Doulas: Doing Death Differently

Great piece that really shares the vision I have of my role as a Death Doula!

Death & the Maiden

We are doulas of death. A birth doula provides support and guidance to the birthday mother and the brand new life. End of life doulas have forged an innovative approach to the care of the dying by putting emphasis on the importance of relationship and accompaniment. What we do is support. Practical and emotional support for those dying and their families. We should all treat the dying with dignity, but also with deference. Our elderly and our ill should be allowed this as much during death as after birth. Our final moments should be treated with the same importance as those first few moments of life. Let us embrace the end as we embraced the beginning.

Doula 5

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Some last thoughts on the cafe!

Hi Shelby,

This is a reflection I wrote for my Tuesday healing prayer service at Westminster Canterbury. This is how I use my life experiences to encourage others. Thanks again for the wonderful time with awesome women!! Blessings. Fontaine

This past Sunday I attended a meeting with eight women who were strangers to me. The meeting was called a Death Cafe and I was excited about going. You might wonder why I would look forward to a meeting with such a title: Death Cafe. Another name for the meeting was Peaceful Passings Cafe: Open Forum to Talk About All Things Death.

Death Cafes were started in England a few years ago. They are gatherings at cafes, in which people meet to have coffee, tea and cake and discuss the ways we die. Interested individuals are concerned with how death has become such a clinical experience, often in hospitals, hooked up to machines, in a sterile environment. Often when people are asked how they imagine their dying, they say they would like to be at home, surrounded by loved ones in a calm, quiet, peaceful setting.

The women I met on Sunday are primarily nurses who have worked for years in ICUs of hospitals and/or in hospices. They have experience in seeing people who are very ill and how they are treated by doctors, hospital staff and family members as they are dying. These women want to look at different approaches to death and dying: they want to involve the patient, the family and friends more fully in the process by education, support and good communication.

There is an African phrase that has been used to describe a woman who helps and supports another woman as she is giving birth: a birth doula.

Using this concept for the dying, the helping person would be a death doula.

When I was younger and having my children, I was asked by a couple of my friends to be with them when they were giving birth. I was a birth doula.

I have often sat vigil with friends who were dying and I did so with both of my parents. I am quite interested in being with and supporting those who are being born and those who are dying. A death doula.

Another thing I am very interested in is the concept that we come from God, we live our lives in God and we one day return to God. How do we travel this journey of life that is given to us so graciously? How do we grow in love, in grace, in joy? How do we return to God as consciously as possible, allowing our dying to be as important a part of the journey as our living?

I would like to invite each of you to think about your dying. This might be a new thought for you or something you have pondered before. It might seem alien and strange or there might be a little twinge of interest and wondering. It can be very helpful to family and friends to let them know how you feel about end of life issues and challenges. Talking about dying can actually be liberating…if we can just start a conversation. Think about it, talk to God about it, pray about it.

I felt very comfortable by the end of the meeting with my new found friends. We talked about our experiences, we laughed and shed tears together. We shared common ground in our thoughts and feelings about how to support others in the process of dying, in how to offer the possibility of a more peaceful passing and of how to live more consciously and fully even as we are dying.

God made us, God loves us, God will gather us to himself in due time. When God calls us home, the terrain will be new and unknown, but the path will be paved with love. May we continue to grow and learn on this journey while also waiting eagerly to fall into the arms of infinite love. Amen.

Death Cafe!!!

Well, this past Sunday I facilitated my first “death cafe”.  I put it in quotes because it was difficult to find a coffee shop in the Richmond area that would allow me to call it that!  So…I called it a Peaceful Passings Cafe: a forum to talk about all things about death.  It was nothing short of amazing!  I ran it like a true Death Cafe and the two hours flew by.  My love is working with my clients (and I use the words “client” as both my patient and the family.  Although the dying process is physically happening to only one person, the journey to death has ripples that touch so many.  I hold the space for the family, as well as, for the patient) but I see so much of my role as a community educator.  This is a grassroots movement!

We live in such a death-phobic society.  As the baby boomers are starting to see their own mortality, they are starting to ask questions.  They are pushing boundaries.  Decades ago they did this with the birthing process.  Can you imagine the look on the first OB/GYN’s face when their patient stated that they didn’t want to labor on their back, but walk around!  That they wanted the baby to be placed right on them and not whisked away!  As this generation is facing their last chapters, they want to take that power back again.  This time saying that they don’t need every medical test, drug and study preformed on them until it has robbed their already frail body of any light and energy that remains.  They are showing the medical community that while there are a lot of medical experiences around death, that death, in and of itself, is natural and should be treated as such.

There certainly will be more Peaceful Passings Cafe’s in the future!  Out of it has come a new public website for like-minded people (RVA End-of-life network), new ideas of how to spread the message and the beginning of a true movement in Richmond!