Death happens. It is unavoidable. It is a time of change, varied emotions, and has long lasting repercussions. The person you loved created a shape inside of you where your souls touched. When one dies that imprint, that space for them, is always there. It can never be filled by another, or things, or places, or actions. Every person we touch has an effect on the shape of our souls. In Western cultures there is pressure to get on with things after a death doing a disservice to the loved one now gone and those left behind to grieve. Death has become frightening and lonely, relegated to hospitals and for the very lucky, hospice care. I’ve always believed that it was the way our culture treats death and grieving that make it feel so foreign and stunt the healing process of everyone…and the acceptance of those that know death is coming for them. There is a movement now, pushing back against this paradigm, reclaiming death from fear and stigma.
Doula is a from Greek and means “female servant”. This has been adopted by the midwife community to mean individuals of all genders that help assist a person in labor and the first few days of life with the new baby. The Death Doula movement further appropriates the word to mean individuals of all genders that stand beside the dying and help the family with the early stages of grieving.
Janie Rakow, president of INELDA, the International End of Life Doula Association, describes a death doula as, “... someone who acts as a guide and companion through the end phase of an illness. This work can start as soon as someone is admitted to hospice.” She says, “the doulas work with the dying person and their loved ones through the final dying process and into the early grieving stages afterward.”
Death Doulas are on the forefront of a movement to take dying out of hospitals and institutions and into compassionate care. The primary role for a Death Doula is to literally stand and take witness. To hold the hand of those that are dying alone or help loved ones hold the hand of the dying and give peace on the start of this journey. No one should die alone, unless they have chosen to do so. A Death Doula stands present for the dying and gives them what care they can. A soft voice. A song. A story. A held hand. A hug. Gentle brushing of hair. Reminders that it is okay to free themselves from the fetters of this world and all the pain being caused by whatever it is that brought death to them. Reminders that there is nothing to fear and they will not leave this world unloved.
A secondary, but equally important role, is to help the loved ones left behind. Even when you know death is coming, even when you take the time to say all the things and are present for the moment, it does not diminish the grieving, the fear, or the pain. Even shock may still happen. Part of that, as I said before, is because of our own societal mores on what grieving looks like. Loved ones are left to clean up all the loose ends, comfort others who may not have known the dying nearly as well as they, and then get on with it. Shove themselves into a awkward box that no one truly fits into, and lock it up tight. The death turns into trauma. Death Doulas seek to end that.
Often this role will just look to outsiders like the busy person. Giving hugs. Listening. Making calls. Talking them through dealing with remains and appropriate remembrance services. Taking in all the information that may get missed when the medical staff bring in forms or speak. The grieving sometimes zone out and can’t catch all of that. It is being the strong one so the loved ones don’t feel they have to be strong and can actually begin to grieve in a way that is meaningful to them.
This work is very similar to hospice care, whom I hold in the highest esteem, but with less emphasis on the medical side and physical comfort, and more on the spiritual needs and peace of mind. Death Doulas can sometimes work with a specific faith but more often they will be secular but spiritual, offering to learn about the beliefs of the dying and to speak about other cultures until they find what is right. Or in the case of being unable to meet the dying before the event to walk the family through those same things. This is midwifery to the soul as we send them on their journeys. It doesn’t matter if that journey is to feed the ground and rejoin the earth, to walk into Hel (Norse/Germanic afterlife not the same as Christian Hell), to dance in the summer lands (early pagan belief), or live in peace in Heaven. All of that is valid and necessary to help the dying take that step with peace.
The movement, it should be important to note, are not advocates of suicide as we understand it in Western cultures. There is a difference between having no medical options to stop or slow death and choosing to go out on your own terms (assisted suicide), and suicide because of depression, trauma, or mental illness. Even in the Death Doula community there is a split on beliefs about assisted suicide. Death Doulas celebrate life and honor it’s passing with reverence. Helping someone to take their own life is not a part of the average Doula’s belief system. Even in extreme cases it is not taken lightly or easily.
I walk the path of a Siedr, an early Norse/Germanic hedge witch. These were the witches of yore that traveled where they willed and could be helpful or not as they deemed necessary. One of the primary roles of the Siedr was to assist in births and deaths. I gladly serve as a birth or death doula upon request. It is how I practice my faith and honor my gods. Every Doula has their own journey to bring them to this space. Some will do their greatest work here, and some will move on. We are as varied as humanity, but we all come together for the belief that death is not something to fear and should be treated with respect and love.
You don’t know me, but I know you. See your shining face with hope already jaded in your eyes. I know of your struggles and your dreams. You are a fighter, dear child. A rainbow warrior ready to fight to be who you were always created to be. Ready to change the world so that others can find the same pride in themselves that shines out in you like a star. Sometimes it’s hard. This world is not always ready for a trailblazer such as you. I hear the words others would say to you, to your parents, to your sibling. I see the questions brewing in those who do not want to understand. Know this, they are afraid to understand because that means they might be wrong, and if they’re wrong about this they might be wrong about other bigger things. Human grownups are strange that way. They’ve forgotten what it’s like to learn. I see you, dear child, for all that you are. We need you so desperately in this world. Know this, when the road is hard, and people do or say hurtful things they are merely afraid and your fierce love will help them in this new world. Be who you are. Set the world free.
Dear young person,
I only know you a little, but already I love you for this shining handsome, lovely person you are in the process of becoming. You’re on the cusp of adulthood. There and not there at the same time. Learning you are free, but still held back. No person goes through this time unscathed. I’m here to tell you to have courage. You have the power to shape your future. There will be hard times, there will be people who don’t understand, but the same is true for everyone. Be who you were always meant to be. You can do it. Even as just one person, I stand behind you. Call your name out to the universe and let it be heard. You are more powerful than you know, and they fear the day you discover it.
Such love echoes though your soul. You would walk through the fire to give your children a fair and just world. You will not see the ripples you cause by walking this road with your child, letting them lead you on this quest. You cannot know how much it will impact the world when your rainbow warrior stands tall and leads us to our salvation. As a parent I know the fears. Both my children have chosen hard roads and walk them unafraid while I cower in the background swallowing my fear. I see the traps, I see the thorns, the snares. I see the places where the road ends and a leap of faith must be taken. No one can know, save those that love a child unconditionally, what it is like to have to watch them while they grow. Your courage is no small thing and it is not smaller than that of your rainbow warrior. It is your courage and faith and love that feeds them. Your joy in their being is what creates the fierce love they fight for their world with. Have faith. We all watch them galloping down the path on a steed of self actualization. I give you my love and faith. For you are a rainbow warrior too.
You are glorious in battle. Did you know that? Did you know how you shine when speaking out for others? I know you fight to fix this world because you’re fighting for your own right to exist. Don’t let those that fear you take away your joy. I know you’ve seen it all. The unspeakable atrocities our parents hide us from when we are young. The pain of seeing beautiful souls unloved for the petty excuse of changing their shell. Those things are real and speak to a society in distress. Fight. Break the dome of our existence in two. Show others a light they can’t even conceive of. You were gifted by knowing who you were from an early age. You are battle tested making yourself into that person. Now blaze through in justice and love, and carry us in your wake. You may not always see the ripples and tides you cause, but they will come back and lift you higher. Fear not loneliness or hate, for you are surrounded by love.
With gratefulness that you are all in my life, thank you.
I think the power of thought and intention is taken for granted. We have so much power to affect our lives but it is largely ignored. Someone I respect has legitimate problems with organized faith in general. She makes good points, but she hit on one that bothered me. Making fun of people asking for prayers for a loved one or a hard time. I looked at that and thought how can she be spiritual (which she is greatly) and not see the power of intention?
The universe is a vast animal that, by all accounts, will provide. You can call it science and say it’s the electrical impulses of our thoughts, something that has been proven, reflecting back to us. You can say it’s the power of the elements around us that answer our needs. You can say it’s God or a Creator answering your prayers. It all amounts to the same thing, but in our human need to understand it we all have different ways of defining it, different ways of understanding the rules. Person of faith to person of same faith, even, will have a different belief in how it works. That is the human condition. Some mysteries will never be fully answered.
However, I can tell you with great certainty from my own life, the universe will reflect whatever you put out. It’s this cosmic caretaker that wants nothing more than to provide what we want, but it doesn’t understand our basic human flaw. This little glitch we were all created with. Fear and worry and a need to obsess over it. See the Universe, however you define it, pays attention to what we think and feel. Its job is not to judge those thoughts, but reflect them. It doesn’t understand that you really don’t want to lose your job it sees only that you are spending a lot of energy thinking about that. So it gives it to you. Likewise for the good things. Ever notice how negative people keep getting negative things happening? Like the klutz that proclaims they’re klutz right before tripping on air. Or the person convinced they are hexed having all things they’re scared of happen. They focus on these thoughts being truth and the Universe reflects.
My point is this: We know the Universe will give us what we focus on. Spells, prayers, good energy, are all attempts and keeping the negative out our minds focusing on what we want to have happen. Simple belief can change worlds. It doesn’t even matter what you believe in. Those calls for prayers, or a focus on happy, healthy, whole, may not cure cancer. They can’t unlight the fire that burned down someone’s home. But they can and will reflect the good intention put out. Never discount, even if it’s not your faith, the power of someone’s call to prayer. Don’t feel you have to answer them in the way they say either, but with your own good intention however you see that happening.
Never discount that they are praying because they care. I’ve been through many hard times, and when things are at their worst, knowing someone cares, even if they can’t do a thing, makes me stronger. Heartfelt caring has more effect on me than actually fixing the problem. To know I’m not alone and this person actively has my back. People call to prayer because they feel helpless and go to what they believe in their hearts to be something bigger and stronger and humble themselves, something that is very hard for any human by our very natures, before it and ask. That is no small amount of caring.
Now this isn’t say that prayer should replace all help. Sometimes people say it and not mean it. Sometimes they feel it will wipe away their moral obligation by saying trite words and moving on. Making 100K a year, and prayer for a cure to cancer rather than donating to research or supportive organizations (Not Susan G Kolmen fund, don’t give them a cent, but that’s another rant. Research and you’ll see what I mean). Or showing yourself topless because you want to save the tatas but don’t encourage others to put in time or money to actual help. Raising awareness is another form of intent, or prayer that’s more pragmatic, but same thought. Get the Universe to reflect your needs.
But prayer, good energy, a spell, a call to awareness, given from pure good intention. That is gold. That is more meaningful than anything else we can do as a global society when action just isn’t feasible or possible. Even if I’m dying, and no doctor, or transplant will save me, to know I am loved, to feel the energy of people around me as I go is a gift you can’t put a price tag on.
Focus on the good. Focus on the outcome. Do what you can. And when you can’t do? Write a spell, announce your intention to the Universe. Pray.
In the end, love really will change the world.
X-Posted to Shadowed Paths
Susan is a plural writer and artist by day, a child and pet wrangler by night, and occasional crazy person on the weekends.