It was a beautiful day in late September; I was sitting upright on a rigid chair in my bedroom, watching the maple tree outside my window shed its rust-tinted leaves...I had entered my 39th year and the irony of the situation made me smile: I was in a virtual death doula classroom writing my obituary on my birthday!
Sarcasm and humour aside, I cannot think of a more perfect time to complete such a powerful and meaningful exercise. It perfectly sums up my journey, personal grief, and transformation over the past two years.
The practice of accompanying the dying, holding sacred space for their journey, and creating ceremonies within death are rituals that have been forgotten, lost in the hands of time. As a society, we have evolved to fear death. Henry Fresko-Weiss prefaced it perfectly in his book Finding Peace at the End of Life: “death is like a dark and painful family secret that we try to keep away.”
A death doula has the ability to break down the layers of fear and denial surrounding death by helping the dying individual find meaning in their life and creating a transformative experience infused with presence, dignity, and love. Death doulas may participate in advanced care planning, help build legacy projects, support family members in grief and bereavement, and hold vigil during the dying process.
An end-of-life doula engages in an open, honest dialogue about death while respecting the dying person’s journey and wishes. A doula may use guided imagery, therapeutic touch and music to normalize the dying process and death. Have you ever wondered what your death would look like? Have you ever stared at your reflection in the mirror and practiced gratitude for being present in that particular moment of time? As Morrie, the protagonist in Tuesdays with Morrie, wrote:
Once you learn how to die, you learn how to live.
A death doula has many roles but one that stands out in my mind is the ability to bring peace at the end of life to the dying and to their families.
I am ending this writing piece with my own obituary, written with presence, dignity and love towards myself and the person I have become while living a beautiful and meaningful life no matter how long or short it is meant to be.
She found peace - no longer chasing things,
Or passing judgment on herself, while
Searching for love and meaning.
She found peace - in her reflection,
Embraced the lines on her face,
Testament to her wisdom, strength and power.
She found peace - holding tiny hands in hers
Kissing scraped elbows, wiping tears away
Celebrating family milestones.
She found peace - singing a lullaby,
A story about two lonely volcanoes finding love,
Aloha spirit from above.
She found peace - teaching others
Math, Science, compassion, hard-work and love
Her legacy to her children.
She found peace - staring into the raven’s eyes,
Talking to birds and butterflies.
Weight of her footsteps in the ground - her moment.
She found peace - weeping with willow trees,
Confession hour in a field of wildflowers blooming in June.
She found peace - in writing rhymes - love letters to those who passed.
Captured in her mind’s eye by an immortal tree in the sky - her true north.
She found peace - in white roses blooming in September,
Knowing that death will take them in November.
She found peace - feeling her heart’s own beat.
Yet remained calloused and scarred,
From the time a piece of it was pulled out by the roots.
She found peace - in spiritual light
Captured in a book she wrote on life, death, forgiveness and self-love.
A meaningful gift sent from heaven with love.
Andreea Austen is an HHA death doula and IPLD candidate and a volunteer with Margaret Bahen Hospice and Doane House Hospice in Newmarket. Andreea explores the human capacity to find meaning within the process of dying, death, and grief by writing legacy poems that embrace spirituality and mindfulness.