Ashley Johnson of Loyal Hands: “Connecting with the earth”

One good habit I have learned from working with the dying is being true to self and not what others expect from you. So many times we are living up to others exceptions to be considered of what we deem seem success. Just think of how many people are in the closet do to the […]

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One good habit I have learned from working with the dying is being true to self and not what others expect from you. So many times we are living up to others exceptions to be considered of what we deem seem success. Just think of how many people are in the closet do to the fear of what their family will think. Spending their whole life hiding who they are.

As a part of our series about “How We Can Do To Cultivate Our Mental, Physical, Emotional, & Spiritual Wellbeing”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Ashley Johnson.

With more than a decade in the death care industry, Ashley launched Loyal Hands End-of-Life consulting agency. They are NEDA proficient doulas assisting the dying and their families to feel more confident and connected during the end-of-life process. Currently serving on the executive board with the National End of Life Doula Alliance, Ashley holds an anthropology degree from the University of Florida, and is a trained End of Life Doula.

Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive into the main focus of our interview, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your childhood backstory?

As a child, I would read the Sunday obituaries instead of the comics(6th sense anyone??!!?). I graduated with a Chemistry and Anthropology degree. After graduation, I worked in the death care industries. Families and friends would call me for assistance with end of life planning which led me to further my education by becoming a NEDA proficient end of life doula.

What or who inspired you to pursue your career? We’d love to hear the story.

I was inspired by growing up in a low socio-economic neighborhood that lacked advocacy on how to deal with end of life practices. When death happened, families were not mentally, emotionally, and financially prepared. Families were not healing from said traumas. To break the cycles, the ideology of how Loyal Hands can service families came to be.The actual footwork of Loyal Hands started when my childhood friend was diagnosed with stage 4 colon cancer at the age of 27 and I was doing the task of an end of life doula without knowing. Once she transitioned, I saw fit for a need to provide others in need of education, service, companionship and continue this journey as everyone deserves “good death” and families need proper closure.

None of us can achieve success without some help along the way. Was there a particular person who you feel gave you the most help or encouragement to be who you are today? Can you share a story about that?

My grandmother who has since transitioned. She helped create balance within my as a youth. Believe it or not she helps me still beyond the grave.

Is there a particular book that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story or explain why it resonated with you so much?

A book that helped me on my unconventional career path is “ You are a badass: How to Stop Doubting Your Greatness by Jen Sincero. It resonated with me because we often underestimate the power of manifestation

Can you share your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Why does that resonate with you so much?

My favorite life quote is from none other than good ol’ Dr Seuss which is “ Sometimes you will never know the value of a moment until it becomes a memory”. Its sooo true how often we as a people never take advantage of a moment with friends, family and loved one because we assume with will get more moments. This quote made me make sure that I am present in moments(good,bad,ugly) to soak them in. I may never that moment again.

What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now? How do you think that might help people?

We are actively apart of the Death Positive movement. The death-positive movement is a social and philosophical movement that encourages people to speak openly about death, dying, and corpses. The movement seeks to eliminate the silence around death-related topics, decrease anxiety surrounding death, and encourages more diversity in end of life care options available to the public

OK, thank you for all of that. Let’s now shift to the core focus of our interview. In this interview series we’d like to discuss cultivating wellness habits in four areas of our lives, Mental wellness, Physical wellness, Emotional wellness, & Spiritual wellness. Let’s dive deeper into these together. Do you have a specific type of meditation practice or Yoga practice that you have found helpful? We’d love to hear about it.

It does take a lot of energy working with clients and families. For many of us, being an end of life doula is more of a calling than a profession. It’s in our nature to be givers. We are drawn to release the suffering of others to the best of our ability. Being an End of Life Doula (death Doula), I have a variety of mental and emotional methods to stay grounded before, during and after working with clients. Some of the programs that we have set up are Bikram yoga sessions, sound bowl mediations, journaling sessions, and drum circles.

Thank you for that. Can you share three good habits that can lead to optimum physical wellness? Please share a story or example for each.

A joke that we have at the office about physical wellness is to be zombie apocalypse ready. No matter what you deem your level of physical wellness just make sure it makes you happy. A good habit that we have is a reduced meat and processed food intake. Having a work out session whether it be walking, lifting weights, or rock climbing. Something I think many people take for granted is getting vitamin D from the sun. Its crazy how physical wellness can reward us with energy, cleared mind fog and sparks happiness.

Do you have any particular thoughts about healthy eating? We all know that it’s important to eat more vegetables, eat less sugar, etc. But while we know it intellectually, it’s often difficult to put it into practice and make it a part of our daily habits. In your opinion what are the main blockages that prevent us from taking the information that we all know, and integrating it into our lives?

The main blockages is that we are too busy existing and forget to live. We are go go go a microwave society. The time is there to proper execute better habits we just have to utilize it wisely.

Can you share three good habits that can lead to optimum emotional wellness? Please share a story or example for each.

Working with people who are nearing end of life you learn sooo many key elements of life.

One good habit I have learned from working with the dying is being true to self and not what others expect from you. So many times we are living up to others exceptions to be considered of what we deem seem success. Just think of how many people are in the closet do to the fear of what their family will think. Spending their whole life hiding who they are.

Another thing that I have learned from working with the dying is NOT to work so hard. To be more present in life moments. So many times we spend countless hours behind a laptop, phone, or business meetings that we reduce the engagements with loved ones because “we are too busy”. We need to stop and smell the roses, feel the sun kiss your skin, play with toddlers, chats with your mom, sip tea or wine with friends. I always remind people is to not take it personal that your job will go on without you. We have heard the joke that your job will post your position before the funeral home post your obituary. Make some quality time for you even if that’s just taking a daily stroll to the grocery story while listening to Regina Spektor. It is your life LIVE IT!

Do you have any particular thoughts about the power of smiling to improve emotional wellness? We’d love to hear it.

Oh Yes! A ritual I practice is smile and a a positive affirmation before my feet hit the ground and my hands touch my phone. It sets the tone of my day. Yes, bad stuff can still happen but my reaction to it will tend to be more optimistic and solution based. A smile can help shift your mindset even in a moment of grief.

Finally, can you share three good habits that can lead to optimum spiritual wellness? Please share a story or example for each.

The three things to immediately come to mind when thinking of three good habits of spiritual wellness that I have learned while being a death doula is the act of volunteering. This ability creates a self awareness and purpose in humanity. Another habit is the act of forgiveness. A lot of people have express the need to forgive or to be forgiven. Letting go of grudges and bitterness can make way for happiness, health and peace. Last but not least Yoga. It can help improve your spiritual wellness by reducing emotional and physical strains on your mind and body.

Do you have any particular thoughts about how being “in nature” can help us to cultivate spiritual wellness?

Highly recommend grounding. Connecting with the earth. Sounds crazy or hippy-ish but its something about bare feet touching earth that allows a release. Also the smell of nature. From the tree sap to the fragrance of flowers.

Ok, we are nearly done. You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good for the greatest number of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.

I would love to inspire others to leave a legacy. A statement that Maya Angelou once said “I have great respect for the past. If you don’t know where you’ve come from, you don’t know where you’re going. I have respect for the past, but I’m a person of the moment. I’m here, and I do my best to be completely centered at the place I’m at, then I go forward to the next place” correlates my views on legacy. We live in a world left by our ancestors who came before us. And those who will come after us will have only what we leave them. It is an act of responsibility to build that which will last beyond us. Outside of advance directives, we helped families write memories, establish trusts, start traditions, and video encapsulate one’s life. Coming from a low socio-economic background, I saw the lack of information about one’s ancestry and/or lineage affects the psyche. The sense of relief from our clients when they do not have to worry that something they worked hard to obtain won’t be lost is rewarding in itself. For some it is difficult to articulate what you want to leave behind and for whom you want to leave items to. Our process is to make it easy by creating a bridge to connect the past to the current that leads to the future. Think about how the ancient Egyptians left their legacy that we are still able to appreciate today.

We are very blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US, whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we both tag them 🙂

I literally quote that “I have the same 24 hours are Michelle Obama and Beyonce.” Their work ethic is outside of this world. Often their interviews reflect n remembering your “why” and that helps be push myself because remind myself of my “why”.

How can our readers further follow your work online?

Your can find us on:


Instagram: @Loyal.Hands


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