The Peace of Integrating Death Into Life
It is a privilege for me to interview hospice volunteers around the country; I always feel as if I have gained new friends after our discussions and I cherish the personal connection that I am able to make with each of them. In talking with Jennifer Wilhoit, I not only felt I gained a special friend, but neighbor as well! Literally, Jennifer recently lived in the small northern California town where I spent most of my childhood. Natural beauty abounds in this area of the country and for Jennifer, nature also informs her soul and helps drive her work as a writer and self-described, “story listener”.
Jennifer defined a “story listener” as someone who guides others through natural landscapes (sometimes that is literal) to shape writing, in order to get deep into the heart of telling their story. Her work as a hospice volunteer has largely informed her writing and the literary guidance she provides to others, supporting stillness and sacred moments we all experience during life transitions.
Jennifer said, “Sometimes we are focused on the result of the transition, thinking that stability looks like resolution; but, it just looks like finding a way to be present right now.”
One way she practices being present with her hospice patients is to simply pause before she gets out of her car when making visits, allowing for a few minutes of a prayer. These intentional activities help her engage with the present, allowing the stress of the day to step aside and the love in her heart to take center stage. When she finishes the visit, she engages in the same ritual.
Being present has become a life-practice for Jennifer. Having grown up in a death-avoidant culture, her hospice work has helped transform and normalize her feelings about death and grief. Beginning with vigil work at a local hospital in 2001, Jennifer soon transitioned to hospice volunteer work. Over the years, she has discovered the benefits of knowing death, of learning that when death is integrated into life, a peaceful, reassuring and a spiritual aspect of daily life emerges. What this means specifically is that she makes an effort to show up with full-hearted compassion and commits to daily “spiritual now” moments of reflection. She does this by asking herself,
“What will make me peaceful?”
“What will bring peace to the world?”
“What is the compassionate thing to do?”
The answer to these three questions help shape and enrich Jennifer’s life, infusing it with daily meaning. And, it provides a sense of comfort when death becomes personal and present in her own life, including family and friends, and her devoted dog of twelve years.
“Death is the great unifier. It puts us all on the same playing field”, she says.
Her hospice work has informed this sense of connection and union with others. And, four lenses through which she views the world shape her views of life: physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual. Physically, she is reassured that the dying process can be peaceful and natural. Emotionally, she knows that “clearing the decks” and resolving conflicts can pave the way to a more peaceful end. Jennifer continues to study, read about, research, and otherwise inform herself about death, dying and grief – satisfying her mental/cognitive lens. And, spiritually, she senses that the divine and mystery can be present in the here and now, not only housed within varying belief systems or in the hope of what is to come after death.
These lenses, coupled with hope and love, guide Jennifer through the natural landscapes of both her personal and professional lives, the two seamlessly connected through one passionate calling – deep storying work. Her hospice community service is how she gives back in gratitude for the gifts she’s been given.
“It’s so life and death, and what we live every day is life and death too,” she notes.
It is a simple yet powerful reminder of the single and beautiful landscape that connects us all. A landscape made richer by the contributions of stewards like Jennifer.
Jennifer Wilhoit currently volunteers in Washington. Her deep storying business is TEALarbor stories; you can learn more on her site: www.tealarborstories.com
- Seek the stability of stillness within life’s transitions
- Know about death to find peace in life