Taking care of Kate, before and after her death, was my first experience as a “death midwife.” Up until the 20th century, death care such as that our community gave Kate, was a common family and community undertaking (forgive the play on words).
So, what is “death midwifery?” In the words of Cassandra Yonder from Cape Breton,
“Death midwifery is a social movement: it is village making. It is a grassroots response to the cultural alienation we are feeling from dying, death, post death care and grief. Death midwifery is a community centered response that recognizes death as a natural, accepted, and honoured part of life.”
There are other terms for a death midwife: these include thanadoula, death doula and end of life coach. Essentially, they all embrace a holistic, deeply ecological model where relationship building throughout dying is the primary goal. It is about re-engagement with the dying, death care, and grief, and the empowerment and the stirring of communities to reclaim death care by participating in it as much as they are able.
What do death midwifes actually do? It depends on the personalized needs and desires of the patient and the families, however, death midwifes may typically:
- Provide emotional, psychological, and spiritual support to the patient, family and community by staying present to all aspects of dying, death, and grieving.
- Prepare Home Vigils through helping to connect with the dead body as a healing process through the creation of ritual after death has occurred.
- Educate about Green Burials and different shades of green: “How to lessen our carbon footprint.”
- Liaison with funeral directors, churches, crematoriums, and cemeteries
An example? Before my Dad’s death we made his casket. When I told Dad we had made a beautiful casket for him he said, “Oh good, I can’t wait” with a smile on his face. After his death, our family held vigil with his body present at home. The process was very healing for all of us.