When people used to ask me whether I am ready to retire, I often reply with “Oh, I am not going to retire; I plan to die at my desk." Sometimes I get laughter, sometimes shock and awe, sometimes people look at me with wide eyes and respond with comments like, “Oh, how morbid!” or “I guess you really must love your job.” People see my aging face and snowy white hair, and they assume that I am of age to retire, so I must be ready…and so they ask.
Before taking HHA's death doula certificate program, I would never have asked someone if they are ready to die. I could have only imagined what emotions a question like that would bring up, or what the response would be. This could include jesting with humour: “Ummm not really…you dig any holes out back lately?” Another common response is “What kind of question is that?!” asked in horror.
I have always taken an interest in the act of dying. When I was younger living on a farm, I witnessed animals dying due to illness or injury, a sick cow or mother sow who did not latch. Sometimes nature got the best of the wild animals, and I would witness it when a garden snake snatched up a frog. What interested me the most was the compassion that I felt at a young age for sick and dying animals, whether they were from the farm, from the forest or a pet in the house. There are many variations to show compassion to all types of life.
As I aged into my teen years, coming from a small community, we attended many funerals and wakes. Once every few months for someone’s grandparent, family friend, neighbour, etc. There were some that ended in tragedy and some that ended “just when they wanted.” All the services had the same thing in common that I felt as a young child growing up. The overwhelming amount of compassion pouring into one room and filling the hearts of grieving families.
My current studies have nurtured my compassionate side with added elements of grace and tact. Reading assignments like the books Dying Well or Tuesdays with Morrie brought me a deeper understanding of compassion. Attending guest speaker sessions to learn all that I can learn about how to support those who are dying and their families has honed my skills. Having group discussions with other doulas and listening to their stories have given me lessons and teachings to draw from. Finally and most of all, being part of this community…feels right.
So now, when I am asked if I am ready to retire, I often reply back with “I will wait to see how busy I get with my death doula work; that will be the deciding factor.” Intrigued, they ask “death doula?” So, I go into my practiced speech: “As a practicing death doula, I will support those who would like to choose how they die and support their families, etc.” Many people respond with, “Wow, that’s amazing!” or “I didn’t even know that existed.”
Now, I get to fill the gap of awareness of this practice and this course by that one simple question and answer. Oh...and at the end of the conversation, I like to end it with “and if that doesn’t work out…I’d like to die at my desk.” 🙂
Anyone interested in becoming death doula can register for HHA's death doula certificate program here. The next available training weekend is April 19-21, 2024.
Crystal Bernard is a graduate of HHA's death doula certificate program.