A Doula for the Dying
A calling can come at any time… if you’re open to it.
One evening, sometime in my late 50’s, I found myself accompanying one of my sisters-in-law to the hospital bedside of her mother who was, she had told me, dying. She mentioned, too, that her mother couldn’t seem to let go.
“You can help her, you know, to let go. You can do that,” she’d said.
Well, I kind of knew it. I’d done it once but almost casually. It hadn’t really been something that I considered part of my skill set as a hands-on healer.
I was in my 40’s when I’d first helped someone cross over. I had been living in a new neighborhood, renting a house that belonged to my mother. She’d lived there for a while, hoping to put down roots in the Philadelphia area where she’d been a practicing pathologist for most of her life. I had no connections in the area at all, though. I’d been living, with my husband and small family, in New Jersey, closer to his family. So, when I found myself in the Philly suburbs with an aching tooth, I called my mother, figuring that, as she had lived in the area for a few years, she’d likely know someone… and she did. The person was one of her oldest friends, from back in the 40’s when they’d both been pre-med at the University of Pennsylvania. She wasn’t sure that the woman was still practicing, though, so she said that she’d call her first just to make sure.
Upon receiving validation from my mother, I telephoned her friend and we set an appointment for me to come in. She was working out of an office in her home which was quite close by, but in an area I’d never been to before. The homes were smaller there and set closer together than they were where my mother’s house was, but the house numbers were clear and obvious. I found her friend’s house with no problem. She had told me when I’d called that I could pull into the driveway to park, so I did just that, then found my way to the front door and knocked. After a bit, the door opened.
I had been expecting to see a woman of advanced age, but I was surprised to see the woman I saw moving as hesitantly as she was, guiding an IV pole on wheels with her free hand. There was what appeared to be some sort of breathing apparatus hooked up to the pole… and to her.
I might have been quiet for a bit because when she spoke, it startled me a bit.
“You must be Molly’s daughter…. you look just like her.”
Her voice was breathy but clear. I nodded silently, still at a bit of a loss for words, as she carefully stepped aside to indicate that I should enter.
“Follow me,” she said softly, walking guardedly towards what looked like a dining room. Slowly we made our way through that room and transited the corner of a kitchen as we made our way further into a very small sunporch, windowed all around, with numerous plants sitting on small glass shelves in the windows, effectively limiting the view from outside while still allowing copious sunlight to enter. It was a tiny room and the full-sized dentist’s chair that sat in the middle of it took up most of the space. I climbed up and into the chair as she began to putter about amidst her equipment, preparing for the work that was imminent.
She moved slowly and her breath, despite the apparatus, was labored. Without her breathing device, I suspected that she wouldn’t have been able to breathe at all. Her body was done, and I could feel it. I’ve had that gift — an ability to sense what was going on in people’s bodies –for as long as I can remember. My earliest memory of its existence was in very early childhood. This woman’s body was done with living… but for whatever reason, she wasn’t. Her will was the thing that was keeping her alive and it must have been a pretty strong will. She’d been in medical school with my mom at a time when very, very few women were admitted. She obviously still had that kind of determination.
As she began to work on me, I thought to see if I could have a sort of unspoken conversation with her body to find out why it was that part of her was so determined to be alive when most of her so clearly seemed to be begging for a way out.
Early in my childhood I discovered that I saw, heard, and often felt things that other people didn’t. I learned early how to leave my body and ‘swim’ through the earth and, from there, into the trees when I needed to escape from a reality that was sometimes overwhelming. I’d also developed the ability to do what I would later learn was called “reading people” as to their core virtue or lack of it. I was — and remain — what people would call ‘a sensitive’ or an empath. Death as something to notice came early for me as I was regularly in hospitals with one or the other parent.
It was as clear as it could have been to me that this ethereal older woman was well more than halfway to transitioning and, I would discover, the more I stayed ‘in tune’ with her, that she had her reasons for maintaining that liminal state. She was staying for her children… her already grown, my age at least, children. That was all I needed to know.
Most children love their parents, but most children would rather that their parent was not suffering. I got the sense — based on her feelings for them — that their feelings were more than likely similar for her… and that’s what I silently transmitted to her… that her children adored her and that her suffering was their suffering as well, that what they wished for her was peace.
My work and hers wrapped up at about the same time. As I left her, despite all the paraphernalia that decorated her body, she hugged me — and I hugged her back. Our energies briefly entwined. We looked each other in the eyes, knowing what we then both knew.
My mother called the next morning to let me know that her friend had passed away in her sleep… since that incident, though, nothing like that had come up again. Now, there I was, a few years later, being told by my sister-in-law that I could help her mother to die… she was right. I could. So, I did. She left the earth that night some time in her sleep.
Months later, my father called me, from his deathbed, to ask for my help. That was challenging. We’d had a challenging history, but it opened my heart in a way I’d never expected. He, too, died the following morning. Word got around. Suffice it to say that since then I’ve had many interesting, fascinating, even — and believe it or not — fun experiences helping people cross over… or getting their well-meaning relatives comfortable with the fact they while they may be ready for Pop to cross over, Pop ain’t anywhere near ready to go yet and is actually having a pretty good time seeing them all agitated!
It’s an odd gift but very gratifying… and sometimes, quite delightful… with an emphasis on ‘light.’