I can say with certainty, I didn’t see it coming. The call to become a Death Doula was a gentle one, more a searching tap on the shoulder than loud trumpets or fanfare. Death, wrought with mystery and reeking of intense emotions, sits in the seat of promised impermanence and transition, a transition many of us don’t want to consider until we absolutely have to. While most acknowledge kindly the significance and importance of such a thing as helping individuals to embrace death and die consciously, the question “Why?” is often the very next I receive. I know enough about this question to recognize the reticence behind it. Why would anyone choose to put themselves so close to such a harsh reality as death? Why would anyone stand beside the suffering hearts of such intense loss and grief? Do I not see my own death as I stand in the face of another’s?
Beyond the well sown seed of wanting to help people, beyond sublimity, or the sheer goodness of heart, the answer reveals itself clearer to me the longer I sit with death in all the ways possible. By attending bedside, offering and sharing in ritual and ceremony, by having deep conversations about grief and loss, grieving in community, in doing life reviews to remember meaning, and even planning for what we want our death to look like, the answer lies in understanding death not to be the cruel termination of all we know and love, not for us or for the loved ones we’ve lost. Death is an invitation to bare and stand naked with the rawest parts of ourselves, the part that is scared, vulnerable, authentic, and real. It is an invitation to consider what truly holds us earthbound and attached. Is it our relationships, our families, our bodies, minds, looks, our titles, identities, our money, our past and future?
If we look closer, it’s not death that we are afraid of. It’s not having enough time to finish–finish our relationships, finish our dreams or experiences and living life as we have always wanted. Death in many ways is fearing abbreviated time and having regret that we didn’t do, feel, or heal all that we wanted. Death reminds us we are all in cycles, we grieve and have loss every day, not because it sucks to be human, but because we have understood and experienced love in all its intensity, pleasure, pain and joy. We cannot have love without loss and grief, just as we cannot truly live without embracing our death. We are a complex, colorful and impassioned lot, and our relationship with ourselves and with each other are the only thing that will matter to us in the end, did we do it the way we wanted? And if we didn’t, what would we have changed? I am trying to answer this for myself now. Can you? If you can, then you are seeing life through death’s eyes, and as of this moment, you still have time.
I am a death doula and I stand breath to breath with death. And in that death, I have the extreme privilege of seeing the enormous, jubilant life that person labored to create. I hear their story as told by the ones that loved them so completely, so absolutely, and I am overcome and humbled by it. This nourishment of love touches a familiarity we recognize in our own lives, a life trying to be lived in the full spectrum of color with emotions that burst and bloom in priceless memories. A life that seeks gratitude and meaning for all the heart-filled and heart-breaking stories it carries. This is what death offers, a daily invitation to remember what we have labored and loved for, what we have learned by doing so, and finally, what more do want with what we have left. Death encourages us to reveal our truest selves and share them with others as generously as possible. Fear is always nearby and embracing death does not mean letting go of fear. Embracing death means witnessing and participating, in full presence, every moment we live–ours and the ones we love. It is creating a life we want to manifest wholeheartedly, and exactly how we write the ending to our own story.