Church and Main

The sight of former President Jimmy Carter at his wife's funeral gave a lesson in what it means to be actively dying, even if the lesson was lost on those commenting on social media.  In this episode, frequent guest Andrew Donaldson joins the show as he and Dennis talk about death and dying as well as being caregivers to their parents following health emergencies recently.

Show notes:

We Should Talk More About Dying, Cause You Will by Andrew Donaldson

Lectionary Q Podcast

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What is Church and Main?

Church and Main is a podcast at the intersection of faith and modern life. Join Pastor Dennis Sanders as he shares the stories of faith interacting with the ever-changing world of the 21st century.

Hello, and welcome to Church in Maine. On this episode, we talk about what former

President Jimmy Carter has to teach all of us about life, death, and caregiving.

This is Church in Maine.


Hello and welcome to Church in Maine, the podcast that's at the intersection

of faith and modern life. I'm Dennis Sanders, your host.

Church in Maine is a podcast that looks for God in the middle of all of the

issues that affect the church and, of course, the larger society.

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There are a lot of dates in my life that are seared in my memory.

I remember the day that I graduated from high school, which is May 31st, 1987.

I remember the day that I got married, September 15th, 2007.

And I remember the day that my father died, January 31st, 2015.

Then there's July 2nd, 2023. That was a day that my mother suffered a stroke, and our lives changed.

Mom went through a little over a week in the hospital, followed by another two

weeks in rehab, and then moving into assisted living.

The months following the strokes have had their high points as she settled into

a new life, but they've also had a lot of low points, especially during the

autumn, as she had a few setbacks.

All the while, I've had to become her power of attorney, and I've met with medical

doctors as we try to think about making medical decisions.

Not at that point, but in the long term of what type of things and what type

of treatment should she have and

the extent of treatment. Should it be everything? Should it be limited?

Should it be just kind of very limited to allow for death?

All the things that for a long time you didn't want to think about, but now you do.

None of this has been easy for me or for my husband.

I'm a guy that has basically always been anxious. And right now,

my anxiety level is probably on a scale of 1 to 10 to 15.

But there's also been some blessings. My mom has noticed more often than not

that now I'm the one that's taking care of her.

When it was only a few decades ago, back in the 70s and 80s,

that it was the other way around.

I was the one that she took to doctor's appointments and took to emergency when I was sick,

and now I'm the one taking her to doctor's appointments and going to emergency when she is sick.

This is the world of being an adult caregiver.

And this is what happens when you're dealing with loved ones as they go through

all of those massive changes towards the end of their life.

Late last year, the whole world got a lesson in how loved ones deal with illness

as we all saw the funeral for former First Lady Rosalind Carter.

Her husband of over 75 years attended the funeral.

Former President Jimmy Carter is 99 years old and has been in hospice since February of 2023.

As many people saw, he is in a special wheelchair, and many people noticed that

his mouth was hanging open.

His appearance was the talk of the internet, which is kind of a proof that a

lot of people have never dealt with someone that is actively dying before.

There was one commenter that took fingers to laptop to write about this and

to help people understand that dying is also a part of living.

Andrew Donaldson has been a frequent guest on this podcast. He is a prolific

writer. He is the host of the Herd Tale podcast.

And he wrote about the experience of watching Jimmy Carter's funeral.

But then he also found himself in the midst of a situation himself when his

father had a health emergency, also a stroke, on New Year's Day.

So, with both of us dealing with very similar situations, we decided to have

a discussion in death, dying, and caregiving, especially for loved ones.

Many of us don't ever want to talk or even think about death,

especially the death of our loved ones.

But the fact is, it's going to happen.

And if a parent or another loved one, husband, wife, lives long enough,

you're going to have to care for them before they cross over.

So in this episode, we talk about caregiving, how to prepare to care for others,

and frankly, how to prepare for our own demise, something that Andrew is intimately aware of.

So with that, let's listen to this conversation with Andrew Donaldson.


All right, Andrew, we are glad to have you back here.

Hey. So the reason I wanted to bring you on today was to talk a little bit about

an article you wrote back in December for your Hertel on Substack.

And that was dealing kind of in the aftermath of Rothland Carter's funeral and

the reaction to it, especially the reaction to seeing former President Carter,

who is kind of been in hospice almost for a year now. Yeah.

And kind of about our culture, maybe political culture, but also just culture

in general and how we deal with death and dying.

Could kind of give people just a synopsis of what you wrote.

Yeah, we don't deal with it well.

We don't deal with it. For people that didn't see it, and we don't have the

pictures with us, President Carter was at the funeral service.

He's been in hospice for what, eight, nine months now?

It's a considerable period of time. Uh, he was in what they call a,

a, a reclined wheelchair.

It's a raised elevated wheelchair that where you're in about a 75 degree angle with your full body.

Um, you know, he, he looks like he's on this tour with all possible due respect to Jimmy Carter.

That's what he looked like. He had a blanket over, by the way,

that's the blanket off the back of their couch at their home.

It has a picture of both of them on it.

Um, that's the blanket that was covering him, you know, his mouth hangs and

I put in a piece. I was like, you know, maybe some of you haven't cared for

somebody that's at the end of life or very, very ill or, you know,

obviously, you know, close to the end.

You know, their mouth hangs open. They don't look like themselves.

Any picture that you saw them in the last days, their face is drawn.

They can't move around a lot. They can't respond a lot.

That's what that looks like when you're, you know, almost 100 years old and

were supposed to die a year ago, if not many years ago in some cases.

You know, that's what it looks like.

And it shocked people and they didn't react to that well. And I kind of took

that up as a writing point.

It was like, I bet a lot of those people have just never done that.

They've never been a caregiver.

They've never had people close to them in that stage of life.

When I was a teenager, we took care of my uncle, my Uncle Art,

who went from driving me to school most days to Alzheimer's.

And we watched him slowly go through those stages of dementia and then the anger

and then just the silent catatonic stuff. So, you know, we've been I've been

through that with other family members and things like that.

But I think that reaction was just indicative of I bet a lot of those people

have just never seen this before.

Everybody knows what Jimmy Carter looks like in their mind's eye.

And then when they see him like that, it shocked them and they had a reaction to it.

But we don't talk about that part of humanity enough. And it's like,

look, that's where this goes eventually for everybody.

If you live that long, somebody else has to take care of you.

If you, especially his extraordinary life where, you know, he's a hundred years

old for practical purposes.

I, I think that was a telling teachable moment that we missed because it just

went on the internet of everybody reacting.

Reacting i think the reaction was telling i don't think people have dealt with

this in their own mind or they wouldn't have reacted that way you know what

was interesting a few days later um,

i saw something from a hospice nurse that explained the whole mouth hanging

open yeah thing and and she i think it was a video and she just kind of explained

this is what kind of happens especially you know late in life and especially

in that kind of dying process process that I think,

you know, I didn't know that before.

And I think that was helpful to understand that.

Um, but I think that, you know, why is it that we don't.

Understand or know that what what has been in our culture that we can't immediately just say,

well this is a guy that was in hospice he's

in basically active dying and kind

of just understand that um you know

it's it's people are fearful

of it because everybody knows they're mortals somewhere in there if you're if

you're honest with it and we're not honest with it we make movies about young

love we make movies about superheroes we don't make a lot of movies about caring

for the loved one that you've been married to for 50 years who doesn't know

your name anymore and yells at you because they don't know who you are and they

think they're attacking you when you're just trying to wash their feet.

That doesn't make a good movie. There's a few of them that usually win Oscars

and stuff. Maybe they should.

That's not how we're built. We're built to think we're invincible.

We are built culturally to accentuate, especially now with social media, your health.

Everybody has a filter on their phone to make them look good.

Instagram and Facebook, Facebook, you know, it's almost a joke now.

It's like, well, what's your Facebook persona? And what's your real persona?

What's your Twitter persona? What's your real persona?

You know, all of us are faking it a little bit. We have our best avatar pictures.

We do our best pictures of our even Twitter supper club.

I don't give you the ugly pics of food unless I'm trying to make a point.

I try to make it look good, right?

It's just counterintuitive. And you know this philosophically and theologically

as a pastor, as somebody who cares for people at this stage of life,

it's almost so ingrained that we don't think about it, but it really is the

most basic thing in life.

Part of life is you're going to die, but it's such a basic thing that we completely

ignore it usually until we have to.

And there's been a lot of philosophers smarter than me try to explain why that

is. Psychologists have tried to explain why that is.

It's just the biggest part of us being human is, I've talked about this before

in writing and stuff, that there really is two kinds of people,

those that realize they're going to die and those that don't. And the ones that don't.

Usually don't behave themselves really well during their life,

and they don't really store up their life stuff for the end of time the way they shoot.

People that have come to terms with their mortality all in all,

and some people that'll break them mentally and physically and spiritually that they can't handle it.

A lot of people that are okay with their own mortality, though,

they're very calm people. They're people that have a good grip on life.

It's a healthy thing to understand that, look, this rod's got an end date on it.

You don't know when that is. You should just live it as if that could be at

any moment because it can be at any moment.

And some of us have experienced very close to like, oh, yeah,

I'm I'm already in the bonus overtime stuff now. Let me enjoy this. Right.

I just it's so basic that we don't talk about it.

But we should, because if you get the end of life right in your own personal

credo and ethics and whatever your ideology and religion is,

Because if you can get that set in its proper place, the rest of your life orders up very, very good.

It sorts really well on the spreadsheet of your life if you can set that one

thing right. But a lot of people don't.

So what does society look like when you have a whole bunch of people that don't

want to face the fact that they're going to die or that their loved ones are going to die? Yeah.

Well, it's depressing. It's so depressing. And like, we don't want to talk about

that, but like, you know, there's millions and millions of Americans right now that are caregivers.

There's been some stories and some real good journalism on this.

That number's increasing because our population,

although the life expectancy is dropping, the actual number of elderly people

in America is growing exponentially and will over the next few years as the

boomer generation starts aging out and Gen X starts entering into their retirement years.

This is going to keep happening, right? right?

If you've been a caregiver, this changes your perspective. Not a lot of people

have had to be a caregiver for loved ones.

The other thing that's happening is the post-World War II boomer generation,

overall, there's a lot of exceptions, of course.

Financially, they did pretty well for themselves, so they got to do things like retirement.

Remember, retirement, as Americans know it, that's a pretty new concept of the

last 60, 70 years, especially the last 30 or 40 years.

So the idea of retiring and being self-sufficient in your golden years is very

counter to most of human history where you had multi-generational families and

the elders were just taken care of naturally by the rest of them because they

still lived with you or lived close to you or lived on the same farm or something like this.

That's a generational ship. It's very uniquely American. Other countries,

they don't have that as much.

So this idea of self-sufficient elderly ship or whatever term you want to use,

that's kind of a new concept that hasn't really been fully fleshed out yet,

especially, you know, financially secure elderly people.

That's a very new concept because usually it was the opposite. it.

These are just things society-wise we haven't really worked out yet,

and we're working them out on the fly.

So you have some things like our friends down at the villages in Florida where

you have this ecosystem of pretty well-to-do retired people,

but then you also have millions and millions of elderly people that don't have

means and are stuck in the system, and they're stuck at the whims of Medicare

and people taking care of them and things like that, and they don't have those resources.

These are things we haven't talked about a lot because there's an incentive

to just pretend like everybody's like the folks at the villages making their

own way and God bless them.

We have mutual friends down there. They're having the time of their life. Good for them.

Those are two ends of a spectrum. And we need to understand there's a spectrum in there.

And life and death also means stages of, well, how alive are you and how close to death are you?

This is a spectrum thing that we don't talk about enough.

A healthy society has a means to deal with the entirety of that spectrum.

Like a lot of things in our society, we seem to only want to deal with the extremes

of, oh, let's have this whole ecosystem online of selling product to the disposable

income of the people that are doing really good, retirement planning,

that sort of thing. That's one aspect.

And then you have this other aspect of we got to do something about these poor

elderly folks that can't take it out of themselves, which we need to do.

And then most people are somewhere in between.

That would be the healthy way as a society to look at that sort

of of thing i think yeah i mean

i think one of the things that i i one of

the reasons i actually wanted to talk to you about this also is because um i've

entered that whole caregiving role and that's been something that's been building

over time with with especially with my mother but that really ramped up this

last summer when she had a stroke um and you know you have to.

You know do a lot more especially and and facing with that fact of mortality um in a way that,

you may have not before or it was more abstract and it became a little bit more

real and she's not in any stage right now where you know we're thinking hospice

but um even that at times you You know,

when we were looking for a new assisted living facility,

I've talked about, you know, that this is a place where she could actually have hospice in place.

So, you know, you kind of have to, you're kind of, when you're dealing with

it as a caregiver, all of a sudden life and death, it's a lot more real, I think. Yeah.

Yeah, I think so too. As we sit recording this right now, whenever it comes

out, I'm leaving tomorrow to go take care of my mom and dad. that.

Like those millions of Americans we talked to be, I'm going to be a full-time

caregiver for the foreseeable future.

My father had a stroke on New Year's Day, debilitating stroke, massive stroke.

He's doing medically, he's fine. He's got a lot of recovery rehab wise.

That's going to be my life starting tomorrow. Literally, I'm going to drive

up there. I'm going to take care of my mom and we're going to go see dad and see where we're at.

I come from a big family. My mom's the ninth of 10 kids. She lives in the old home place.

My family's very tight knit on my mom's side, my dad's side too, he's one of five.

Um, I came from a big family, so it was just understood like,

oh no, we all take care of each other.

My, my three neighbors around our house was all aunts and uncles,

you know, aunt June lived over here, aunt Mary and aunt uncle Art lived right under there.

I didn't know they weren't even married until they got married.

I'm like, what do you mean they're getting married? I thought they were married.

Uh, you know, aunt Mary and uncle Art was up here on this side of the hill.

And then uncle Fred and aunt Patsy was on this side of the hill.

And, uh, almost all of them are gone now, but that's how I grew up with family.

It was literally, well, of course, family will take care of you. They're steps away.

Um, that's a blessed way to grow up, but it also brought that of,

you know, when Mamaw had her heart attack and then later on she had her strokes

and actually she had a stroke in church that actually killed her about a week

later. Cause she kept having the mini strokes after it.

Um, you know, it was just understood like, oh yeah, the family will take care

of you. Don't even worry about it.

Modern age, 20, 30 years later down the road, we understand there's a lot more

to that. that. There's the financial aspects.

Healthcare is a lot different now than it used to be. You can't just run somebody

to the hospital and drop them off.

We did it. My father's been very smart with his money, so it wasn't a huge issue,

but we had to have those discussions right off the bat in the hospital.

Like, where are they going to put him in rehab?

Because we have to travel. Mom's got to travel. We got to pay for hotel rooms now.

Hotel room, you're talking $1,000 a week right there, probably for halfway decent,

even at the medical rate, which was really good up there. Those are the conversations

you start having. Those are another societal changes.

I don't know people understand how expensive healthcare has gotten,

but also how complex it's gotten.

It's really – even dad's got – they're retired school teachers.

They got PEIA and I think Humana.

If I remember right, I think Humana actually executes it through PEIA,

Public Employee Insurance Agency for West Virginia's retired school teachers.

And dad has good savings, so they're in very good shape comparatively.

But even at that, just navigating it. Who do you call? Well,

we have three different ambulance rides because he went to local hospitals and

they transported him to the big hospital at WVU.

Then they transported him to rehab, which they said, do you want to take him

in the car because there'll be a chore?

And I'm like, he's paralyzed on one side. No, I can't take him in my car. I understand.

Like, you have to sign five forms because it's going to cost you for that transport,

but it's what, you know, just safety-wise and everything. thing.

That's the kind of conversations people don't think about ahead of time if they've

never been caregivers. It goes exactly to what you were just talking about.

Our society is changing and.

This is where policy stuff and politics and this is where it meets with things

like health care is like you get older, your health care stuff gets really complicated, really fast.

And usually suddenly, you know, you have a stroke, you have a heart attack,

you have a fall, you have an injury, you break a hip.

Now, all of a sudden, your health care stuff, it just goes faster than people

can come up with, even people that are well prepared, even with people,

you know, my parents aren't rich, but they were smart with their money.

They have enough means where it's not catastrophic.

That's the first thing we sat down with moms like, hey, we got to be smart with

the money now because we don't know how long this is. Yes, we have plenty of

money, but we want it to be there.

These are conversations, all these families that are, you know,

these millions of people that are caregivers, these are conversations that are

happening every day with folks. folks.

So when we're talking about policy with stuff like healthcare,

with stuff like, so, you know, we're getting ready to have a big fight over

social security and Medicare and Medicaid, because we have to,

because it ain't working.

Cause you know, look, you got to raise taxes or cut benefits and probably both,

or you're going to need another hundred million immigrants, one or the other,

you know, you're going to need probably a combination thereof to make that thing

work. These are the conversations you have to have.

If you talk about mortality in a healthy manner, though.

It brings all this back in the focus of, look, people have to have options.

What are those options going to be? Because we're all going to get sick if the

Lord tarries and the creek don't rise.

We're all going to die at some point, hopefully in old age, surrounded by people

that love us. But not everybody gets that.

You know, my dad's rehab center, it's a lot of older people.

There's a guy in there that's 22 years old with a traumatic brain injury two doors down from me.

Rehabbing. It's going to be there for a very long time with a TBI.

I had a TBI in my early thirties. Okay. I was just right at 30.

I had a TBI, had to rehab it, which is a blessing now because I can talk to

my mom and dad and be like, yes, speech.

You feel like an idiot sitting there going, ooh, ooh, ah, ah,

D, D, D, because they're literally teaching you to talk like a two-year-old

because that's what you have to relearn and retrain the muscles in your face. You feel like an idiot.

It feels stupid, but you got to do, I can explain that because I've been there

and done that because I've done that rehab stuff.

And that's another part of this. A lot of people, they don't see in those rehab

centers, you know, the work that goes in the professionalism of those people. We were blessed.

These people are exceptional people, physical therapists, uh,

speech therapists, OT therapists, the counselors that talk them through group sessions of this.

You've had a stroke. Let me take one quick thing.

I think this is amazing. And this is something societally we need to do.

When my dad, I tweeted about this when my dad was in his hospital room at Ruby,

the main hospital there.

He had a volunteer come in, guy's 75 years old, but he was a stroke survivor,

and he's just a volunteer.

And his job is he walks around and talks to the people that just had a stroke

before they do anything else medically, before they've gone to rehab,

before their symptoms have really stabilized.

He walks in and he just talks to him for a minute and says, hey,

my name is John. I'm a stroke survivor.

I laid in the bed right where you did, and I couldn't move my arms and legs.

I couldn't talk. I thought my life was over.

And I drove here today in my vintage Mustang six-speed.

You can do it too.

That's a volunteer. That's not a guy that gets paid. That's not a government

program. That's not healthcare money. Insurance doesn't pay for that.

What effect do you think that has on patients?

It's little stuff like that that is really important that societally we need to talk about.

We need to have more people like that as part of the healthcare system,

not just the big insurance companies, not just the expensive stuff.

That stuff's important too.

But that's an older man who has that perspective to do it.

And I think that's one thing younger people, he has mortality in its proper

place in his life. He still has symptoms.

He doesn't talk just completely perfect, you can tell, but he's 75 and he does that every day.

He's there five days a week at the hospital talking to stroke patients at the neurosenter.

These are the things we need to talk about in in a healthy manner with mortality, but also with policy.

Hey, maybe we should fund some people like John to go do that so they can encourage people.

Maybe we need to spend a little less money on this type of whatever health care

and a little more on the physical therapists and the nurses and things like that.

Those are all proper conversations. Once we fixate mortality,

we're going to get sick. We're going to die.

It's not just a number on the wall. It's not just going to happen to somebody

else. It's going to happen to you.

Let's talk about it in those terms instead of just dollars and cents and ideology

and, hey, this kind of health care is better than this kind of health care because

this one size fits all ain't going to work real well.

That's the conversations I want to have, especially now that I am a caregiver

and I'm having to do this and I'm having to deal with mortality.

That's how I want to be talked to. And I'm pretty sure most of the people in

that similar situation, they want to be talked to in that way,

not just by their politicians, but also by their pundits, also by the commentators

and by their friends and family, because they got to learn how to talk about

this stuff in a productive manner as well.

You know, I think one of the things that I'm thankful that my mom did a few

years ago, and she did this actually out of seeing what happened when my dad died nine years ago,

and just all the costs that were associated with that, is to pre-plan the funeral.

And so she was insistent on that and, um, to have that all laid out and paying for that ahead of time.

And I'm thankful that she did that, that that was something that she was, she saw how much it was.

She didn't, I think she didn't want to have to put that burden on me to do that as an only child.

And so she went ahead and kind of dealt with that.

Um, and I don't know, I think that that's something I hope that I would love to see more,

um, parents and, and ultimately they're the children as well to talk about that and to,

to do that because the fact is people are going to die and you need to find

some way of, you know, you're never prepared for death,

but to at least be ready for it. Yeah. Yeah.

It's a great point you raise and something we need to talk about is,

again, this is society stuff. This is family stuff. This is kitchen,

what do they call it? Kitchen table.

Kitchen table stuff, yeah. This is the kitchen table stuff you need to talk

to, especially if you have elderly parents, especially if you're like us where we're middle-aged.

We're going to use that term real loosely. We're middle-aged.

That means you're going to be 100-something. I'm going to make it to 80.

I'm doubting it, but let's go with it. But as you go into middle age,

as your children, you know, like my kids are moving into adulthood,

so I'm bringing them more into like, you know, I just did powers of attorney with my 18-year-old.

And we had to explain, it's like, why are we doing this? It's like,

well, because we need to, you're still on my insurance. I need to help you, but you're an adult now.

You have to sign for yourself so I can get into your medical records.

I can help you with stuff. I just did that a couple of days ago.

You know, they're learning that first little couple steps of things people don't

think about is like, oh, who's going to help me with things as a legal adult?

All, most Americans do not have $500 or less in savings.

That's most Americans. They have $500 or less in savings. We see that statistic

all the time. The average funeral costs is $7,800 with a viewing and a burial.

That's a huge gap that will hit people out of the blue sky. And you're talking

about coming up with that $7,800 within two or three days usually.

Because they're going to want that up front before they do anything else.

That's a massive expense for folks.

You can get insurance on funeral stuff, and there's other things you can do.

Pre-planning to die is one of the best things you can do for your loved ones.

I just did this again with my dad every time I go home.

Three days before his stroke, we had this conversation. Here's where all the

wills are. Here's all the deeds. Here's the insurance documents.

We're working on a piece of property that was part of my grandfather's farm.

Farm. We just did, did some, some stuff with that.

He's like, this one's on top. Cause we start waiting on signatures on this whole

pile of stuff. So I'm top shelf in his gun safe, right? Fireproof safe.

Will mom's will dad's will insurance, burial plots, right on that whole stack of paper pre-planned.

I can walk in my father's house and my college age kid that lives with them most of the time.

Um, he also showed her that. So when he went in the hospital,

she took care of all the bills, like within three days, cause she knew where it it was all at.

I can walk in my house right now and my dad's funeral is pretty much done.

I walk in, pick up the phone, call Greg Waters, director of Waters Funeral Home.

Dad passed away. Here's the stuff. What time you want me to come by?

Oh, come by at two o'clock. And it's done.

And it's done. I mean, there's a lot of details to it. People need to understand,

and you're a pastor, so you've been in these rooms at these times.

You're not thinking in those moments. No, you're not. No. You don't have the bandwidth to process.

When your loved one dies. You don't want to have to think about pre-plan this stuff.

There's a million ways to do

it. There's all kinds of services online now that will help you set it up.

It's not super expensive. Some of the legal documents will cost a little bit

of money, but it'll cost you a lot more to not have a power of attorney,

to not have a medical will, which is very different than just a living will.

You need to have a medical will as well with some details in it.

Have that living will, have a, you know, if you want an NDR or something like

that about extreme measures you you do and don't want to mine is very specific.

Because I've been on a ventilator and I've had feeding tubes and I know what

is what and what feels like.

And so mine's pretty specific because I've been there. You need to do all that.

It's not just for you. And people are like, well, I don't want a funeral.

Well, that's kind of a selfish thing to say. If you really don't want it,

fine. But the funeral ain't for you.

It's for your family. It's for your friends. It's for your loved ones.

You can pre-plan this stuff and you can do it relatively inexpensively.

You can actually just print a generic form off online now and just fill it out

vaguely. and most of that will hold up.

You can do your own wills for a couple dollars and take it to a notary with

two witnesses, and that's legally blinding with two witnesses or a notary if you can find a notary.

Do this stuff for your family. And more importantly, teach your kids to do it.

Teach your loved ones to do it.

If you're a caregiver, go ahead and talk to, you know, I've already,

I sat in my dad's hospital room.

We ran through everything just in case. He was like, okay, you need to do this.

Here's where this is. Here's where my planner is.

Here's how to get into the checkbook. Here's the checking accounts.

Use this card for this and this card for that. You've got to have these conversations,

and they're uncomfortable conversations, but they're very, very important.

And the biggest thing is it's one of the biggest acts of love you can do for

your loved ones because when they're having their hardest moment in losing you

or another loved one, you've already got it planned out for them.

And they're going to really appreciate that down. Even if you can't take care

of it all financially, at least plan it out.

At least lay it out. Hey, I want you to call this person. I want to be cremated. I want to be buried.

I want this song at the funeral. You think this is silly. Pick your music at

your own funeral. I'm begging you from watching it from years and years and

years of multiple churches.

Lay out what song you want at your funeral ahead of time. Just trust me on that

one because there will be a fight over it, I guarantee you.

Stuff like that, it's important, and it takes it off your friends and family.

This goes back to where we started, putting mortality in its proper place. I'm going to die.

I have it planned out. I have it planned. My family's taken care of.

They don't have to worry about what I thought or guess at it because I'm going

to tell them ahead of time. And then we can all get on with this thing and get

on with living until we die, which would be a great slogan for something.

Do you think that as a society, we're better or worse at dealing with death

than, you know, in past years?

Better or worse. You know, what's your perspective on it? But,

you know, you ever read about in the Himalayans where they do the sky funeral

where they have the one dude who's kind of like the sin eater.

He just takes him on the mountain, chops him up, lets the bird eat him,

and he's like, well, I think we're doing a little better than that maybe.

God bless him, is their thought, whatever.

I don't know. And you know what? I think we're probably looking at it the wrong

way, even doing it that way. Because, again, this isn't a one-size-fits-all thing.

What does your family need to replace you?

You know, that's the healthy way to really think about it. When you leave,

you leave a hole in the lives of the people around you.

Hopefully, you know, if it doesn't, then, you know, you need to find a mirror

and work on that a little bit.

If you're a father, if you're a son, if you're a brother, if you're a husband,

whatever the case may be, when you die, it's going to leave a hole.

Have you prepared to fill that hole up for those folks to at least let them

start healing and fill it up with something else?

That's probably the healthier way to do it and the healthier way to look at

it. And, you know, whether it's religiously looking at it or looking at it in

a cultural perspective or a family perspective, this is something that's,

again, we're going back to this again. It's inevitable.

None of us are getting out of this alive. We're all going to die.

So take your worldview society-wise and go, all right, if this is inevitable,

it is absolutely foolish to not plan for this.

And I know this is getting a little repetitive, but you just got to drive the

home point is, you know, are we better or worse at dealing with death?

Well, if you don't deal with it all, you're always going to be worse at it.

If you deal with it and fumble it a little bit, it may not be great,

but it's still better than ignoring it and acting like it's not going to happen. Right.

And we're, we've kind of got a society, especially the social media,

news media, everything's shiny and new and everybody looks good.

And you can have your perfect weight and you can have your perfect face and

your perfect hairdo and your perfect house and your perfect vacation spot and

your perfect everything.

That's what society is selling us. It's, it goes against that.

Oh, by the way, you're going to die. Let's plan for that too.

Right. The, the undertaker ain't super, uh, popular in town,

but everybody knows who he is.

Right. You know, they know where the funeral home is, you know,

the HC White and the Waters Funeral Home in my home, my little hometown, the two places.

These are things we need to look at perspective wise based on what do you want

to get out of it is your death going to be this cataclysmic thing that tears

people apart or do you want to plan it ahead so that your death is something

that brings the people you love together,

And it's going to be one of those two things. Those are your two options, really.

There's either going to be chaos and stress and worry and a financial burden

and all those things related to your death,

or you can plan it out at least a little bit and it can be something that brings

your family together and they can start to heal based off the fact that you

planned ahead a little bit.

I know which one of those I want for my kids and my loved ones and the people

who love me and my friends who hopefully all three of them show up at the funeral.

But that's what you got to look at it as is this is for them.

This is my gift to them as a human being and as somebody that loves them is

I don't want that to be a point of stress.

I don't want those last moments. I want them laughing at the funeral.

I want them telling stories.

I don't want them worrying about the bill. I don't want them worrying about

did we bury him at the right place or whatever the case may be.

Those are, that's the better or

worse perspective I would encourage people to do is look at it that way.

Look at it at how you're going to leave your family and take that burden away

from them because your death is not in your power.

When you die, how you die, you're not going to have any say in that.

You got a lot of say in that portion of it. Let's try to do that maybe.

Me you know one

of the things that um was interesting i've learned

from my and appreciated from my husband whose parents both

died probably at relatively younger ages i think his mom wasn't even 60 and

his dad was mid-60s um and um he has made it a habit when um he's from south dakota originally.

And when we're down there visiting his family, they go to the cemetery.

And these are those kind of old rural cemeteries, old Lutheran churches that have cemeteries.

And so to go to visit the grave of his mom and dad.

And I think that's something that I've started to do myself um when i've been

in michigan is to go to the cemetery to see dad's um funeral plot where is his

headstone um and where mom will ultimately be there one day too and,

you know i think it makes it more real i think it's this is a place where you

go and this is where you're going to end up um at least this is where your body

is going to end up and um Um,

you know, I think we don't always want to face that or, um,

see that that's going to be a part of who we are and, and, and,

and, and, and, and, and, and, and, and, and.

Part of history in some ways and, and, um, our own mortality.

Yeah. I, uh, it's interesting because my, my father made a promise to my grandfather

who his dad, he made him promise, Hey, there's these two cemeteries, um,

the Butler cemetery uptown, uh, which would have been his, um,

his father's in-laws people, if I explained that correctly, directly, uh,

uptown and then another cemetery out, um, the old, the old route 19 before they

moved it out to the four lane.

And he said, promise me, you're going to take care of these cemeteries at least

once a year. So every Memorial day weekend, my dad goes and mowed for time of Memorial.

And when I was a kid, you knew I did most of it. Uh, he mowed off them cemeteries.

Granddad made him promise to do that.

So it was always ingrained in us at a young age of like, you know,

this is just something you do.

You take care of the people that came before you, you, even if it's only once

a year, you at least think about it.

Um, yeah. And what's really funny is that's a promise he made to his, his dad,

my grandfather did to his dad, George Crook Donaldson, who is buried in a different

cemetery in Silo Road because he refused to be buried in the butler cemetery

because, and I'm quoting here, those butlers walked over me all through life.

I'm not going to let them walk over me in death.

So he was buried on Silo Road, but that's another story for another day.

Cause that was a Catholic Protestant beef with his in-laws, but what,

So him and his wife aren't actually buried together, but that's another story for another day.

But it's stuff like that. It's just, you know, that was something my dad did.

He ingrained it in me. You take care of this. You go to the cemeteries.

You know, we don't do a lot of cemeteries now.

Cremations on the rise. And I'm fine with that. I'm not going to get into an

argument. If you want to be cremated, fine, whatever.

I'm more concerned with your life and your soul. The repose of your body is not my concern.

We can do that however you want to do it. But those things are on the rise,

how people want to do it. And again, this is where that planning comes in.

But I always wonder why my grandfather made my dad promise that.

And then when I started doing all the research into the Hawksnest mine disaster,

which, you know, hundreds and now we think over a thousand men died in that

tunnel accident back in the 30s.

I was talking to my dad about where some of the unmarked graves were.

H.C. White, I talked about, White Funeral Home. his dad actually got he got

paid by the state and then got fined by the state for doing it to cover up what

the state paid him to do in the first place burying all the unmarked graves

including some of them on his personal property,

and I was talking to dad about that and he said well it was here and here and

here and I was like how'd you know that and I was like well dad helped meaning

his dad dad helped dig the graves.

Hold on, record scratch, what? Now it makes sense.

When, you know, early days of depression, granddad was a teenager or whatever,

they were paying him like five cents nickel or whatever to help dig those graves.

Why was it so important for him to take care of graves? Because he had a personal

experience of this ain't right.

I don't like this. This isn't going to happen again on my watch.

That's where that came from. them.

The new mentality with death where so much of our life is online.

I don't know how to fully form this thought. You're a better writer than me. You tell me.

So much of our life is now online that you can't put your death online.

You're not there to do it. You can't filter that. You can't make an IG story

out of that. Somebody else is going to do it for you.

Have you ever used this phrases, you know, their life preached their funeral

sermon or something along those lines.

Like they're like, we heard it at Rosalind Carter's. They said it.

And the grandson said it, you know, it's a famous, and he said this case, it's really true.

Your life preached your sermon for your funeral.

You can't do that on social media. You can't do that online.

You can't do that. And the old timers like my grandfather and even my dad,

although he's been texting me left-handed, God bless him. He took him two days

to figure out how to do that.

He's not really an an online creature, that generation. He's made himself good at it.

I'm not even really, even though I'm 43, because I just missed,

you know, the internet was kind

of right as I was getting out of high school. My kids are very online.

I've actually talked to them about this. Their idea of mortality is very different

because their life is so online.

They're so interconnected. You know, funerals used to be the people you lived

with close to you and they would come over and then you have a service and then

they go back to their lives.

How many of your friends are online now that you probably never even will meet, but they're very good.

I have, I have very, very good friends that I've never met and probably never

will online would do anything for them.

They needed me to do within my power to help them really would this idea that

online friends aren't real. No, that's nonsense.

That's childish. No, online friends are very, very real to people,

especially elderly people. Now we got that stat now, how's that going to affect your funeral service?

Are you going to put people joked about funeral by zoom and Skype,

but by God, we had a, we had a freaking pandemic and there we are doing it.

Right? And I didn't like it. I didn't like that my uncle Fred,

I talked about living beside me, he died in a hospital by himself because he

was in the wing with all the COVID folks because he had COPD from running a

montyple for years and years and years, black lung for those of you that aren't keeping up.

He was in the same wing, even though he didn't have COVID, died alone because

we weren't allowed to go see him and his family wasn't allowed to be with him.

And then we had to fight the city because the city had some ordinance about

how many people we could have at the funeral and then they didn't want us to have a funeral at all.

We joke about it, but then it happened.

And there's a lot of people from the COVID era that had to go through that with

deaths of their loved ones.

How does that affect how they think about life and death and funeral services now?

How does churches go about it when, you know, I don't know what statute limits it.

I'll tell you, one of my real mentors, almost the second father to me, died.

His son, when he died, his son got killed in a car accident,

tragically, about six months later.

I remember going to that funeral and we walked in the church,

church I grew up in, Okay?

Like, I'm not a nobody in that church. And they have all the little things down

where you're not allowed to sit here, here, here, and here for COVID.

And then we have this line of people that can't get in the building.

And I'm like, yeah, no, get the papers.

They're coming in and sitting down. We're getting this taken care of.

You know, that's sort of, a lot of people have stories like that now.

It's changed how they see death and funerals now.

We've been through COVID. But I can't kick that thought. lot.

Free sermon material. You go preach on it. I'll be happy to, I'll send the video out.

You can't put your death online. Somebody else is going to put it online.

That sermon you preach with your life now, somebody else is going to write that

IG post. They're going to write that Facebook post.

Maybe that's how we pitch it to people now. Maybe we have to reach people where they are.

Hey, you can't put your death online, but so many of your friends and so much

of your life is online now.

How are you going to do that? Maybe that needs to be part of your planning.

Hey, Hey, I know I have what's called dead coats.

I don't know what y'all call it. My kid says dead coat. Got a little index card

on my passwords on it. All right.

So they can get on my Twitter account and be like, hey, dad got hit by a flying

cow in a tornado like in Twister and unfortunately did not survive.

And they can make a little post about it and put it on there.

I have my mom, so I can go on her Facebook.

If something happens to mom and dad, we can get on their Facebook and do it.

Have you done just that little medial step?

Do you have the dead codes or whatever you want to call them to do social media

just so you can tell people?

How many of you, you know, my mom has friends online on Facebook.

I don't even know who they are anymore.

It used to be I knew everybody my mom and dad knew because you went to church

with them or grew up with them. They have friends all over the country now.

You know, this online death thing is a very real thing that we're going to have

to deal with in a very real way, even though it's all virtual.

That's a huge culture shift. That's a culture shift we can't get our mind.

It will be 40, 50 years down the road. Somebody will start studying it and really understand it.

That's a huge culture shift, man. man. You and me, we've been friends for years now, never met you.

Want to someday, hope to. I mean, you're so far north, you said,

I have to go down to South Dakota. That's north, brother.

When you got to go down to South Dakota, you're up north.

But this is a perfect example. We're friends. We talk about it. We pray for each other.

I've talked to you about personal things offline that are as a pastor and a

friend and just things I can confide in you.

I want you to know if if something happens to me, how would you know without

social media? If my phone goes dead, cause I die.

These are the things we need to talk about with, you know, our death is part of our life.

Make it part of your life. Just embrace it. And this is, you know,

I don't have the right words for it. I wish I did.

I need to think on it more, but you can't put your death online,

but your death's going to be online. What are you going to do about it then?

Yeah. I was going back to kind of with Jimmy Carter, the thing that I've learned,

been thinking about here now is especially like if you see things on youtube and all that is,

kind of things are always kind of i

would say beautiful or at least perfect um because

of course things sometimes especially if they're filmed they're scripted

and all of that stuff and the thing about the funeral was that it wasn't scripted

it was real um and it was and all of the the messiness of that and you know

that's kind of the thing about death is that it's not,

scripted it's real and um.

And that we kind of have to deal with that. And I think going back to why people's

reaction, it was, I think it was shocking to see something that wasn't curated

in some way, but that was real.

Yeah. He, uh, he meant it regarding more towards race, but I think it's universal.

James Baldwin had a great line about people, people hate what they fear because

if, if they let go of their hate, then they got to deal with their fear.

I'm bastardizing the quote. I'm paraphrasing it. But the, the gist of it is,

you know, they, they hate what they fear because if they let go of their,

you know, that hate, then they got to deal with their fear.

And that's what you saw with that. Mocking of old people.

You're afraid. I have no fear of death whatsoever.

I'm scared to death of losing my mind. I'm at extremely high risk.

I actually had an early onset Parkinson's scare about a year and a half,

two years ago, where they really thought that might be what's going on.

Turned out I just had peripheral entropathy where my hands aren't working and stuff.

But, you know, that stuff scares me. Alzheimer's runs in my family.

Parkinson, my uncle just died of Parkinson's a couple of years ago.

The most living man you ever saw, just a legendary guy,

a Marine football player, climbed every mountain from the Matterhorn to Australia,

like just full, full life and just whittled down to nothing by that wicked illness

to where he couldn't even stand up at the end.

You know, Parkinson's all time. That stuff scares the hell out of me.

And I'm not afraid to talk about it.

I have neurology friends on Twitter specifically for this issue.

Because I'm like, hey, talk to me about this.

Things like my dad's stroke, I know it terrified him. And luckily,

the cognitive looks like it's all there.

His speech is weird, but it's actually just neuromotor in his face.

So, you know, he's all there. That scared him. It scared me.

I mean, I drove to West Virginia. I was like, am I ever going to be able to talk to my dad again?

I had that thought. That stuff scares me because I don't want to put my children

through that. I don't want to put my family through that.

I don't want to lose my mind. That scares me, but it's a possibility.

You have to prepare for it.

Those are the parts you don't get to see with the Jimmy Carter funeral is what

are you afraid of? What was beautiful about the Carters was you didn't see anybody

that was afraid. You didn't even really see mourning.

And I'm not trying to be disrespectful here. Of course they miss her. Of course they love her.

Did you feel mourning out of that service? I watched quite a bit of it online.

It wasn't a sad mourning. It was, you know, if you've been to a,

if you come from a church background like you and I both do,

and even other cultures that aren't Christian have this though,

you know, celebratory funerals are just a different thing,

but they're a real thing, man. Have you ever been to a happy funeral?

They're, they're so good. They're so good for your soul. They, they make you feel good.

And brother, I've been to the funerals where you didn't want to be there because

it wasn't a good life story.

And you got to be respectful of the dead and you're trying to,

you know, have dignity with the family and you want to be respectful,

but you just knows like, God, that was a wasted life.

Oh, this is tragic. Oh, this shouldn't have been this way. This is what,

is there anything worse than sitting through those funerals?

I've talked to my dad about it. My dad was a bivocational pastor for years and years and years.

And he's talked about, he's like, sometimes you get up at the funeral and you

just look Look in their faces and and you they're just looking at you because they know.

They know. They know you've got nothing good to say.

They know you're going to go generic on the Beatitudes because there's nothing

you can say, and you can't lie to them.

And you see the pain in their eyes. My dad's always told me,

he's like, one of the hardest things you'll ever do as a minister or as a pastor

is when you've got that kind of a service, and you just have to talk about what

they can do because there's nothing you can do for this person anymore. more.

It all goes together to everything we've talked about, properly setting mortality

in its proper place as the end goal of your life, because that's where it's going.

Dealing with planning, dealing with things, it all goes into that because you

don't want to have that kind of a service.

You don't want your friends having that service. You don't want people going,

should we not have a service because we don't want to deal with the drama of it, which I have heard.

I know people who did not have a funeral service because they're like,

Like, well, the kids won't get along. Let's not have it.

I mean, how sad is that? How tragic is that?

I think these are things.

The issue with death, to kind of put it in one or two lines,

you got to have a holistic approach because everything you do from the time

you're born till the time you die goes into it. It really does.

And there's just no way to cheat it. You either planned it and you prepared

it and you treated it with the respect it deserves or you didn't.

And when you die and they have that service, whatever that service may be,

or if they skip it because they don't want to deal with you.

I've seen that a time or two.

You can't hide it once you're done. It's final, you know, and you're going to

be judged on it both here and depending on your religious belief.

I think you'll be judged in the next world on how you did it.

But the people there will judge you because the book's closed and there's nowhere to hide any of it.

That can be a terrifying thing or it can be a motivating thing to do better.

And let's make it a motivating thing.

Well, I think that that's probably the best place to end the conversation.

I was going to try to engage in a little bit of what people call rank punditry,

but I think it's best to kind of leave that for another time.

I think this was an important conversation to have, especially for,

I think, for both of us as we're both dealing with caregiving and hopefully

an important conversation for people who are listening,

who might either find themselves in that situation or soon will at some point.

Yeah, I don't like talking about it, but it feels good to talk about it after the week I've had.

A week and a half now, as we said in recording this, you know where I'm worried

about my mom, worried about my dad, worried about my own children.

Because I've got one child who saved my dad's life because she called 911 immediately.

I've got a younger child who's scared to go see him because she doesn't want to see her pap like that.

Totally understandable. Understandable. It's good to talk about this with people

that you care about and you respect and you love.

So hopefully, I know this is very different than most stuff we do.

I hope people listen to this. And if you don't do anything else,

talk to your loved ones a little bit about it.

Reach out to us. I'm happy to talk to you about it, too. I'm sure Dennis is, too. too.

But you got to talk about this stuff in the privacy of your home because death's a public thing, man.

So it's good for me to get to talk about this. It's healing for me.

So I appreciate it greatly, my friend.

All right. Well, thank you so much for talking and we'll talk again soon. Anytime, my friend.


Well, as we conclude this episode, as we deal with death and caregiving,

one of the things I wanted to bring up, especially for as how the church should respond,

is to really be mindful of caregivers, especially during our prayers.

So often during probably prayers of

the people at our congregations we pray for those who are

sick and that is important and we must do that but especially for people who

are dealing with chronic illness especially those who are in assisted living

or nursing homes it's also important to be mindful of the caregivers usually

those are members of the family,

that are spending a lot of time and their lives have been turned upside down.

And too often we forget about those people. So...

And in some ways, it took for me to be such an active caregiver to understand that.

So when we do bring up prayers, when we do bring up, deal with those who are

dealing with caregiving, pray for them. But also ask, talk to them.

See how they're doing. Ask how you can be of help.

I think that is one of the things that has been helpful. helpful.

I've had a member of the congregation where I serve that has asked how he can be helpful.

And I think that that's, that's invaluable.

So thank you for listening to this episode.

There are some notes that will be available, show notes, especially the article

in question from Andrew Donaldson and some other things about caregiving.

So please do check that that out at our website at

I also just wanted to add quickly to let you know that I do also record another

podcast. It's a shorter one called Lectionary Q.

This is a podcast that focuses on a text from the Revised Common Lectionary

with a reflection and some questions.

It's something I started actually in the fall of 2022 and did it for a little

bit, but then I had I had to stop just because I was busy trying to get it started

again, which is probably not the best time, especially now,

because as I've explained in this episode, but I'm trying to do it on a weekly basis.

So you can find those episodes and subscribe to the podcast by going to

So that's it for this episode of Church in Maine. Remember to rate and review

this episode on your famous podcast app so that others can find the podcast.

Consider donating so that we can continue to produce more episodes.

I'm Dennis Sanders, your host. Again, thank you so much for listening.

Take care. Godspeed. And I will see you very soon.