How to Make Death Binder – A Gift to Your Loved Ones

What is a Death Binder?

A death binder is a place to gather necessary information and documents that detail how we want our wishes carried out, our belongings dispersed, our finances dealt with, etc.

A homemade Death Binder puts all your important documents in one place.

Why make a death binder?

Reasons include:

  • It’s a gift to our loved ones: reduces the stress for our families when confronted with difficult medical decisions or in the event of our death
  • Provides a concrete plan for our family to follow; no surprises
  • Provides the opportunity for  family and friends to provide a loving presence at your bedside and emotional support for one another
  • A gift to ourselves: a chance for us to review our lives and even make changes
  • Provides the opportunity for us to have  difficult conversation with our family, hopefully alleviating charged conversations later
  • Provides the opportunity for family to become closer

STEP ONE – Set your Intention

Set the intention and ask your self the hard questions about your life and your choices.

  • How do you imagine your end-of-life experience?
  • What medical or life-sustaining care do you want?
  • Who are the family and friends who will be most impacted by your death? 
  • What do you want your legacy to be?

STEP TWO – Gather your Documents

Gather important information and documents that we want to be readily available in case of natural disaster, medical emergency, or death.

Download our FINDING THE DOCUMENTS YOU NEED worksheet.

Here’s a start to your list:

  • Medical Documents
  • Bank account numbers, both checking and savings 
  • Insurance policies 
  • Investment account details 
  • Safe deposit box keys
  •  Social security card and other identification like birth certificates and passports
  • Utility and other monthly billing information
  • Mortgage, deed, or lease for your home or residence
  • Vehicle title
  • Internet account numbers and passwords, including subscriptions and email accounts
  • Important phone numbers for family members, your lawyer, doctor, and financial planner, pastor or priest, and your preferred funeral home. ??

A document like “5 Wishes” can help you think about medical, emotional and spiritual questions, providing a structure for you to reflect on these issues and start the conversation with your health care proxy, other medical providers, and your family. 

STEP THREE – Organize your Documents

Decide what would work best for you. You can put documents in a binder, file cabinet, or box. If you make your own so that you can customize it to be an expression of you and your values. Or you can purchase one on the internet or at a local book store.

Poke around and see what makes the most sense for you!

This homemade Death Binder includes handwritten tabs for organizing documents.
There are several premade options on the internet. Such as printables, fill as you go workbooks, and books.

STEP FOUR – Have the Conversations

The next step is to talk to your loved ones and let them know what you are doing and why it’s important.

Although end-of-life planning is critical for adults at every age, it can be difficult to find a way to introduce the topic of conversation to your loved ones.

Possible conversation starters:

  • There’s been something on my mind and now is a good time to bring it up
  • You can count on me to be there for you
  • I want to do the right things for you when you need them the most
  • I don’t know your wishes so please tell me them so I can honor them whether I agree with them or not
  • You matter to me and I care about you

Remember, a Death Binder is a living document and should be updated regularly. We live in a death phobic culture and it can be difficult to prioritize getting our affairs in order, it is a gift to yourself and your loved ones. 

Please don’t hesitate to reach out if you have any questions. Email us or call 607-272-0212.

Artwork for our 18th Women Swimmin’ for Hospicare!

Each year a local artist creates a custom design for the event t-shirts for Women Swimmin’ for Hospicare. We are incredibly pleased with the amazing work that Lisa Cowden did for the 2021 event. The design is a paper cut out and really captures the spirit of our Go the Distance event. Read more about her background and connection to hospice below.

An Artist Perspective By Lisa Cowden

The Finger Lakes region has been my home for more than 40 years, and if there has been a constant while I’ve lived here it is the enduring beauty of the landscape graced by the transformation of the seasons. I live in the woods, and my studio overlooks an old meander of a creek that goes over Taughannock Falls, and is visited every spring by optimistic wood ducks and the occasional stern heron; it’s a meditative space and suits me well.

No matter how often and how far I ventured out to find work as an illustrator and designer whether it happened to be for Cornell, Corning, or the New York Times, or I was creating my own body of work for an exhibition, the fulfilling and inspiring solitude of nature has always been right outside my window and this room has seen many an ebb and flow of all kinds of projects.

I went to Berkeley. I traveled. I became a certified Montessori teacher, raised goats, children, eventually got an MFA from Syracuse University in surface pattern design, and wrote and illustrated two cookbooks.

Much, if not all of that, is behind me; but I’m still ruining fancy scissors by using them to cut paper and I keep making stuff because it turns out artists don’t retire.

And if I look outside now, I can see that the skunk cabbage is in its glory and the maple leaves are just beginning to unfurl.

I am so happy to have been asked to make the artwork for Women Swimmin’ for Hospicare 2021. When my mother was dying and my brother and I were desperate for support and guidance, we could not have navigated the situation as well as we did without help. It was a long time ago, and in California, but I still remember someone from hospice calling me a year after my mother passed away to see how I was doing. I’m still grateful for that.

Regaining Well-Being Through Forgiveness

by Mara Alper

We are all faced with the question of whether or not to forgive many times in our lives.

Each time it is challenging. Yet there are ways of seeing it that simplify the question. Forgiveness is a choice that allows us to heal on our own, without the offender apologizing or even acknowledging their part.  Forgiving in this way is for the benefit of the person who forgives, not for the wrongdoer. It does not mean what the other did was all right.

We can also choose to forgive ourselves; sometimes this can be even harder than forgiving another. In our culture, we often hear the phrase, “Forgive and forget.” But it isn’t about forgetting. It is about regaining the energy tied up in anger and hurt about past stories, and using it for far better purposes.

When we lose a parent, a loved one, faith in someone else or ourselves, we become vulnerable in a way that feels exposed beyond endurance. To protect ourselves, we may harden into anger or explode with blame, as we attempt to restore our sense of safety.  Deep hurt may propel us to say or feel, “I can never forgive you” or “I can never forgive myself.”

We may become fixed in that moment of time. We create a story about our grievance and repeat it to others and ourselves. Our outward lives continue, but our anger and hurt tie us to that point of pain and it lives on, consuming our life energy in ways we barely realize, until one day if we’re lucky, we may wake up and say — enough, this exhausts me.

I came to this place several times in my life. The first time, I faced difficult childhood recollections and over time began to understand the value of forgiveness. Each time after that allowed me to experience how forgiving helped me in ways I did not imagine possible. The turning point each time was the realization that my anger and hurt kept me completely connected to the one I was angry at, that I could not move on while I was caught in these feelings. I inadvertently learned about forgiveness because of my life circumstances and unwillingness to let the past deflate my life energy any longer.

I choose to tell my stories publicly so that others will have the courage to tell theirs. Stories can heal us. My healing process included making documentaries about my journey. These stories were heard by thousands of people around the world and helped them heal.

We tell ourselves repetitive stories about how things were and stay locked in these tales. Yet, shifting the story to consider other possibilities, new ways to see the situation, has positive effects in a short time. Our eyes are opened, our hearts softened. We can move on from a place of depletion toward renewed energy.

When I work with people about forgiveness, I ask them to write down their story the way they tell it to others. We tend to develop a few set sentences or paragraphs that tell our tale. In the workshops, we write our usual story, and then distill it into a few brief sentences and say them aloud to someone else. They listen carefully and repeat it back to us as they heard it and felt it. We hear it in a new way. A shift begins.

Hearing our own story in a neutral way, hearing the compassion someone else feels for our story, softens us toward our self. We feel tenderness for ourselves as if the story were someone else’s. From this tender place, we begin a meditation on forgiving ourselves. In gradual steps, we bring light into our darkened places. By the end of the workshops, a shift toward hope is possible. It happens when we learn to retell our own story with acceptance of our own and each other’s humanity. Forgiveness opens a door.

We can choose to forgive not because we ought to, but because it helps us heal.

Forgiveness is a choice that allows us to heal from past hurts that diminish our lives and effect our health and well-being.

 The focus of the two-part workshop “Finding Forgiveness: Healing After the Loss of a Parent” is to help adult children experience forgiveness as an on-going process, even after death. Learning to forgive our parents and ourselves opens positive possibilities.

During the workshop, you will experience a forgiveness process through a blend of meditation, discussion, journaling, brief exercises and gentle movement to guide you toward a softened heart and healing. This workshop is for anyone who has been hurt, but has not yet healed.

Learning to forgive our parents and ourselves opens positive possibilities. Thursday, May 13 & 20, 7:00-8:30pm. 

MARA ALPER is a teacher, media artist and writer. Her documentaries Stories No One Wants To Hear (1993) and Forgiveness: A Healing Documentary (2006) have reached world-wide audiences about healing past pain. She inadvertently learned about forgiveness because of her life circumstances and her unwillingness to let the past deflate her life energy any longer. Her award-winning documentaries and video art have screened nationally and internationally.  www.MaraAlper.com

Learning to Live Inside of Loss

By Chantelle Daniel

I love books. I not only escape into them, but I learn from them, about life, cultures, love, loss. I don’t always know why I’m reading a book until after I’m done with it and even then, it can be some time before I am able to gain a full understanding of the experience.  A dear friend gave me the book, It’s OK That You’re NOT OK by Megan Devine. I liked the title, it felt like permission to be in the space that I am in, a space that is difficult to articulate, because often I still don’t believe the loss is real and I’m not OK. I didn’t read it right away, I left the book on my bedside table, letting those words seep in, like a mantra or a daily inspirational quote. “It’s OK That You’re NOT OK.” Finally, one day, I picked up the book and started to read it, realizing rather quickly that I wanted to have a pencil on hand so I could underline the passages that struck me.  I found myself underlining passage after passage, so much so, that at times I felt as though I were underlining more of the text than I was leaving blank.

I came to a line Megan wrote, “Grief is part of love. Love for life, love for self, love for others. What you are living, painful as it is, is love. And love is really hard. Excruciating at times.” I stopped. I had never heard the idea that grief could be connected to love, and yet it made complete sense.  I had always been taught that love was happy and beautiful, and yet I know from life that love has many different shades to it.  Megan explains that when someone we love dies, we continue to have the same deep feelings of affection for them.  The yearning and sorrow we experience at their absence, our grief, is a normal and natural extension of our love. I had also never heard love being described as really hard, even excruciating and yet in the context of grief, it certainly is.  That is what Megan does so well in this book, she speaks to the things I feel, but have never known how to put into words, or that I felt wrong or confused for experiencing. I admit it, I don’t know how to do grief. Megan tells me in her book that that’s OK. This book is written in a way that allows you to read at your own pace, you can jump around and find the chapters that speak to you best, read it straight through, or just have it on your bedside table reminding you that it’s OK to be where you are now.

“This book is about how to live inside of your loss. How you carry what cannot be fixed. How you survive.” That is what is so special to me about this book, Megan isn’t telling you to get over grief, she knows that isn’t how grief works.  Instead, she is helping you live with the loss, knowing you will always carry it with you, and guiding you towards finding tools to survive it. I don’t know how to survive grief yet, but I know reading books and talking about books has helped me in most other areas of my life.  Regardless of whether you have read the book cover to cover, jumped around to read certain sections, or just have the book on your nightstand; I invite you to come help us talk about the book, It’s OK That You’re NOT OK by Megan Devine on April 14th from 5:30-7:00 p.m.  Underline a passage or two that speaks to you, or simply come to be in the same space as others who are navigating grief. I look forward to connecting with you.

Song Bath with the Threshold Choir

This program was offered by the Hospicare Threshold Choir of Ithaca on February 21, 2021.

The choir members are volunteers at Hospicare. Our volunteers provide assistance to patients and their families in a variety of ways, and for Threshold Choir members that way is through music. Other Hospicare volunteers offer companionship, respite for caregivers, light housekeeping, and assistance with shopping. This is done in the patient’s home setting or our 6-bed residence on East King Road in Ithaca.

The Hospicare chapter of the Threshold Choir was started in 2017 by Jayne Demakos, then director of Hospicare’s Music Program. Threshold Choir as an organization was founded by singer/songwriter Kate Munger in 2000, and now has over 150 chapters worldwide.

Threshold Choirs sing for people at the threshold of life as well as for their families and friends, in private homes, nursing homes, assisted living facilities, hospitals and hospices. The choir sings in groups of 2 to 4 singers using the instrument that we all have, the human voice, to share songs of comfort and caring. 

Members of the choir are not performers. The choir sings to people who may have different levels of attention and different needs. They may sing softly and gently to someone who has fallen asleep or someone might sing along with us, requesting songs that have special meaning for them. The Threshold Choir does their best to honor wherever they are on their journey.

Since bedside singing is not currently possible, Hospicare’s Threshold Choir is exploring creative ways to share their voices and presence. The Song Bath focuses on sharing the joy of singing and promoting a feeling of well-being and ease.

We invite you to sit back or lie down, close your eyes, if you would like, and be bathed in songs that soothe the soul.

We hope that you enjoyed listening to our talented choir and that it brought you peace and a sense of calm during this crazy time in the world. Thank you to all the singers for letting us into their homes and for showing us what magic they can bring to someone in need.   

If you are interested in the Threshold Choir please contact Wendy Yettru at 607-272-0212 or WYettru@hospicare.org.

Faces of Cortland

By Barry Miller

Team Member Profile: John Hughes, RN

Job Title: Primary RN/Case Manager

Residence: Cortland

Family: Wife Liz, two children (a son who lives locally and a daughter in Norway) and three grandchildren, with one on the way.

New Beginnings on the Horizon: “A current goal is to find a place with more land and barns and get back to having horses again.”

John Hughes knows a thing or two about new beginnings. “I’m kind of all about that,” says John. “I have always thought of life as an adventure and that the only limit is our own courage and imagination.”

Take, for instance, John’s 40-plus years of professional work, in which he has been a commercial truck driver, a blacksmith, an opera singer (“Please don’t ever ask me to sing—it’s long gone!” says John), a marketing/development manager for large hospital systems, a nursing home administrator, a manager for 55 skilled-nursing and assisted-living facilities, an owner/operator of a national firm providing clinical and operational consulting services to over 300 health care organizations in 30 states, and an owner/operator of a senior services campus—among other pursuits. “It sounds like I had a lot of trouble keeping a job, doesn’t it?” he jokes.

John’s kind and laid back personality helps put our patients at ease.

Speaking of new beginnings, what advice might John give a prospective Hospicare healthcare worker?

“It depends on what kind of work environment they may be looking for,” John says. “For someone who values autonomy and who is fulfilled by building a true relationship with patients and families over a long term, hospice is great. The reward is helping patients and their families through the final journey. Of course, we have accountability, but each day we are pretty much able to design our day, meaning where we go, who we see, and so forth.”

John with coworkers at the Hospicare six bed residence in Ithaca.

Regarding the unique aspects of hospice patient care, John reflects, “Our patients are as ‘real’ as they come. I have had more real heart-to-heart conversations with patients in the hospice setting than anywhere else. So, if a nurse is looking for this type of setting, Hospicare is a great opportunity.”

Outside of work, John is a board member of Cortland’s Family Health Network, a group of five federally qualified health centers in Cortland and Cayuga counties. John also enjoys gardening and farming their half-acre plot with his wife, Liz, a Cortland native. But perhaps his biggest passion is raising and farming with Belgian draft horses, which he did while living in Ohio. “Let’s call that a retirement goal,” says John.

Wintering and Cold Water Swimming: An Exploration in Radical Self Care During the Pandemic

by Laura Ward, LMFT, CT

“When it’s really cold, the snow makes a lovely noise underfoot, and it’s like the air is full of stars.”

Katherine May

The water is completely still under a brilliant sky, layers of light beneath a canopy of dark clouds. The moon shone brightly above us.  Walking into the lake, I admire the tiny shards of shell glittering on the rocks below, each shard clear and defined in the calm water. As we swim, I can feel the cold reaching all the way to my center, reminding me to just be, to breathe deep. Walking away, I carry the lake within me, calm and shimmering.

I wrote this reflection after completing my second cold water swim in Cayuga lake with my co-worker Sara Worden, Assistant Director of Community Engagement.  Cold water swimming has been shown to have numerous physical and mental health benefits and many people engage in the practice regularly. 

I became interested in this practice after reading the book Wintering: The Power of Rest and Retreat During Difficult Times by Katherine May, which is the book featured in our upcoming community book discussion. 

In the chapter “Cold Water Swimming”, Katherine talks about the mental health benefits and comradery of cold water swimming. Many people are using cold water swimming to help them cope with the many losses experienced during the pandemic. It’s a safe activity that can help swimmers feel connected to the healing powers of nature and other humans.

Book Discussion: March 4th with Laura Ward via Zoom. Register here.

Then, while talking with Sara, I discovered that she had had just booked American ice, open water and endurance swimmer, Jaimie Monahan, to speak at an upcoming event for the Women Swimmin’ community.  After marveling at the coincidence of our shared interest and the intersection of our upcoming events, we decided to give cold water swimming a try for ourselves and committed to six swims over a two-week period. 

Virtual Presentation: March 18 via Zoom. Register here.

It has been an exhilarating experience and one that has reminded me that I need to continue to stretch out of my comfort zone and look for new ways to stay healthy and care for myself as we approach the year mark of the pandemic and social distancing. To many, this might sound like a rather extreme example of self-care and I agree. 

However, we invite you to join us in reflecting on what you might need to keep going during these challenging times.  We hope that you will be inspired by Katherine May or Jaimie Monahan as you contemplate how to answer this question for yourself.

Advance Care Planning Video

Please enjoy an excerpt from our webinar series.

The webinar series was a partnership between Hospicare & Palliative Care Services, the Bem Endowment at Hospicare, and the Ithaca College Gerontology Institute.

With additional support from the Community Foundation of Tompkins County, the Funeral Consumer Alliance of the Finger Lakes, the Cancer Resource Center, and the Cortland Free Library.

Hospicare uses an interdisciplinary team approach to providing care to patients, families and caregivers in Tompkins and Cortland counties. We provide emotional, medical and spiritual support, and patients have access to care from physicians, nurses, social workers, grief counselors, home health aides and volunteers. It’s never too early to ask questions.

If you have any questions about Advance Care Planning, don’t hesitate to reach out at info@hospicare.org or 607-272-0212.

Hospicare Announces New Executive Director

The Board of Directors of Hospicare & Palliative Care Services is pleased to announce the successful hiring of its 8th Executive Director. Joe Sammons will join the Hospicare team in February. 

“We’re thrilled that Joe has agreed to join Hospicare as our new Executive Director,” said Betsy East, president of the Board of Directors. “Joe has valuable experience leading organizations in the health care arena, is committed to the Hospicare mission, and is a compassionate, strategic and thoughtful leader. We’re looking forward to working together with him and Hospicare’s incredible and dedicated staff and volunteers as we work to provide end-of-life and palliative care to members of our communities.” 

Sammons currently serves as the Executive Director of Challenge Workforce Solutions, the largest provider of training, vocational services and employment for people with disabilities and barriers in Tompkins County. Prior to joining Challenge in 2015, Sammons served as the President and CEO of Planned Parenthood of the Southern Finger Lakes, creating and completing a capital campaign of over $8 million while building new health centers in Hornell, Corning and Ithaca. Under Sammons’ leadership, the agency also implemented electronic medical records while dramatically expanding its education and community outreach programs. 

Sammons has also served as Executive Director of the Geiger-Gibson Community Health Center in Boston and as Assistant VP of Operations for Community Healthcare Network in New York City. Locally, he is involved with several groups, including the Tompkins County Human Services Coalition, the Tompkins County Chamber of Commerce, the Tompkins County Workforce Development Board, and Ithaca Rotary. 

Sammons and his family live in Ithaca. “I am deeply honored to be invited to lead Hospicare – I am simply in awe of the compassionate, high quality care the agency provides to people in our community, regardless of income or insurance.” said Sammons. “Throughout my career, I’ve been truly blessed to do good work for good people – a description that fits Hospicare really well.  I can’t wait to get started!” 

Sammons succeeds Kimberly De Rosa, who served as Executive Director for Hospicare until September 2020. Joe Mareane, former administrator for Tompkins County, has served as interim Executive Director. 

Hospicare & Palliative Care Services serves residents of Cortland and Tompkins counties. Our hospice team cares for patients’ medical, emotional and spiritual needs so they can more fully enjoy time with loved ones. Our palliative care team cares for people with life-limiting illnesses by relieving the burden of illness, enhancing the quality of life, and fulfilling the patient’s goals for comfort. Finally, we provide bereavement support services to anyone in our service area who is grieving the death of a loved one, whether or not they died on hospice. 

Anyone interested in learning more about our services and programs can call 607-272-0212 during our administrative business hours (M-F, 8:30am-4:30pm). 

A Report of our Work in Cortland and Tompkins Counties

As we turn the final pages of 2020, our thoughts go to all who have struggled with loss. Whether you mourn the death of a beloved friend or family member – or simply the loss of normalcy — this has been a hard year for so many of us.

At Hospicare, we celebrate the nurses, aides, counselors, social workers, and staff who have tended to those whose end-of-life needs and grief did not take a pause for COVID. They donned masks and gloves and gowns, mastered new technologies and techniques to maintain human connections at a distance, and selflessly braved risks to themselves in order to help a person or family in need. 

The good work undertaken by these extraordinary people could not have happened without donor support. Even in less challenging times, nearly one-fifth of Hospicare’s budget is supported with funds given by a generous community—not for frills, but as a means to provide the level of care, dignity, and comfort that has been the hallmark of our agency for over 36 years. 

When you give, you inspire others to give as well, be those gifts of time, talent or treasure. Together, we are creating a community that we can be proud to call home.

To our donors, we say a special thank you. Thanks to our commitment to patient care and our rich community connections, we stretch every donated dollar as far as it can go.  As Helen Keller once said, “Alone we can do so little; together we can do so much.”

On behalf of all the patients and families we serve, and on behalf of Hospicare’s staff who have not let the challenges of 2020 get in the way, we offer our thanks and gratitude. You make a difference, and our online report is how it shows.

Safe and happy holidays to you and yours,
Joe Mareane
Hospicare Interim Executive Director