by Jeffrey Markel
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. Looking back I realize that for seven years after his death I was in denial. A denial of my memories and feelings.
As long as the incident remained unacknowledged I did not have to deal with the emotional aftermath. Then I met my friend John. He had lost his father at about the same time and had dealt with it as I had—in denial. Two fatherless young men found in each other someone who understood. We shared our feelings, our fears and our story. Through that experience I became a person who could talk about our fathers’ deaths and relished the opportunity. It was an unburdening of the burden of needing to avoid the subject, to hope that it didn’t come up and the need to keep my family history at bay.
With the heavy load lifted I became the man with the experience of death. When someone in my circle had a loss I was the one who could relate. I was the one who had a sense of what needed to be done and what needed to be said.
When there was impending loss I was able to comfort the family and share some of the basics. Show compassionate towards others and yourself, share experiences and stay present.
I found myself gravitating to be there for my friends and family when death was about to occur or had recently happened. There was a depth of experience that a passing afforded that everyday life did not. It cut through the noise and the need for distraction and promoted more honesty. Someone was dying and the air was alive.
It was part of my maturation and a principle part of becoming a man, an adult. There are very few rituals in life. Birth, death and marriage come to mind. To be present at any of those is an honor and a privilege. There is the opportunity to feel joy, fear, sadness and anger in ways that are deep and memorable. I take advantage of these opportunities because I remember how lost I felt when I was in denial.
A movement is emerging around how we die. The movement speaks to choice in how we die. It brings presence and personal power to a time when often we have subjugated our decisions and powers to people who don’t know us and don’t have the time to be present with us. It allows us to be decision makers in our own death. It allows us to choose who we want to be with us, where we want to be and how we want it to feel. It allows dying to be one of the best times of our lives.
This movement often invites Death Doulas into the process. They are there to support each person and their process in a way that Birth Doulas support the entrance of a child. Birth and death are on the same wheel and a knowledgeable and helping hand can make a valuable contribution.
The Conscious Dying Institute was created to train Death Doulas.
Over eight days in two separate trainings you will receive guidance from experts in the field. You will enter into a sacred bond with a group of dedicated individuals who feel the calling to this deep and valuable service to families and communities in need. That in itself is reason enough develop these capacities and yet there is more.
There is a knowing that you are doing significant work and your offering will touch many people in ways that cannot be predicted but will be remembered. It will change you. You will see the world differently. You will be motivated by service and love. You will be committed to a higher purpose.