I was raised in a very death-literate family. I attended a funeral at age 8 because my parents believed that we all need to be prepared for death and understand how we, as a culture, do death. We talked about death, we knew that it was a part of life. We were being prepared for our elderly relatives to die and we knew what happened at a funeral.
My first close death was not the ones I had been preparing for, it was not my beloved Great-Grandmother, or even my beautiful old Aunty.
He was 17 and he was a young good looking boy with bright blue eyes and a cheeky grin. He had his whole life in front of him. His sudden death rocked my world and as the small country town I lived in gathered to grieve and support its youth I saw how differently we all handle death. My family were amazing but it was life-shattering.
A year later My Great-Grandmother started asking for me. She was a feisty old girl who was aging, but not losing her mind. I am sure I was her favourite and all my life we had been told that this might be her last Christmas. Her last Christmas was the year I turned 17. So when your 99 year old Great-Grandmother asks for you then you make the 3 hour drive and go spend some time with her!
I sat with her all weekend, we talked and played cards.
10 days later I spoke at her funeral and wore the ring she had left me.
This was the gentle introduction to death that I had hoped for. Instead I learned that death sometimes comes without warning. Sometimes it is sudden and life-shattering. Over the years I have learned that it sometimes is dramatic and throws us into years of legal battles. Sometimes it is prolonged and has very deep emotional lows with extensive medical procedures. Sometimes it is gentle, with a chance to play cards and say goodbye.
Every life and every death is different, so when I heard that there was such a thing as an End of Life Doula I knew I wanted to do this. I have been preparing my whole life. I had already done this for family and friends. I have been around death and I am not afraid to talk about any part of it. I also now know that I am in the minority. In our western culture we have hidden death away with the current business model of funeral homes and the secrecy around them, leaving us emotionally ill prepared for the inevitable end of life.
The common thread is that death touches us all. We can talk about it, prepare for it, accept it and make sure those around us know what to do when it does happen it us.