Compassion

This word has been on my mind lately. Mostly because the world needs more of it. The people need more of it. The animals need more of it. The planet needs more of it.

As a part of my spiritual practice, I recite five principles every day. The one I end with is “Today, I treat myself and others with compassion.” I love the word compassion. It is a deeply moving word for me requiring me to be more than merely kind, but compassionate. So when I actually looked up the definition I was more than a little disappointed; “sympathetic pity and concern for the sufferings or misfortunes of others”.

I don’t know what I expected, but that wasn’t it. “Sympathetic pity”? I KNOW what compassion feels like for me, but I never took the time to define it. But I know ‘sympathetic pity’ wasn’t part of my definition.

How would you describe Compassion?

My definition would go something like this, “deeply felt care and concern for the wellbeing of others, in times of need.”

I debated even putting that last part in there because I think we all need compassion whether we are in the midst of a crisis or not. However, I think when not ‘in need’, kindness suffices. I think when one is in need they do need something more profound than simple kindness.

When I worked a full time 9-5 job, I had paid time off and I took it when I needed it. I took vacations regularly and stayed home when I was sick. But there were other days when I needed to just take a mental health day and I did that too. Now that I work from home, for myself, there is no paid time off. In addition, some of my work requires I be on call 24/7 for my death and dying clients. Add to that I LOVE what I do, it’s hard to really comprehend that I still need time off.

Running your own business- let alone three businesses- takes discipline and I have that in spades. So much so that I had to build in a ‘day off’ each week, but I may have been too late in doing that. Last week when I was feeling some kind of way and struck with severe back/shoulder/neck/arm pain it caught me off guard. I had worked virtually nonstop to get The Foul Mouthed Woman Podcast launched, AND get started on The Death Witch Podcast. Amidst that I was writing feverishly to complete a few Oracle Cards for the deck I’m co-creating. Everything I do is on the computer and this pain rendered me computer impotent. As I took some time to tend to the physical issue, it was clear to me that something emotionally was working it’s way up and out as well.

I decided to stop looking for a work around the pain and just surrender into it. I’ve taken sick days before when I’ve caught a virus or something. I’ve taken days off when I just felt I needed to take a break. This was different. This was compassionate care. I was taking a Compassionate Care day.

It was a sick day for my soul.

I tended to the wounds of my soul that were on the mend, as well as the physical knotting in my back. I watched movies that made me sob. I took walks. I took small excursions out in public as needed. I made nourishing food.

For four days.

The most important thing I did for those days though was to not feel guilt, or shame and not ‘should’ myself. Like I said, I have tons of discipline, and it would’ve been easy for me to tell myself that disregarding my regular schedule was breaking my commitments; But my most important commitment is to myself. I can no longer do what I did before, because ‘before’ wasn’t working. ‘Before’ was breaking me.

For 27 years I pushed passed my breaking points. I was taught certain rules about being a good employee and how business works. For 27 years I felt powerless, complying with directives without voicing dissension for fear of being fired. Until it made me sick. So sick that at 46 years old I felt 75 and could not fathom how I could go on another 30 years. I didn’t even know how I’d make it another 10.

I didn’t realize it was the job/career making me sick until I quit my job, moved to another state and got married. I procrastinated getting my social work license in the new state. The thought of starting all over in a new state in the same old career felt heavy. My husband put no rush on my finding work and so I settled into taking care of myself…really taking care of myself for the first time in a long time.

Simply moving seemed to give me some relief from my suffering, and with each day I felt a little better. I found new treatments, new care providers, new ways of eating, which all helped. But mostly it was finding myself that really started to heal my body. Moving away from what I ‘should’ do, towards what I ‘want’ to do, improved my health ten fold. It will be 7 years this summer and I feel better than I did 15 years ago. I still have a few issues that are left over, due to the extreme pressure I put myself under, but I have faith I’ll find the answers to those also.

What’s important now, I realize. Is to not adapt the same mindset in this new situation. Pushing myself so hard that I bring on physical immobility in order to get my own attention is simply using the same patriarchal business model in my own business. So, I’ve switched to four work days and one self-care day per week. The weekends are sort of a hodge podge of things depending on my husband’s schedule or if I am pressing a deadline. I have always been one to take a sick day, but the truth is I don’t get sick that often. So offering myself Compassionate Care days on a more regular basis, might better suit my bottom line.

Compassionate Care days have to go above and beyond normal Self-Care days. I have self care built into everyday; at least 1/5 hours, sometimes 3. So Compassionate Care days are going to be luxury self-care days. There’s going to be more treasure hunting, spa days, walks in nature and baths in the middle of the day.

I think we are all in need of compassion regardless of our current situations. Compassion doesn’t have to be reserved for ‘justified’ times of pain and suffering! I think treating one another and ourselves with deeply felt care and concern for our/their wellbeing across the board would serve the Greater Good and mend the world’s hearts.

Peace Be With You

Best Death Possible (part two) – A Daughter’s Mission

The Difference A Doula Makes

An experienced Death Doula is someone familiar with many faces of death. While death is universal in its presence, it is individual in its experience. In my situation, a Doula would’ve been outside the grief circle, someone who could hold space for me as I expended my energy fighting for my mother. He or she would be able to offer perspective and guidance to spark ideas like bringing my mom’s personal items into the hospital, taking pictures, and bringing in music. A Doula would’ve been grounding for me.

It all happened in a week; Tuesday to Tuesday. When my mom was admitted no one suspected she wouldn’t be coming home. It was too fast for any of us to catch up, we only had a week; but that week will be with me the rest of my life.

We think of Death Doulas, or End of Life Doulas or even hospice as being appropriate only when death is imminent. Our most important work, however, happens long before that time. I chose to refer to myself as a Sacred Attendant, simply because that is what it feels like to me – attending the Sacred. Acceptance of death needs to be woven throughout our lives. It is not a final chapter of our story, but more like a character in the background without the knowledge of its time of arrival, nor the circumstances of it. Conversations about death cannot be reserved for some imagined time in the future when death appears imminent. They also need to include more than just the ideal circumstances because that just isn’t probable. Weaving death positive awareness into things like birthday celebrations, traumatic events, or illness could help remedy experiences like ours.

Thing 6 I’d change is doing a death plan. That first night when she said was scared, I would’ve stayed at the hospital. I would’ve pulled out a notebook and written down all the things she would want at her funeral. I would write a letter she’d dictate to whomever she wanted. I would’ve asked what songs she wanted at the service and what readings she wanted. I would’ve updated her living will with Health Care Representative (Proxy) designation. I would’ve asked her important questions regarding what she wanted to leave behind for all of us. I wouldn’t have hesitated to discuss this because we didn’t think it was time.

As a result of my experience with my mother, and with so many others, I created LIFE’S Book, an opportunity to create a death plan and so much more. Completing something like this with my mother would’ve not only established her wishes, but it would’ve been a bonding time for us. It would’ve also provided some guidance for others who didn’t know what to say while visiting. My mother could’ve asked them to simply pick up the binder and pick a page.

The Gift Of Time

Working in hospice I saw the Gift of Time in action. In a death denying society, the Gift of Time is bestowed upon those who chose to acknowledge time for letting go and embrace it. Peace comes with the embracing of death. Understanding that it is no longer a time to fight against the disease or circumstance, but to fight for magic in the last days. It is here that the term ‘good death’ was coined. A death free from suffering and in the comfort of their own home or home-like environment, surrounded by friends and family.

However, there are so many other types of death happening at any given time, don’t they deserve magic too? People die in car accidents, from falls in their homes, from assaults, and from sudden illnesses like stroke or aneurysms. Where are the good deaths for these people? Where is the dying-specific emotional, spiritual, and soul support for these folks? And what of those who lie down to nap one day and never wake up? Where are the goodbyes for their families? Their last words? And what of those who live alone with no one to ‘surround’ their bedside and care for them in their own home? What of them? Where are their good deaths?

They say there are no do-overs in life, and yet I see Life as one big do-over. Every day I get the chance to do things differently than the day before. I learn from my past experiences, I do not view them as insufficient or lacking in any way. The things I wished to do differently led me right where I am today, offering my support to others to reduce these events, by having conversations earlier than ‘imminent’. By doing this differently, I am honoring my mother’s death.

I was just getting my feet wet in the local community network groups talking about dying and death and…

Then CoVid19 Hit

The deathbeds now are even more sterile and are missing most or all family and friends. Fear of death hangs in the air like grey clouds in the Michigan winter sky. Still there is no acknowledging it. No preparations. No magic moments within conversations. Not even while quarantined together have there been conversations about death wishes. There’s just been blaming, conspiracy theorizing and more denial.

What’s emerged is a grief crisis. Compounded complicated grief where before there would be straightforward grief. On top of losing loved ones, we are losing our traditions for grieving. No matter your spirituality, religion or culture every aspect of grieving has been affected. Everything from not being able to be at the bedside to hold a hand, to not being able to have a funeral, with a million things in between.

This results in bereavement counseling being more important than ever. A counselor or a group to hold space to offer comfort and support. There will be more turbulent feelings. More uneasiness. More anger. More regret.

We will shortly be coming upon the first death anniversaries and the grief crisis will hit people unexpectedly. How we honor those anniversaries will be most important and if we do it right, will spark new traditions by creating meaningful ritualistic ceremonies to honor that date. We can only hope that by the time the first of the death anniversaries from this pandemic time roll around that the pandemic has subsided enough to allow more ritualistic ceremonies.

This is something I am preparing. This is something most end of life consultants are preparing.

My Mission

Ask 100 people what their idea of a ‘good death’ is and statistics say that 80 of them will say ‘at home surrounded by family and friends’. Some might even choose a facility with a ‘home-like environment like a hospice house, surrounded by family and friends’. Perhaps because they don’t want their family to have to live in the place where they died, or maybe they do not wish to burden their loved ones with caring for them. Whatever the case most people will not say ‘in a hospital’ and yet that is where 60% of deaths take place.

Why?

Some of it is due to death phobia. The medical community, in particular, has a hard time considering death, as was evident with my mother’s team. They are taught that death is an enemy to fight against at all costs. That cost is too great however, when it robs people of precious time with loved ones.

My mission is to offer the ‘best death possible’ for everyone. None of us can change the circumstances surrounding our death or that of our loved one. However, within the scope of that circumstance we can offer the best death possible.

The best death possible means embracing the circumstances as they are and doing it ‘your way’. It doesn’t mean giving up, so much as it is giving in to the flow of life. I have had the privilege of witnessing many magical life-changing moments that took place at a bedside. I want to bring that to anyone who wants it.

Unlike a hospice referral, to employ a Death Doula there is no need for a terminal diagnosis and 6 months natural life expectancy prognosis. The decision rests solely with the individual or family to initiate at any time. It can be initiated years before the actual death, making preparations, having conversations, and creating legacies. This starts building a relationship with someone who is then familiar to you at the end of life, providing all that much more comfort.

Embracing a best death possible philosophy provides opportunity for patients and families of trauma victims the same Gift of Time as hospice patients and families. It offers the same post-death follow up and support as well. It offers something more than what has been offered to date. A Sacred Attendant or End of Life Doula isn’t meant to replace Chaplains or Social Workers, it is something additional that offers a broader blanket of comfort care to a patient and their families. The service isn’t paid for by insurance or Medicaid/Medicare, so it isn’t restricted by regulations for reimbursement. The Attendant is free to provide whatever non-medical service is right for the individual and the family unit, and to provide it as long as necessary. She or he is not limited to a ‘justified’ one hour visit once a week.

Think what peace of mind this service could be to a son who lives 1,000 miles away from his mother who has dementia and lives in a facility. That he can have someone trusted to be there as many times a week as he wants.

What comfort it could be to a daughter from out-of-town to have in-town support as she lovingly cares for her father in his home.

What clarity it could bring a family whose members all seem to be on different pages.

What a difference it would make in the hospital to have compassionate end of life support available to individuals with sudden illness or decline, or traumatic injury and their family units.

And what of this…what if hospitals offered this service to family units right now, BECAUSE of CoVid protocols and restrictions? Why not give families something to replace a small bit of what has been taken away? It’s the right thing to do.

The services of Death Doulas, End of Life Doulas, Sacred Attendants, etc… will be unique to the individuals that provide them. In overview terms, they provide non-medical support to clients and families. Specifically, they might make a well-timed phone call or text; Be a visitor who is comfortable sitting in silence; Ask just the right question at just the right time; Or offer a listening ear you are not afraid to bend. These are the tangibles every End of Life Doula (EOLD) might offer. The innumerous intangibles are impossible to list here though because they are less about doing and more about being.

Peace Be With You…And May You Be Peace

If you or anyone you know feels they would benefit from this service please speak up to your doctors, your medical team or locate your nearest End of Life Doula through the End of Life Collective https://collective.round.glass/End-of-Life/about or the National End Of Life Doula Alliance https://www.nedalliance.org/ or reach out to me personally at healingritesofpassage@gmail.com or via the contact form on this site.