Sunday, May 2, 2010

Exquisite Witness...

Merry Meet Family and Friends:

This weekend marked a growth spurt, of sorts, for me. Firstly, Friday, April 30th, was my birthday. As I mentioned earlier, I celebrated in a most unusual way. Instead of the traditional cakes and candles, I began my training to become certified as an "End of Life" Doula.

A "Doula" is typically someone who provides emotional support to laboring mothers. An "End of Life" Doula is someone who assists in the emotional and spiritual transition of someone who is approaching the end of their physical life. In essence, I celebrated the beginning of my life learning how to assist the dying in the last moments of theirs.

This wasn't the only milestone I'd reached however. This Sunday morning past, I took my first solo trip to New York City. I know there are people for whom this is a natural occurrence. They travel there for business or pleasure. For them, hopping on a train or bus is merely part of their daily routine. For me however, this was a major accomplishment in my quest towards independence!

On occasions when I do go into the City, I'm usually traveling with my husband, who is more willing to brave the traffic. This Sunday however, he needed to work and I needed to be at my workshop, so I was on my own. I have to say, it was both exhilarating and nerve-wracking all at the same time. With each leg of my journey however, from catching train here at home, to transferring trains at the next stop and finally arriving at New York Penn Station, I felt more empowered!

The course itself however, proved to be much more emotionally challenging than I'd anticipated. We were asked to share the memories of our most significant losses, describing in depth the feelings associated with them. I found myself reliving my sister's death in vivid detail, weeping openly as I shared much of the grief that I believed had long since passed. I soon realized that there were still some wounds that were not well healed.

We were then asked to enter a meditative state and imagine how we would feel if we had just learned that we were facing death. Who would we want to share the news with. What would we want to do before we died? What plans did we want carried out? Were we frightened by the thought of dying? As you might imagine, there was nothing at all fun about this exercise!

I learned that I wasn't afraid of dying. I was more concerned with leaving! Would Ray be able to raise my children alone? How would my death effect them? What about my animals! "Fuck this!", I thought. I'm just not going!" I was then struck with a profound sadness that left me exhausted and feeling that perhaps this might not be right for me. Although I certainly have had enough experience with death and dying, this brought it to a whole new level of personal intensity.

Then we talked about what it meant to be an "exquisite witness". To be truly present in the moment of death. It's not simply being there as a life slips away, but a personal ritual celebrating all the cherished moments that this person lived. It's about helping the patient and family create a "vigil plan" to be carried out in the last moments of life and to bring peaceful closure. It's both exquisitely beautiful, yet heart-wrenchingly sorrowful. Hence the name.

The instructor explained that the "End of Life" Doula program is only a pilot program and not offered everywhere. It is a complimentary service provided by select hospice programs in New York and New Jersey. The course was not inexpensive and I was disappointed that I might be training for something I wouldn't have the opportunity to practice. Then he went on to mention that the hospital that he works for in New Jersey offered a Doula Program.

At that point I raised my hand and asked, "do you mind if I ask what hospital you work for in New Jersey?" He responded, "I work for Valley Health Systems" "Valley Hospital? In Ridgewood, New Jersey? Where I live!" Ahhh, ya just gotta love the synchronicity of life!

A friend of mine wrote me yesterday with these words of encouragement...

"It is a awe-inspiring gift to work as what I call, a "Shadow Walker." However, it comes with it's own balance, sense of timing and does not surprise, since you are the Dark mother's child, you are called to it".

And, while I questioned whether I have the strength to be present when a life ends, it is this strength, this courage born of healing from my own personal experiences that has brought me to this place. I have no doubt it will serve me well. So, when I am called to be a "witness" to this soul's new beginning, I will be honored.

In Darkness, Light!



Rue said...

Wow - this sounds like an intense course - but how rewarding! It takes a special person to be at the bedside during someone's passing. My best friend was in end-stage care for a while and it really touched her. She felt honoured just to be there.

I hope that this is something that will bring you a paycheque as well as the gift of sharing in this significant stage of someone's life. Good for you!

Deborah said...

I am glad you're finding it's difficult; that means it's real. You shouldn't skim over it.

And I think the traveling is not unrelated to the doula work. You should own the *living* part of your life as well as the dying. :)

Tracy ~ The UnOfficial Witch of Ridgewood said...

Rue and Deb,

It is very intense work. It truly encourages you to face your own issues related to death and dying and to center yourself in the moment.

I don't think the traveling is unrelated either. I definitely enjoyed owning this part of living, despite the fact that, at first, I was scared to death! :)

SeeThroughGreen said...

you will be amazing. no if's and's or but's about it.
I know just from reading your blog that people will not feel as scared, as alone or as lost as they would have had you not been there with them. I do believe that your losses will help you on this journey and you will be able to relate more easily to the people and families around you because of it.
Keep us posted! have a cyber hug :)