In 2013 I was inspired to train as a Soul Midwife. Soul Midwives are holistic, non-medical, non-denominational practitioners and companions to those who are dying, and often their families too. We come from many walks of life, and we are all inspired to work with people to help them have the death they want – ie their own version of a “good” death. By getting to know someone, listening to their hopes and fears, we can explore how best to facilitate. We’re bound by a strict professional code of conduct.
This training, combined with my earlier experience as a Registered Nurse, meant that facilitating conversations about death and dying has become something of a passion. I’ve taught workshops, but I’ve also had chats over coffee with friends, where a simple piece of ancient wisdom later helped someone to make a difference when someone they loved was dying. All the skills I teach are based in ancient wisdom, and ultimately it is not a question of learning, it is a case of facilitating you to remember what you already know intuitively.
My training focused on gentle dying, and the workshops I’ve run for the last five years have offered people really simple ways of creating a calm, reassuring, loving space where someone can have a “good” death. We talk about the environment being soothing, we recommend advance planning, we show how a session of gentle touch can help relieve anxiety and make someone feel cherished, we look at what happens when we die, we explore deep listening without trying to “fix”, and we remind people how to vigil at the end of life. I know these days have made a difference to countless people from the feedback I’ve received from both professionals and “ordinary” (extra-ordinary…) people. What we have not developed so much is how to cope when you are barred from being with the person you love, and when death comes suddenly.
Life and death have both changed with the onset of Coronavirus. I have been deeply moved by stories from paramedics, nurses, doctors and carers who have suddenly become, more than ever before, the only people who are with others as they die. In previous times there was often time to involve families, but now loved ones are excluded because of Coronavirus. This is potentially traumatic to all involved.
There is a very down-to-earth article by Palliative Care doctor Kathryn Mannix explaining what may happen when people are admitted to hospital (click here.) Part of the video encourages people to have conversations NOW about what they would like to have happen should they suddenly become ill. This seems such a sensible idea, and I would definitely add my voice to that suggestion. I know it’s not easy to contemplate our own mortality, but it really does make decision-making so much easier for other people if they know your feelings on the matter. There are no right or wrong answers – it is equally valid to want all treatment irrespective of outcome in an effort to save you as deciding that you would rather stay home and take your chances. The important thing is that you make a record which can speak for you if necessary.
Explore making a Lasting Power of Attorney in Health and Welfare – click here
Learn about Advance Decisions – click here
Find out about making a ReSPECT declaration – click here
To read about Organ Donation (which will be assumed opt in, unless you opt out, though still with consultation with relatives where possible, from 20 May 2020) – click here
And above all, please talk to your loved ones so you all have a clear idea of each other’s wishes.
If you are living with the reality of trying to support someone who is dying, you may find some of these ideas helpful now.
Wherever possible, try to stay aware of the situation, enabling informed choices to be made. As above, it’s always easier if you’ve had conversations around various scenarios earlier on.
Creating a loving space in the room, focusing on what can be seen, heard, smelled, tasted and felt. A person’s senses are heightened near death, so we try to maintain a calm and gentle environment.
Gentle touch, or even simply holding a hand can be enormously comforting – if you have to use PPE, don’t let this be a barrier to your loving intention.
Remember that the sense of hearing is the last to go, so even if you are far from your loved one, or they are unconscious, you may be able to talk to them remotely, perhaps sharing your memories of good times together, playing music, reading poetry or saying prayers.
I love the Hawaiian practice of reconciliatian, the Ho’oponpono, which is a wonderful way of remembering the important things that can be said when there’s not much time left.
I forgive you
I love you
If you’re with them, tell your loved one when you’re going to leave the room, and when you will be back – it enables people to choose whether or not to die alone…professionals will tell you that this happens all the time…
Give your blessing to their dying – you could tell them how much you love them, that you will miss them, but that you will be ok, and it’s fine to go when they’re ready. This is a beautiful parting gift.
So much can be achieved by “presence” even remotely. Intention is everything, and love knows no boundaries ♥