In less than two months, I will take my first steps to join the growing numbers of conscious-death practitioners in North America. I will enter this privileged position as a Sacred Passage End-of-Life Doula trained and certified, by the host of this blog, the Conscious Dying Institute.
Like those before me, I come to this rich opportunity to serve the dying and their families through life experiences that are distinctly my own. Yet, with this training, I am joining a collective of peers and future colleagues with whom I imagine I already share something quite profound: a comfort with mystery.
Creative ways of exploring death and dying in our community was the theme of the gathering where I met Grigsby and Anne a year ago. They were a notable couple: Grigsby, a tall, slender, intelligent, poised male - a Yale-trained historian and Jungian philosopher and Anne, a beautiful, eloquent and thoughtful woman – a former counselor. Recently, I had the honor of bearing witness to Grigsby’s dying process, an experience that has deeply impacted my thoughts about end-of-life care. Grigsby chose to consciously approach the end of his life with strength, equanimity, courage, honesty and mindfulness, with little medical intervention from the time of a terminal diagnosis until his death in his own home seven weeks later.
How do we communicate in our culture about the end of life?
A leading Hospice Society – “Hospice is about living. Hospice strives to bring quality of life and comfort to each patient and their family. Our successes are in helping a patient and family live fully until the end. Often patients will feel better with good pain and symptom management. Hospice is an experience of care and support, different from any other type of care.”
A leading Cancer Society – “Learning that you have advanced disease growing and not responding to treatment – may make you feel lost and afraid. At this point, you know that the cancer is not going away and the time you have left to live probably is limited. But knowing what to expect and being prepared to deal with it can enable you to get the support and care you need so you can have the very best quality of life possible.”
These expressions of how to be supportive at the end of life from both organizations is very closely aligned. At the Conscious Dying Institute, we recognize that the end of life is a special time whose depth can transcend all involved regardless of training and approach.
In last week’s blog, we explored the concept of practicing for death …. a concept we present in the first segment of the Conscious Dying Institute’s End of Life Doula Certificate program. The name of this first segment is: Conscious Dying Practices For Awakening NOW! Along with a focus on awakening, awakening to our innate healing gifts and talents, awakening to the power of bold inquiry, awakening to the gift of presence, there’s quite an emphasis on practices, and not only our own practice for death meditation featured last week.
In keeping with one of the Conscious Dying Principles developed by Founder, Tarron Estes, “Honor other’s beliefs while staying true to your own,” our death doula training program introduces practices from many traditions. Read on to lift your spirit with words and practices from other wisdom traditions.
In the first segment of the Conscious Dying Institute’s End of Life Doula Certificate program, students experience an immersion in preparing the self as a healing environment. As such, we focus on self-care and nurturance, connecting to individual healing gifts, establishing and re-establishing a sense of purpose, and deepening awareness of our own desires, wishes and beliefs about end of life….. and in particular, our own end of life. We do this through practice…..lots and lots of practice, with students participating in breath practice, communication technique practice, movement practice, and many other tools of the trade.
I’ve been asked many times what it was that sparked my fascination with all things deathly since 2012. Everyone has a different answer to this question – some begin exploring when they, because of age or perhaps a diagnosis, become face-to-face with their own mortality. Others, because they were left feeling unsettled after a bad experience with the death of a loved one. Still others intrinsically know that we need to retrieve the “old ways”, the knowledge and practice of folding death back into the arms of a family or community.
For me, it was a gradual waking up to realize that we had it wrong in North America.
To be trained and certified by the Conscious Dying Institute places you as a participant in the movement to Restore Death to its Sacred Place in the Beauty, Mystery and Celebration of Life, Create a New Wisdom-Based Culture of Care and Healing and Contribute to the Evolution of Human Consciousness.
Training represents a prime opportunity to expand your knowledge and skills. Skills that will be useful-- as we are all destined to be touched by death. Through shared learning and practice, End of Life Doulas elevate the experience of deathing. They learn to surrender and trust deeply in each moment. The rich, intensive, life-evoking training graduates receive prepares them to be supportive end of life companions who offer comforting healing care guided by what people want and need most.
My father died when I was seventeen years old. I was young and the thought that my dad would die never entered my mind. It might not have entered his and it certainly did not enter the minds of anyone who knew him. He was healthy, handsome and hearty.
When he died of a heart attack there was shock. He was forty three years old with a wife and two children at home. He passed in the middle of the night with EMTs, blinking red lights and a neighborhood that was awakened from its slumber. Walls were punched, screams were let loose and tears flowed.
I am about to celebrate my seventieth birthday and have survived my own heart attack.
This week we continue with the conclusion of Dr. Matthew Wilburn King's story about learning from death and illness as a teacher. "Death and disease are not enemies; both can be great friends on our journey through life. We should embrace them." We publish this with gratitude for Matthew, and for all the caregivers serving those walking with death.
The trainings at the Conscious Dying Institute offer the possibility of facing our own fears of death and gaining skills to be really present and helpful to others and their families as they pass through their last days. This is a healing path, the sacred work of being an End of Life Doula. Trainings offered in Boulder, Vancouver, Asheville, Gainesville.
I knew I was going to meet the angel of death prior to his visit.
At first I felt trepidation and angst. I didn’t know what to expect from such a powerful spirit, but I knew that he might be coming to collect me, even if I wasn’t ready to go.
I had been diagnosed with Stage IVB of a rare blood cancer, and although my oncologist couldn’t state if I was going to live or die, he made clear that I had a 15 percent chance of survival. In other words, 85 percent of the people diagnosed at the same time as me with this rare blood cancer are now dead.
There is a lot for me learn about who I am. Part of that learning comes from looking back in time and exploring how I feel about the loss of loved ones.
My dad died when I was seventeen. For the last fifty three years I have carried a memory of who he was and wondered what we could have become together. My Uncle Max, who was his best friend, and I had some wonderful conversations about who my Dad was and what he meant to both of us. I am indebted to Uncle Max for giving me a fuller picture of the man who was my father. I cherish those conversations, memories and have some understanding about how they have shaped my present day thoughts and behaviors. Understanding that I needed someone to answer my questions about my father, and how helpful it was, had a bearing on the step that my buddy Mike and I recently took.......
The Sacred Passage Doula Certificate Program prepares caregivers from all disciplines and care settings to befriend death, surrender and trust deeply in each moment and restore death to its sacred place in the beauty, mystery and celebration of life. It builds communities of care and healing, benefiting all those involved in care and healing during critical illness and at end of life.
End of Life Doula Education supports achieving the "Triple Aim" in Healthcare by focusing on Care and Healing at End of Life
The IHI Triple Aim is a framework developed by the Institute for Healthcare Improvement that describes an approach to optimizing health system performance. Conscious Dying Education and Care answers the national, ethical, and cultural imperatives to develop new designs for health at end of life --simultaneously pursuing three dimensions identified by IHI-- called the “Triple Aim”:
Improving the patient experience of care (including quality and satisfaction);
Improving the health of populations (systems, cities, organizations, families, communities)
Spike entered our course with an enormous depth of heart, excellent communication, authentic loving healing presence and years of life experience in the realm of Spiritual Awakening. Even before we knew he was dying, he became our class Beloved as he shared his truth, understanding, and personal experiences during our time together. It was not until our last day together that we discovered that Stephen's heart, his physical beating heart, may stop beating in less than 2 years.
Read this beautiful story of his journey, of the courageous and remarkable task of self-healing before death, and what it was like for a man with a terminal diagnosis to receive the end of life care and education offered in this course.
Most of us have had the raw and devastating experience of The Diagnosis: the harsh news that Death is coming to claim our loved one. In an instant our lives are turned up-side-down. Our stress level blows the top off the meter. We may be frozen in shock or in the free fall of tumultuous emotions which challenge our mental and physical health and make it impossible to carry on with daily life.
The human being on the other side of the desk, the doctor--the one tasked with delivering the horrible news--is also suffering. Besides not having had much if any training in end of life conversations, the average doctor is scheduled to see the next patient in less than 15 minutes.
“We are supposed to see more patients in less time and provide much more documentation. We work daily with human tragedy, illness, death, and loss. Many of us don’t take time off or debrief after adverse events or patient deaths. Instead, we move on to the next patient. It’s no wonder that more than half of physicians report being burned out,” said Joan M. Anzia, MD.
Burnout is characterized by exhaustion, cynicism, and reduced effectiveness—unhappy, stressed out doctors. Physician burnout has been shown to negatively influence quality of care, patient safety, and patient satisfaction.
Let’s face it. We are not well prepared as a culture to deal well with end of life care and the difficult conversations which must be had. The cultural emphasis on youth and the fear of old age and death pervade even the medical establishment.
... The trainings at the Conscious Dying Institute offer the possibility of facing into our own fears of Death, and gaining some resilience to be able to be really present and helpful to others and their families as they pass through their last days. When we are called to the sacred work of being a Death Doula, we are called to confront the Mother of all fears, Death. How can we help those dying to navigate the enormity of their terror once the specter of their own Death is staring them in the face?
The end has been pronounced. The truth is a razor sharp knife that cuts through your mind and heart. It’s sliced through the dream of seemingly endless days and destroyed it. Ten thousand tumultuous emotions are waging war within you—along with the battle your body is clearly losing. You are lost. Your friends and family too are lost in fields of shock, disbelief, grief, helplessness, anger and loss.
“It’s not fair! Why me? I’m not done yet! I never got to….I just….Please give me a little more time….I promise I’ll….Oh Nooooooo!”
With all the loud inner voices demanding this truth not be real, how is it possible to go on?
“How can I do this thing no one has taught me to do before?”
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.
Join one of the top 10 fastest growing jobs in the country while being part of a revolutionary movement to restore death to its sacred place within our homes and communities.
What if your next career gave you an endless flow of meaningful passionate work based in Human Caring and in undeniable facts of life?
What we know for certain: 100% of everyone ever born will die. Each of us needs support in doing both with love, comfort, and dignity.
What if you could support your community or receive comforting healing care during death’s profound transitions in more natural, loving and less medical ways?
While our culture celebrates beginning of life and values Mid-wives and Birth Doulas, we are often unprepared for the gifts of life’s final days, lacking the support to receive death’s transformational portal and care guided by the spiritual, emotional, physical and practical care patients and families want and need.
Conscious Dying Institute (CDI) is paving a new path in the realm of end of life (EOL) care; one emerging from awareness, humanity, dignity, caring consciousness, and a return to the sacred. The purpose herein is to discuss the emerging theoretical perspectives of CDI and to address their implications for broadening the scope of nursing and EOL care.
To our graduates and doulas in practice: thank you for all you do! We found Judy MacDonald Johnston's 5 practices for planning for a good end of life a wonderful, accessible perspective on the work we do.
Caregivers encompass uncountable numbers of an often poorly educated workforce who take care of our loved ones when we cannot. These caregivers live in our communities. They become a part of our homes and families. Increasing caring literacy for these medical and non-medical caring professionals is a way to give back. It provides a career path that not only stabilizes caregivers in the fundamental science and stages of dying, but it may increase spiritual awareness, loving kindness to self and other, and overall sense of well being as well.
Increasing end of life literacy may positively influence the patient’s experience of care, decreasing pain and suffering in our communities. It may expand our understanding of “do no harm”. In our time of deepest vulnerability, frailty, and dependence, caring literacy protects all of us.
Most caregivers attending at end of life bear witness to mysterious and unexplainable events that happen around the dying process. Most of these events have a feeling of awe and mystery. They deserve our respect. They deserve to be shared and acknowledged.