NEDA MEMBER SPOTLIGHT

 

Liz Humphries MSN, RN, CNM, president and owner of Seasons of Life, LLC

 

By Karen ReppenNEDA Board & Integrated Communications Committee Co-Chair

 

NEDA MEMBER SPOTLIGHT

Liz Humphries MSN, RN, CNM, president and owner of Seasons of Life, LLC

By Karen ReppenNEDA Board & Integrated Communications Committee Co-Chair

 

National Nurse's Week is celebrated annually in mid-May, and it's a great opportunity to acknowledge that we have many NEDA members that are either active or retired nurses. Several of NEDAs founding members including Suzanne O'Brien, Merilynne Rush, and Deanna Cochran started out as nurses. Others listed in our member directory are still licensed practitioner that has found how to integrate non-medical EOLD work into their lives. One such person is Wisconsin resident, Liz Humphries, MSN, RN, CNM who is the focus of our member spotlight in this issue.

 

Although Liz is a relatively new member of NEDA, she has more than 22 years as a healthcare professional serving patients and their families in all stages of life--much of it focusing on the end of life. The mother of two grown children and a rambunctious Goldendoodle, Liz's entrepreneurial spirit, boundless enthusiasm, and creative energy permeates all that she does. Her resume features a wide range of roles that includes but is not limited to running her own bakery, being a lookout for the Forest Service, author/poet, nurse midwife, and hospice care nurse case manager.

 

Through her work with hospice clients, as well as personal involvement in providing end-of-life care for her own close friends and family members, she realized that her true passion was to support the dying and their loved ones. Sensing that much more could be done to help people find comfort in their final stages of life, she decided to start her own home health business called Seasons of Life (), through which she offers a wide range of services including senior home care (e.g. shopping, preparing meals, assistance with activities of daily living, companionship, transportation, errands, and more), to nurse care management which focuses more on physical health and safety and being a liaison with the client's health care team. But what sets her apart from many home-health providers is the End-of-Life Doula Care she offers, which includes:

 

  • In-home assessment of needs and desires for the end of life
  • Coordination with hospice providers, physicians, and funeral directors
  • Massage, Aroma Therapy, Music Therapy, and Threshold Singing
  • Support and coaching with decision making throughout early and active dying process, guidance in choices for medical interventions, funeral and burial choices, including home funeral and green burial options.
  • Legacy work and assistance with the creation of a Final Wishes document
  • Vigil sitting and respite care for families

 

A strong proponent for personal and community death awareness, she has long felt drawn to collaborative work beyond Seasons of Life. As a member of Walking Each other Home, she provides guidance to those interested in home funerals and natural burials. She has also facilitated Death Cafes through the Great Circle Collaborative. One day, she would like to set up a training center where people from all walks of life can learn about EOL care practices and envisions organizing a regional EOLD resource group as well.

 

Following are responses to a few interview questions I asked Liz about how her work has evolved over time.

 

Karen: I know you have an extensive resume filled with exciting work experience that goes way beyond what you're doing now. What got you into nursing?

Liz: When my father struggled with depression and lost his business in 1979 he died by suicide. The fallout from that event when I was 21 years old led me to choose life. I decided to become a nurse-midwife. I wanted to deliver babies and I wanted to put my hands on the birthing heads of babes and help families welcome new little ones into their lives.

 

Karen: What inspired you to get more specifically involved with EOL Care?  

Liz: As a nurse midwife I learned that birth and death are very much intertwined and that each is very much human events. I learned to honor and protect birth as a human process. There were so many gifts and lessons to learn in birthing. As a midwife, I was deeply touched by women who are going through the loss of their unborn or newborn babies, and that helped me to see the deep connections between birth and death. My mothers dying in 2011 brought me closer to the end-of-life process and helped me to see the beauty, Grace, and transformation that can happen for dying people and their families when the process can be allowed to happen naturally. In other words when the process is authentic, natural, and not medicalized or institutionalized as much as possible.

 

Karen: Do you have any comments on your hospice nurse career? 

Liz: On the day of my mother's funeral I was called by a hospice recruiter who wanted to hire me as a hospice nurse. I felt that I was being called to work with dying ones and their families in a deeper way. I took the hospice nursing position and begin a journey that taught me both the benefits and also the drawbacks of hospice.

 

Karen: Can you share more about what you liked and didn’t like? 

Liz: Hospice is an essential piece of end-of-life support. But there are some very critical human elements that seem to get lost in hospice care. It is clearly a medical approach to death. Dying ones are called patients. They are managed by doctors, nurses, and nursing assistants. There is a focus on medications and symptoms as if death were a disease we are somehow trying to fix. There is a spiritual aspect to hospice. But the time and attention of hospice spiritual providers are very minimal. Typically a chaplain will see a “patient“ once a month. One day I was on call as a hospice nurse and was called to four different deaths in one shift. I was running from one home to the next and it suddenly became very clear to me that this was not what death and dying should be about. It was an AHA! moment. I suddenly realized that being with a dying person and their family is all about presence. Authentic presence. Creating a loving, accepting, quiet presence. Being with a One. And hospice Nursing simply could not provide that. It necessitated a total paradigm shift in my mind.  

 

Karen: What inspired you to start your own business?

Liz: I started my own business as a response to a lack of high-quality care for seniors at home and a lack of continuity of care as people aged, lost independence, entered their final chapters, and passed away. Each of those stages has become compartmentalized in our society. Instead of a holistic approach that builds on relationships, trust, growth, and meaning in an older person's life, our society values profit and productivity above all else--such as the long-term care facilities that are suck up the resources of older folks as they get more and more frail. We see home care agencies that turn into gargantuan national franchises with a cookie-cutter approach to taking care of older ones. We have lost the value of real human one-on-one relationships built on years of caring and service and compassion. 

 

Karen: With all the practical experience you already have, what inspired you to take the End-of-life Doula Professional Certificate course through the University of Vermont? 

Liz: I don't think one can ever get to the point where more training/education isn't beneficial. I love to learn, and the UVM course is unique in several ways. It was one of the first fully online programs in the United States and provided a very intensive experience through long-distance learning. It's also very interactive and stimulated me to really think about how I want to practice as an EOLD. I am committed to breaking down the barriers and fears that many folks have surrounding death doula work. The academic setting and teaching helped to create a sense that death doula work, like birth and midwife work, has a rich and resilient history that we can uncover and study in order to become wiser and stronger in our end-of-life learning. 

 

Karen: I know your skilled hands have touched many people over the years. How many clients (roughly) have you served at EOL?  

Liz: I have been honored to work with approximately 25 to 30 dying ones and their loved ones as they move through the process. Each person approaches their end of life in their own unique way. The essential piece of being an EOLD is to let the dying one lead you down the path. You are there to be a companion. And you are there to assist in creating pathways for dying ones to share final words, final thoughts, any unfinished business, and to create a space for all who enter to feel peace and acceptance. 

 

Karen: How would you like to see the role of EOLDs evolve – in your business and elsewhere? 

Liz: End-of-life doulas have a unique role and perspective on death. Some believe that EOLDs should be incorporated into hospice and hospitals and long-term care facilities. My feeling is that the true gift of an EOLD should not be capitalized upon. Instead, we could see ourselves as artists and musicians and massage therapists do--someone who brings a shift in consciousness, shift inexperience, and a much-needed calming presence in the dying process. I believe we need to nurture our profession and help it to grow independent from the status quo. In this way, we will help to unearth the beauty and mystery of death and all of its gifts and help to transform our death-phobic culture into a truly human experience.

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