My Business – planning your end of life!

Jane Duncan Rogers is the CEO of Before I Go Solutions. Her first husband died when she was 54 which led to awful grief but also the book Gifted by Grief which ultimately led to her end of life planning social enterprise. She lives in Scotland, got married again in between lockdowns plus she and her new husband are building not only a new life but a new eco-house too. www.beforeigosolutions.com

My worst fear had just happened – my husband was dead, we’d had no kids, and I was left alone in the world. Aged 54, too old to be a young widow, too young to be an old one.

That was how my 2012 started. Not a good place, and certainly not a place where I could ever have imagined what has happened since.

In those early months, I knew, in theory, there would be a blessing somewhere in his death, but I wasn’t in the least interested in finding it. As grief took its grip on me, and I was tossed and turned by its waves, I just hung on, doing my best to trust that I would survive. And at that time, I wasn’t even interested in surviving that much – I didn’t actively want to die, I just didn’t want to be alive.

But now, I can honestly say I am grateful for my husband’s life AND his death. For without them both, nothing of what I am doing now would be happening.

Three years after he died, I published my memoir, Gifted by Grief. By this time, the blessing in disguise had shown itself, the writing of the book had proved cathartic, and I was in a good place in myself.

Readers’ reaction to the book showed that they too wanted to answer the questions I had asked my husband a few months before he died. Things like ‘what are your passwords’, ‘what kind of coffin do you want,’ and ‘how do you want your body dressed’. Not easy to answer at the best of times and certainly not when you know you are on the way out. But we had plucked up the courage and amazingly, had enjoyed working on what turned out to be our last project together, despite the title being ‘Philip’s end of life plan’.

Little did I know it, but this was the start of what has become a fully-fledged social enterprise Before I Go Solutions, a training organisation where we train others to become accredited End of Life Plan Facilitators and provide products and programmes to help people put a good end of life plan in place.

I had previously run training courses and had in the back of my mind to train others, but this was brought forward a year when several people asked if they could train in what I was doing. Hence our pilot in 2018 for what is now our End of Life Plan Facilitators Programme, with the 8th intake for the training about to start as I write.

I had a lot to learn about being a social enterprise though. Despite being eligible for grant funding because of our status, it took a while to get my head around the fact that there are funding opportunities, and what social impact really meant in the eyes of possible funders.

I thought that by the very nature of the business, we were making a social impact – after all, everyone has to die, it’s a community event, and therefore an impact on society. But funders needed to see a more specific benefit than that. Eventually, we were successful with a lottery-funded bid for £10K to bring Dead Good events to Scotland, and the development of a pack of End of Life Planning cards.

We have also developed the Philip Rogers Scholarship Fund, enabling those from disadvantaged backgrounds to become Facilitators, bringing this work to their communities too.

One of the ongoing challenges with this business has been the need to educate people about the importance of doing this work at all, and specifically what an end of life plan actually is.  Most know about wills and funerals and the importance of doing them, and at the very least knowing if you want to be buried or cremated. And even then, a significant number have not attended to these matters (fewer than 4 in 10 adults in the UK still do not have a will in place, with statistics showing that there’s has been only a 1% increase in will-making between 2019 and 2020, despite the pandemic).

But an actual end of life plan means you not only have a will sorted, but also both powers of attorney; your funeral organised in all its details; your digital life planned (because you’ll still be alive online years later unless you state otherwise beforehand); your house decluttered (aka death cleaning); your advance care plan in place (your preference for treatment towards the end of your life); and the way your finances and household run – all documented and in one place.

And even when people realise that actually, this is a big project (after all, planning a funeral can be at least as big an event as a wedding, and yet we are supposed to plan that in a few days, compared to at least a few months for a wedding), they often just don’t do it.

Like Susan, who told me ‘I bought your second book, Before I Go, intending to go through it and complete everything. But 6 months later and I haven’t touched it. I need help’

Or Regina who said ‘I’ve started but I’ve got stuck with what to decide about how I want my end of life to be ideally, especially as my family are not forthcoming in talking about this with me’.

Or Saul, who shyly attended one of our courses as a lone man, and expressed his overwhelm in beginning to deal with the numerous build-up of possessions over the past 40 years, leading to anxiety, indecision, and worrying about what would happen amongst his kids when he was gone.

These are some of the scenarios that our Facilitators now help with.

This journey so far has been one of ups and downs, with a lot of dogged determination on my part to fulfil our mission of having an end of life plans become as commonplace as birth plans.

Now, my time is focused on developing the Facilitators Programme, working with organisations to help their staff become more at ease with talking about end of life to their customers, and learning how to scale a young business so it becomes sustainable for long after I have gone.

This is quite a challenge for someone who has been used to being a solo professional for most of her life!  We now have a team of administrative staff, all working part-time, and a crucial part of the workings behind the scenes.

Plus a growing international community of licensed Facilitators (we’ve trained over 70 now, and about 25 of those are actually practising). And of course, I am a director on the Board, of what is now the leading training company in this arena.

For me personally, I feel as if Philip and I are still in the business together somehow. As a psychotherapist, he was intent on helping others have a better life – and in a strange sort of way, he is still doing this from beyond the grave. This is definitely an unforeseen blessing!

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