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Green burial, home funerals, sacred ceremony while sitting with the dead and dying: these are just a few things I think about in relation to my own death, having been in many death rooms. The Buddhist teachings have a ‘Bardo,’ an in-between place for the soul at the time of physical death – a place where we can get our bearings in another dimension between lifetimes. For whatever reason, I am very comfortable in the sacred ground of a death room, and have developed inner techniques to connect with the person who is leaving, to help them have a gentle and easy passage. For more about my take on death, here’s a blog post.
Conversations around death and dying have always intrigued me. I have sought to understand the passage of Soul out of the physical body and into the next experience. My time as a volunteer hospital chaplain in Boulder, CO gave me the opportunity to attend many deaths, especially on the cancer ward.
If the family was comfortable with my presence, I could sometimes help the departing Beloved to relax a bit and prepare for what I call ‘stepping out’ of the physical body, and into the other realms. There’s a great metaphor I found in Emanuel’s Book: A Manual for Living Comfortably in the Cosmos, by Pat Rodegast. “Death is like stepping out of a tight shoe.” It seems to fit.
If the dying person is conscious and cognitive, I can ask about their own desires as they are leaving. Would they like to be touched? Almost everyone conveys a version of “Yes, please.” Are there pictures or objects of comfort they would like to have in the room? This can become an opportunity to discuss those who have passed before them, and talk about their welcoming arms. If there are not pictures of these lost beloveds in the room, we get them. A focal point with ‘death breath’ is just as helpful in dying as it is in birthing. It is a labor of sorts.
The word ‘doula’ has Greek origin and translates in that language to ‘female slave.’ In our current culture, it is more common to see the word associated with birth, rather than death. A birth doula focuses on the needs of the mother, rather than the delivery of the baby, and may do massage or other methods to help her relax during labor. A doula often stays with the mother and baby for a while after the birth.
Having assisted at a few births and a number of deaths, I see little difference in the specialized support needed, other than that the Soul is coming, then going.
In the deathroom, movement of soul is facilitated by creating sacred, safe space and doing things that may bring relaxation into the experience of dying. At times, I have been able to connect with the person on the inner, and understand what is needed for release. There can often be a fear of having done something wrong in life, and that punishment awaits. Affirming the presence of love, and inviting the person to imagine returning to the unconditional love of our Creator can ease the struggle and assuage guilt and fear.
It’s ideal if I can know what, if any, faith the dying person has held. That helps me know what prayers and affirmations will help to soothe.
I believe that no one should die alone. I’ve imagined being able to assist people dying in prison as service of the heart. Sitting vigil with someone is a great gift, and can relieve the family members for a period of time, if the process of dying is prolonged.