Before every Death Doula training, students are invited to write a letter explaining what draws them to the course. I am touched, surprised and intrigued by the responses which help give me a sense of the group. David Phinney, a recent student wrote his letter after completing the Death Doula training. It beautifully articulates the reason he came and what he learned ….
“This time last year I did not know what a Death Doula was. My mother-in-law Therese died in early 2019. She was as far as I am concerned my mom, I love her more than anyone. She was a tiny, fierce woman who had birthed six children at home and raised them into conscious adults. She really did not want to die. Despite having all the qualities and attributes of someone you would assume would be able to engage with their death she could not. She allowed no space for death, it was not welcome. It was clear that if we were going to support her we were not allowed to make space for it either.
The big question “Is she going to die?” was only asked to prompt the reassurances of “No, of course not” or “We’re not there yet”.
After weeks in a palliative care unit we were finally able to take her home but her grip in our reality was too tenuous to hold the thread of conversation. The opportunity for honesty and a shared understanding of what was happening was gone and with that any chance of being able to grieve with her.
The journey changed my life in the way that only utter catastrophe can. My relationship to death was transformed from one of fear and discomfort to something different. It, Death, became a compass that pointed towards the truth, and a lens through which I could view my own life. I came home one day to my partner playing Ram Dass and listened to him talk about service with the dying as preparation for our own death. I started looking to see how I could incorporate that into my life. A few thread pulls later and I found Sacred Crossings.
There were practical skills covered that take so much of the guesswork out of the process during death as it relates to the healthcare system, what people’s wishes are and how to make sure they’re honored. I learned about what the dying process looks like without letting my judgement or fear cloud what is happening, enabling me to be able to be clear in translating what that looks like. I learned what our rights are when it comes to how we die and the rituals around our deaths. Most importantly though, what I left the workshop with was a deeper understanding of myself and what it means to foster the space that gives someone permission to meet their grief and fear, joy and sadness, whatever they have to bring to the table, to allow judgement to fall away and just be present with what is.