Published on August 15, 2022
Judith Bright is known in Nashville as an extremely successful jewelry designer and business owner. At Alive, we also know her for her service to patients at the end of life. We spoke with her about why she became an end-of-life doula and how it connects with the legacy she wants to leave.
“Live each day like you’re dying, because one day you’ll be right. I am very cognizant of enjoying people and life and being excited to wake up each morning. Accepting the universal truth that we are all going to die, helps you live more fully.”
How did you get involved with end-of-life care?
It goes way back to my first career. I was a nurse (trained at Vanderbilt) and worked with AIDS and pulmonary disease patients. People were dying around me, and at the age of 22, this was very impactful. Ultimately, it was also too much for me. I was not able to leave all that pain and grief at work. I wanted to call the families of all the patients and send everyone cookies. There was no space or time to process the grief that was all around me.
I realized that compassion work was what I really wanted to do, but I didn’t know it back then. In the last few years, I got a tap on my shoulder, then a constant banging to do something around the end of life. Hospice had always been in the back of my mind. During COVID in 2021, I took a Conscious Dying Institute course to become a Sacred Passage Doula. I met each week with teachers, other students, and members of the Nashville community to do end-of-life activities.
Alive has always had such a great reputation in the community. I decided to contribute proceeds from my Butterfly Collection to Alive, and then I started volunteering at Alive as a doula after I completed my training.
What has it been like?
I mostly visit in the Nashville residence. I sit bedside with people and hold their hands. Even if they are not conscious, I am still there telling them they are not alone, and that it’s an honor to visit with them, even for a moment. At end of life, time can really slow down and moments take on a new meaning; they live in a truly sacred place. It’s important to their family members; loved ones, children, and spouses that someone can be there if they cannot. I consider being bedside to be a great honor.
I spoke with a gentleman yesterday whose wife is a patient. They have been married for 70 years! He was so grateful to have the opportunity to share stories about her. Their first date was to go to church together, and his aunt sat right between them. She now has dementia and no longer knows who he is, but he still takes her each week to get her hair done. He told me that even though she doesn’t recognize him anymore, he stays bedside for himself, to keep the promise he made to her and to honor that promise. At the end of our visit, he remarked that the care and attention they both received at Alive affirmed his personal philosophy, “that there are so many good people in the world.”
How do you live the legacy you want to leave?
Being so young as a nurse and being exposed to so much death as I started out, has informed my perspective…knowing we are all going there, and that it’s O.K. It’s the one certainty we all share. I have never been afraid of it. Death in this realm could quite possibly be birth into another. Maybe if we flipped the script, it wouldn’t be so scary. We are born helpless and our parents take care of us, then as they age and die, they too become helpless, and we take care of them. The circle of life is a beautiful thing.
I want people to know that I’m a resource and am available to talk about death and dying 24/7. People call me when their parents dying. I have been at the bedside for members of my own family and have seen how peaceful and beautiful it can be…it’s incredibly special and bonding for families to come together and witness the end of life of their loved one.
The key is being prepared, preparing others, and having the conversation. Getting palliative care or hospice care early is crucial to understanding what to expect. This can avoid medicalized, over-treated death in the hospital. 80% of people want to die at home, yet only 20% get to. I really think this is starting to change as people become more aware of the gentler options.
Life is a continuum. You can either die at point Y, or you can die at point Z. There is a choice that can be made between quality of life vs. quantity of life when death is inevitable. I believe people deserve to be told the straight truth, to be given options, so they can decide for themselves how it is going down, if possible. This is the reason why everyone who doesn’t have a living will should stop reading this article and fill one out, so your loved ones don’t have to make these decisions for you.
Since becoming a doula, part of my legacy is talking to people and helping them become prepared and providing resources. I have created my advance directives and have even bought my natural burial spot at Larkspur Conservation. I sent the information to my children to take all the guesswork out of it, so their experience (and my experience) at the end can be the best it can be, for them and for me…and to open the frank conversation about what is coming for all of us.
My jewelry line, and designs, are another legacy. I’ve been able to use them to do some charitable work in my community and support young women in business and artisans in the community. Aside from my children, these are my legacies.
What else do you want to share about this?
I encourage everyone to come to Alive and volunteer. There is nothing to be afraid of at all. There is so much fear surrounding death. Alive is the opposite of scary. It is loving, compassionate, and wonderful, and volunteers are treasured and so appreciated by the families.