Death Work, My Origin Story

Death Work, My Origin Story

A few years ago, I lost my grandpa Joe. He'd been the only grandfather I'd ever really known. He was a cobbler in Ashland, Oregon, and before living in Oregon, he had made his living in this trade, repairing shoes of the stars in Southern California. He would often retell the stories of those golden years and a particular story about Steve McQueen. When I was little, I loved to go to his dusty old shoe shop, play store, and ring up the customers. He was the person who taught me how to count back change. Usually, after I'd been at the shoe shop for a while, he'd give me a quarter to get him and me a donut down the street. Ashland, Oregon in the '80s, was about as magical as you'd imagine, and one particular summer, my uncle built a float that looked like an ambulance in the shape of a shoebox with the phrase, We Heel Your Soles on the back. My cousins and I  dressed as nurses wearing a stethoscope, holding a stretcher with old boots in them and throwing candy to the crowd.  I have such fond memories of this time in my childhood. 

My grandpa Joe and I 44 years ago.
My uncle pulling the shoe box ambulance float
My cousin and the back of the float
Little me taking care of a sneaker


When my grandpa Joe passed away, he'd was in his late 80's and had been sick on and off for some time. My mother was able to be by his side during hospice in passing weeks. What was difficult for me to observe was stress between the family regarding the vigil, ritual, and funeral preparations. In my grandpa Joe's last weeks, my grandmother could not get in touch with the pastor of the church they attended to receive any spiritual support. My grandfather had not pre-written any death directives for how he'd like to be honored at the end so that left a very important piece up to the family when emotions were high and grief was underway.


This is where my curiosity about death work and my role began.


My brother-in-law contacted his Eastern Orthodox Christian priest, Fr. Andreas, to see if he'd be available to step in, make visits, pray for and with the family, which he was. As the days towards death drew nearer, and the pastor of my grandparent's church was still unreachable, Fr. asked my grandfather directly if he would like the church's ritual, burial, and funeral services. To which my grandpa replied yes. 


For Fr. Andreas to perform these services as clergy, my grandfather needed to be received into the church through Chrismation.  Would my grandfather have chosen to convert if he had the support of his local pastor and his end-of-life directives in place? I don't think so. But in those last days, he had told my mother he was scared to pass, and Fr. Andreas had offered a healing presence and comfort. 

There is more to this story, but I think this gives context to my midlife pivot from yoga studio owner, teacher, entrepreneur to death work. 

The Eastern Orthodox Christian tradition has always approached death as a holistic part of the human experience; green non embalmed burial is the norm.  Upon death, the body is washed, placed in a simple natural casket, and taken to the church where the Psalter is continuously read over the deceased until the funeral; everyone in the parish is invited to venerate the body and attend the service. Orthodox Christians regularly remember the departed through commemoration. The phrase Memory Eternal is chanted in hymns and prayers throughout the year; the deceased are always remembered. 

I say us because I, too, am an Orthodox Christian. I've found great comfort in the church, her teachings, and traditions, including how the dying and dead are cared for and commemorated. Before my grandfather's passing, I attended a Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Church lecture in Dallas, Texas. The author J. Mark Barna spoke about his book, A Christian Ending a Handbook for Burial in the Ancient Christian Tradition; this was my introduction to dying well. The conversation about dying and death became personal after I observed my grandfather's passing. His passing was better than many, yet still more complicated than it needed to be, which is one reason I feel compelled to educate my family, friends, and followers on their options to prepare for the inevitable end. I'm currently an end-of-life volunteer with Myrrh Bearers Society within the OCA's Diocese of the South. My formal training begins this winter with an organization called Going With Grace.

My death work journey is just beginning, and like every new endeavor, I plan to share every bit of it with you. Follow me on Instagram and TikTok for light-hearted end-of-life laughs, #deathpositive conversations, and resources like my end-of-life organizer, a free to you PDF planner that helps you get your most precious information in order.

 

Are you curious about death work and end-of-life care? Would you like to learn more about a green burial or perhaps burial and ritual in the Ancient Christian tradition? Let's stay in touch by email, and we'll keep this conversation warm.

Are You Prepared To Depart

Are You Prepared To Depart
Are you prepared to depart?

 To die? 

I'm not an expert on death. I've experienced very little loss of family, friends, or fur fam myself. Still, I have experienced the tremendous traumatic loss of my life as I knew it over the last two years, and that experience felt like certain death in my body, mind, and emotions.

Most, including myself, are not mentally or emotionally prepared for a sudden shift or loss. Culturally it's been uncomfortable to discuss dying, death, and the lesser deaths we die within our lifetime. 

What if discussing our inevitable departing didn't have to be uncomfortable? 

What if death positive conversations were the new normal? 

How might we approach the way we live if we lived with the end in mind? 

I don't have “the” answers, but on my path towards Death Doula certification, I'm getting curious about this conversation. 

In a recent poll, I posted on my Instagram stories, 90% of my followers' females ages 35-45 didn't have a will or end of life directive. Most of those polled had assets and children. Most responded that knowing where to begin was the biggest obstacle. 

The phrase “I don't know” is a thought associated with our primitive brain, which yields the fight, flight, freeze response. 

What if there was a simple solution for all of us that helped us put our critical thinking skills to work in the form of an end-of-life organizer? 

What if I told you I made one for you? 

Our death-positive conversations at thejesswell are just beginning. If this post is already feeling overwhelming, I want you to take a deep breath you can do this. If you need a little help getting out of your head and into your body, try this curated movement meditation calendar on for size. These are some Peloton practices I've enjoyed from their app, with a couple of my offerings thrown in for good measure. Click the image below. 


Now for the work, and a good thing for us all to remember is that action overrides anxiety.

Here is an end-of-life organizer for you to download in beta mode. All you have to do is print and put it in a three-ring binder. Fill it out as you can and exhale.

3 Ways To Prepare For The End This Autumn

3 Ways To Prepare For The End This Autumn

The autumn equinox energetically is the exhale of the year. It’s surrender. Late summer transitions in September and an inevitable letting go begins. 


The transition from summer to fall feels good, feels right, and we all know it’s coming. Yes, some regions are warmer than others for longer, some trees’ leaves change more vibrant than others, but Autumn comes just the same. We have rituals around the season, color, decor, foods, scents, and sounds, and there’s comfort in all of that. Autumn descends, welcoming winter before the end of the year. 


Life itself is like this cycle. Every human born will depart. Some of our seasons are longer and some shorter, but there will be winter for us all. We know that, but how can we prepare well for this reality?


I recently took a poll in my Instagram stories asking my followers who had a will and end-of-life directive. The majority had none. The majority that took my poll had children and assets and a whole lot of life that, in their unexpected passing, would be quite burdensome on loved ones to sort amongst the emotions and grief. 


I write this without any judgment - I was this person too. I had been married for 15 years with two children and multiple businesses before I experienced my first death or wrote out a will. My lack of action was out of fear, fear of the unknown. But what I’ve discovered is that it’s all more simple than one may think, and there is no time like the present to have a death positive conversation and begin. 


Autumn is a time of turning within when our efforts seem directed toward work, family, and unfinished projects. Autumn is a perfect time to prepare directives for our inevitable ending. 



BEGIN:


If you have feels about beginning your end-of-life planning process, follow this guided breathwork audio to help you center. 



Next, download my free End of Life Planner to begin compiling valuable data in minutes.



Finally, click here and bookmark this end-of-life planning resource from Going With Grace, my death doula educators. When you’re ready, this link will be here to serve you. 


I’m not an expert on dying and death. I’m very green when it comes to this season of our human experience. However, I was born to hold space for others. I’ve known this since childhood, and it’s what’s compelled me to teach asana for so many years. Becoming a death doula is a chapter of me I’ll be sharing with you each step of the way. Please post your comment, message me your questions, share this post, planner, and anything else thejesswell can offer with others. 



When Kids Grow Up

When Kids Grow Up

20 years ago today, I gave birth to a fair-skinned ginger-haired little boy. Although I’m only ½ Mexican, I expected an olive-skinned baby with lots of soft black hair, so this blue-eyed cherub was quite a surprise. Over the years, I’ve been asked if I colored his hair because of its beautiful strawberry blonde and amber hues, to which I laughed because I barely brush my own hair, let alone highlight the hair of my child. 


If you’ve followed me over the years via Facebook & Insta, I’ve shared quite a bit behind the scenes of our lives. You’ve seen my boys grow and grow into their own, and now Josh and I find ourselves in the throws of empty nesting. A few years ago, the thought about this time and when it would come was harder than its now gradual actuality. I suppose, unlike the stereotypical scenario that’s played out over the media about teenagers, parents, and the peacing out that takes place as soon as the senior graduation bell rings, all four of us as a family really respect and enjoy each others company. We have our roles as parents and children, but we are also friends. 


I’m no expert, as I only have two children and 4 godchildren of my own, but this is what’s worked relationally as a mother and for Josh and I both as parents. Below are a few things we decided on 20 years ago that have helped build our relationships with our 17 & 20-year-old sons today.


1. Do Everything Together:

This was a happy surprise out of necessity. In the early days, not living by our immediate family for support and being of meager means a sitter for any extra outing was out of the question. But living life full never was. We’d find creative ways to always include our kids in our activities and likewise us with theirs. This organically created empathy understanding articulate and extremely adaptable boys.


2. Watch, Listen, Learn:

I never wanted to overfill their schedule, but I wanted to nurture their interests. Instead of forcing ideas on them, we’d expose them to sport, art, and culture and see where their interests leaned. I always knew if they were dressed and ready to go to an extracurricular activity on their own, that is where we would invest our energy. We championed and found joy in their interests, watching them grow and flourish. 


3. Everything is a Conversation:

From our own upbringing, we learned that respect is earned both ways. Josh and I made and make it a point to understand and really listen. Staying curious has been a cornerstone. 


4. Personal Growth:

We knew we needed to stay fresh to keep life exciting because if you’re not growing, you’re dying. With change, we do our best to lean into the learning when stuck seeking a teacher until we gain insight.  Also, living within the liturgical life of the Orthodox church has helped us create the rhythm of life that stretches and strengthens us, mediating the days between feasting and fasting and the polarities that life brings.   

Obviously, this is not an exhaustive list, just a few things I’m reflecting on as our son Julian makes his solar return, and if you’re not familiar with that term, it’s just fancy for birthday. 


If you’re reading this on your solar return, have one on the horizon, or know someone who does, you may like this roller blend just for the occasion. 


Solar Return Roller 

10 drops Valor

10 Drops Stress Away

10 drops Orange


Top with Carrier Oil


Roll on the bottoms of feet, spine, and places where the sun don’t shine. 

( this is because orange is a photosensitive oil)


This blend evokes confidence, calm, and courage for the many years ahead. You can also use it before bed because it will help you rest really well. 


Click here for your free roller label download.

 For an affordable, thoughtful, and energetic gift, pre-make, and give to the ones you love. 


If you don’t have these oils, you can grab them in a bundle here

Summer Swaps for Mental Health

Have you had a day, a week, a month, a year, or years where you don’t feel the way you want to? 20 years ago, I thought something was very wrong with me. I was not feeling like myself; my thoughts were unwanted but very real, and I’m sure someone reading this can relate to a similar situation. 

I was 24 years old, had just moved to a tiny town, weeks postpartum from having my first baby by emergency C section. I was highly unprepared and completely overwhelmed by what was about to happen. 

Up until the birth of my first son, I didn’t have a reference for most physical struggles, let alone mental health struggles; I hadn’t had any extreme illnesses growing up or surgery. As far as a lifestyle, I wasn’t raised on fast food or dining out, and my mother wasn’t super keen on medication as a first reach. Even in my teenage years, the party life wasn’t for me. I was naive, and my system was pretty clean, but on August 8th & August 9th, 2001, for the first time in my life, I was pumped full of drugs, cut open, handed a baby, and sent home to go live my best life a couple of days later.

Almost immediately, I realized I didn’t feel how I thought I would feel, in fact, the opposite. I wanted to be happy, but all I could do was cry. I wanted to cherish my time with my little one but visions of the unthinkable would haunt me. 

I can see so clearly now the kind of support 24-year-old Jessica needed, and I have a lot of compassion for her because that was mentally one of the most challenging times in my life. 

Because of fear and shame, I didn’t want to tell anyone how I was feeling. If you are reading and relating to this without support or a therapist, please get help here

Glory to God, a month or so after my son was born, Oprah had a special episode on her show interviewing mothers and a doctor educating on the stages of postpartum depression and what it can look like. I reflect on that episode as the beginning of my healing journey and interest in the healing arts. Because of that episode, I found peace that what I was experiencing, although not easy, is common and that there were ways to get help and ways to prevent it. From that point on, I became aware that the gut-brain connection impacts mental health, that food can be poison or medicine, that eliminating harsh chemicals would lessen the toxin overload to keep hormones in harmony. I started with exercise and sweating, eating clean, eliminating inflammatory foods, getting the correct about of fats and protein, replacing my household cleaners and personal care items. 

If you're looking for functional ways to support your mental and physical wellbeing, I encourage you to follow Dr. Mark Hyman an activist for functional medicine, real food, nutrition, and wellness.  I've bookmarked his posts about mental health for you, click here

If you are planning a family, pregnant, postnatal, or mid-life, it’s not too late to become the gatekeeper of your body, mind, spirit, and abode. This Summer, you can still take steps to eliminate the harsh chemicals from your life and replace them with plant-based alternatives. Click here for a few ideas that can help meet you where you may be right now. 


 
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