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!

My mission

So I’ve found myself picking and choosing words on how to describe to someone what a “death doula” is and what exactly I’d be doing.  It would take me a few minutes to finally get my point across.  After talking about this what my husband, he suggested with coming up with my mission.  Three quick sentences on what, I believe, my purpose is.  So after sitting at the empty computer screen, watching a blinking curser for what felt like forever, I’ve finally come up with my mission.  I do have to send out a special thank you to those who helped me refine my words and educate me that not everyone is comfortable with the “D” word (DEATH!)

To support and serve as a guide to individuals and their families as they accept and work through the process of dying;  to help them manage their physical, emotional and spiritual needs.

To provide the individual a sounding board to help establish and fulfill their ideas of a peaceful passing.

To assist the family as they navigate this journey, affirming to them that they aren’t alone, helpless or lost.

Peaceful Passings Cafe (in lieu of a Death Cafe) November 1st 1-3

So…I have not given up my search to find a coffee house in Richmond that will be open to the idea of holding a Death Cafe but, in the meantime, I’m holding my own!  I’m calling it Peaceful Passings Cafe: an open forum to talk about all things death.   It will be held on November 1st from 1p-3p at Caffeespresso ( on Gaskins Rd, near Patterson Ave.  I hope to see ANYONE interested in talking about death and dying.  Just as in a Death Cafe, there will be no agenda, group led, free and open to the public!  Please come and enjoy a great cup of coffee and some interesting conversations!

What does a good death look like?

     What does a good death look like? It has become my passion to guide people through the death & dying process with strength, awareness & courage.

     We’ve always been a society that embraces LIFE. We throw parties & baby showers when we discover a friend or family member is expecting a new little one. We read books like What to Expect When You’re Expecting all in preparation of the new life that will be arriving. Yet, we don’t consider death & dying with nearly the same attitude. In fact, most people don’t think or talk about it much at all. Death, this most universal of all human experiences, is shoved aside until we’re forced to deal with it.  And, while death finds many of us unprepared, this lack of planning leaves our loved ones overwhelmed & frightened. They are trying to determine what “we” would want, at a time when they are least stable & highly emotional.

     Ironically, the moments leading up to our death will be some of the most significant we will ever experience. If we are prepared & we prepare our families, we can make that inevitable moment a spiritually, emotionally & even physically uplifting one. But first we need to be willing to think about death.
As a clinically certified Neuroscience ICU trauma nurse with 17 years of experience I’ve had the privilege to be a part of many people’s journey through dying and ultimately, death. And what I’ve seen in those rare occasions when people accept death & dying, they depart this world spiritually fulfilled & content. This contentment spreads to the family and allows an event, which is usually permeated with fear, to be instead filled with hope & grace.

Doula is the Greek word for “woman who serves.” It’s usually associated with those who assist in childbirth. But more & more, doulas are helping people with leaving the world. They provide informational, physical & emotional support for you or your loved ones to help navigate through complicated aspects of life – leading to a good death. End of Life Doulas help ensure you are able to make the best-informed decisions possible about your final days or of those you love.
As an End of Life Doula I work with people exploring options for care prior to death & after, this ensures that your care is managed according to your wishes. As an End-of-Life Doula I help you become fully informed of options. This allows you to exercise maximum control over your medical care & representation, as well of what will happen once you are gone. The process of discussing our mortality can create peace-of-mind, paving the way for more joyful living, secure in the knowledge that you’ve taken the steps to ensure your wishes.

Whether you’ve opted to die at home or are under hospital or hospice care, I help provide physical, emotional, spiritual and informational care & support. Depending on your wishes, I can:
Make regular visits; Provide coaching support; Help assemble end-of-life documents, such as advanced directives; Produce a personalized occasion to say “goodbye” to your loved ones; Perform blessing ways, forgiveness circles and other ceremonies tailored to you & your loved one’s wishes.

I am not a replacement for hospice
I don’t take the place of chaplains, clergy or spiritual leaders

In 2012, I was honored to help guide a friend, along with her family, through her dying process. I was able to hold the space for the family as they coped with their mother/wife’s last weeks. Some of what I did was offer basic comforts, while other times my support was deeper and more spiritually based. I was able to help give them the death she wanted. After her passing I found myself asking, “Why shouldn’t everyone have that gift?” I encountered many people who looked back on their loved one’s passing and said, “I wish I had…” My answer came when I realized that the grieving family is lost, unable to have the strength to know where to look or how to achieve it. Many are so uncomfortable with death that the infinite possibilities of a “good death” don’t occur to them.

I want to guide the actively dying person, and their family, through this spiritually filled journey.  I believe death, as in birth, can be a powerful, awe-inspiring moment if one allows it. More times than not, the client has an intention of their death but doesn’t know how to fulfill it.  I believe that I was put on this earth to serve others during the dying process.  I understand that this approach isn’t for everyone but, for those that it does speak to, I hope to one day help guide them towards their own peaceful passing.