By Zita Xavier
The atmosphere of the room is pregnant. Soft music plays as a candle flickers. Fragrance of a blossom wafts by. We are watching. The chest rises and falls ever so slightly. Now the breaths are further apart. And then, and then, there is an exhale…..minutes pass and no more breaths come. There is a luminous presence in the room. The body looks radiant. We look up at each other in tender wonder, completely swept into the Mystery. We are transformed. Death is real. The reality of it hits us. We too will die. Wow. People come. There is soft weeping and whispered prayers. Together with our end of life Doula, we adorn the body with flowers, and sit together, surprised by the power and beauty of it all.
The spectrum of death experiences is vast. Too many are horrific, impersonal deaths. The last experiences are of being hooked up to tubes and noisy machines in a sterile harsh environment until the machine flat lines. Then the corpse is hauled off to the morgue and the room prepared for the next patient. Such a contrast to the possibility of the beautiful death experience guided by an end of life Doula.
Eighty percent of people say they’d like to die at home. But the fact is, sixty percent die in acute care in the hospital. Why?
As a culture we are largely in denial of the fact that we all die. One presenter reported starting a talk by asking, “Who here is going to die?” Only thirty percent of the hands went up.
This is a relatively new phenomenon. In the past, nearly all our ancestors died at home. Families attended the sick, prepared the body, conducted the ritual, and dug the grave. Families a few generations ago were larger so there were more hands to do the work of care giving. Life for our ancestors was largely agricultural, and included raising and slaughtering animals. Closer to the earth, and closer to the source of food, death was a normal part of living.
Fast forward to our current age. Sickness and death are attended to by strangers in hospitals. The normalcy of dying is out of sight so much so that people are in out-right denial or in paralyzed fear around dying. The culture promotes youth at any cost; elders are taken away from family life into institutions. Few of us actively see and participate in the messier parts of life: birth, old age, illness, and death—except of course our own.
This has resulted in a health care system where costs are out of control, and a huge percentage of all medical expenses are incurred in the last three months of life. What could be a time of a beautiful completion and recapitulation of one’s life is instead a frantic quest for the latest miracle drug, and futile surgeries followed by painful attempts at recovery in an atmosphere where there is little opportunity for uninterrupted rest.
So each of us, raised in this culture, are little prepared to support our loved ones as they die. We approach death with trepidation, deny it as long as we can, and are expected to be back to normal and back to work after a couple weeks. We are woefully unprepared for our own inevitable passing.
Death can be a beautiful and transformative experience for everyone involved. It can be a natural flowing to freedom. Being with the truth of death informs us how to live, what is really important, and the preciousness of each and every ordinary moment.
There is a giant gulf from where we are as a culture, and the possibility of this view. How do we cross?
Tarron Estes, founder of the Conscious Dying Institute, has made it her life’s work to change the culture of death and dying. Each course is designed to help you face your own fears around death and develop skill sets to assist others through the dying process—to help them to have the best possible death.
Imagine that you are the calm, serene presence in the room at the time of dying. Imagine that you are the one holding the space, able to skillfully support families and the dying person as they pass through this portal. Imagine that death is returned to its rightful place as a sacred and holy transformative process. Imagine that you are part of the movement to change our health care system to provide the opportunity for everyone to come to a conscious completion of their life, leaving a legacy for their loved ones of what they learned, how they’ve loved, and how they’ve given.
This is the path of the end of life Doula, an honored, holy and necessary career choice for our times. Join us for our trainings this fall.