By John Wadsworth | Art of Dying
“My work is based on this principle: That when we experience care, love and healing, the nature of our heart is to give back what we have received.”
I grew up in a Tennessee town of 1,200 people, a community where everyone showed up for births, weddings, deaths and funerals. At an early age I was witnessing these sacred transitions and felt comfortable being a part of them. My mother was a natural caregiver. Throughout my childhood I went with her as she visited people who were sick or dying. My best friend’s parents owned a funeral home. I watched her dad embalm bodies. I helped families prepare meals for after the funeral. I saw families in the parlor, praying on their knees, grieving.
Today we’re living in a death denying culture where most of us have never expressed pain, grief, sadness, anger, or fear. We have no idea what we have lost by living in a culture where grief is rarely fully expressed. Grief is a primary means of re-setting, re-wiring and calming our nervous system to inner peace.
People come to learn how to be with people who are dying, but it’s essentially about all human-to-human connection. I founded the Conscious Dying Institute as an end-of-life doula education and healthcare training organization that expands the innate healing presence of frontline caregiving. Our programs instill the confidence to have end-of-life conversations, while preparing doulas who offer multi-dimensioned healing care to patients in hospices, senior communities, and large healthcare systems across the United States and Canada.
Though palliative and hospice care are a part of most major hospital system practices, most medically based caregivers have neither the time nor training to support the patient beyond pharmaceutical pain management. The doula care model enhances support to patients and their families through dedicated attention to emotional and spiritual dimensions of the death experience.
Doula education is a grassroots movement like natural birthing was decades ago. There are probably more people training to become a doula than there are people who know that end-of-life doulas exist. We are creating a “Doula Careforce” that will respond to the growing desire for conscious and natural ways to die. Death is finally being integrated into a holistic way of life.
“People who are drawn to this calling are like moths drawn to a flame.”
My work is based on this principle: When we experience care, love and healing, the nature of our heart is to give back what we have received.
The doula learns to give in ways we all used to give to one another when we were living closer together, when families and neighbors were connected. It’s the gift of creating a healing environment. We can always make it better.
People come to learn how to be with people who are dying, but it’s essentially about human-to-human connection in all circumstances. Students complete our training and can better communicate with family and friends. End-of-life communication is about elevating human-to-human communication in all circumstances.
My program cultivates sensitivity to the myriad of energies surrounding death. My students learn to provide emotional and spiritual support as stewards of conscious living and conscious dying. We learn the importance of authentic presence and of integrating the unexpected revelations that death always brings.
Learned Practices at Conscious Dying Institute
I teach a practice called “Reading the Field.” Reading the Field heightens a doula’s sensitivity to changes in their patient and environment. Reading the Field allows a doula to enter subtle energy realms that expand awareness of how best to perceive and support a person’s death process.
People who are drawn to this calling are like moths drawn to a flame. The flame is our work in that precious last few hours when the veil is lifting, revealing the transformational portal of death. The moth is the doula who is drawn to these moments when they share the rarified, exquisite subtle energy field of the person who is moving from form to formlessness.
Another practice I call “Witnessing the In-Between.” This is a time when the dying are between worlds, a little ways off-shore, but not fully launched on their voyage to the other world. The doula knows how to relax into this period when we don’t know when the final moment - the last breath - will happen. Doulas learn to invite loved ones to witness the beautiful experiences that take place during this “in-between time.”
Our doulas are also trained to protect the time of crossing over, to “Gate Keep.” Every person has a different labor of breath that lasts as long as it takes to get them from where they are to where they need to be. The doula knows from the patient’s breath when there is no turning back. The doula protects the dying from unnecessary measurements of pulse and other vital signs. It is essential that the dying’s energy be allowed to flow, that the dying be allowed to fully launch. The body and breath will do the work of departing no matter what we may do or not do. There are no mistakes. Every death is unique.
I call the last subtle energy realm, “Breaking Into The Light.” This is the time when, as all major religions teach, the dying person leaves their body and enters an exquisite light field. If the doula feels drawn, he or she can center awareness in their third eye, toward the pineal gland, and open themselves to the beautiful promise of entering that light-field with their patient.
The last three months of life are generally an awkward time when nobody knows what to say. When told they are terminally ill, most people fixate on how to stay alive. This is so human. We are wired for survival. And the medical system is a great partner in this realm. Yet while we are surviving, no one asks why we want to live longer. No one asks us about our essential well-being or objectively assesses the quality of the extra life gained. Those who choose another round of chemo or surgery can suffer so much from the treatments that they lose sight of what they wanted to live for.
An important question is if the person is in pain. Often, the dying person isn’t suffering. Often we decide to medicate the dying person because we cannot tolerate what’s going on within ourselves.
Program and Personal Development
I have developed a “Best Life Care for Best Three Months of Life” training model where we ask questions about our priorities, as though we have three months to live. We expand the timeline around what we call death and dying, allowing people the opportunity to fulfill what they care about and value most in a longer period of time - while they have enough physical and mental energy to do what they desire to do. We help people identify the steps that they would take to move from their current reality to a realized vision of their spiritual life goal. Maybe they’re not the best months of their life but they are the best last months they could possibly have.
The “Sacred Passage: End of Life Doula” certificate training, if integrated into system training, would be tremendously effective to help achieve what everyone wants: an improvement in patient care and satisfaction; a decrease in cost around the last three months of life; and an enriching increase in staff satisfaction through elevating their calling to that of a spiritual practice.
The Conscious Dying Institute furthers the evolution of human consciousness through restoring death to its sacred place in the beauty, mystery, and celebration of life.
View the article in Art of Dying