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A conscious and loving approach to death and dying

My friends Christine and Helen are death doulas. They are nonmedical professionals who provide emotional, spiritual and informational support for those nearing the end of their lives, and also for their loved ones. They help people plan their deaths, and provide compassionate care at the end of life, no one dies alone. Doulas are independent beings who have no family baggage or other history with the person, and come in with an open heart and without judgment to support the dying in their transition.

Death can be an enlightening experience as there are many things that we don’t think about regarding death and dying. A death doula’s process with people supports us in dying more consciously, and can feel extremely liberating and lighten the end-of-life load.

A birth doula supports the mother and family in the beginning of life, and a death doula aids the end of life – both equally significant events. Emotional support, all kinds of information, how to navigate the health care world, planning and paperwork, education on the natural process of dying, after-death issues and grief support are just some of the tasks, depending on the situation and what the family may need.

I feel like death is a momentous occasion in anyone’s life, and should be treated with more intentionality and sacredness. Why not create a ceremony, a ritual, even a celebration? Why not prepare for our transitions, experience completion, happiness, and fulfillment in our final months and weeks. Why not practice for death?

Christine and Helen are flexible in what a person might need, and can work with us to achieve this. They can help create a vision, in five different domains that can enable us all to feel more comfortable with our ending. Some of these domains and some questions they may mention to us in our care planning are:

Physical body and physical environment questions – How would you like to be cared for physically in the last weeks, days, hours?

Emotional/relational life questions – If you had 3 months to live, what relationships in your life need healing and completion?

Spiritual life/beliefs/practices questions – Do you have spiritual beliefs? And If so, will they play a part in your death?

Mental/legacy/life purpose questions – What are you most proud of in your life, and how could you pass on any wisdom?

Practical questions – What would you like the arrangements after you die to look like?

Of course we can be free to think about/ponder any or all of these, or not. But it’s interesting to look at our deaths like this. It makes it more meaningful to me, and more valuable in these last few years. What has my life been about? How do I want things to be when, during, and after I pass?

Christine and Helen, at durangoendoflifedoulas.com, and Lola Montano, Hospice Nurse and leader of the Death Cafes, and I will be presenting a free community conversation at the Durango Public Library on April 20 at 2 p.m. called, A Conscious and Loving Approach to Death and Dying. It will focus on these ideas and how we can actually set in place some action steps we can take now in order to have a good death, a comfortable death, one that means something to us, and to our loved ones. A completion.

The end of life deserves as much beauty, care, and respect as the beginning. See you there!

Martha McClellan has lived in Durango since 1993 and has been an educator, consultant and writer. Reach her at mmm@bresnan.net.