Growing Bolder With Alua Arthur


Last Updated on July 7, 2024

Alua Arthur believes that, if we let it, death can be our greatest teacher. She’s the author of the New York Times bestselling memoir, “Briefly Perfectly human – Making an Authentic Life by Getting Real About the End.” But embracing death while living wasn’t always her approach.

Arthur was a practicing attorney on a medical leave of absence when she met a young woman named Jessica on a bus ride through the Cuban countryside. Diagnosed with terminal cancer, Jessica was in the middle of traveling to her bucket list of places she wanted to visit before she died. Their conversation opened up a meaningful dialogue about how facing death changes how we look at life. It changed the way Arthur thought about her own life, and how she wanted to live it.

Soon after returning home, Arthur’s brother-in-law, Peter, became terminally ill. Alua moved in with her sister’s family to help, unknowingly embarked on her first experience as a death doula. A death doula is a non-medical and holistic support person offering practical, emotional, and spiritual support around death and dying. When someone is healthy, a doula can help them complete comprehensive end-of-life plans and work through all their thoughts, fears, concerns, and anxieties about dying. When death is more imminent, doulas can help them outline what they ideally wish to experience, under the circumstances. After a death, doulas can help family members wrap up affairs of their loved one’s life.

Supporting Peter and her sister as he died helped Arthur see all the many ways those dying and those who love them need support. She became a certified death doula and eventually founded Going With Grace, a death doula training and end-of-life planning organization.

While death is inevitable for every one of us, it’s a subject we generally want to avoid as long as we can. When we do, we increase the odds of leaving important things undone. Arthur reminds us that being prepared to die includes taking care of the necessary items like an advanced directive, designating someone as a healthcare advocate, creating a will, and making plans for any dependents, humans and pets.

But she told Growing Bolder that the main regrets she hears are from people who wish that they had more time to do something that they didn’t do, who regret the chances they didn’t take or the conversations they didn’t have. She believes it’s a great reminder to those of us who still have that time to fully live our days.

“Being around dying is the most life-affirming thing I know how to do,” Arthur shared. “Being around people that are dying consistently…seeing a body not long after life has left it, it reminds me that I am still animated by that intangible something that allows me to engage with the world in a way that feels good to me, and it reminds me constantly to live and to be present and to be grateful for this gift that I have of life.

“I wish we could all sink in deep to what a gift it is to be alive, no matter the circumstances of our life…To get to experience the first drops of rain or the bite in your jaw when you first bite into an orange, or even to be able to look somebody that you love in the eye and be present in your life. That is an utter gift, and it’s precious, it’s fleeting. Our death often comes sooner than we expect it to, so why not sink into the gift that it is to be alive at this moment.”