Reflections of a Death Doula
One Woman's Conscious Dying Process
It was exactly one year ago when I first met Lynn. The cancer she had been living with was now terminal and she had discontinued treatment. She was at the end of her life and was the embodiment of self determination. Lynn was single, had a grown son with a wife and two small children. She owned her own home. Lynn was an artist, teacher, musician, avid skier, beloved friend, deeply spiritual, mother and grandmother.
Our first meeting was an interview. Lynn knew she would eventually need caregivers to help her through her dying process. So, she set about interviewing local caregivers and contemplating potential future care needs as her dying process would progress. Lynn didn't want her son and daughter-in-law to be "overwhelmed" with her care. She set herself up with hospice care, and soon after, my partner and I became a part of her care giving team.
Lynn was quite organized and demanded everything had its place and a reason for its place. She explained all of her eating habits, daily routines, and self administered her detailed list of medications up until the last week of her life. From Lynn I learned the importance of telling people exactly what you want and expect the best out of everyone. Full communication and pre-planning can eliminate future confusion or questions and can certainly lessen stress for her loved ones and caregivers.
An In-Home Funeral with a three day home wake was an important part of Lynn's after death plans. She told us she wanted cremation and an environmentally friendly cardboard casket to be decorated by loved ones. As her Death Doula, I wrote down all of her detailed wishes for care of her body upon death. We discussed what was most important right now in her life. We made plans for giving away her artwork. She shared her wishes with friends and they offered to help with after death care. Friends sat vigil with Lynn during her last days of life. After she took her last breath her team of friends all gathered. Although they had never done this before, her friends washed her body, held ceremony, played music, told stories, dressed her in her favorite clothes and prepared her to lie in honor in her home for three days. Friends sat vigil throughout the three day visitation after her death so that her body was never alone.
All those who were with Lynn during her dying process came away truly changed. We learned about the ways a community can come together and create a loving good-bye for a dear one. Lynn allowed us to witness her days of "inner work" as she began to let go of her physical body. We felt empowered with creativity and love as community came to decorate her casket and we soon fulfilled all of her after death wishes. We felt completion as we shrouded her body on that last day, lifted her into the artful casket then carried her upon our shoulders out to the mortuary vehicle. As she was escorted from her home a light dusting of snow fell in honor of Lynn's passion for winter skiing. So many miracles, so much love.
2/23/2018 11:10:31 pm
Beautifully written Akhila! What a brave, wise and beloved women she was in living and dying. Brava for your part in returning the sacred to the end-of-life.
2/24/2018 11:08:50 am
Thanks Julie for taking the time to comment. We continue to have precious moments with families and the dying people we serve. Each dying process is unique, but they ALL hold a commonality: Lives are forever changed. Views of death and grief are profoundly shifted when hands on guidance and extended time are allowed.
2/24/2018 03:57:02 pm
I appreciate you taking the time to acknowledge the importance of being with the dying and doing death differently.
Your comment will be posted after it is approved.
Leave a Reply.
Akhila Murphy. I am a trained Death Doula and After Death care midwife. My passion is encouraging and engaging conversations about dying, death, the dead, and what happens after death. Through real life and death experiences I hope to inspire questions, creative ideas, contemplation and a new outlook on what it means to live a full life and die a good death.