“Everything’s important and nothing really matters.”
This is the message relayed to me by my dear friend and brother before he died. A paradoxical statement creating a still point where we sit and witness. In my attempt to give him merely a glimpse of how his life is reflected in mine, I produced a song.
Composed by singer and songwriter Jay Brown [another dear friend and brother]. In his composition he carried the message a step further…
“Go on and take your swings in life, we’re born to be the batters…”
We sang and recorded this song, giving it to my friend Tom in the last month of his life here. As Tom and I listened together, he wept tears of joy at the reflection of a life well lived. And so I wept also, grateful for the gift.
As you reflect upon this music, you may ask yourself, does the essence of my life reflect a beautiful song? If so, who will sing it?
To serve [Doula] those who will allow my presence as a faithful witness, I realize that my life’s work here, is that I am simply a sacred man who is preparing to die.
~Big Tom’s Song~
- Song Title: “Mountain of a Man”
- Composer/Guitar/Vocals: Jay Brown
- Producer/Vocals: Greg Lathrop
- Technical Producer: Jason Hebal
In November of 2016, Greg was interviewed by BBC World Service, to share his experiences of supporting Tom as an End of Life Doula. The framework of the interview was this: How should we approach death? Some people diagnoses with terminal diseases are beginning to follow a template set by mothers in child birth. One increasingly popular option for them, particularly in the west, is to have what's called a doula: a person who acts as their emotional and physical support and who advocates and intervenes on their behalf to the medical staff. Now comes the idea of Death doulas: people who support those approaching the end of their lives.
As a death doula, here is some of what Greg had to say:
"I am registered nurse by license and I worked in hospice for a long time.
… I think that a Death doula, it's not complicated. It's probably so old that it looks new. … the training of doulas for this stage of life revolves a lot around transformation of the care giver. What happens is that in my experience there is an opportunity to have someone who is willing to stand really close to you, not in front of you, but actually my vision of it is stand really close to Tom, but just a little bit behind. I'm not trying to lead him in any direction, I'm not trying to teach him or even guide him but I am here to walk with him. So it's about emptiness. A lot of the work in doulaship is emptying myself so I can be with Tom without bringing my own assumptions, my own doubts, my own fears, and really just to sit with him in what I hope to be the most conscious presence available.
I think there are a lot of similarities with birth doulas and doulas who are working in the dying phases of life. There is the labor of death as well, and there is that relationship or liaisonship between Tom, not just the medical world but really also with those who are in Tom's life who don't have a clear picture either about what this looks like or what this may look like. They bring their own fears, I think you might agree that often those who are closet to us in our own families and friends if they are not comfortable with this topic, which is really quite a common thing - at least in this part of the world where we are, they will actually avoid it quite often, and what I notice is related to that fear and that doubt of even being able to engage is the conversation. What happens is, there are a lot of assumptions that are made and a lot of ideas about what Tom should do."
Listen to the full interview here.