Death doulas (also known as death midwifes) are caregivers who offer non-medical, holistic support and comfort to the dying or seriously ill people and their loved ones. Services are varied to meet individual needs and requirements, and often include emotional, spiritual and practical care.
Death. It’s not a question of when. It’s a question of how.
My husband and I were talking about my desire to serve the dying last night and he said to me, “no one wants to talk about death right now with the devastation going on in this country”. It made me pause.
Here in America, with the sense of impending doom due to an increase in domestic terrorism, and the fear gripping the nation due to its current Commander in Chief, well, I get it. I’m right there with everyone else. It’s heartbreaking. But if not now, when? There will always be an excuse available.
It’s not the topic of death that should be avoided it’s the perception of the topic of death that we need to change. It doesn’t have to be frightening. It happens to every single body. Our only fear is in our thoughts around death. We can change our thoughts! We can help others to change their thoughts! The only dread that’s “real” exists between our ears.
How can we change this? I feel we, meaning the world, is in a period of awakening…awakening to the spirit of love, of truth, of beauty. I, personally, try to keep my face to the Light. Now more than ever. I strive to keep an open mind & a kind heart. I am more diligent in that which serves me in BEing the best version of myself, which includes spiritual, physical, and mental exercise on a daily basis. It’s not easy, nor convenient, but it’s necessary for me today to avoid the weight of devastation that entrenches upon me the illusion of separation and utter bleakness
We’re all in this together. Please comment below your thoughts. I look forward to reading them. ❤️
“To pay attention, this is our endless and proper work.”
― Mary Oliver
“I am holding space for you”, or “holding you in my heart and prayers”, or “holding you in healing”, or “holding you up in love”—I have used all of these expressions more times than I can recall. Quite often multiple on a daily basis. What exactly does it mean to “hold” another?
In the news, after one of the devastating mass shooting incidents I recall mockery around, “holding the victims and their families up in my heart and prayers” or such. I don’t remember the exact verbiage around the story. However, what resided with me was confusion and angst. It gave me pause in practicing “holding” others for a bit. However, I got over it. Holding another is an act of love, not of the ego. Holding exemplifies unity, not separation.
Holding space for another is a gift to yourself, that other person or persons, and the community as a whole. It is being here and now with another on their journey; regardless of what that journey is. It is mindful attention and an expansion of positive and loving energy. It is all encompassing. Holding someone up is a conscious connection rooted in spirit.
My experience is that when I say and practice holding others I imagine it as a love-shot from my spirit to yours. A shock of encouragement, strength, and healing. I am fully present and aligned; prayerfully focused on the recipient. I know, I know….what is a “love-shot”? I see it as a profound joining of my innermost Self with your innermost Self. A union of Love, of peace. A joining in healing. A joining in all that is beautiful.
When I hold space for another I observe a physical sensation; I describe it as a soul tingling…a ticklish reverberation all throughout my body. I believe that it is a result of unity and nonjudgement…a sharing of their experience in innocence. I give my heart, let go of all else, and am fully present. Whether this is felt or not, holding space for another is a sacred and immense marrying…even if but for an instant.
Physical presence is not necessary to hold someone. Though we picture “holding” as a physical action it is anything but. As I sit with hospice patients, whether they have dementia, are non-responsive, or talking up a storm; I can “hold” them without even touching them. (I will add here though that I’m more often holding their hand or touching their arm, or even their face or hair). My steps for holding another are speaking the words, “I am holding you (in love/prayer, whatever), whether typing them, speaking them, or in my head silently. I then pause and align in absolute presence; at full attention, and I send out love and often a prayer, ending with a beauty filled silence. It lasts as long as it lasts…a few moments, sometimes ten to twenty minutes or longer. Time is not important to me. It is the intention and focus that matters.
If another human being states that they are “holding you” whether it is in love, or prayer, or healing…allow yourself to experience the immense gift that this is. Don’t listen to any fear based thoughts that may encroach upon your mind resulting in the rolling of your eyes, and a, “yeah, right”. Accept this love, feel it, join with it…then, take a moment, and pay it forward. Allow it to be the gift that it is. There is no need to skew it with perception. And hey, whether you’re right or wrong, I’m right or wrong, what does it matter? If you allow it to be a gift. It is surely just that: a gift!
The best way to capture moments is to pay attention. This is how we cultivate mindfulness. Mindfulness means being awake. It means knowing what you are doing.”
― Jon Kabat-Zinn
What a loving gesture.
Let’s Stop Pussyfooting Around Death
Not very spiritual. Obviously I am wanting your attention!
My uncle transitioned in the winter of 2017. He was living in NYC in a nursing home. His caretakers were the staff there. His middle brother a point of contact and visitor. I do not know what his last years were like for him. We were not very close so did not stay in touch. My most current memory of him was jolted by a picture from my father’s funeral service back in October, 2010. Unfortunately, I did not even recall his being there. Only recently I claimed that he wasn’t to my aunt…that is, until I was shown that photo. He always had a gentle and quiet presence so in the cloud of delusion that occurs after the passing of a loved one, I guess my not recalling is understandable.
In my childhood memories of this gentle giant he was always smiling. He spoke a little muffled and never said too much. He had a bit of a lisp which may have been the root cause of his subdued personality. At the same time, I also recall his generous and kind nature, and that he was a bit of a pack-rat…a hoarder, even. He would store his treasures in our garage in North Hollywood, California. I’m not sure what his treasures were as they were definitely off limits! However, each time him came over to add to his storehouse he would give me one or two quarters….Ahhh, a prize that would lead me to the local 7-11 and CANDY!!!!
My family has had its issues. What family doesn’t? When our grandparents were alive, they kept us all at least coming together. We would join together at least a few times a year for holidays and celebrations. However, once they passed most efforting of maintaining family relationships was minimal by most parties. I don’t believe we have all been together at all since the passing of my Nana back in 1999 or 2000. And that get together was an embarrassing fiasco for some which I will not go into! As we all know, Celebrations of Life events can often get feisty when mixed with alcohol!
My uncle died alone. Yes, he was horrible at staying in touch and anybody who knew him would agree. He even “disappeared” a time or two going off on his own adventures without letting the family know. Yes, his family and loved ones reside in all corners of the United States. BUT, He died alone on a cold winter day in a nursing home in NYC. Not only did he die alone, but he had dementia years before he passed. God only knows the isolation and confusion he experienced. It was only after pleas from his cousin, who lived across the country, to his brothers, who lived locally, that anyone took any action in assisting him to move into a nursing home for the care that he required. There are rumors that he lived on the street for some time up to that point.
This tale illustrates a lack of community that exists anymore. You see, this world may have become smaller with an instants access to anywhere on the globe, however, what is lost is the sense of local comradery that once existed. When I was little we enjoyed the game kick-the-can in the street and every adult helped to look after all of the children who wandered about the neighborhood playing until well past dusk. What was unified “back in the day” today is now more separate than ever. The connections that once existed within neighborhoods and even families have been severed by the gnarly knife of fear, trepidation, and technology. I’m not blaming, as I can certainly recognize myself in all of this: almost glaringly. I would never have reached out to my uncle because God-forbid he reject me or seem disinterested. It was not worth the risk to me! I’ll just continue to live my happy little life right over here in my own little bubble. Due to this change in community it is important to be aware of the free and paid services that are available to assist where this commonwealth no longer does.
Lack of community or not, we do not have to die alone. There is a movement occurring right now across the globe around the awareness of death and dying. Dying requires as much attention, consideration, and planning as does a birth. We have to stop avoiding the topic of death. In this world of keeping people alive at whatever the cost the process of dying has become cold and mechanical. Doctors are taught to save lives, whatever the cost. We each need to put serious consideration into how we want to die. I suggest having a plan (advance directive) in place even as young as age 30 and updating it as necessary and at least every five years. If you’re not sure how to go about this you can check with an Institute on Aging in your area/country. Oftentimes a local Hospice could point you in the right direction, too. If you need assistance, please email me directly.
My uncle most likely gave no thought to an advanced directive. Once dementia set in that opportunity was gone. It wasn’t that he was poor and without money, either. He had options while we was still clear-minded. He could have planned the most beautiful and tranquil death he desired. He was of the generation where you don’t talk about things like “death”. We need to start talking about things like this! Whether we have money or not, we all have options. There are also End-of-Life Doulas who provide support services to those sick or dying and their loved ones on a sliding fee scale or even free. Death is inevitable. How you choose to die is often a choice.
BIO: Rev. Maureen L. Yarbrough, Funeral Officiator, Death Doula, Harley Riding Minister! Oh, and my day job is managing a medical practice.email: firstname.lastname@example.org phone: (904) 625-8842 https://www.facebook.com/SoulSteward/ https://twitter.com/StewardSoul https://www.instagram.com/soul_steward_advocates/