A Chaplain's Reflections on Death Doula Training

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A chaplain in the Centura Health System and graduate of our End of Life Doula Certificate program shares this experience:

"As a hospital and hospice chaplain,  I am finding the tools and perspectives explored in the Death Doula training to be very helpful. While I have clinical perspectives that are at the forefront of my connections with patients, they are ‘rounded out’ by the existential and practical insights of the training.  

For example, a few days ago I was visiting with a palliative care patient in the hospital.  He has a new prognosis of less than a week to live, although he has been living well with cancer for years—what he didn’t know until last week was that it had metastasized to the point of no further treatment modalities EXCEPT hospice care.  The conversation with he and his wife was profound—they are grieving hard the loss of their life together and their new retirement status.  But the patient has done his work and so the opening was there and we went through the portal.  We talked about closure tasks, legacy needs, fears and anxieties.

We also talked about his dreams (his mother came to his dream last week—that’s how he knew he was in the last chapter and proceeded to find out about the mets).  We talked of comfort, of companionship, of what matters now and we honored his path.  When we finished, the couple seemed much more at peace, as we had leaned into the experience.  As we prayed and cried together, it was clear that this was a life well-lived, a time for quiet celebration.  As I visited with the palliative care physician a few hours later, the patient had been moved to our inpatient hospice and the doctor said that the work we had done together had put the patient’s mind at ease and he is now ready to move into this experience.  
I am so grateful for the training that includes the emphasis on self-care.  I was aware of my vulnerability and permeability after the day’s work."

With gratitude we share these words, as they name many of the foundational elements and practices covered in our death doula certificate program.  During the workshops and in working with the course materials beforehand, she prepared for this conversation, whether through the personal exploration of grief and the healing power of our grief ritual, the recognition of sacred portals, the discussions around practicalities of reaching closure, the consideration of unexplained events such as return of the ancestors through dreams, or the reflections around the comfort found in the presence of another, listening to the expression of fears about what is coming.  All of these activities in her training supported her in this conversation.

In fact, purpose of our certificate program is to educate caregivers in end of life care, self-care, reflection, and heart centered healing practices which increase caring literacy, enhance life and validate their challenging roles as medical and non-medical caring professionals.  We direct caregiver awareness toward the sacred transformative portal surrounding death and improve quality of life for caregivers and clients along the way.

Our end of life caring literacy program is NON-PROSCRIPTIVE. Students translate and incorporate skills and learning according to their own unique gifts and healing abilities. A basic premise of the program is that by transforming our own lives we stand in open awareness, compassion, and availability to support humanity to have a sacred death inside their own unique ethics and values. This program assumes that we learn everything we need to know as we grow in our own capacity to be fully present with people who are dying.

It invites us to explore our hopes and fears about dying in advance of the on-set of death. Exploring our relationship to death may increase self-knowledge. It may break down barriers between ourselves and others when we most need comfort, communion, trust and safety. When we explore our feelings and thoughts about death, we learn more about our lives now. We come in direct contact with our spiritual beliefs, our life’s purpose, our unfinished business, what our bodies need or want, how we influence and are influenced by our environment and our relationships. We build a foundation of confidence upon which we may then talk about life and death with others.

By becoming confident in our ability to talk about death we may have more influence on how we live and how we die. We might reduce harsh, costly interventions that threaten what we value most. We may reduce emotional and financial stress of our families, health care systems and nation. We might place our awareness and attention on our loved ones or on our spiritual life vs. living at any cost. We may be more available to life’s blessings, mysteries, miracles and unexplainable events.

Registration is open for programs in Micanopy (Gainesville), FL, Asheville, NC and Boulder, CO.