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How to Build Your Own Support Community As an End-of-Life Worker

02/18/2016 04:24 pm ET | Updated Feb 18, 2016
  • Karen M. Wyatt, M.D. Author, 'What Really Matters: 7 Lessons for Living from the Stories of the Dying'
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Most of us who are interested in death and dying or work in that field in some capacity have struggled at times with loneliness and social isolation. Living in a death-phobic society means that few of the people we encounter in our everyday lives will want to hear about our work and almost no one we meet will share our excitement about the latest options for green burial or conscious dying.

But serving those who are facing life's greatest challenge can be emotionally and spiritually exhausting if you don't have a support network of your own. Whether you work as an end-of-life guide, direct care provider, service coordinator, bereavement counselor, funeral planner, burial consultant, casket-maker or in any other death-related field, you spend your days immersed in the pain and sorrow of others, which can take a toll on you over time.

However, death, as you have surely learned, is our greatest teacher and serving in this sacred field is a rare privilege that provides abundant opportunities for growth and transformation to us end-of-life workers. But the treasure within dying is hidden to almost everyone else so we may struggle to find companions and confidantes who can listen to our stories and be in our presence without fear or judgment.

Recently though, across the country more and more people are waking up to their own mortality and becoming interested in talking and learning about death and dying. Now, more than ever before, there are opportunities for forming relationships with like-minded individuals. So let's look at some specific ways to find support and build a network around you that can sustain you through the challenges of sacred end-of-life work:

1. Attend a Death Café.

At a Death Café you will meet people who are at least comfortable talking about death and dying. The group can provide a safe space within which to express your own thoughts and concerns and you may find a potential friend or colleague among the attendees. You can check the Death Café website to see if there is a café near you here.

If you can't find a local Death Café in your area you might consider attending Virtual Death Café where you can call in by telephone and have an inspiring conversation about all things related to death and dying.

2. Hold your own Death Café.

You might enjoy facilitating a Death Café in your city or town--it's a fantastic way to meet "death-aware" people and do a great service for your community. See the Death Café website for very helpful and thorough guidelines on starting a café.

3. Join a Facebook group.

Facebook can be a great way to connect with people to share ideas, thoughts and questions. You might find like-minded people who are actually in your local area and you will definitely find end-of-life workers from all over the world who want to communicate and network. Apply to join the Death Expo private Facebook group and you can start engaging with others online in a safe environment.

4. Start a death and dying meetup group.

As an alternative to Death Café you can create your own "meetup" for the purpose of discussing end-of-life issues and advertise the group in your area. The meetup format allows more flexibility than Death Café so that you can invite guest speakers and create an agenda for your meetings. Check the Meetup site to see if there is already a meetup in your city or to start your own.

5. Teach a class in your community.

If you have any expertise in the end-of-life you might like to teach a class at a local junior college or senior center on your area of interest, such as completing advance directives, planning a funeral, leaving a legacy for loved ones, conscious dying, or any other area of interest. You'll attract students who really want to learn what you have to offer and build a community around you as you share your knowledge. Learn more tips for teaching a death and dying course here.

6. Join an organization.

The National Home Funeral Alliance is a great organization to connect with and anyone can join for free, even if you are not a home funeral guide. They host monthly conference calls and an annual conference, and their website is packed with resources and information. Learn more about the NHFA here.

7. Listen to educational interviews.

Sign up for the free End-of-Life University online interview series and you'll be able to hear a new speaker and topic twice each month. These interviews will introduce you to all the fascinating movements happening around the country in the end-of-life arena and will help you recognize that you are not as isolated (or strange) as you might imagine yourself to be. You'll feel more connected just by listening and learning from others. Register here or you can also subscribe to the End-of-Life University Podcast on iTunes and listen through your phone.

No matter what area of the end-of-life you work in, start now to build your own support community. You will avoid developing compassion fatigue in your work and find much greater satisfaction in general if you have at least a few connections with people who understand and share your passion. Leave a comment or send a message to let me know your ideas for finding support and creating community around you as perform your sacred work in the end-of-life.

About the Author:
Dr. Karen Wyatt is a hospice and family physician and the author of the award-winning book "What Really Matters: 7 Lessons for Living from the Stories of the Dying." She is a frequent keynote speaker and radio show guest whose profound teachings have helped many find their way through the difficult times of life. Learn more about her work at karenwyattmd.com.

This post is part of Common Grief, a Healthy Living editorial initiative. Grief is an inevitable part of life, but that doesn't make navigating it any easier. The deep sorrow that accompanies the death of a loved one, the end of a marriage or even moving far away from home, is real. But while grief is universal, we all grieve differently. So we started Common Grief to help learn from each other. Let's talk about living with loss. If you have a story you'd like to share, email us at strongertogether@huffingtonpost.com.

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