if not for another person, at least for yourself.
Uh-huh. And it seems like that’s something that as you become more conscious of, and accepting of the inevitability of death…
…that you can begin that process much sooner than when you are in hospice care.
Right? So you can start having those conversations with people that you’ve been meaning to have for years, or you can start planning for who you want to share what story with? And what are the really beautiful things that’s becoming more of a trend now that I really love the idea of is a living memorial.
What do you think about that for yourself?
100% 100%. I think that…
What an amazing party, that’ll be.
Oh, my gosh, well, I actually just helped a client organize for her, her life celebration. And wow, hers was stunning. Like, she’s basically set the bar for me, like really high, like, wow, if I could only have a celebration of life, the way she did, the people that she brought together in her life, the art that was created, we actually had her coffin there it’s just a plain pine box. And we all decorated it. So we had these little…
Yeah, it was beautiful. So we we had these little sort of hexagrams that we painted and drew and basically put all of our, our love and our thoughts into as we were creating this art, and then we afixed it to the, to the coffin. And this was a whole two day process. It was a big celebration. I mean, there was like food and all kinds of stuff going on. And we did various rituals that were, I think, really important also for her family, who I don’t think was very comfortable, really about the whole idea of a life celebration. But I think having some rituals helped them through that process. Like, for example, when we had the coffin setup, we had a sort of a, it was almost like a like a labyrinth walk. But we did it in a sense, where you would start at one end of the room, and someone would take you, which was the doulas. It was me and another one of the doulas, would take that person along that path, when you would cross over to the coffin, inside the coffin would be a mirror. And so you were, you know, asked to sort of just take a moment and see yourself, see the reflection, see what that…
…brings for you. And then you would come back around. And then at this other side, you would cast off, what they, what they called a body, but it was basically something that had been living, but now is dead, it could be a leaf, it could be, you know, something symbolizing that. And by casting that off, recognizing that you do cast off your body. And I think for some of them, it was really a powerful experience. Because the idea of doing something that was, I don’t know, so beautiful, into something that might be scary, made it a lot less scary.
And especially because it was done joyfully. And again, it wasn’t like this funeral procession of, you know, heavy moments, it was definitely something to, to take seriously. But it was also something to do joyfully. And I think that surprised a lot of people during the life celebration, but we had slideshows, we had music, it was, yeah, she definitely has set the bar. And I can’t wait, actually, I don’t have mine planned yet. But after that experience, for sure. I’ve got some new ideas.
Um-hm. One of my most persistent fantasies about death is this idea, this impossible idea that after I’ve died, I can peek in on my memorial, on my funeral, on my memorial service and you know, the party afterwards, right? And it’s such, it’s such a, you know, it’s funny, it’s just one of those sort of wish fulfillment fantasies that you have about like, what if I could witness what people really think and how people are feeling about my…
…my death. And it’s, and it’s interesting, because, really, we can’t be present for that…
…process, but being able to accept death and be more conscious of death, as you approach it. If you can, I mean, obviously, there’s, there are accidents and very abrupt deaths that we just can’t prepare for but.
But if you can approach it more consciously, you give yourself the opportunity to have those experiences that can be emotionally cathartic with the people in your life.
And for each other. I know that there was a period at the, during the life celebration, where people were just sharing memories. And she had such a diverse group of friends, that then not all of them knew each other. So it was a beautiful way to actually have these people share these funny memories, or these, you know, silly times, or maybe something that was scary that happened. And like half the room had no idea what that person was talking about.
And it was really, I don’t know, it really brought together these different communities as well, too. And that we actually saw the person that we thought we knew pretty well, in different ways that like, wow, we really, we don’t know, everyone.
We show ourselves so differently to different people.
That’s a really beautiful thing about how unique it is to connect with different people.
Yeah, and having a life celebration offers that opportunity for people to really come together. And you’re there. And you get to receive all of that love, too and I mean, it’s just it is it’s just love fest.
I’m feeling, I’m feeling lately that I really want to have a big bash like that…
…for my 50th birthday, which will be you know, just in a few years. So, yeah, but it definitely will be hopefully, I mean, hopefully, I won’t be on my deathbed.
Right. We might not need the coffin for that.
We’ll see. Yeah, exactly. It won’t be quite as dramatic. But I like the idea of like, really poking my, you know, friends who live in Minneapolis, and Boston and Seattle, and wherever, all over the, all over the map and be like, you got to show up for my 50th birthday party. We all need to hang out together at the same time (laughing).
Exactly. I mean, now…
You can roast me and tell really embarrassing stories. That’s fine.
Absolutely. And it is, like you said that wish fulfillment like this is the this is the opportunity, you can have that. And again, it just reminds me again of that thought that I had about David Bowie was like, oh, if we only all could have that we can. Like it’s it’s, it’s not hard to decide that you want to bring your friends together, before you’ve died. And actually just talk about that. We could all do that tomorrow. So you know, what’s holding us back? It’s just a culture of fear.
And, you know…I think for me, maybe some of it was, like not wanting to bum people out. Because I think for a lot of people, the idea and the concept of death is a real bummer. And it’s like how…
And it’s triggering. I mean, it’s, you know, it’s something that really creates anxiety, it can really, you know, create really quite intense anxiety for people to deal with, so…
Exactly. Yeah, so that’s one of those things where it’s like, oh, how do I do this in a way that still is, you know, respectful of people’s feelings, but also letting people know that they can cast off those feelings, at least for that night and sort of embrace the idea that we have each other right now. We might not in the future, like at some point, but right now we do have each other, we can celebrate that. With still the understanding and the knowledge that we’re all gonna die.
I think we’re gonna end there.
Yeah, that sounds good.
Thank you, Nannette. Thank you so much for being here. I would love to have you back to talk about a completely different topic. Like I, I feel like you and I could have like four or five, good hour, hour and a half long…
…on-mic conversations about completely different aspects of you know, how our lives went completely, how, like not how we planned them.
We’ve only scratched the surface.
Thanks for listening to my conversation with Nannette Mickle. If you want to learn more about Nannette’s death doula practice, visit her website at welcomedeath dot com. Isn’t that an amazing URL? That’s welcomedeath dot com. We are And The Next Thing You Know. Subscribe at Apple podcasts, Google Play, or wherever. We’re just getting off the ground here. So if you’re liking the show so far, one of the most helpful things you can do is tell your friends! Word of mouth is super powerful, so share it on your social media with the hashtag, #nextthingpod and a link to the show. You can also rate or review us at iTunes, or become a financial backer of the show at patreon dot com slash nextthingpod. You can be a patron for a few bucks a month, or many bucks a month. Also join the conversation at nextthingpod on Facebook, and find me at soozenextthing on Instagram and Twitter. If you have an And The Next Thing You Know story, send it to us. Share your story via email or record a short voice memo on your phone, and send it to nextthingpod at gmail dot com. We might feature it on a future episode. The banana peel is by Max Ronnersjö, music is by Jon Schwartz. Thanks, everybody. We’ll talk soon. Unless I’m busy at work planning my end of life party.
Transcribed by https://otter.ai, edited by me.