I used to be normal. “Normal” meaning I intentionally avoided the subject of death unless circumstances forced me to face it. Scottish families are not famous for sharing their feelings and mine was no different. We went about our daily lives, and I happily followed my expected path. HIgh school led to university, which led to work and travel. So far so good, right?
I fell into teaching really as a means of getting paid to live overseas. The holidays were great, and I had many varied and wonderful (some more varied than wonderful) experiences while living in Japan, Spain and Kenya.
Meanwhile though, there seemed to be an unsettlingly familiar thread running through (or slightly beneath) these years of freedom. At some point, perhaps in my late 20s or early 30s, I realized that there was a lot of dying happening around me. I was living and teaching in Kenya at this point, and there is a dark side to that beautiful country. During my 7 years, there seemed to be so many tragedies: fatal bus crashes, car jackings, home invasions, cerebral malaria, car wrecks, cancer…..And all of them directly impacting the schools and the students where I was teaching. I remember worrying that perhaps I was becoming immune to that sort of news…
Even before my 20s, I had already experienced the loss of several school friends to suicide or accidents. All of my grandparents had passed away before I turned 26, and it just kept on going! Just before my 40th birthday, with kids aged 2 and 4, my husband was diagnosed with acute leukemia. Shortly after that, my dear dad was diagnosed with colon cancer. By the age of 45 I had lost them both.
The purpose of this blog is NOT to simply give a litany of all of the losses in my life. We have all suffered losses in our lives.The purpose is to explain how I came to be here, in this moment, talking to you.
Through all of those experiences, I think I acted, and reacted, in much the same way. Denial. All the way. Denial right up until moments before the end finally came, then a grudging acceptance. Maybe. Afterwards, a grim determination to pick myself up, go back to work, take care of my kids, and generally get on with my life. Business as usual. Best not to dwell on it and all that…
Since I started volunteering at Hospice last year, it has become abundantly clear to me that it is time I face those losses and figure out a better way of dealing with death and the pain that goes along with it, passing on to others everything I have learned. Now, through my work as a death doula (we can call it “end of life doula” if the ‘D’ word is too blunt) my commitment is to help other families through their own time of crisis. This will involve lots of listening, some practical suggestions, a wee bit of coaching, and even some laughter. Most of all, I hope it will involve opening a dialogue about death. There, I said the word.
The act of dying is much like the act of childbirth. Once it has begun, there is no going back. So we might as well meet it head on, right? Parents often spend months planning and preparing for the arrival of their child, it seems only right that we honour death too.
Woody Allen once said “I’m not afraid of death, I just don’t want to be there when it happens”
If you would like to learn more, please contact me. I look forward to hearing from you.