Cocktails & Caskets program opens conversation about death

To some degree, COVID-19 has shed light on the issue of death and the importance of planning end-of-life wishes.

Discussion of what to do and what not to do is a delicate issue, but one that needs to be addressed — in advance, when possible, says Delaware Hospice spokeswoman Jennifer Saienni.

“It’s one of those things that you never want to think about, and you never want to talk about. But it is one of the most cherished gifts that you can give your friends and family,” said Ms. Saienni, public relations liaison for Delaware Hospice. “Even if it is something as simple as, ‘I don’t want this song played.’ Just knowing what you don’t want is just as helpful as knowing what you do want.”

In conjunction with National Advance Healthcare Decision Month in April and Advance Healthcare Decision Day on Thursday, Delaware Hospice is offering Cocktails & Caskets— a 30-minute Facebook discussion. It is crafted to be a light event focusing on what typically can be a very difficult topic.

Cocktails & Caskets, accessible at www.facebook.com/events/255384782272061/, will run from 5:30 to 6 p.m. Thursday.

It will feature Sara Chandler, who is a licensed funeral director, and Nicole Fullmer, executive director of Honoring Choices Delaware, a nonprofit founded by Delaware Hospice a few years ago.

Nicole Fullmer

They will share their personal and professional experiences around the topic and answer questions from those tuned in.

And Ms. Fullmer will share her life — and death — story and what she experienced firsthand when one doesn’t really plan.

Her husband died unexpectedly in November 2015 at the age of 43.

“When my husband died, I knew what he had wanted. He died of a sudden heart attack. So, he was not prepared. I knew what his wishes were. However, his family did not. And he never wrote anything down. And it was a time when we should have been grieving together, but our relationship became very fractured, and it still is,” said Ms. Fullmer.

“I know in my heart that I did something that he would have wanted. He was an organ donor. And he has actually helped 69 people so far, 69 people from age 8 to 92. I remember years ago having this conversation and he said ‘I want to be an organ donor, but they cannot have my corneas’ … he couldn’t explain why but apparently it is very common.”

“It is truly amazing to know that he has helped save people’s lives and enhanced lives in a way, too … burn victims … and he’ll continue to help people for a few more years,” said Ms. Fullmer.

But she said, her husband’s family was surprised by a number of things, including how she planned his funeral.

“He loved his Harley. So, his ashes are in a Harley gas tank. He was not the type that wanted to be put in a pretty vase,” Ms. Fuller said.

At the funeral, her husband’s Harley buddies brought their motorcycles and revved the engines.

“I made something intangible, tangible,” she said.

At Delaware Hospice, Ms. Fullmer is known as the “lady who can talk about death at 8 o’clock in the morning.”

“I can take my story and help others and have those difficult conversations,” she said. “It is truly remarkable when I sit down with families who haven’t spoken about this. Things come out and you’ll hear the son say, ‘Dad, I never knew that about you …’ It brings families closer together.”

“I started working with Delaware Hospice less than a year ago. It was after my husband died that I decided to make a switch in my career,” said Ms. Fullmer. “And Delaware Hospice was there when he died and helped me with my three kids. I went through the grief counseling with them, and became a volunteer and when this opportunity opened, I jumped at it. It is literally the best job I could ever have. It is my dream job working with people and talking about their end of life care.”

During the Facebook event Thursday, Ms. Chandler will speak about funerals — “because they are different right now” given the social distancing restrictions brought by the coronavirus pandemic, said Ms. Fuller.

Amid America’s and the world’s current health concerns, Delaware Hospice is emphasizing the importance that people think about their end-of-life wishes with conversations while in good health, not during a health crisis.

“It’s so important when, especially right now when we’re in a crisis, and people almost feel a sense of control, when they have advance a directive written and they have identified someone to be — we call it their health care agent — when you know that someone that you trust and you love knows what your wishes are if you couldn’t speak for yourself,” said Ms. Fullmer.

“We’ve actually had people contact us saying, ‘I want to change my advance directive because I had wanted to be on a ventilator, but now if I need to be put on one — don’t. Give it to someone who is younger and healthier.’ These are hard, hard conversations but again, when people have the sense of control with their own life, you can see that it is helping them.”

“I think that really helps in the grief process. When you don’t, you are always wondering and second guessing yourself. When people can write it down in their own hand, and talk to you about it, it is really something special,” said Ms. Fullmer.

“Really, having these conversations is a gift to your loved ones. It just relieves this burden. You feel closer to them, I think, and you know that after they are gone that you’ve done what they wanted, and you can honor their wishes.”

Curious as to why the Cocktails & Caskets event will be on April 16 and why it’s known as Advance Healthcare Decision Day?

“A little tidbit,” said Ms. Fullmer. “Ben Franklin said the only two things we can be sure of in life are death and taxes. So, April 15 – except for this year – is generally Tax Day. And the 16th is the day we talk about end of life.”


Helpful Coronavirus links

Delaware Division of Health Coronavirus Page
CDC: About the Coronavirus Disease 2019
CDC: What to do if You Are Sick
Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center
AP News Coronavirus Coverage
Reopening Delaware: Resources for Businesses
Delaware Phase 2 guidance

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