I walked in the door this morning at 1 am and felt so alive and excited about my passion I wasn’t sure sleep would find me. This weekend was my training through INELDA (International End of Life Doula Assoc.) in Pompano Beach Florida. My goal for the weekend was to hone my skills as a death doula but the knowledge I gained from the training was far more rich and soulful. It was a compilation of 30 people, representing 20 states, who felt the calling and saw the need to serve the dying. Although many of the techniques I learned I have already incorporated in my preverbal “tool bag”, the more important part was the deeper knowledge of why they were important.
Henry Ferko-Weiss, the speaker and founder of INELDA, brought me back to my psych 101 days of Eric Ericsson and his stages of development. Of course, as a nineteen year old you really only look at the stages you’ve been through (making sure you came out the “right” side of each choice) and the stage you’re experiencing. Anything after the age of forty was way too far removed for me, let alone the stage at 80! But, as we all know, time flies way too fast and you traverse the stages, unknowingly, as well as you can and now the final one is ever present…integrity vs despair. This is the one that most of us don’t have the key to, nor have time to look for it. We are so unprepared for the idea of us dying that when the shock of a terminal illness strikes, you get into survival mode, literally. There is no time to truly digest whether this whole book you’ve been writing called Life was meaningful, was it worth something, did you learn anything? What do you have to pass on? What it becomes are days filled with doctor appointments, thoughts of your loved ones that you will leave behind, and insurance battles to be had. In the case of cancer, many continue until their weaken bodies have all but been drained of strength and death is chosen because it’s better than the way they are living now.
What we do as doulas is to help you see the legacy you are leaving behind. How the world is truly different because you joined it and decided to show up. We allow time for forgiveness to be given and taken, time to be in the moment, and to honor the sacred space that will be your last. We hold the space for your family so they can just be with the sorrow and to remind you that you are ever alive until you take the last breath.