Leslie Jennings Rowley has a unique nickname: The Death Lady. And no, it’s not because she belongs on an episode of a true crime podcast.
You see, in addition to working full-time as a strategic content producer for a prestigious university, Leslie is also the founder of Hereafter Partners, an organization she launched in 2019 that aims to help people of all ages have conversations about death, dying and aging.
Leslie wants to make this topic more normalized in society so people can help each other live out their values until their very last moments. “Talking about death,” she says, “is really a conversation about life and what’s important to us.” And, she adds, “if we talk about death, that does not mean we’re asking it to come early.”
In an episode of That Solo Life: The Solo PR Podcast, Karen and Michelle chat with Leslie about Hereafter Partners, plus the steps we all can take to ensure we’re ready to handle what may come — for both us and those we love.
Hereafter Partners: Why and how it started
Leslie was inspired to launch Hereafter Partners after navigating the deaths of her father and her mother-in-law. During these experiences, she realized there aren’t really a lot of resources out there for helping “the sandwich generation” — those who are juggling their own lives, such as careers and children, in addition to the needs of their parents — discuss and prepare for end-of-life situations with their loved ones.
Leslie found that, not only did people need more support in this area, but they also needed someone to hold them accountable. “We know we have to do it,” Leslie says. “We even want to do it because it feels like the right thing to do, and it will give us some sense of mental security. But it’s so far down the list. Who wants to put that at the top of the list? Confronting one’s mortality is not something that we, particularly in the West, are accustomed to doing.”
So, Leslie invited everyone in her larger social and professional circle to meet up for a conversation about end-of-life operations. She was expecting eight or 10 people to show up — but, much to her surprise, a little over 50 people did. These days, Hereafter provides a slew of events, resources, workshops and programs to help people talk about death and the to-dos that come along with it. They also provide gentle reminders to make sure people follow through. Ultimately, Leslie would love Hereafter’s program to be incorporated into company benefits programs. “To scale this properly, I think it needs to be at the corporate level,” she says.
End-of-life care: What solo PR pros can (and should) do
Hereafter Partners hasn’t been included in organizational benefits strategy just yet, but even if it was, that likely wouldn’t help most solo PR pros. But that’s okay — here’s how you can make sure you’re prepared.
1. Google state-specific advance directives
Each and every person should have an advance directive set up for themselves. This is a legal document that outlines the care you would like at a time when you’re no longer able to be vocal about decisions that need to be made on your behalf.
For example, you may or may not want all the bells and whistles when it comes to medical interventions. That’s critical for medical providers (and your loved ones) to know. These forms vary state-by-state, so you’ll need to find the correct one for the state you reside in. There are a number of organizations, such as the National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization, that keep these forms up to date.
2. Pick a medical proxy
This is the person who will be listed on your advance directive as the individual who can make decisions about your care when you aren’t able to for whatever reason. Choose someone you really trust to understand and respect your values, as the directive won’t spell out every possible end-of-life situation. It’s more like a decision-making flowchart than a bulleted list of countless scenarios. “You need to find someone who really understands where you’re coming from in life and what values are foremost for you,” Leslie says. Then, put time on your calendar to have a meaningful conversation with this person about what’s important to you.
“Be clear about what you value now and what you believe you’ll value later,” Leslie says. “Give clarity to how you want to live your life.”
3. Start talking to loved ones about their plan
If you aren’t sure what the end-of-life plan is for those closest to you, there’s no better time than now to talk about it with them. Sure, it won’t be the most fun activity you do together, but it’s important that you know exactly how they want things to go down so you can do your best to carry out their wishes. Just keep in mind that everyone will have different levels of comfort when it comes to talking about their mortality, so you’ll probably have to feel it out and initiate the discussion differently depending who you’re approaching.
Not sure how to break the ice? Hereafter Partners has some helpful conversation starters you can leverage.
4. Check your advance directive regularly
Unfortunately, this isn’t a once-and-done sort of task. As time goes by, specific details or your personal preferences may change. For example, perhaps you’ve lost contact with your medical proxy and need to choose a new one. Or, you may have developed a different opinion on medical intervention. Make sure everything is accurately reflected.
Leslie knows that checking this document annually, while ideal, is a little ambitious. So, she recommends coinciding your reviews with big events, like an Inauguration or the Olympics.
What end-of-life steps have you taken for you (or your loved ones)? Let us know in the comments or on social media using #solopr!