Bitch Slap ...The Accelerated Path to Peace!

Interview #20 "The meaning of life with Barbara Karnes R.N."

Episode Summary

Barbara Karnes has been in the hospice industry since the 1980's. She knows about death and the art of dying. As a matter of fact she can talk about dying all day... Her booklets on dying and grief have over 35,000,000 in print in 12 languages. ...But really, all we talked about was life, living, and service! (And of course a little death and dying, cause that's what she does and it's beautiful).

Episode Notes

Barbara Karnes has been in the hospice industry since the 1980's.  She knows about death and the art of dying.  As a matter of fact she can talk about dying all day...   Her booklets on dying and grief have over 35,000,000 in print in 12 languages.  ...But really, all we talked about was life, living, and service!  (And of course a little death and dying, cause that's what she does and it's beautiful).

Barbara is so gracious and lets me take the interview where I want to go and she answers all of my questions with an open heart.  And when I've got someone willing to talk about everything from living, dying, and the afterlife, and she has the experience to back it up...  you know I'm going to ask some questions.  And when we get rolling!  It's a ton of fun!

Episode notes:

You can find all her awesome booklets and literature at  This includes the two booklets I reference "Gone from my sight: the dying experience" and "My Friend, I care: The Grief Experience."  

How can people find you: 

Welcome Barbara - "Life has been good to me".  Life has been good to her, but it certainly has given her opportunities for growth.  Her Booklet “Gone from my sight” has 35 million copies in print in 12 languages and is really know in “end of life” circles.  Is about the dying experience…  

Why she wrote it.  She was a hospice nurse in early 80’s.  At that time people didn’t really know anything about dying.  “If someone was dying ,they were in a hospital, in a room, at the end of the corridor and no one went done there because no one new what to do…

Hospice and dying in the 70’s and 80’s.  She started studying end of life and there wasn’t anything. Mentions Elisabeth Kübler-Ross and grief.  

But first I’ve got to tell her the impact she's had on my life.  It’s called a “booklet!”  And how this whole thing came about…  

“Dying is not a medical event it is an emotional social experience”.  “I learned that there (is) a process to dying.   Death doesn’t just happen.  There’s only two ways to die.  You either die gradually or you die fast.”

Gradual death has a process to it.  She had seen hundreds of people die… and she saw the pattern.  

What you do with in hours before death with the family is what leaves them with ether an absolutely terrifying memory or a sacred memory.  My work was to make that experience a sacred moment for them that they would then carry with them for the rest of their life…

They aren’t dying like they are doing it in the movies…  (so it freaks the remaining living people out).

If you see hundreds and hundreds of people die you are going to see the patterns.  The living need support and guidance.  

Taking care of someone at end of life is different than taking care of someone who is going to get better.  but most people don’t know that.  

The body is programed to die.  We are born to die.  Now with our medical prowess we think we can defeat death and that death is a failure.  There is a time to say I have given it my best shot and death is going to come.  And then lets help a person live with in the best confines that we can…

She was working as a nurse in a hospice facility in the 80’s before it was a thing…  

Did you have an idea that you were onto something in that early time?  I am just doing the best that I know how to do to support everyone.

She was involved in the AIDS epidemic…  We knew that if you got it you were going to die.  Her first patient…  dies.  Her 2 year old son who survives…  is going to die 2 years later…  He is now 4 years old…  as he is close to death…  “You can’t convince me that mom wasn’t there to help him get from this world to the next.  He taught me we do not die alone.  You can be on a desert island island, you will not die alone.

This work has taught her so much about living as well as dying.  “I have come to understand more about life.”  “We’re more than our physical body.” “There is a driver to this vehicle we call a body.”  “This driver can get our of our car.”  And that’s all this physical body is is a vehicle used to get around this planet.  …the driver is releasing it’s physical hold on its body.  We really begin building our place in the other world.  

Let’s run with that for a minute…  We tend to think we are born, we experience, and then we die…  Some people believe that when we die that’s it, it’s over.  “What working with death and dying as shown me…  simply put, I have seen so many people die…  I believe our loved ones who have died before us come to help us get from this world to the next.  We withdraw because our work becomes this internal process of what this life was about.  

There are dynamics to dying…  We are going to die the way we lived.  We are going to dye according to our personality.  Our personality doesn’t change just because we are dying, actually it intensifies.  

What about the fast death?  “Fast death is that you’re alive one minute and then you are dead the next.  I mean it’s just that simple.  But it’s also extra hard on us the survivors.  She says that gradual death is a gift of time.  “I would guess that it is a shock to the person that dies”.  

The withdrawal of the person who is dying…   That withdrawal…  …There is a shift in one to three weeks…  Where they literally go completely within themselves…   It is not that they are conscious that they are doing it.  It is a unconscious natural process.  She couldn’t eat.  She wanted to disconnect.  Not consciously…  It’s an unconscious process.  It’s like breathing.  

In the weeks before death a person…  they are not in a place where they are going to have a profound conversation with you about what they’re experiencing.

Tell me about the denial of the family that is going to live can make the process more frustrating for everybody.  Because we have limited control over the time that we die…  Often we will try to stay here for those that we love.  It will often make (the dying) labor longer because (they) will try to stay here.  (They can’t), they have limited control.  

In the hours to minutes before death…  When the person is completely withdrawn and they have gone within.  They are in labor and actively dying, know that a person can hear you.  I believe a person can hear you even in the moments following death.  That’s kinda going out on a limb there”.   “We don’t know for sure when the driver of the car leaves the area.”  I encourage everyone who is there at the bedside in the days to hours before (they) think death is coming to go in alone and talk to the person who is dying.”

She encourages you to spend time with the body, talk to them, etc, even after death before the funeral home comes to get the body, because “it is your last opportunity to say goodbye in a natural setting.”  

I kind of had this idea in my head and I think you are squaring that idea.  If someones trying to disconnect from the earthly sensation…  I almost felt like it was a disservice keeping that person on the earthly plane.  Of course she answers that thought beautifully.  “You are supporting that person that is dying by your presence and your love.”  It is a communal social event it is not a medical event.

Let’s switch to “My friend, I care.  The grief experience.”  Mom did the gradual death.  My father did the Fast Death experience.”  

We continually shed layers and sand down the rough edges…  I stumble across your family…  So sweet and so open…  Let’s talk about your family.  

“I don’t know why they are so wonderful”.  “I know that … I’m on this planet to educate… about end of life.  That’s what I’m here for.”  I feel strongly about that”.  

“The desire to be of service is very much apart of Barbara Karnes Books.  It isn’t that we just sell books…  If someone calls into our office we are there to support them and their story and to guide them.”  It isn’t just me educating about end of life.   Everyone who’s involved with Barbara Karnes books; it’s we’re about the humanity of what people are experiencing.”  

The Grief Experience…  Some of my history and she comments…   We experience many deaths.  You lose your job.  You move.  The death of relationships. With Covid right now, the death of our freedom to come and go.   There’s all kinds of deaths that we experience everyday in our life that we’re not even aware of, but we’re grieving.  And we grieve the same way for all of the deaths…  All these deaths close together intensify your grief.  It makes the grief you feel for one person is magnified for all of the people.

I think the self-awareness that you have is a really special tool…  That it sounds to me like you’ve worked really hard to have this self-awareness tool.  When we’re angry we need to have that self-awareness tool to recognize “Oh” I might be intensifying my anger because of this feeling.

“We are grieving whether we’ve had physical death in our life or not.”

“We have had our rituals taken away from us this year.”  “The ritual of funerals, of memorial services, the rituals of being at the bedside when someones dying.”  We are grieving those as well.  “The church ladies aren’t bringing their casseroles.”

What I think brings comfort…  Is to know “that the person isn’t totally aware.”  They are not feeling the panic of “OMG this is my last breath.”  

Here’s what I suggest and have been suggesting for a while…   If you can’t be with your special person in the days or hours or weeks before they die…  Sit down at home in your favorite recliner and picture in your mind…  Whatever your heart tells you to do in your mind…  With love in your heart and in your mind…  “Thoughts are things”.

I was purging generational pain.  Not only my own pain but generations forward and back…  Any thoughts on that?  “The first thing I thought of was the the term hitting bottom…”  “In life, often times to really grow, we have to hit bottom.”  “We have to start swimming up to the surface.  That’s where some of our best growth comes from.”  It’s an opportunity and some of us take that opportunity and some of us don’t.  

(Our) healing certainly provides a healthier environment in relationship.  With not only your boys but with everyone…  Each one of us have our own path to tread and our own bottom to run into.  Because that’s the name of the game.  We’re born, we experience, and then we die.  Life is a school, and school can be hard work.

Her bottom: It was in her 30’s.  I had two children and I was pregnant with twins…  and they died…  I really appreciated my family more.  That loss taught me that I didn’t have control over what was perfect and wonderful and that life doesn’t always go the way you want it too.  That was the turning point of me asking “what is life all about?  What am I here for?  That is when I started asking questions.    

From the point of hitting bottom to the mid 70’s…  I was teaching self-awareness classes and hospice and that philosophy just kind of slid in to all this knowledge.  With what I believe about living and dying…  I can work with people who are dying.  I have something to offer.  I look back at my life and it all comes to this point.  Everything that happened has happened to get me to where I am today and how I can be of service.

What are the two or three books that stand out “during that growth for knowable time”?  Illusions by Richard Bach.  Shustah, a three year course, which opened her eyes to life.  There is so much that has broadened my mind.  It has allowed me to think outside the box.   And I think that that’s important, to be able to look beyond just the structure that we tend to live in.  

“I mean how we interact with people, I mean that’s an illusion…”  And she relates it to my hair!  It’s beautiful!  The news, that’s illusion too.  The trick, “you’ve got to find what’s real for you”.  “And what’s real for me is not necessarily what’s real for you.”  

You must have some insights into the other side…  Tell me about that.  “I do have my belief, my illusion.”  “But I don’t share that because I don’t want someone to get caught up in my belief and have it be different than theirs.”  “And then they negate everything, all of my teachings.  So I don’t talk politics and I don’t talk religion.”

“…There is also a time for physicians and medical personal to step up and say “hey, we’ve given it our best shot and we can’t fix you”.  So that that person can take their gift of time and use it wisely.  If we could just recognize that dying is a part of life and it’s all about living the best we can until we are dead”.  

Outtake…  What’s next do you feel?  Your path of service to the world?  Now she does Q and A’s and podcasts…  I’m educating, that’s my role now, to educate.  She’s working on an “end of life course” for doulas, etc.   The focus is not medical…  Education is what I’m here for.   Whatever I can to educate.  

How can people find you: email me at  Sign up for her blog notifications.  Facebook, LinkedIn, etc, “I’m everywhere out there!”

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