At this time of year when, as our ancestors would say, there is a “thinning of the veils between this world and the next,” when Nature unabashedly undresses before our eyes and goes to rest in the Underworld, I felt it timely to discuss this thing called “death”.
People often speak to me of their pains, limitations, and fears during bodywork sessions – a verbal purging of all the life stuff that brought them to this place of suffering and, hopefully, to healing. Some will even discuss their trepidation around the topic of death and tell me whose recent passing they are processing, whether a beloved human or pet. I am honored to hold space for such discussions because I understand how cringy people get around the topic in most social circles. For me talking about death flows like talking about weather. Perhaps I had a few too many close-calls, or experiences of brushing up against things that don’t make any sense in 3D reality. Whatever the reasons, I recognize that people need a safe harbor to discuss such matters.
For some time I have questioned whether, in this technologically advanced society, we are truly living longer or just dying slower? Then I’ve wondered: Is it easier to live or die? Some readers might ask, “What does she mean easier to die, no one wants to die?” True, most people don’t want to die, but the collective’s fear of it – particularly from 2020 till now has shown me just how prominent this topic is in our minds. Media’s talking heads babbling 24-7, rattling non-stop death statistics, their crimson red news banners spilling dire emergencies and death tolls on every channel and website. Yet not a single soul will sit down and discuss the matter at the family dinner table. Clearly, our western culture, devoid of its shamanic roots and mentors for life’s rites of passage is spiritually ill-equipped and inadequately educated to handle the topic. Hardly surprising, considering how masterfully the cultural engineers have convinced us we can simply distract that pesky news with excess entertainment and medication. It doesn’t really hit home till someone close to our heart is suddenly no more. How do we remove the taboo of embracing death, and how do we talk openly about the mystical realms that are ever-present yet seemingly out of reach till we reach that last breath?
Julia Assante, PhD, intuitive, and mystic has researched this topic with great care in her book, “The Last Frontier | Exploring the Afterlife and Transforming Our Fear of Death”. She believes strongly we need to focus more on the invigorating and transformational moments before and during the transition from this world to the next, and cultivate meditative states while we’re healthy and cognitive. The “afterlife,” she says, “isn’t really ‘after life’ at all, because there is also the state of pre-birth, and the non-physical realms that exist your whole life.” Her book offers numerous cases of near death experiences, talking with spirits of the deceased, and preparing for one’s own journey.
Likewise, John Lerma, MD, in-patient medical director for the Medical Center of Houston wrote a most inspiring book, “Into the Light | Real Life Stories About Angelic Visits, Visions of the Afterlife, and Other Pre-Death Experiences”. A very beautiful book, filled with heart-touching accounts of his journey honoring the integrity and wishes of terminally-ill people moving from physical to spirit while under his hospice care. Highly recommended!
These are a but a small sampling of the numerous books available to folks looking for answers, who suddenly find themselves in the position of facing death or that of a loved one. While not included in this blog I would add there are many, many great YT videos covering NDE’s (Near-Death Experiences); accounts given by those who’ve touched upon the other side and returned to tell about it. People (and animals) who are facing their end days need support and, likewise, those left behind – especially if they’ve no prior experience in this realm – are in need of solace, education, and comfort in handling the monumentally taxing event. They are the ones who will be delegated to carry the emotional stress, loss of sleep, legal paperwork, and daunting medical decisions.
I have an acquaintance who recently had to make all the hospice then funeral arrangements for her sister who passed from stage IV lung cancer. Meanwhile, her dad has stage IV cancer, her mom has progressed Alzheimer’s, and her elderly neighbor friend just lost his wife. He is now living alone, lost and depressed and she worries for him. She was so distraught on our first meeting it seemed like she wanted to cry from the weight of it all but couldn’t. There were too many pressing, practical matters to address. Once she returned from her sister’s Celebration of Life she confided that perhaps she will train to become a Death Doula after all is said and done. Considering the amount of experience she’ll have from handling so many transitions in her family I should think she’ll make an excellent doula! There are now plenty of online resources for this burgeoning field, which is actually quite exciting and quite overdue! For example, there’s the National End-of-Life Alliance (NEDA) which appears to have just about every resource one could need. Their mission statement, vision and goals:
NEDA seeks to inspire positive, creative change in American death practices by creating high standards, ethical and practical guidelines, and rich networking opportunities for all EOLDs, resulting in meaningful experiences for the dying, their caregivers, and the agencies involved.
To create a cultural shift where trained EOL doulas are welcomed at the bedside of every death as part of the natural continuum of care for the dying
To integrate EOL doula concepts into accepted mainstream practices
To provide inclusive support of all EOL doulas and trainers who meet ethical and conduct standards
To achieve status for EOL doulas as qualified practitioners who provide appropriate, integrative, and ethical care at end of life
To enjoy the same professional and economic standing as others offering end-of-life services.
We value EOL doulas who provide non-medical, holistic support and comfort to the dying person and their family, which may include education and guidance as well as emotional, spiritual or practical care.
We value and respect the diverse voices and viewpoints of all doulas, trainers, and others whose practices honor the individual traditions, heritages, experiences and unique needs of the dying, and their loved ones.
We value a cultural environment that encourages the potential for healing exchanges between doulas and the dying, the family, and the healthcare team as part of the life-death process.
We embrace the Doula Model of Care that recognizes the need for ethical, compassionate care for all, and emphasizes empowering, non-judgmental support to maximize the self-determination of the individual and honor significant others and family as part of the circle of care.
We acknowledge and honor the fundamental value and dignity of all individuals. To this end, we strive to create an environment that is welcoming to all, and where each person feels accepted, included, seen, heard, valued, and safe. We pledge ourselves to developing and maintaining an environment that recognizes, understands, and appreciates the impact of differences such as race, ethnicity, gender, class, education, age, sexual/affectional orientation, physical ability, language, political affiliation, economic status, immigrant/citizenship status, military experience, and legal position.
Another resource that comes with book and very affordable course is offered by psychologist, psychotherapist, sophrologist, (and fellow druid), Philip Carr-Grom, which is called, “The Seven Valleys”. I am hoping to take this course soon and find new ways to view the journey that my western upbringing so woefully lacks.
In Philip’s website he describe it as follows:
“…[an] ancient Sufi story, adapted to a modern form, which can be used for psycho-spiritual development, and which has also been used for the past forty or so years as a way of preparation for a peaceful transition at death into the next world.”
In my heart of hearts I honestly feel it is time we grew up, initiated ourselves, and open our hearts once again to the realms that birthed us into the physical and receive us with open arms at our exit. Demystifying, embracing and honoring the death process has the potential to profoundly change the consciousness of our species. Isn’t it about time?
John Lerma, MD
Death Doula / NEDA
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