What Is Leadership? Podcast – Melanie Sheckels – Befriending Death (Transcript)

What Is Leadership? Podcast – Melanie Sheckels – Befriending Death (Transcript)

Melanie Sheckels is a registered nurse and a death, grief and trauma educator/guide, helping hundreds of humans move from fear and freeze into possibility and ease. Melanie founded ‘Threshold Doula’ in 2019 after 7 years as a cardiac and hospice nurse, helping people navigate the healthcare system and dying process with greater understanding and confidence. In this episode, Melanie shares about her mother’s passing which led to stepping into this leadership. How the Western medical system relates to the dying process (and an alternative approach for regret-free transition), a reframe for ‘legacy’ and our part in the wider web of life, and ways to navigate expected and unexpected deaths. For links and show notes go to: cheladavison.com/podcast.

Other ways of experiencing this conversation:

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Check out the Show Notes here


[00:00:00] Chela Davison: Welcome. I am your host, Chala Davison, and I live, work on and am broadcasting to you from the unceded territory of the Squamish Nation. I’m an entrepreneur and master coach, mother and community lover. I teach, write, speak, coach, and facilitate developmental programs for conscious visionaries, teams, and collaborators to lead their best and deepest work. ‘What is Leadership?’ is a podcast where we ask this very question. Listen in as an invitation to discover and own how you are uniquely called to lead, while receiving inspiration, possibility, and resources to co-create a future that’s truly worthy of devoting our lives to. This podcast is a hundred percent uncensored – so while I don’t promise we’ll go there – we might go there! You might wanna put in earbuds if you’ve got little ones or easily offended folks around. Are you ready? Let’s go.

Hello, welcome. My guest today is Melanie Sheckels and she is a registered nurse and death grief and trauma educator and guide who has helped hundreds of humans move from fear and freeze into possibility and ease. She founded Threshold Doula in 2019 after seven years as a cardiac and hospice nurse. As a death doula, Melanie offers advocacy and guidance to help people navigate the healthcare system and the dying process with greater understanding and confidence. And as a speaker and educator, she helps people have meaningful conversations about death and loss in order to foster the most peaceful regret-free lives possible.

Welcome, welcome, welcome. Thank you so much for being here. It’s really great to see you. 

[00:01:59] Melanie Sheckels: Thank you so much for having me, Chela. Oh, it’s so great to see you too.

[00:02:03] Chela Davison: Oh, thank you. It’s such a pleasure. I’m really excited about diving into this conversation for so many reasons. 

So for our listeners today – Melanie and I – we have a long-standing connection. We first met when you joined ‘Lead’, my group coaching program. We have done some one-on-one deep dive together, and the connection and the friendship has continued to grow. And one of the things that I really admire – I admire so much about you – and one of the things that I really admire is your way of leading has so much embodied alignment with your values. And you’ve got this way of bringing yourself to your work and your life that really honors the sacred – the sacred of life and the sacred of death. 

And so I want to share a quote of yours. I’m gonna quote you, and then I wanna hear from you. So I’d love to share this quote because it really feels like a poignant kickoff point for both your work, but also the why and the personal experience that you’ve had that’s really led to you stepping into this leadership. “Death is a rite of passage, not a medical event. Even amidst great loss and difficulty, we each contain an inherent, unbreakable blueprint of health and wholeness that we may return to with deep, consistent care and connection.” 

So, you were at your mother’s bedside when she was dying, and your relationship with your mom was complicated and fraught, and yet something really important happened in that ending. And I’d love for you to share with us what happened for you and for her through that passage that taught you about what it means to have a good death.

[00:04:01] Melanie Sheckels: I really just – it feels so good to receive that question with so much reverence and tenderness. So thank you for that.

So I stopped living with my Mom when I was 15 years old. There were many years in my adult life that went by that we didn’t speak at all. But when she and I did talk, we often had really involved conversations about death and dying at her request. She was 61 when she died. She had end stage heart and lung disease and she was on the list for organ transplant, but she was not really a candidate for many complicated health reasons.

But she knew that she was dying. She knew that she was going to die. And for her being in consent with that experience looked like having as much control and knowledge as possible. And so at the point in which I was working as a cardiac nurse, when we had these conversations, she would ask me very honest and thorough – and sometimes harrowing – questions about the dying process. About what different medical interventions would be like to experience in her body and what different complications were like. You know, this sort of grey area. We often think of receiving C P R and intubation as life-saving measures. And so when we think about this experience, we think about, you know, ‘I’m at risk of dying, so I have these interventions done so that I stay alive’, but there’s all this sort of grey, murky middle of things that can happen besides death. You know, these long-term complications. And so she and I had really involved conversations about what quality of life looked like for her, what capacities and abilities and elements of autonomy and control did she need to have access to in order to be in consent with life and in consent with receiving these interventions. And at what point was she no longer in consent? At what point did she want to transition towards being in consent with end-of-life, with this process of defoliation that she was already in the midst of? 

So because we had these really in-depth conversations, when she went into the hospital for the final time, she got to a point where she was barely able to breathe, let alone speak. And even though we had had so much conflict and there had been so many barriers to trust between us – here, she was at her most vulnerable. And she knew that I knew exactly what she needed. And she was able to trust me and ask me to make decisions for her. And this act, which seems so small on the surface, just created this profound shift, this profound transformation in our relationship that allowed for so much healing and forgiveness to occur between us. And it really connected me with this part of myself that was both reverent and tender and so, so strong. 

And so I was able to – even though we were in an I C U – I was able to sort of hold this, this nesting space around her and, you know, invite in well-intentioned family members and friends who could come and say goodbye to her and tell her how much that she was loved and how much she mattered. And invite-in a priest to come and give her last rights, which was really important to her. And invite-in nurses to offer her care that was a match for her needs around peace and dignity – which included medicine to control her pain and medicine to ease the discomfort of breathing. 

And this was at a point in which she had had a stroke. She was flacid on half of her body – and this might be a good place for a trigger warning of, like graphic medical stuff.  She was in a rural hospital in North Carolina and it took some time for the trauma doctor to be present on the scene to kind of try and mitigate the damage that had had happened from this stroke. And when he did arrive, you know, he offered that we take her by helicopter to a level 1 trauma centre where they could do a surgery to remove this clot that was on her brain. But luckily, because I had been a nurse in a cardiac critical care unit, I recognized that for her to accept that intervention would mean she would have to be intubated. With her lungs being in such an advanced state of disease, in all likelihood, she would not survive coming off of that intubation. And she would have to be intubated indefinitely – which opens her up to complications like pneumonia – which she in all likelihood would not survive. And then let’s just say like by some miracle, she was able to survive those, she would likely have a very long stay in a rehab facility, which brings up all these other complications for a person who is unable to move half of their body and is living with end stage heart and lung disease on top of that.

So I was able to recognize that, you know, the doctor – who was well-intentioned and sort of flippantly offering all of these interventions that could save her life – that these interventions were not a match for what my mom’s needs and limitations around being in consent with life and in consent with treatment – looked like. And so we made that choice to shift to comfort care.

[00:11:51] Chela Davison: It brings up this – thank you so much for sharing all of this. And, this brings up an important question, which feels like – and I know is an important part of what you do – of helping to advocate for what people need. And so I imagine you see a lot in our medical system, but also our wider culture around how we relate to death.

And what I just heard in that was, was kind of the – the knee-jerk or well-intentioned – extend life as the priority. That’s at least the assumption that I make. Does that seem like that’s one of the kinds of cultural pulses around how our medical system – I mean we are, we’re in different countries – but the Western medical system relates to this? And yeah, I’d just be curious to hear your thoughts on that and the kind of wider overlay of what you see around how culturally we relate to death. and how that actually gets in the way of having a peaceful regret-free transition.

[00:13:06] Melanie Sheckels: Absolutely. I would say that the Western medical system operates under an ethos of – if we can, we should.

We at this place in time, in human history, have created so much powerful technology that has given us the ability to feel so much control over life and death and to sort of create this illusion that we can kind of have this infinite growth and expansion. And that we can, you know – if we receive some sort of end stage diagnosis that we can assume eventually there will be a miracle that will keep us alive indefinitely. And I lost the thread of the question.

[00:14:13] Chela Davison: Yeah, I think you answered the question. I think the other part of the question is around the cultural relationship to death, but maybe to more intimately ask this question. You help people die without regret and find peace. What do you see are the barriers to that?

[00:14:38] Melanie Sheckels: I would say that the biggest barrier I see to this is. is that in our modern human culture, we have really sort of created a society where we can perpetuate this sort of illusion of separation from the web of life. From the cycle of life. From one another. 

You know, I live inside my home with four walls and I do my work and I pay my bills, and I have this sense of profound independence. I’m separate from it all. And yet there’s a farmer who tends to chickens who lay the eggs that I eat. And there’s, you know, farmers all around who grow the vegetables that I eat. And there are utility people out on the corner who are servicing water and power so that this life can continue. And so, there is this piece around control that, that really gives us a sense of control and, and death in, in many ways is the ultimate reckoning with that illusion.

And so there – there’s a piece of living a peaceful regret-free life that is about recognizing the limitations to your control. And there’s this idea of like, choosing your battles. And so just being very intentional about how you want to wield the power that you have. And so inviting in some trust and curiosity. In what ways are you a part of something bigger than yourself? In what ways are you a part of a greater web of life? And, you know, it can be very helpful to notice in the web of life around you where death is happening and what that – what that looks like and how that affects the environment that it’s happening in. So I think in a – in maybe a more accessible way than like going to see it in the hospital or a long-term care facility – you could begin by going into a forest and you might see that there are beautiful old growth trees that have fallen and that are rotting. And what we can learn by observing them is that – as they are dying, they have, like some awareness of that, some sentient quality around that. And so they’re able to redistribute all of their resources to all of the trees in their community through the wood wide web. 

Chela Davison: I love that!

Melanie Sheckels: And then if you look at, at the physically like rotting tree, you can see all of this rich life is growing from that decay. And so these are kind of tangible ways that we can remember that death is a normal part of the cycle of life, and it also is an important part of that cycle that feeds new life. And at this point in human history, as I mentioned before, we’ve, we’ve developed all of these ways to infinitely grow and expand. And we’re learning more and more through reports about the climate – climate collapse, and climate change. We’re learning that, you know, infinite human growth does not necessarily happen in accordance with a healthy and whole web of life. And so human death is a normal part of that life cycle that helps to feed the web of life around us and helps to create a rich system of balance.

I like to think of that web of life as, as the body, and we are all cells inside that body. And so if, you know, inside our body, for example, if one particular system or type of cell were to get on this program of infinite expansion and started, you know – people with autoimmune disorders know what I’m talking about – started killing off other parts of the body. We wouldn’t live, the whole body would die.

[00:19:57] Chela Davison: What I’m so touched by in how you’re naming this is, is the layers of it from the, you know, wider ecology that we are a part of. The metaphoric pieces. As you know, I love to play in metaphor in a lot of what guides how I work, and especially working with people through their own creativity and self-expression and leadership. And what we create and make in our lives is this cyclical, seasonal life and death cycle orientation. And so like, how do we die to ourselves? And you’re also speaking to that quite literally. And so I can feel both the literal and the, and the metaphoric at play here, and want to share for, you know, the folks who are receiving this. You have this beautiful legacy journal. And when I read through it – So, I am to my knowledge not dying – other than that I am both living and dying at the same time. And I could really feel the potency of it as an exploration for someone who is facing their death, but also the potency for myself when you ask these questions in this particular way and start to orient to death as coming. and not this thing that we’re kind of avoiding while trying to maximize life.Suddenly the kinds of questions that you’re asking, the meditation that accompanies it, for me, it brought me into a real -. I mean, I’m, I’m existentially angsty all the time. Anyway, but it like, it just kind of, in a way, I felt this ‘both and’ of a connection to deep time and a wider system. And also time really narrowing in a like ‘don’t mess around’ kind of way. Like this is real and death is coming and that actually can help us live true and more fully. 

So for those who are interested, check out our show notes to see where you can play with that and get access to it. It’s so beautiful. Thank you for making it. Thank you.

[00:22:28] Melanie Sheckels: Yeah. Yes. Yes. And this – this legacy journal and guided meditation – I think really transports participants in, in their own journey of understanding the story of their life. Of understanding who they are at this sort of cellular level, and how the expression of their life goes on to feed their family, their loved ones, their community in a way that is eternal. And in a way that connects you to your deep inherent mattering. Which transcends death, truly.

[00:23:20] Chela Davison: And you know what – I felt like what you did really well and I actually – and I feel in the transmission of how you talk about your work – is there’s a subtle distinction that really clicked for me around legacy.

And I think a lot of times within this paradigm that we’re speaking about of like – of endless growth. Of the western systems. Of the way that capitalism has kind of gotten its little fingers in all the pots. Legacy can often be related to as the things we do, the things we build, the productivity we have, what we acquire that then is getting passed down and that’s partial.Perhaps we are leaving inheritance and stuff that we have built for future generations. 

But what also struck me was for someone who doesn’t have family, perhaps somebody who is dying very much alone. That the exploration honors this wider field that they are a part of, and that their life matters without these external metrics, but simply by being here as part of this web and what is their unique expression while incarnate and allowing that to ripple out into the collective.

And so that was really like – I feel like asking in that way and playing in that way – it’s subtle and it’s really important and that’s something that I’ve always been very moved by in your work. And part of what I meant by this embodied expression of leadership for the Sacred is you have a way of having this different orientation than the dominant culture’s orientation that you’re really leading from. Like, I can feel it’s not a conceptual map that you’re offering, but like really inviting people into a whole different way of relating to themselves as a human being amongst a wider ecosystem.

[00:25:32] Melanie Sheckels: Yes. Yes. 100%. Thank you. Yeah. May I share a little- 

Chela Davison: Yeah. Please! 

Melanie Sheckels: story to punctuate that. I was tending to this, this wonderful human at the end of his life and he was really struggling to accept that death was what was on the menu. And one of the points of resistance was really around his legacy. He had, as part of his life’s work, he noticed a need for playgrounds that were accessible to disabled children. And so he advocated and raised money and raised awareness to create this playground in our community. And as he lay there dying, he said to me, “Melanie, I am the last person who was committed to this project and when I die this playground is going to become a basketball court and my legacy will be gone.” Big punch in the gut for this guy. And so what I shared with him seemed to really help. And that was. ‘You recognized what the need was in that place and time, and you made that a reality. And because of that, so many children who did not experience belonging got to play and feel like they were a part of a normal childhood experience. And those children are adults. And those children are out in the world helping other people fit in, helping other people find belonging and maybe find play. And we don’t know. We’ll never know exactly what the fruit of that seed you planted is, but we know that it is out there. We know that that impact happened and that it mattered.’

And what I didn’t share with him was that maybe the need for this place in time right now in this specific location is a basketball court. Maybe it is. We don’t know. And that’s okay. It’s okay for these things to change. It’s okay for our legacy to not be this fixed monument to what was true in our time, but something that is pliable, something that is adaptable and something that feeds what is true in our time, but can change to feed what’s emerging, what’s coming, what’s coming next.

[00:28:43] Chela Davison: That’s so beautiful. And what it, what it’s, I mean – I’m just. I don’t have any shame about crying, but I’m like, actually trying to manage my tears cause I’m so touched by it. And part of what, what I really heard in that too is like a wider lesson for all of us. And kind of linking in with the theme of this podcast of exploring all these different ways in which we can lead and what leadership looks like and can feel like as a genuine expression is going back to this point that you made around control.

So not only how we might feel like we’re in control of not dying or prolonging our life, but that we don’t actually have control over the ripples of our legacy and the ripples of our impact. And we can have our intentions in what we build and what we create. And so that there was something in the way that, you know – he, he doesn’t know. He doesn’t know how these children have been impacted, how that is going and that that’s whether we are living or dying. That is part of being able to have faith in and surrender to the unknown. That there are so many things about our mattering that ripple out into the world that we will never know and we can’t know and we don’t have control over.

And it’s almost like to be able to surrender the control or the need to have a fixed outcome or influence feels like surrendering to being part of a whole and not like on top of, or outside of, nature. On top of, or outside of, the ecosystem. So that I, yeah, I feel really touched by that. Like, oh, you know, the parts of ourselves that when we are making our work or being of service to others or contributing towards a mission are like gripped in some way to how that unfolds. How can being intimate with death and being intimate with no control allow us to, to actually let go and die to that control on behalf of more fully living our purpose? 

So here’s another question, maybe a pivot or simply building on. You work with folks who are dying and their families, and you are also a mentor and guide and educator for people doing this work.For people who want to be death doulas – who are death doulas – folks in the medical system who want to be able to bring a different view in orientation and approach. What do you feel like, or know, are the most important skills or capacities for people doing death work and transition work with, with folks – life transitions?

[00:31:46] Melanie Sheckels: I would say that the most fundamental capacity is to recognize that, well – to invite death to be your teacher, first and foremost. To invite death to be, um, yeah, not something that we, that we need to – to invite some neutrality around it. First and foremost, we understand when we engage in an action that there will be both consequences that benefit us, or make us feel good in some way, or have some sort of positive contribution, and then others that will be negative or harmful or not feel good to us. Not desirable. And so death can be all of these things at once. But ultimately there’s so much that we can learn from it. And I would say that, the first lesson that I would invite people who are wanting to walk beside people who are dying – and all of us really are walking beside people who are dying because we’re, we’re walking with ourselves every day – I would encourage you to notice that you too will die. And that is something you mentioned earlier, which I think is such an important lesson of death, is that it’s not just this on/off switch. And that within the cycle of life – emergence and decay are always happening. So there are little deaths that are always happening in our lives, in my experience. The more that we’re able to maintain an awareness of that and a sense of curiosity about that, the more that it feeds our lives. The more that it invites in room for, you know, what, what’s coming next. Again.

[00:33:55] Chela Davison: Hmm. Beautiful. Beautiful.

[00:33:59] Melanie Sheckels: I’ve noticed in particular in the healthcare industry, that our impulse is often to fix, to control, to intervene, to react. And so, I really want to invite people who have that conditioning – which is baked into our culture and not just the medical culture but it, it’s like, medical culture is next level – just to really slow down. Just slow down, engage in any sort of centering or meditative practices that feel good and doable to you, and just invite some curiosity about what the dying person is experiencing, knowing that you too are dying. Maybe not actively, maybe not right now, but you too will, will be – in all likelihood, at some point between now and your death – you will be in a position where you are in a state of pure receptivity. You will have very limited control over what’s happening to your body, over what the people who are taking care of you are doing, and so just inviting in some slowness. Practicing receiving care earlier on in life, so that later on in life you have some skill with that.

[00:35:36] Chela Davison: Hmm. That’s very touching. My mother-in-law passed in our home and the nurses who were coming to the home and caring for her and supporting us and caring for her were like ‘she’s dying any day’ – and said this for weeks.

And so we were in a very liminal space. A thinned veil space. People coming and going in support and care. And one of the most heartbreaking moments was when she was quite lucid, started sobbing and saying, ‘I’m so sorry that I’m doing this to you.’ And it was both the death but also the caring. And she was – she was an Enneagram type two. She was a holder, a carer. And up until she was in too much pain to do so would over care for us and our family. And we had a very young baby at the time. He was six months old when she passed, only a few weeks when she was diagnosed as terminal. And the kind of firsts and lasts that were happening simultaneously – I. I would say it was the most sacred, generative awake time of my life and our life and my husband and I in, in being in that space. And she had a good death. That transition from, and actually feeling her feel that we weren’t burdened by what was happening to her. And the honor that it was to get to care in that way and be with her in that way and, and participate in – not a medical event, but this sacred passage. It was, I mean, it holds as one of the most beautiful, sacred, connected experiences of my life that guides how I deal with disruption and heartbreak and loss in, in whole new ways.

And so I just, I’ve really felt like sharing that from how it’s also helped me to orient to ‘Oh, I’m, I’m going to die one day and I don’t know what my death looks like’ – and, and obviously – I don’t know when it’s coming. But I really appreciate how you just named that because it actually made a new connection for me because I could – I can tell other people what a gift it is to be able to support them and give, and that being willing and able to receive care from others is a gift. But to then be able to translate that to myself, I can feel that gap. So thank you for, for naming that. It’s like – we practice now.

[00:38:47] Melanie Sheckels: I love this naming of what a gift that experience was. And this is something that I have shared with many people as they approach the end, you know. It butts up against their resistance of being needy or being vulnerable and needing to receive. And it’s something that I, I wish all of humanity knew at an embodied level, is that when we open ourselves at the end of life to receiving care – particularly from the people who love us – we are giving them an incredible gift. And that gift, I think, is bigger and more profound than we can ever know. Because I think that at the level of the body and the spirit, I think that it helps to heal us. It helps to heal this real rupture that there’s been in our relationship with – I think for so, so many of us – there is a deep ancestral wound around – well around our relationship with our ancestors. For so many of us, you know, particularly living in America, we have ancestors on the other side of some ocean that we have completely lost touch with, and generation after generation, you know, we’ve, through diaspora, we’ve started to learn that it’s not safe to stay in connection.That that connection will just keep growing farther and farther apart. But I think that in those moments when we get to tend to our dying people, whether it’s familial or chosen family or communities that you’re involved in, it helps us to remember that we are deeply, inherently irrevocably connected. And that it matters.

[00:40:50] Chela Davison: Hmm. So beautiful. Thank you. So well – here’s a question for you around those who are left behind, because what this evoked for me is feeling the contrast. So my poor husband lost his mother, and her diagnosis came shortly after he lost his brother. And his brother was a surprise and it was a fentanyl overdose. And so it was tragic and shocking – while in treatment. And incredibly painful. And part of what he has processed is the difference between those deaths and their impact on him. Of a shock, surprise, not-in-right-time death. And even though we look at his mom and go – it still feels like it was too early to lose her in her sixties – there was time. And there was time to say what needed to be said and to complete and to tend and to, to be with her body through the quite literal decay – which felt like a very important tending on, on all levels of his being and our being. So for those who don’t get that – or perhaps the death of a loved one isn’t a surprise but they don’t get to have the good death ending and the completions – how does one heal that and move through those cycles within their own self? Do you have any advice?

[00:42:39] Melanie Sheckels: I think that there is both a fundamental truth of life in that, in that there are things that cannot be fixed – only carried. And I also think that we are living at a time in human history of tremendous grief and heartbreak. And, you know, it – it pains me to even just name like, yes – and also this is true. This is happening at such a speed and such a volume in this world right now. There’s just so many beautiful souls being lost every day. And this is not a type of grief that’s easily reconciled. It’s very complicated and sometimes a disenfranchised grief because grief is already a very taboo experience in our society – which as one of my mentors, Holly Truer, has said – we fetishize happiness in our culture. And so being in this grief can be tremendously isolating for people. And so, the first piece of advice I guess I would offer is to find things that feel like connection. To find things that feel like you’re meaningfully not alone in this. Whether that is a plant that you take care of, or a cat friend or a community of beloved humans who have also been through something similar or who love you unconditionally.

But I think that sometimes, I think for some people, I think – and I named this piece around finding meaningful connection rather than going to a support group – because for some people, especially at this point where we’re in this like crescendo of, of human isolation and disconnection. There’s been a lot of relational trauma, and so being in relationship with other humans might not feel safe or doable. So what is the most doable way that you can experience the balm of connection? It might be through a book that talks about grief that really speaks to you and speaks to what you’re experiencing and feeling and helps you feel a little bit less alone in it. 

I also have a little brother who died from a fentanyl overdose, surprisingly.

[00:45:39] Chela Davison: Wow. Yeah. I don’t think I knew that.

[00:45:50] Melanie Sheckels: Yeah. Yeah. And I’ve had a lot of dear friends over the years that have died by suicide – either intentionally or maybe accidentally. And, sometimes we just won’t know. But what we can know is that there are some lived experiences that people are having that are to them more painful than the prospect of death. And I think that finding meaningful connection is one of the most important ways that we get through this.

[00:46:33] Chela Davison: Thank you. Your answer made me even see that the que- like the way that I asked the question had the lens of – ‘there’s another side to this’ – in that the statement of some things we don’t fix but have to carry – like really pierced my heart in the truth of it. In being an intimate partner with somebody who has something he has to carry that will never be fixed.

And I know for him in the first year, he watched the movies that were downloaded on his brother’s computer. And that was a meaningful connection. Like when he couldn’t find it, that was where he went and it was so excruciating, but gave him something. What a beautiful, and I really appreciate the naming of, you know-. I hear that a lot around like find connection and for you to name – ‘and sometimes human connection isn’t safe’. It’s not the place. And people can feel to be made wrong by feeling like they should be able to reach out, extend that gap, find safety and belonging with other humans, and that there are other ways to find that.

[00:48:16] Melanie Sheckels: Yeah. And that there – there’s not a right way or a wrong way. There’s just the way that actually feels true and doable for you. What feels possible and like, like balm. And that piece around him watching the movies just like really touches my heart and resonates so much of like – I don’t know. I have many memories both personally and of people that I’ve worked with of like – how important and precious these rituals of staying in connection with the person who has died are. And how grounding they are. And how much like medicine they are for us in the wake of so many losses. You know, whether they’re traumatic and unexpected or just, you know – I’ve lost a human or a resource or an identity that has been so foundational in my life. Yeah.

[00:49:30] Chela Davison: So with all this, wow. What a tender space. I’m like – gonna go cry for a while, take a walk, snuggle my dog. Thank you. 

So you host spaces. I love the names you bring to things. They’re so great. ‘Cry Club’. ‘Death Jam’. Can you tell us a bit about – and I know the way that you work shifts over time – like there are layers – so can you tell us some of the ways that people can connect with you live? Where’s the best place to go to know more about you and your work?

[00:50:13] Melanie Sheckels: Yes. So ‘Death Jam’ is a community event that I host, that I facilitate. I host it both in person, locally, when that’s safe and doable, and I host it virtually for the broader community. And this is a space to come and have – it’s sort of like a ‘death cafe’ if you’re familiar with that concept. But it’s a space for community and connection and curiosity around death and dying and grief. I also, as a facilitator and as a trauma coach, I begin any space that I hold with some sort of group check-in, and then some sort of embodied experience of a guided meditation. Or a journey or some sort of centering practice that really helps to connect us with our energy. So just like to bring online some, some sense of rootedness into the earth and some sense of energetic sovereignty. And even just noticing our breath. And with that noticing of breath, it reminds us that I am alive right here and now I am here. I’m not going anywhere. And so it creates a little more capacity for safety and exploring something that is so unknown and a bit of capacity to move past the fear of that or move with the fear of that in a way that doesn’t shove the fear away and say, ‘I’m, I’m going to ignore you and pretend you don’t exist.’ But it invites the fear to be there and communicate with us, but not be in the driver’s seat so that we can then maybe see what else is there. Maybe there’s a sense of possibility or curiosity or maybe like a little tingly excitement about the possibility of relating to the greatest mystery of our lifetimes.

So that’s a little bit about ‘Death Jam’. And then ‘Cry Club’ is a group that I facilitate and that is a more ongoing container that someone could participate in. It’s a grief sharing space. It’s, you know, there – there will be as we go, like education or, or maybe I’ll share like different resources. As we kind of flock together, but it’s very intuitive and just a very open space for sharing.

We begin the ‘Cry Club’ journey with one night where we go over community agreements and we kind of co-create together what are the conditions of, of our felt sense of safety in this space. How does it feel safe and doable for us to share what’s on our hearts? What is going to create the possibility for us to show up really bravely in this space and let the sunlight kind of shine on these dark shadows within us?

And so what I tell people is that grief is not something that can be fixed, but as we practice carrying it together, we expand our capacity around it and this thawing starts to happen. And in this thawing that’s when integration can happen and alchemizing and moving some of these big, heavy things into capacity for joy and capacity for more of life to exist alongside death.

[00:54:22] Chela Davison: Incredible. Awesome. And, then you also mentor and you are available to help people as a death doula. So if we want to, obviously we’re – we’ll put all relevant notes in the show notes so you can head over there to check them out. People want to join your beautiful newsletter, follow you on Instagram. Tell us, where are the best places to go?

[00:54:52] Melanie Sheckels: Yes. So if you go to my website and sign up for my newsletter, you will receive some beautiful resources automatically for doing that, and you’ll get a heads up whenever I’m having a new event. And you can also, while you’re on my website, see all the different ways that you can work with me. One-on-one or in groups as someone who has an emerging awareness that you’re gonna die someday and you want to meet your fear with intention and open up a space for possibility of a more empowered, pleasurable life. If you want to have someone to walk beside you on your journey with grief. And also as someone who is interested in walking beside others who maybe would like some mentorship as you develop this, this practice.

[00:55:52] Chela Davison: Awesome. And what’s your, if somebody is like on the go and not looking at show notes and links, but they’re eager to just type this in, what’s the, what’s your website? What domain name?

[00:56:04] Melanie Sheckels: thresholddoula.com. Also threshold.doula on social media.

[00:56:11] Chela Davison: Perfect. Okay. So to wrap, I have a final question, which is a question I’d love to close with. And this is really about you and your leadership edge and knowing that we are in cycles of emergence and decay at all times in various ways. What is your current leadership edge, as in whatever context, as somebody who is guiding others as an entrepreneur, business owner – whatever it means to you. What edge are you working right now?

[00:56:49] Melanie Sheckels: What a beautiful question. Cue long pause…

[00:56:55] Chela Davison: It’s all good. I love it. You’re actually giving it thought – it’s beautiful.

[00:57:01] Melanie Sheckels: I would, I would say one edge that feels really up for me right now is around how I relate professionally with the medical system. I came into this calling having worked for almost a decade in healthcare, and when I really went all in on this calling, I left the medical system in the dust. I was like, you know – I want to intentionally deepen into a practice that is very holistic and sacred and non-medical. And that practice is so integral to who I am and my values as you mentioned before. And I’m at a place now where I feel this curiosity in the sense of possibility about weaving these new ways of relating to death into the existing medical system because this is the place where a lot of people are dying. This is where it’s happening, whether I like it or not. Whether I think it’s the most beautiful, sacred, like, good way of doing this, this is where it’s happening. And so finding ways to authentically, and like have right-size, right-fit relationship with the medical system so that I can create more possibility for a sacred, non-medical death where it’s happening.

[00:58:52] Chela Davison: Cool. So cool – that to me even names so much about what happens in a change process for many of us. Of like needing to actually move out of and away from the thing – whatever the thing is for this emergence to take place – and in that there’s often a – a rejection, an exclusion of the thing that came before. And Yeah. Hearing that and now you’re going, okay, so how do I integrate and include it to be even more whole?

[00:59:28] Melanie Sheckels: Yeah.

[00:59:29] Chela Davison: Yeah. And, and honoring what’s so too, you know. I know you and I have some real similarities and affinity for our – I don’t know – horror, disgust – with some of the current – many of the current systems and structures. And there can be such a rejection of that. And so there’s some- there’s something profoundly beautiful and inspiring to hear you go ‘and I’m also in reality about where this is taking place.’ And so how can I be of service there? Instead of going ‘No, unless it, unless it looks a particular way – I’m not playing.’ How cool. Well, I wish you so well with that.

[01:00:15] Melanie Sheckels: Thank you. Thank you so much. I, and it already, it’s been really beautiful too, you know. I obviously, this whole time I’ve been serving people who are, you know, in long-term care facilities and sometimes in hospitals. And now I get to be, at times, included in their provider care team meetings. So they call me and invite me into those meetings to help develop their plan of care for this person in a way that includes their whole human needs.

[01:00:52] Chela Davison: And what a service in that context – I mean, in any context – what a service. And it’s really needed in that context. 

Thank you so much for taking the time, for sharing your wisdom and your gifts, and your commitment and your – your radiant calling. Thanks for being here.

[01:01:15] Melanie Sheckels: Thank you, Chela. It’s just such a delight to share space with you. I just feel like I shine a little brighter when I’m looking at you.

[01:01:30] Chela Davison: Oh! That was so sweet! Awesome. 

Melanie Sheckels: I love you. 

Chela Davison I love you. Thank you. 

Thank you again for listening to What Is Leadership. I would love it if you’d leave us a review. If you enjoy the show also please subscribe on the podcast platform of your choice, so you never miss an episode. Thanks again. I can’t wait to connect next week.

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I’m an Integral Master Coach™, Master Certified Coach, writer, mother & people lover. My gifts are centered around helping others to meet their calling and unleash their genius, on behalf of our shared world. Get to know me...