dealing with that disturbing “D” word
— being a midwife to the dying

Death is the final taboo in our culture. We can talk about illness and religion, politics and sex, gender and race issues, but the D word is still difficult for people to utter in polite company….

From Last Acts of Kindness: Lessons for the Living from the Bedsides of the Dying, by Edith Redwing Keyssar.

I have a unique relationship with death. My father was an undertaker, and we lived in an apartment above his business. Contemplating death and dying — my own and others’ — has been a part of my life since childhood. I have sat vigil during the hours and days of the deaths of both of my parents. At the age of 71, I am closing in on my final years. I have no control over when or why I will die; but I am learning about the choices I have about “how”.

After leaving a comment on a post on Time Goes By about Judith Redwing Keyssar’s book (quoted above), I have had a chance to read that book myself. And, doing so comes at a particularly relevant time in my life as I await my first assignment as a hospice volunteer.

During the intense training that I had to undergo, I learned about my role and responsibilities as part of a hospice team and examined my reasons for choosing this kind of volunteer service. I found that the experiences that Keyssar shares in her book take whatever personal motivations I have for becoming — in her words –“a midwife to the dying” and draws them into an even greater context of compassionate and cosmic significance. As part of her stories, Keyssar reiterates the point that it doesn’t matter what one believe about an “after-life;” the focus of her message is to live fully while embracing the fact that we, after all, are all “terminal.”

At the end of her book, she provides a list definitions, internet links, and bibliographical references if the reader chooses to further explore the range of information available about compassionate care during the final stages of life.

The final chapter in Keyssar’s book is a poetic Epilogue (see below) that captures the intent and the spirit of the mission of those who choose to honor and celebrate the final, fleeting days (and sometimes months and years) of a human life by becoming part of a palliative care and/or hospice team.

Epilogue
Job description For Any Member of a Palliative Care Team

I am here to witness
the sacred hearts
broken open.
Friends,lovers, families
whose loved ones die in their arms,
in the homes, in their beds, in hospitals or other places.
Peacefully, nor not.

I am her to witness
the sanctity of human life
as the spirit is released from the temple
to join once again, with the invisible cellular infinity
of the Universe,
the mitochondria of the Milky Way,
becoming energy to light the stars,
since we know —
the energy we manifest as a particular human being,
like any other,
can neither be created
nor destroyed.
God, by any other name by any name, by many names,
by no name,
Is
One.

I am here to witness
the breath
as it enters the body
and exits for the last time.
The miracle of birth.
The miracle of death.
The miracle of each moment in between:
Life
the infusing of consciousness
into each and every cell
enduring every moment
we are here
on earth.

I am here to witness
to feel
to experience
to honor
to know that Love is eternal.
to share this blessing
in gratitude.

and to perform any other duties
required.

Last Acts of Kindness is a book that should be read by everyone who expects some day to die.

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As I was writing this post, today Ronni Bennett at Times Goes By posted another piece that includes additional thoughts on death and dying. The conversation continues.