A ‘good’ death is an extraordinary, moving, sacred, profound and peaceful experience. And that is, surely, what all of us want. Felicity Warner, founder of the Soul Midwife School.
Everyone has thought about how they will die, if only fleetingly. The younger you are, the more likely you hope that you’ll go out in a blaze of glory – die with your boots on, doing something you love. Your own death is a hard thing to think about. As we grow older though, and experience the illness and loss of those around us, we become aware that our own dying is much more likely to be a process rather than a cataclysmic event. Improvements in the diagnosis and treatment of terminal conditions have extended the time remaining for many patients. Advancements in technology and the medical management of physical symptoms bring new possibilities as well as new challenges to those living in the final stage of their lives. The hospice movement does vital work in providing care, with professionals and volunteers working in a range of disciplines targeted of improve quality of life. Information about options such as advance directives and living wills is increasingly available to help the dying and their families make decisions about which end of life services they will use. So what then is the role of the soul midwife?
A soul midwife guides and supports the dying person, helping them achieve a loving, dignified and peaceful death that is as much on their own terms as possible. Working in hospital, a hospice or at home the soul midwife provides compassionate care, using complementary therapies such as Reiki, aromatherapy or gentle massage to help alleviate pain and anxiety. However, it is not only the physical body that prepares for death. Most of us will have a need for empathetic companionship just when our closest relationships are under great stress. As we review and prepare to relinquish our responsibilities, support in identifying and fulfilling end of life wishes can bring comfort and emotional healing. The aim of the soul midwife is not to ‘fix’ or ‘rescue’ the person who is dying but to serve, to empower with knowledge, insight and reassurance. Each person’s spiritual, religious, atheist or agnostic beliefs and practices are respected. A sacred space is created where all beliefs about life, death or the afterlife are honored so that each individual is supported in what can only be a very personal journey.
How people die becomes a powerful and lasting memory for the loved ones who remain. The qualified soul midwife is experienced in providing reassurance and insight during the phase of ‘active dying’. Guiding loved ones in giving care, or simply supporting them in their vigil with the person who is dying deepens the experience of this special time, creating a sense of peace. Care for the body after death may be given in a calm, dignified atmosphere. In many traditions around the world, the body is prepared and a vigil is observed for up to three days. For loved ones this extended time spent saying goodbye and recognizing the separation of the body and the personality it contained can be very helpful in the grief process.
In a society where the very mention of death has long been taboo soul midwives are needed not only to provide compassionate care but to educate and empower individuals and communities to experience ‘dying’ as a meaningful part of life. There is more to death than grief and loss. Embracing the dying process brings unexpected gifts of grace and joy for the person making the transition as well as those who live on.