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When you recognize that you will thrive not in spite of your losses but because of them...The word for that is healing. ~ Cheryl Strayed
Our first house was located across the street from a cemetery. I walked there often as I struggled to carry the sudden loss of my brother. This was a grief I made complicated and it fuels me to live more consciously. I was a new and young mother with an infant and two toddlers. It was a gruesome and tragic accident that simply shocked me and scares me still. It was me who told my mother and father.
I know I began to learn resilience in that cemetery. We visited almost every day. We explored different ways up, in and around. We learned the life there- the plants, the trees, the sun and moon and stars, the other visitors two-legged and four, the other mourners. Sometimes we had the cemetery to ourselves and made it our home. Sometimes we were outsiders there as others gathered in their own ceremonies. It was a quiet place which we made loud with our life: talking, laughing, shrieking. And crying. We made games playing and we felt safe. We also tripped, fell, bled and then we healed. We got tired there and then went home for naps. We imagined the people the names had been. We witnessed rituals symbolizing honor, love and respect: tokens placed on graves; young trees newly planted; and we learned faith new to us. Most people had lived long lives in our cemetery. And that made me hopeful for myself and hopeful for my children.
It’s easy to fixate on everything that goes to ground as time goes by. The disintegration of a relationship, the disappearance of work well done, the diminishment of a sense of purpose and meaning. But, as I’ve come to understand that life “composts” and “seeds” us as autumn does the Earth, I’ve seen how possibility gets planted in us even in the most difficult of times. ~Parker Palmer, Center for Courage and Renewal
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People caring for people is not new, especially when they are dying. End of Life Doulas are inspired by Birth Doulas, a practice which has persisted through time. End of Life Doulas work in hospitals, in hospice and Palliative care and in homes. Choosing how you die is choosing how you live.
End of Life Doulas provide non-medical support to people choosing to live their death.
End of Life Doulas tend to the emotional, basic physical, psychological and spiritual weather of a dying person and their loved ones.
End of Life Doulas engage with gratitude and suﬀering in committed community with a dying person and their loved ones.
End of Life Doulas shepherd a dying person and their loved ones to open to the experience of dying as hopeful, natural and positive.
End of Life Doulas are trained to inspire meaning, celebrating, reﬂecting and witnessing what is important in the life of a dying person.
End of Life Doulas prompt a dying person to process and review their life.
End of Life Doulas acknowledge the legacy of a dying person’s life and history.
End of Life Doulas hold respectful space for a dying person and their loved ones, facilitating rituals and the vigil.
End of life Doulas hope for good mourning in the evening of one’s life.
Réné Pallace, CPCC, volunteers her time as a trained End of Life Doula and is a Candidate for Certiﬁcation from the International End of Life Doula Association
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Your mind does not distinguish between reality, what actually happened, and the story you tell it, or the story that you allow it to tell you.
When you use your hand to express your mind by writing free form, diary, poetry, drawing or painting or any other creative connection, your mind must stop its activity. It cannot keep spinning a story or looping a movie about an event while also engaging in your expression. By connecting your mind to your hand, you move the story which spins and spins and makes you so dizzy, out in front of you to read, consider, ponder, question, deconstruct or construct.
Connecting your mind to your hand allows you to stop the movie that is replaying the loop of the event(s) of your crisis. Do you know that “you put your thoughts down on paper”? Putting your spinning story or movie loop to paper puts your thoughts DOWN on paper. What is true at 2 am can be ludicrous after breakfast.
This is the most time-honored therapy for grief.
Some days let it be enough that you write or make art. Other days you may be inclined to question or make meaning. On the best of days, you will have an epiphany. If you can be kind to yourself, and trust that there is no wrong way to be, you will, in time, see what all this has to do with who you are becoming.
Mindful mindwork for response-able grief.
There are many books which have been created by people writing their story. Here are a few of my favorites:
“A Broken Heart Still Beats,” Anne McCracken & Mary Semel
“Anxiety: The Missing Stage of Grief,” Claire Bidwell Smith
“Before and After Loss,” Lisa M. Shulman, MD
“Broken Open,” Elizabeth Lesser
“It’s OK That You’re Not OK, Megan Devine Option B,” Sheryl Sandburg & Adam
“Resilience: Hard-Won Wisdom for Living a Better Life,” Eric Greitens
“The Long Goodbye,” Meghan O’Rourke
“This Is How,” Augusten Burroughs
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Mindful of my dying, and taking aim, I am inspired by a fable.
“There is a colony of water bugs living in a pond who get along wonderfully. They all understand each other and work well together. There is only one thing that really puzzles them all. Sooner or later, as bugs get older or become sick, they find a tall reed in the water and climb it. The other bugs do not know why they just climb up and disappear.
One day, the leadership got everyone together to figure this out. They made a pact- promising that whoever climbed a reed next would come back and let everyone know where they had been.
A little time passed and unexpectedly the chief found himself climbing the reed. He was so excited. When he got to wherever he was going, he would come back and tell the others all about it. When he got high up in the water, above the rest of the colony, he suddenly found himself going out onto a leaf and spinning a soft shell around himself. Well, he thought, when I get out of this, I will go and tell them. He rested for a long time and then, for some reason, he found himself removing the soft coating. When he emerged, he struggled still upward and found himself breaking through the top of the water.
What exhilaration! There was a whole new existence up here. He found that he had wings and could float freely above the water- soaring and gliding. With great joy, all his friends that had climbed the reed before him welcomed him! He asked them about this new place and was told that he had died as a bug, but was now a beautiful dragonfly.
All of a sudden, he remembered his promise- to go back to the rest and tell them where he had gone. He looked down and saw the waters surface. Ok, he thought, I must dive down and let them know. The other dragonflies warned him against it, but he had promised. With resolution, he dove- but when he hit the water, he bounced off. He tried again and again, but could not find a way through the surface of the water. Exhausted, he floated on top watching the colony below knowing there was no way he could reach them.
In time, he realized that even if he could go back, they would not recognize him, now that he was a dragonfly. So he did what all the other dragonflies had suggested- begin his new life, knowing that sooner or later all of those below would understand.”