The Magical Deathcast
Mark Twain said, "I do not fear death. I had been dead for billions and billions of years before I was born, and had not suffered the slightest inconvenience from it."
This is a universal truth most of us rarely consider: that we have all been dead much longer than alive; that we have all already experienced death; that death is not unchartered territory, but rather is a permanent address from which we are temporarily traveling.
Even taking into account the possibility of reincarnation, and other religious beliefs, in a universe without beginning or end, we still have all existed as part of the vast nothingness, or as pieces of stars, for eons longer than we have existed as human beings. Just as our universe dances in an ever undulating expanse, so to do our lives follow suit in various forms.
Furthermore, whether we openly acknowledge death or not, it influences everything we do, touches our every thought, and impacts our daily lives: from the clothes we wear, to the food we eat, to the laws we obey, to the sex we enjoy, to the partners we choose, and most importantly, to the level of foolishness we will attempt to seek such pleasures...
Everything we do is predicated upon our conception of mortality. It is in many ways the most important gift we have ever been given.
Yet, it is our final taboo, the phrase we, especially in the West, utter quietly under pensive whisperings; it’s a concept adults shield from children: as if by not mentioning it, by ignoring it, by keeping it secret, we may somehow elude its ever-tightening grasp.
We are taught to fight against the dark shadow of inevitability at all costs: even in absurd situations where certain death is upon us, we are instructed that it is better to fight to our last breath, to “rage, rage against the dying of the light,” rather than accept death, with open arms, and return peacefully to the place we once lived before birth.
I'm probably not too far off when I suggest most of us conceive of death as a great foe, or thief. And certainly in some cases it is both foe and thief.
However, what might change in us, change in you, if in certain instances we began seeing death as a friend, a guide, or even a home waiting for us at the end of this long day we call life? What if we were all able to see death as the greatest gift of our life? If we can finally look death square in the eyes, would it not ease our present foolishness?
In this podcast, let's take on death in a real way and try to shake off some of our irrational fear towards the ineluctable fact that we cannot “be” without also equally “not being” at some point.
And let me be clear, all this is not to suggest that your grief is ever irrational or out of place.
We are an amazing group of beings, who feel things intensely, and whose capability for love and sorrow is only matched by the infinite distances of the infinite universes upon which our consciousness stands.
There is no right, or wrong, way to feel: there is only the way we feel and the way we respond to those feelings.
In the end though, it may just be true that only by first accepting and embracing death can we ever truly begin to live.
As a nurse, I’ve come to understand no two healthcare situations are the same, no two lives are the same, and no two deaths are the same. Each person’s illness is tangled up in their personal circumstances and thus, it is very difficult for healthcare practitioners to know where to begin a conversation about a patient’s end of life. Couple this struggle with the fact that many conversations, once started, fall on ears deafened with hope, and it's easy to see why this is a recipe for neglect.
There is also the question of who bears the responsibility for having these conversations: is it the ER physician who is seeing a patient for their third visit in a month? Is it the ICU nurse who overhears concerned children telling a father that their intubated mother would not want to go on living like this? Is it the person who has been diagnosed with an incurable disease who wants to decide their own fate?
Maybe we all share the responsibility? If we are all truly connected in this existence, shouldn't we all help each other transition from being?
In pondering this, I’ve realized that there are so many amazing, inspiring, magical, hysterical, and heart-wrenching stories to be shared. Each of us has a journey that is so unique, and that blossoms and un-blossoms in such fantastic ways, that I think could spend the rest of my life hearing these stories and not get enough.
I’ve realized we need to normalize our end-of-life conversations and build practical tools for experiencing that big “letting go” awaiting us.
I want to be a leader in these conversations. I want to reach out and capture these stories, like childhood fireflies, fluttering in the last blue hours of beauty, and then bring them to you.
Also, I want to go beyond the stories and explore our healthcare system, possibly even unveiling the charade it plays for you.
As a nurse, I’ve come to understand that each person has their own health care system at their bedside. This system is an intricately woven fabric comprised of their life experiences and habits, their financial means, their spiritual and religious beliefs, and very often this system is deeply influenced by their loved ones and healthcare providers.
When was the last time you talked about death?
When was the last time you listened to people casually talk about death?
Should we have the right to design our own death in the face of an incurable disease?
What does a ‘good’ death even look like?
The Magical Deathcast is a forum to talk about all things death and together shine the light on the darkest of places.
It's a place to research first and second hand experiences with death: observing it, spiritual talks about it, practical conversations about how to prepare for it, and everything within and before the “fierce between.”
I’ll be interviewing scientists, monks, nuns, doctors, nurses, undertakers, morticians, musicians, poets, inventors working on cryotherapy or decomposable coffins, those near death due to their own illness and even those left in its wake, individuals working on the right-to-die campaigns across the country and last, but not least, maybe even an attempt at interviewing Oliver Sacks on the other side.
What I found in over 10 years of attending births is that a woman gives birth in the same way she lives her life. I’ve come to realize this is also true about death; my intention with this podcast is to offer something that could potentiate a better death for my listeners. When a woman gives birth her body expands to first create the life and then a further expansion happens to give birth to the life. Even further, her heart expands with the bond for that life she just released from her womb. I believe death is yet another expansion a human goes through back into that which we came. Let’s all prepare for the great expansion.
I hope you join me and that it helps you in a similar manner as bringing all of this to you helps me.
Peace and love,
Nicole Heidbreder, Nic to her friends and family, is a former New York City festival and event production manager/producer whose life and soul were suddenly and eternally transformed in Aceh, Sumatra. Her life took an Olympian-style twist and turn when after the 2004 Tsunami, she found herself assisting a midwife to help catch twins in a shack in Sumatra. This experience led her to change careers and go back to school to become a nurse.
After brief stints in the ER and Labor and Delivery, Nic now finds herself traveling full circle, that is, helping people who are no longer at the beginning of life, but at its end, where she proudly wears the wings of the “Angel of Death” (what her friends call her) as a hospice admissions nurse.
In this job, Nic is often the person having the first in-depth conversation with patients and their families about their prognosis, hospice, and how to prepare for the end of their life.
Since traditional bios can be boring, here are a few highlights of important events in her life that have shaped the woman she is today:
She is 100% convinced that without knowing it, her last 10 years of attending births has fully prepared her to ‘be’ with the dying. They are a kitchen door that swings both ways.
She has completed 4 vipassanna meditation retreats and they are hands down the best, most profound experiences of her life
She wishes people would do a vipassanna retreat instead of ayahuasca. Vipassanna is WAY more crazy
In 2016 Nicole was inducted in to the Sigma Theta Tau International Nursing Honors Society as a Leader in the field of Nursing. The ceremony on the Georgetown campus was something out of a Harry Potter film.
Being a hospice nurse has taught her how strongly our society is in the grip of denial.
She dropped out of university when she was 20 years old, and it’s hands down the smartest decision of her life.
She swam with a giant whale on her own while floating in the outer reaches of The Great Barrier Reef. Magic. Magic. Magic.
When she was 26 years old, she spent a few months living and working at Plum Village, the Buddhist monastery of Thich Nhat Hanh.
For several summers, she was the production manager for the largest, free outdoor dance festival in America.
She was once the Associate Producer for America’s largest political arts festival which won an Obie Award. It remains one of the projects she has worked on that she is most proud of.
For the 2004 election she co-produced the FilmsToSeeBeforeYouVote film festival and it renewed her faith in humanity.
She climbed to the top of the Virunga Mountain in the Congo to see a gorilla. That silverback was so gorgeous and transfixed her to such a degree that she cried almost the whole time she sat observing him.
She sometimes regrets doing her masters at NYU. She was too young to really get much out of an expensive degree.
She is 100% certain that it was divine intervention that led her to attend her first birth in Sumatra in 2005.
She worked the night shift in a DC ER as a registered nurse for 1.5 years and it’s the darkest period of her life. She lost hope, faith, and belief in humanity and the future of our country. It is an absolute miracle that she was able to gain all of those things back.
Being a birth doula trainer is a blessing to her life and to all of her relationships; teaching others how to mother-a-mother as a birth doula has taught her how to take care of herself and others
You can read more about her doula trainings here: www.gracefulfusion.com
She grew up in a small town along the banks of the Mississippi and she is convinced the energy of that mighty river pulses in her veins.