The first time I heard about a Death Doula during a Yoga Class all my senses awakened. I was shocked, intrigued and pulled in, knowing that here lies something I am craving to understand, that this something can help our society heal the universal trauma that we share about death.
My Yoga Teacher and a friend, Michela Carloni shared about the Death Doula course that she was undertaking. During the entire Yoga class, I couldn’t stop thinking about it. My whole body craved to learn more as if my own unprocessed stuck emotions connected to death, loss and grief found a place that can soothe them.
Who are death doulas? Why do we need them? And how can they help us heal our relationship with death and dying?
Tapping into the legacy
Death doulas, as I learnt from Michela, are caregivers who accompany people during the last moments of life. It can be years or months. Their support, in contrast to a hospice worker or a medical nurse, is mainly emotional and spiritual. They come to help you find closure, that feels intimate and personal.
“As a Death Doula, you help create a legacy project,” says Michela. “The form of the legacy varies. Sometimes it’s in the form of pictures, sometimes it’s a video, sometimes it’s a song. Or writing down recipes, if cooking is a big part of the dying’s life.”
A big role of your Death Doula is helping you realize what is important to you during those last moments of your life, when it’s hard to focus on questions like “What do I want to leave for my family? How do I want to die? What do I want to wear, or listen to as I pass?” Having these questions asked, helps us get intentional with the last moments of our life, and in our connection to our loved ones.
Answering the call
Not everyone could step into this role. It takes a lot of humility and self-awareness to be able to tap into it and Michela with her gentle and understanding heart is doing it justice. “So much of the role of a death doula is active listening,” she says. “Coming into the room and being an active listener. I’m not your child, nor your loved one. You can tell me all of your worries, anything that is going on. You can share about your physical pain, without a need to hide it.”
How do you evolve into a death doula? For Michela, it was a calling. Two powerful women in her life have died within five years. She found herself naturally stepping into a supportive role. People, those who were dying and those who were encompassed by grief and loss, kept telling her: “You’re so natural at this. It’s so easy to talk to you. You see me.”
Even still, accepting the role came with resistance. It is a huge responsibility and emotionally intense work, which needs to be taken with a lot of mindfulness. Especially, when you’re a sensitive person. Michela takes this weight seriously. Here is where her yoga practice comes as a tool. She says: “Maybe this is the depth of my practice, so I can do this work and be OK myself, not be causing myself third party trauma.”
We’re both going to die
Upon hearing about Death Doulas, people often cringe. They wonder: Why would you want to be so close to death? But that, according to Michela, is not the right way out. Denying death doesn’t help us live through it. You know what we have in common? We’re both going to die. Pretending that we’re not going to die causes a lot of trauma.
We live in a society that is in denial of death and therefore keeps reinforcing the trauma that comes with that inevitable part of life. Michela explains: “Our obsession to look younger is being in denial that you’re aging, because aging is dying. It shows up in many ways in our life and if we find a way to embrace it, it is still going to hurt but we can be more prepared for it.”
Working with a Death Doula who asks us “What do you want?” is in itself healing, for the dying and for their loved ones.” If your family can see you in peace, think how much more peaceful this transition will be for them. Being supported in the end supports everybody,” says Michela. A Death Doula ensures that you die with dignity. Makes sure you’re fully heard and seen towards the end. And that is one of the most beautiful gifts to offer.
A healing act
Death Doulas can serve the community and help the dying in their last days, but it goes much further than that. They bridge the gap, that we subconsciously create by leaning into the transition from death to life. Talking about death and grief is helping on a much bigger scale. It helps minimize the trauma and isolation that death evokes. Tools that a Death Doula brings, can help us learn how to talk to people who are losing a loved one or are in grief. Loss is an extremely isolating experience. It doesn’t have to be so if we all are willing to learn to lean into the space of connection and compassion.
Moreover, it turns out that negating death is also negating life. The more we run away from it, the more we deny the fullness of life. Michela shares with me that for many people, being aware of their approaching death, makes them choose life. And live more fully. Stephen Levine, author of Healing Into Life and Death, says that people live their best life after a diagnosis. That is crazy. We avoid death, we don’t want to talk about it, we push it away, and then when we know that we’re going to die, we choose to live better.
You can find out more information about a local Death Doula online or through a hospice or community centre.
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Photo by Nathan Dumlao via Unsplash