Love in Dying
"Recognise that in our lives we go through many transitions, from leaving our mother’s womb, through to saying goodbye to childhood as we become an adult. Throughout our lives we are continually moving through life events, embracing changes, releasing, growing, learning, shedding old patterns, the past, re-adjusting, moving through, loving, leaving, loving, feeling, breathing, letting go. A life of change and death, birth and growth, grief and wonder, trust and love. To care for the dying is sacred work. Death shouldn’t be something we have to shield each other from, rather it is something we should guide each other through. At the end of a person’s life it will be the love that they have received that they will remember. Love in care is what sustains us.” Amanda Waring - The Heart Of Care.
I cared for both my parents till the end of their lives. I moved from London to West Sussex to be near them. I tried to give them the support that they needed but it was not always smooth sailing. I was a single mother and, having moved from London, did not have a support network of friends and family, so I understand the emotional rollercoaster, physical exhaustion, and deep aloneness that can be overwhelming at times when you are caring for elders and loved ones.
My time with them was full of moments of love, frustration, laughter, despair, grief and healing. I learnt so much during that time – about them, myself, my limitations, my resilience, my fears and my capacity for love.
When my father was dying, I was riddled with unexpressed rage at certain aspects of his behaviour that I had endured for so long without challenging him. I loved him fiercely but was frightened of him, particularly of his drunken rages, and rarely found the courage to stand up to him, choosing the path of acquiescence for fear of the consequences. I had to find some sort of resolution and forgiveness for him and myself, to allow for a “clean death” where we could both be liberated in our ultimate separation. To do this I knew I had to speak my truth to him. On the day of this unburdening, this releasing, truth-telling, I felt calm and held Dad’s hands as I spoke to him gently but freely about all aspects of our relationship. I asked if he would listen until I finished speaking, that it was important. I spoke for over an hour as the memories flowed through me. I asked for his forgiveness, as in the moment of speaking so honestly with him I could feel my forgiveness of him too. I thanked him for creating me and I thanked him for the challenges he gave me. I told him that his life had enriched me, that I had felt his love and that I would miss him, but now, without my rage or anger, I could let him go. I washed my father’s feet and combed his hair and honoured him in a way that felt right for me. It was a profound, life-changing experience, and I could feel the peace and healing between us and so could he.
I have sat with the dying since I was eight years old, when I used to be taken by my granny to sing at the bedside of those who were terminally ill in the hospitals where she volunteered. Even at such a young age, I seemed to have an understanding of what was needed through sound and songs, or holding that person’s hand. It was as if I had done it before. I was not frightened. As a teenager, I continued to sing regularly to those in the Royal Hospital and Home for Incurables, as it was then called, and in other care homes, to help bring comfort and ease to elders in their final days. From my twenties onwards, I have undertaken many training courses and initiations in shamanism, Celtic ways, Hawaiian healing, Buddhist meditation and Native American rites of passage, to assist the transition of those who are dying. I instinctively use this knowledge when working in my role as death doula, or soul midwife, and it is an absolute privilege to do this work.
All around the world, communities have their own specific traditions for sitting with, and keeping watch over, those who are dying. This is often known as a vigil. Everyone’s death is unique and the purpose of sitting with the dying is to honour their experience and nurture it by giving them all our attention, kindness and care. So if possible, be open to being with the dying, as sharing part of their journey with them can actually be one of life’s most enriching experiences.
Helen Keller, who is famous for overcoming the misfortune of being both deaf and blind to become a leading humanitarian of the 20th Century, said, “I am only one, but still I am one, I cannot do everything but still I can do something, I will not refuse to do the something I can do.” During this time of Covid 19 it feels more important than ever that we all do the "something we can do” when it comes to caring for others and ourselves.
The coming together of communities , initiatives and solutions has been inspiring . Never before have we had to face our mortality in such circumstances where there is separation, loss, isolation and fear. Never before has care of our elders, and the value of those who care, been so positively highlighted. But how loving are we being to ourselves at this time, how nurturing?
We may often be compassionate with others, but with ourselves it can be a very different story. In isolation, have we learnt to be tender with ourselves? We all want to feel loved but rarely take the time to acknowledge the parts of ourselves that feel unworthy of being loved. At this time there is an opportunity to see, forgive and comfort the deepest wounds you have. Be gentle, be kind, be patient, be compassionate with yourself and let your healing process begin. We are all of us going through a transition; a birth, a death. As a celebrant and soul companion, at this time I am having to conduct ceremonies to as few as five people. It is heartbreaking, but also intimate and strangely healing because of the intimacy. As a soul companion, I am having to be with the dying virtually, helping someone cross the rainbow bridge with my drumming , crystal bowls , words and song over the phone, without physically being there. Yet still the love is there and felt, and the work that needs to be done is done through the ethers. Trusting in love working its magic, however tragic the circumstances, has helped me continue in my work at this time.
Realising the need to provide virtual companionship for those who may be dying on their own, and to help support carers too, I have made my CD of words and music I Am Near You available on iTunes, and my new book Being A Good Carer, to support and educate all of us to be better carers.
When this pandemic is over we will all be called upon to care for others, which we can see as a burden or the opportunity to share our gift of love.