As I reflect on the beginning of my journey toward living well until I die, I am overwhelmingly grateful for the inspiration I have received from Francesca, the course content and many amazing contributors, and from my peers. I have learned so much, and have so much to learn. Most of all, I feel that I have once again found what Buddhists call “right livelihood,” the fifth step on the eightfold path to enlightenment. “The Buddha encouraged his disciples to engage in compassionate activity, and to make their living in a way that is ethically positive. It’s important to assess how our work affects our mind and heart. How can work become meaningful? How can it be a support to spiritual practice—a place to deepen our awareness and kindness?”
Many of these principles are reflected so clearly in the role and scope of an end-of-life doula:
Accept that death and dying are a normal part of life. I have learned to consider my own death more clearly and to prepare for it more fully.
Provide non-medical, nonjudgmental emotional/spiritual support and soothing physical comfort measures. I now better understand the essential need for this approach and have asked for it for my own death as a result of what I have learned here.
Create a calming, peaceful atmosphere. This doula principle can guide and be a reminder to me every day, in so many situations. It reminds me that I can be the peace I seek.
Assist clients with living their days to the fullest—developing wishes for care together, arranging visits, and encouraging the preservation of energy for what’s most important. Living each day to the fullest is a lesson I learn daily from all who have struggled. I think of this as a gift in the lesson and a promise I make to myself, to those I support, and to those I love.
Hold a client’s hand through the purposeful work of resolutions, story sharing, life reflections, and legacy projects. I learned absolutely invaluable lessons through Dignity Therapy, letters to those I love, and other legacy principles.
Trust in the inherent wisdom of each person to decide and discover his or her own best path. This is an important guiding principle that becomes even more essential as we age and as we may lose some efficacy due to circumstances beyond our control.
Companion rather than treat. I believe we are here to be the best companions possible in all of our endeavors, to learn to love well and to walk beside others, and to take turns leading and following. Those dying now can be our best teachers if we keep our hearts open to their wisdom.
Empower and encourage a client’s friends and family members to operate within their comfort zones; fill in support gaps as they arise. Empowering and encouraging are vital parts of companioning, as are being present and honoring those we work with, and preserving their boundaries as we keep our own.
Feel comfortable sitting vigil and respectfully assisting in after-death care as directed by a client’s family. Sitting vigil is a respectful process that is the ultimate expression of unconditional positive regard, a principle I hope to hold most dear in my work.
Provide a continued presence, when requested, during the initial grief and bereavement phase. A continued presence is so important, especially when others may find it hard to do so, fearing their inability to offer the “right words” or “right response”. I believe doulas can be a continued positive presence and can help others learn to do so as well.
As I consider best use of what I have learned and what I bring to this work, I wonder about the greatest need. As I live in a state that has a rapidly aging population and statistically low use of hospice services, I see great needs for education and support for people at all stages of living and dying. I have been so effusive about this class and what I am learning that I have been given the opportunity to open conversations with friends and acquaintances as they ask me how I am and what I have been doing. I have become aware again of how difficult it is for many people to talk about end-of-life issues. I have so many peers who have children who live far away who are concerned about them, and so many of these parents (and non parents, as well) who feel concerned and unprepared. I would love most of all to help them live well now by working to increase their comfort and help with communication and planning for the future, including their deaths. I envision meeting with small groups of friends and acquaintances to share some of what I have learned, assess their awareness and understanding, and offer assistance that meets their unique needs for preparing their end-of-life wishes. This seems to fit so well with the doula principles of empowering and encouraging.
Author Bio: Sharon Skye Forest
I come to the work of Transition Companion with an open heart, an open mind, and a strong wish to serve. I am so grateful for all of the formal and informal education and work experiences that have bought me to my final calling, that of a transition companion helping people plan and prepare for end of life. I believe that this planning should begin as soon as we become adults to embrace life most fully. It is my deepest wish to help people become more comfortable with our lifelong transition toward death.