Friday, November 30, 2018

ABOUT VSED: Voluntarily Stopping Eating and Drinking

By Katie Ortlip, LCSW 
Co-author of Living With Dying: A Complete Guide for Caregivers

At this moment, six (USA)states have “Death With Dignity” laws that allow patients who are close to dying to take medication to end their lives. 

As a 26-year hospice social worker, I have had the privilege to attend a number of those deaths. 

But even in my state of Oregon, that option is not always available or some people don’t feel comfortable with it, and so some patients make the decision to hasten their death by not eating or drinking. 

Usually people do this when they feel that their body is starting to fail, their quality of life is not acceptable to them anymore, and they are just done. 

Not eating or drinking hastens the dying process by shutting down the kidneys. 

Stopping eating isn’t that difficult because most people at this stage in their illness don’t feel that hungry. 

It’s the thirst that can be the most uncomfortable. People can suck on ice chips and moisten their mouth with sips of water but they have to realize that if they want to go quickly, they should drink as little water as possible. 

And, of course, medication for pain, anxiety and other symptoms can be given and can help make the process easier.

The process generally takes from ten days to two weeks for a person to die once they stop eating and drinking depending on how hydrated the person is. 

The first few days are the most difficult, again because of the thirst and maybe some hunger pangs. 

The closer one is to a natural death, the easier VSED is, as the patient most likely already stopped eating and is partially dehydrated. 

After the first 3 days or so, the person gets sleepier and the process should get easier, as the kidneys start to shut down, and a gentle euphoria can occur.

I had a patient last year who was at the end stage of his esophageal cancer and there was a chance that the cancer would cause extreme bleeding and pain in his throat as it progressed.  

He was beginning to dread getting up in the morning and had nothing to look forward to but worsening symptoms. 

Rather than wait for the tumor to get bigger and make things awful for him, he said, “I am ready to go and I want to know how to make it happen sooner.” 

After a discussion with him and his family, who gave him their blessings, he decided to proceed with VSED.

He stopped eating and drinking, took regular doses of pain and anxiety medication to be more comfortable, and to help him sleep. We provided them with swabs and mouth moisturizers, and instructed them on good mouth care. 

I had told him and his wife that sometimes, as the kidneys start to shut down, people feel a mild euphoria. On my last visit his wife reported, “He’s doing pretty well, but he’s waiting for the euphoria.” 

She gave him his medication and we chatted a while. When I said good-bye, I bent to give him a kiss and he smiled. 

I asked, “Are you feeling euphoric?” And he nodded dreamily and answered, “Yes.” 

He died peacefully a few days later.

Katie Ortlip, LCSW, former RN, is a Hospice Expert on SHARECARE, Dr. Ahmet Oz’s online health and wellness platform. Katie is co-author of Spiritual Tools for the Dying, a booklet distributed by Asante Health Care of Oregon to all patients on hospice. She received her nursing degree in 1982 and spent three years working in neonatology at St. Luke’s-Roosevelt Hospital in New York City and Mary Dartmouth-Hitchcock Hospital in Hanover, New Hampshire. Katie earned a BS in Psychology and Masters of Social Work at SUNY-Albany. She has worked as a social worker for Asante Hospice for the past twenty-five years.

Find more about their book and mission of she and her partner Jahanna Beecham HERE

Tuesday, November 27, 2018

Review of The Death Dialogues Project Debut

We'd like to share a link to a review of the project's debut which is a beautiful summary. You can find that HERE.

If you find and follow our FaceBook page HERE and stay abreast of what we have coming up and interesting articles and news surrounding death.

On Instagram we are HERE. There, in the profile, you can find links to the other resources.

And we now have a podcast that is available on Spotify, Apple podcasts, Google podcast and all your favourite platforms. There you can follow our continuing conversations surrounding death between our live events. 

We felt the amazing support of so much lovely feedback. That is so very helpful at this early stage of the project as well as following us on the above social media.

Thanks so much. 

And we'd love for your to share your own story here. Send submissions of 500-700 words to

Blessed Be.

Wednesday, November 7, 2018


By Jane Edberg copyright 2018

I did not expect myself to bury my face into the ashes of my dead son, but I did. I needed to know he was not there. I needed to see if I could feel him in those grains, if they had energy, meaning, but they were silent, as grief is silent, relentlessly so.
- excerpt from “The Fine Art of Grieving”, a memoir in progress by Jane Edberg

The Fine Art of Grieving is a synthesis of photography and prose related to the tragic loss of my son Nanda, who died at the age of nineteen in 1998. 

My illustrated memoir vividly describes how my creative process emerged and reveals how I connected to my grief. 

I leaned in, excavated, and played with the details. I imagined, and created, compelled to explore and process my grief with a wild mind, like an animal mother who smells, tastes, touches, and repositions her lifeless offspring.  

The train tracks where my son died, his ashes, his belongings, our photographs, my hair, tears, flowers, the places we shared, all became my art materials. 

My camera served as a tool for documentation, and self-observation. 

I used creativity to connect to and express my grief, to find meaning in loss, and make art as a reminder.

Over a period of nineteen years I started writing about my loss, but mostly, I did what I do best: be the photographer, set up the camera and start the process of self-observation. Since I had been writing to survey my new life for insights, it seemed natural to illustrate with photographs what words could not say and vice versa. 

In the garden where the fava beans had dried and hardened to yellow stalks I sat before the camera shrouded in Nanda's red blanket. 

I was as hollow as those stalks. 

Brittle and spent. 

There, I caught the grief in all its agony.

Alive bent against the dead. 

In one of my images, the wind lifted Nanda’s blanket into the shape of my son’s body. His red blanket was the catalyst, vehicle, and anchor that allowed me to stay connected to conscious grieving.

I did not have boundaries to my expression when I found myself head high in mustard flowers trying to rediscover the boy who loved to wander those fields in spring. 

I let myself float down the rivers he swam in and I pressed myself into his belongings. 

His ashes.

I knew that if I headed face on into what I feared most, that he was really gone, I might be able to create a new relationship with him based on the fine art of grieving. 

It is my hope that the book that emerges from my own process will help others with their loss. 

The Fine Art of Grieving” is not a ‘how to survive loss’ book, it is an excavation of the meaning that I gleaned from the darkness of deep loss; a mindful process that brought to me the light of understanding, and spiritual awareness. 

My book faces death directly, it’s a not-so-pretty look at bereavement. 

It breaks the model and stretches (challenges) the boundaries of traditional expectations about the grief process. 

My creative process has informed me about death, loss, and put me in touch with my new relationship to Nanda, to who I was, who we were, and who I am now.


Born in Egham, England (in 1956) photographic artist Jane Edberg is recently retired Professor of Art and Digital Media at Gavilan College in Gilroy, California.  She earned her Bachelor of Fine Arts in Performance Art, Photography and Painting in 1987, and her Masters of Fine Arts in Photography and Performance Art in 1989 from the University of California at Davis. She spent her early years in Canada, has lived in England and Italy, but spent most of her life in the United States. Jane currently lives on the California coast of Monterey Bay. 

Jane has been fascinated with photography since she was five years old. Her grandmother gave her a Kodak Instamatic when she was eight, and her father gave her his two and a quarter medium format camera when she was fourteen. Jane has been setting herself as subject before her camera since those early times.

She now uses both analog and digital cameras to produce artworks combining images with text. Jane’s main media is photography combined with writing, but she often incorporates painting, sculpting and mixed media into her artwork. Jane has also produced videos, films, composed music, choreographed dance performances, danced and directed major art performance venues. She’s shown in galleries worldwide for over thirty years. 

Find her here: