Why an end of life doula

It is always an interesting conversation when I tell people I am a birth doula and a death midwife in training. People understand my fascination and commitment to supporting and empowering families in birth but when it comes to death their faces change. I am often met with questions like “why on earth would you want to do that? ” or “are you morbid?”

Interestingly the word morbid suggests an unhealthy mental state or attitude to something but I would argue the unhealthy aspect of dying stems from the death-phobic trauma culture surrounding it and our failure to make friends with our own mortality.

For starters our fear of the conversation in general and the decision-making processes surrounding death.

This means we end up with morbid statistics like 70% of people wanting to die at home and only 14% of people who want the palliative home care option arranged actually getting it. Simply because many people don’t know what their options are.

I wonder what it would look like if death became a conversation we could all joyfully have and plan for together – without the fear and with the communal goal of giving our loved ones the kind of departure they want?

Musician Ben Lee is also a death doula. In his workshop on death and dying he said “by studying death midwifery, I really came to appreciate that “the dying” are not “other people”- It’s us. Now. We are all dying, right now and in every moment of our lives. In a way, true friendship is simply being there for each other as we face our own mortality.”

So what is the death talk we need to be having?

Simply… it is a conversation about what the end of your life looks like to you.

It is personal and just like each birth and death in this world; it should be about individual needs and impulses. I’ve compiled five points to help get you started with only one instruction… where you can have fun, have fun!

  1. Talk about what kind of death celebration you would like. Go to town with this part: be as specific as you desire, talk about the music and where you would like to be put to rest. Talk about the food and the time of day. Whatever you would like to happen on this day express it!

 

  1. Go over any instructions for your medical care. Pay attention to instructions about what to do if you are unable to make decisions or unable to communicate.

 

  1. Discuss your last days – do you have any special requests? Perhaps you even know how your family could fulfil these requests for you.

 

  1. Talk about your end of life care. This should include organ donation and things like instructions for your social media accounts.

 

  1. Tell your family about the things you love: the music, your cat, and your favourite candles. Tell them in detail about the little things that might make you feel more comfortable or happier at the time. The things that will make you feel comfortable in your environment in your final hours.

It might sound a little silly but when the time comes… if loved ones are in a situation where they can be prepared for you these are the little pieces of information that will help them turn the time into a ceremony and a celebration for you and your life. It will help to make them feel useful and you will know everybody knows what you want.

Whether decisions about these details have been made or not, my role as a doula comes in to play with the small details. The little pieces of the puzzle that when put together help support a client to prepare for birth or death.

It is my job to pay attention to the environment and the individuals desires. This might be music, lighting, a familiar blanket or communicating with family and friends. I create a safe, loving and gentle environment – a nest – a nest to give birth in or a safe warm nest to depart from in death.

Doulas hold space for needs without judgment or opinion. We do not have an idea of what the best birth or death should look like. That part is up to the individual. What we will do is support their vision.

We are the nurturers, we do not offer opinions and we do not do anything medical.

We do work with palliative care staff and as Australia’s medical system moves towards more home hospital care, the role of doulas will become more known and available in Australia. If this kind of work calls out to you I urge you to go ahead and seek the training.

 

I highly recommend my mentor Helen and the college I trained with:

http://preparingtheway.com.au/helen-callanan/

http://australiandoulacollege.com.au/about-us/

 

Want to connect with like-minded women who are interested in exploring subjects like this, plus sharing education, information and support? Join my closed face book group by sending a member request:

With love

Imogen

The Power of Women’s Circle

Put simply it is a gathering of women in support of one another.

Women have been doing this since the beginning of time. The circle is the oldest form of social interaction. Men and women gathered around the fire to cook and eat their food, to tell stories of traditions and share wisdom that essentially kept the early people alive, connected and belonging. Women come together to collaborate and share the many and varied experiences of their lives in their efforts to care for children, to worship deities, to provide comfort to the sick and dying and to shape visions that have changed the path of history.

Primitive women came together in caves to paint their stories. They gathered in tents at the dawn of Christianity to sing the praises of their God. During the Middle Ages they withdrew behind stonewalls of monasteries to study, pray and minister to the sick. Religion was a focal point for the oldest women’s circles. The Wiccans and Celtic Christians of the 5th and 6th C and the little known Jewish tradition of Rosh Chodesh provided a space for women to draw on each other’s strengths and support while providing opportunities for them to care for others in their communities.

Women gathered together for healing ceremonies on the Full and New Moon. Long before the suppression of women these traditions honoured the feminine, the earth and celebrated fertility. In temples across ancient Europe, Rome and Greece women were learning from one another how to develop powers of intuition and perception. They were taught how to nurture and embrace their inherently feminine gifts.

In a heartbreaking turn of events for the powerful healing forces of the sisterhood, relatively egalitarian societies developed into patriarchal social systems allowing the male impetus to become the dominant paradigm. This change began some 4000 years ago. There was an emphasis on cognitive learning and a suppression of the feminine force. With the dramatic advancements of today, women are still perceived as secondary influences in decision-making and access to authority. What lies beneath this seemingly negative circumstance is the undeniable fact that women have the power to generate new life. Women have the knowledge and intuitive abilities to offer solace; to heal and create harmony all drawn from the strength of many gathered as one.

However, the strength and tenacity of women could not be extinguished and like-minded sisters have gathered in coffee shops, quilting circles, church basements, mothers’ groups and even the humble Tupperware party. Women still had the call to gather but neglected to delve into that energy that would offend the masculine or diminish that power.

In The Politics of Women’s Spirituality, Rush observes, “the rituals being created today by various women are part of the renaissance of women’s spirituality, that is, of the ultimate holiness or life-sacredness of women and the female creative process. Within a world which for centuries has tried to brand women as ‘unclean,’ as ‘devils,’ or as ‘immoral corruptor of man,’ this healing process is a vital one.” “Women need to once again create new theory and practices for ourselves in order to reunite the spiritual element with the social-political.”

The women’s circle of today is vastly different from gossiping at a hen’s night. The purpose of a circle is to assist every woman to receive support and empowerment to live her own unique life to the fullest. Many women suffer in silence from depression, loneliness and anxiety and science tells us that strong social connections have positive health protective effects. There are many kinds of circles that are born from the needs of the women. Support circles; healing and wellness circles; community action circles; spiritual/religious circles. Effects of women’s circles can be profound. For this reason women return again and again.

When women come together in a circle they join together to embrace all in sacred space and intention. The women’s circles of ancient times reflect the purpose of the modern circle and connect those present in a singular purpose. Women share stories and work towards a deeper understanding of their own identity and that of the group. Sharing joy, working on projects or participating in sacred rituals all allow women purpose.

Think on the power of a women’s circle to bring together women who share a dream. A dream that has the power to change the world.

Want to connect with like-minded women who are interested in exploring subjects like this, plus sharing education, information and support? Join my closed face book group by sending a member request: