Disclaimer: I am the executive editor of the THINKaha series of books of which #DEATHtweet is one of them. Tim is a personal friend and I have enjoyed my many conversations with him over these years.
Background: Tim Tosta is the author of ‘#DEATHtweet – a Well Lived Life Through 140 Perspectives on Death and Its Teachings’, published by Happy About, to rave reviews. Tim is a cancer survivor, a seasoned hospice volunteer and an insightful executive coach. Moreover, he is recognized as one of California’s leading land use and environmental attorneys.
It is how Tim brings all this together that hooks you. Few people, in their early 40s and at the top of their professional game, are confronted with a personal crisis that demands they take a hard look at themselves and restructure their lives to give it meaning. Fewer still, having faced a terminal cancer prognosis, have sought out community service, volunteer hospice work at an urban public hospital, attending to the dying from all strata of society – homeless, elderly and new arrived immigrants.
Prodded by his cancer journey and the heart opening experience of his hospice work, Tim became an Integral Coach, helping members of the legal profession and business community to lead purposeful, balanced, and thriving lives.
Tim has taken what he has learned from his own experiences facing death and from his work with the dying to broader audiences through his highly acclaimed lecture series on ‘Lessons For the Living’ and his emotionally evocative hospice writings, ‘Putting Things in Perspective – Stories of a Hospice Volunteer’.
RS: Please share with my readers, what was the inspiration for writing ‘#DEATHtweet’?
TT: Actually, ‘#DEATHtweet’ came to me as a bit of a surprise. I had originally approached Mitchell Levy at Happy About Books about writing an entirely different book, tentatively entitled Why Not Thrive in Turbulent Times!, which focused on making the best of our recent economic turmoil, living in the abundance that exists irrespective of prosperity.
Mitchell arrived at our first meeting, having read my hospice stories, ‘Putting Things in Perspective – Stories From a Hospice Volunteer’, and declared that he thought I had a more relevant book in me. He presented me with a copy of your book, ‘#THINKtweet’, and suggested that I write a book in this format on my lessons from working with the dying.
By the end of that meeting, we had agreed that I would write ‘#DEATHtweet’, having chosen that as a purposefully challenging title and I was off to the races.
RS: How hard was it for you to write to the book’s prescribed format?
TT: Actually, I thought that the writing would be a “piece of cake.” Boy, was I wrong. I had left for vacation, shortly after my first meeting with Mitchell and with you. I thought that I could probably write the book over the course of my 10 days away. And, in fact, upon returning to California, I had about 200 tweets written, in excess of the 140 required by the publisher’s format.
As I reread the tweets, I recognized how much more complex the book’s format was. Creating 140 thoughts, each no longer than 140 characters in length, is quite an undertaking. First, you have to decide what is the flow of your message. That takes a very solid outline. Next, each tweet has to be standalone. The tweets can build upon one another, but each must contain an entirely intact thought or concept. So I started at point A and finished at point B, developing a series of ideas at tweet length offering people a path on how to live a better life through the perspective of the teachings of death.
It took me quite awhile to determine the proper flow, the sequencing and density of thoughts, the efficiency in word usage, and the ability to connect heart to heart. It was a bit of an ordeal, but an extremely heart opening and healthy one for me, which my readers have confirmed really works for them.
RS: To whom is the book directed?
TT: I originally had expected this book to be marketed to members of the business community. Simply because the business community was where I was witnessing the disconnection between individuals and their perceptions of death, particularly as death was arising through the passing of parents, elder siblings and the like. The book is secular. It does not refer to any religious or spiritual tradition. But, it does invite you to connect with the “spirit”, in the sense that if you watch closely enough you will see that we are all connected and that life revolves around much more than yourself. And, in making that connection with others, you enrich your life. So you could say I am a “secular spiritualist”, in that I have a high regard for the interconnectedness of all humanity and its relationship to the natural world.
To my surprise, as the book began to circulate in the medical community, the mental health community and clergy, I have found many new potential readers.
My intention in writing the book was to make life easier for people, particularly in the face of death. In a way, I wanted to acknowledge death as the “elephant in the room” and to destigmatize it. I wanted people to see that if they learn what the dying go through and move the “lessons” forward to earlier part of their lives, then both life is improved and impending death is destigmatized.
That was a lot to ask of 140 tweets.
RS: How is the book relevant now?
TT: Baby boomers constitute the largest generation the world has experienced. Members of that generation are now in their 60s and 70s. We are about to experience the largest wave of non-combat death in human history. How we each face the issue of death in relation to others and ourselves is not just of individual significance but cultural importance. As a culture, we no longer can avoid the issue. We no longer can hide behind our hospitals or elder care facilities to distance ourselves from what is going on. And, there is no reason not to bring death out of the closet. It may seem strange to say this, but death is a miraculous transformation. Some of the richest experiences I have had in life have been with the dying as they discover their own particular meaning and purpose in life.
RS: Do you have advice you would like the reader to get from your book?
TT: From my experience in working with the dying, I have learned a number of things. First, life is right now. That is the only time you have in which to live it. So you have to learn to be totally alive now. Death helps teach you that. Second, once you learn to live life now, you find life’s content to be more abundant than you previously understood. That abundance is far richer than any material wealth, power or status than you would otherwise accumulate by not being present for life. Third, as you live a life of abundance, you learn to live in gratitude of each day’s opportunity. You find yourself becoming generous in helping others find a similar abundance. You find that your life’s abundance is enriched through your connection with others. Finally, you learn that having discovered your life’s purpose and experienced its abundance, you change your relationship toward death. You don’t necessarily want it to come sooner. But, should it come, you are ready for it. You are ready because you learned how to truly live.
RS: Do you have future books planned?
TT: Actually, I am currently writing ‘#DEATHtweet 2.0 – 140 Perspectives on Being a Supportive Witness to the End of Life’. ‘#DEATHtweet 2.0’ is a sequel. It addresses the far more fearsome and emotional issue of how we support another at the end of life – a parent, sibling, spouse, child or friend. How can we face our fears and uncertainties as well as their fears, pain and suffering, yet fully support their passage. The book describes two journeys – the hero’s journey of the Witness and the healing journey of the Other. It speaks to preparation for the Witness’ work as well as the work experience itself. It addresses the creation of healing space for the Other, issues of pain and suffering, the active dying process and meaning at the end of life. It also talks to the critical issues of burnout and grief. Finally, it speaks to the wonder of the two transformations occurring – of the Other toward death and the Witness toward a new life. ‘#DEATHtweet 2.0’ again affirms the meaning of life and relationship.
RS: Thanks Tim.
TT: My pleasure.
Note: For those of you who are interested in hearing/seeing Tim, there are two upcoming events:
1. Tuesday, April 20, 2010 at 5:00pm (PDT). This is an interview format with opportunities for questions from participants. To sign up, please visit:
2. Wednesday, April 21, 2010: Tim will be giving a talk at a Meetup of Silicon Valley Business in Cupertino. The subject is “Informed Dying is the Only Way to Live.” More information on this event can be found at: