Dear you, the reader of this article. I trust that you have been divinely guided here and that there is something in here for you to take with you, to ponder and alchemize within your being. Death is a teacher, if we can allow it to be. Death has played a very upfront role in our society in the last two years, there has been a rise of people who want to assist in the spaces of the dying process. The work of a death doula, psychedelic therapy and green burials is on the rise. We are leaning into death in new and also ancient ways. We are remembering how to hold death, in the same ways that we hold life.
The fear of death stems from multiple sources here in the western world. It is often associated with our families way of showing us death, religious beliefs as well as the great fear of the unknown. We as a human species finds great comfort when we understand the world around us, and death is nothing but an unknown territory.
If we were to take a time machine back to 120 years ago, we would see where the perception of death in our society radically shifted.
Before the civil war, death and birth was in our households. We saw siblings being born and witnessed the death of loved ones in the entire process. It was not until the civil war that we began to separate from this sacred process. During the civil war our loved ones were dying far from us and we were utilizing the train system to transport the bodies back to the families. However, the train conductors were eventually unable to complete this process due to the smell of the bodies decomposing. It was then that Abraham Lincoln began to employ doctors to begin the embalming process, and it was from here death began to become a business. This is where in our history mortuaries, undertakers, and funeral homes began, and it is also here we lovingly surrendered to be a full witness to the dying process.
Time skip back to modern day, you can see how we have just forgotten that death has a place within our space and within our homes. As a society I truly believe we are in the infant stages of seeing how the system we have built has not been one that has served the dying in the fullest capacity. The disconnection to death and the dying process has created a space between the truth of who we are, thus creating fear and confusion during these sacred times in our lives.
The word ‘doula’ itself comes from the Greek word meaning “woman helping another woman.” Today, there is the emergence of a new health professional, a different type of doula who provides end of life care in a similar manner to birth doulas. They are called death doulas, doulas for the dying, end of life doulas, death midwives or spiritual midwives. Their purpose is to be with the dying until death. They are there to assist the passage from this world to the next.
Doulas provide a loving and nurturing support with their approach to death and the dying process. They are in service to both the dying and their family in many ways. Doulas provide support, spiritual care, education and friendship. Doulas are a hub of resources since the family can quickly become lost trying to tackle the endless end of life planning. They bring comforting energy and normalcy to the dying process, as well as ritual and ceremony to help open and also close the doors as the dying person makes their transition. End of life doulas reprocess the death with the friends and family of the departed, holding space for their grieving and lovingly guiding them though the process. A doula does not judge feelings, responses or behaviors. A doula opens the doors for moments of understanding, appreciation, healing and even transformation.
End of life doulas compliment care from hospitals, senior-care facilities and hospices, as well as fill in gaps that occur during the dying process. This work is quickly gaining popularity as we are understanding that the dying process holds so much more wisdom that we have been taught. People who are drawn to doulas at the end of life have a deep understanding that life and death have a place to be processed and witnessed with sacredness and compassion. They recognize that the dying process is not a medical event, but a spiritual transformation that has many ways to be honored more intentionally.
As we begin to remember more of who we are, there has been a rise in end of life care. So many people are understanding that they have a role to play during the dying process. An end of life doula is unique in their offers as each death is different, so is each doula. For the same reasons a family might hire a birth doula, is typically the same reasons they would hire a death doula. They understand there is a sacredness to death, and an end of life doula is there to support this. It can be through endless modalities that an end of life doula uses to serve. Some ways can be though helping families create vigils and legacy projects, sound healing, guided meditation, plant medicine facilitation, grief healing ceremonies, rituals and the list goes on.
My personal story with becoming an end of life doula can be traced back to my personal experience with death. At the age of 4 I had a near death experience that opened me to be a witness to death in different ways. At a young age I was aware of the guiding energy behind our human experience and have been intrigued with how it ties together with our “waking life.” At the age of 12 I began to volunteer at end of life care facilities. There was a magnetic energy within this space, and I found more life here than life ending. I was drawn to people approaching the end of life, and I was fortunate to be able to be in programs that allowed me to experience these spaces.
My work with the dying took a break at the age of eighteen, as I began a career as a finance and insurance manger within the motorcycle industry. I found this work to be rewarding in many ways, but always felt a pull to be doing something that aligned with my souls purpose.
During my high school years and into my twenties I dabbled within the psychedelic realms, as most young souls I was just exploring and utilizing the medicine for more of an experience rather than a way to heal and dive deeper into my consciousness. As I entered my late twenties early thirties I began to understand more about what these plant medicines were offering me and also to the collective. I began to facilitate ceremony journeys for others with my husband at the time. It was within the first ceremony that something came alive within me. Although this was the first time hosting a ceremony I found myself in an effortless state, and I was witnessing myself in ways that felt connected to what I wanted to create here on earth. It was profound and very rewarding and it was the beginning of unlocking the work of a death doula within me.
After a few years, and gaining more experience within the medicine space, it was time for my grandfather to transition. As I sat bed side with him, I once again found myself in that effortless state, cultivating and using all that I had learned up until that point. I found myself after his death in a state of awkward confusion as I felt I should be just grieving, but I also found myself yearning to do be in that space again. As the weeks went on after my grandfathers death, I was not sure how to combine and articulate these feelings. So I went back to just what I knew, hosting ceremonies and selling motorcycles. Until one morning, I was sitting in the parking lot of Whole Foods when my husband turned to me out of no where and said “have you ever considered becoming a DEATH DOULA?” Once those two words came out of his mouth,DEATH DOULA, I felt every cell in my body take a deep breath, a feeling rushed over me that I still can not describe. This was it, this was EVERYTHING I have always worked towards and now, it had a name!
The next week I put in my three months notice at the dealership that I had been working in for the last ten years, and began my certification process to become a Death Doula. The road was paved with synchronization, polarizing energy and a deep understanding that I was being initiated into something beyond everything that I have known thus far.
I became certified and began my work volunteering in hospices and eventually developing my own business. The work that I do with the dying continues to expand as I have created an online school, The Anam Cara Academy that certifies other death doulas as well as creating an end of life advanced directive and journal.
I want to share with you an experience I had with a client that I served during his time of transition. Our work began with him reaching out, and being very clear that although he was dying, he didn’t want to talk about death, but felt the need for me to be a part of his support. I often find each client has their own way of stepping into the dying process and respect the boundaries in which they are open to working. Our session looked like sound healing, breath work and guided meditations. Plant medicine would eventually play a role in our meetings however, this was not the start of our work.
I worked with this client for over six months, which I death doula world is a long time. We often work with families and patients during the immediate or close to immediate death. It was during these six months I was witnessing him becoming my teacher as well as me becoming his. I was witnessing him begin to show and teach me what the other side was like as he approached it. He was sometimes unaware of what he was showing me, as I just sat with him in silent moments but would be greeted by him on the other side. He was showing me the dance he was in, as he had one foot in the door of this earth, and another one in the spirit realm.
As time went on, plant medicine became at the forefront of what he was seeking to explore before his death. This particular ceremony was different than any other. As I grabbed his hand, he was showing me how to be a battery in that space. He was teaching me that a battery is a part of who we are as humans. It was a simple analogy that has followed me ever since, in every ceremony I always bring myself to what a batteries job is.To enhance the energy of a space with no expectations, but to be with what is. His personal experience with the medicine he held onto, and didn’t share too much with words about it and he quickly fell into the sleep states of the dying process. It was here we continued to meet in a non linear space, and he was showing me how he was becoming a light, and through the light he would become something else. These visions I had in his space continue to expand long after his death. Each soul that I have served has played a role in how I continue to hold space for others. It’s as if the energy compounds and expands with absolute no end in sight, at least this is the best way for me to describe it.
Over the last five years, I have witnessed the natural evolution and relationship between death and psychedelics. For me this makes perfect sense why one compliments the other. Psychedelics takes us to the realm of the unknown, it shows us how to flex our surrender muscles and teaches our nervous system how to sit within that space. With a proper and skillful guide who can create a safe and loving container as well as someone who can assist responsibly during and after the process, plant medicine has the opportunity to assist during times of grief and transition. The technology behind psychedelics is becoming a useful tool during the end of life.
There is a rise of scientific studies with plant medicine ranging from psilocybin, MDMA, 5-MeO-DMT, LSD and DMT and how it can alleviate pain, stress and anxiety associated with death.
Here is a link to some information and scientific studies that support this work.
There are endless ways that you can be of service to the dying, and I have outlined just a few. It is a my belief that there is a unique seed within every human that wants to be of service to the dying in specific ways. If you close your eyes and simply focus on your breath, and then ask yourself what your offering is, it will reveal itself to you. Having open conversations with others about death is a way in which we can better understand what it means to us and thus help us unlock the parts of us that most don’t dare to venture into. We are all death doulas in our own way. Life and death sit at the banquet table of your life and they both toast to you equally.
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Founder of The Anam Cara Academy and an End Of Life Doula, on a mission to RE-BRAND death.