Welcome to Adeste. I am Susan Lawrence, a trained end of life doula. By definition, an EOL doula is available to attend (adeste) to someone. I attend to the dying person and their caregivers in a non-medical role.
How can I, as your doula, help you celebrate your life and honor death? That is entirely up to you!
Legacy: As we spend time together, you can decide the legacy you want to leave behind. Maybe you want to record your history or write letters to your friends and family. A photo collage? A vision board of the dreams you have for your grandchildren? Do you have poetry you wrote, but never shared and now is the time? Maybe it is that secret recipe you want to share. Video and audio recordings are a special way for your loved ones to hear your voice.
Vigil: There is the time of vigil, when death is imminent. How do you want that to look and feel? I am available to sit with you and offer respite to your family and caregivers, to answer questions, listen, and most importantly, to walk with you and your family in these last days and hours.
Grief Support: I am available to your friends and family to reprocess their emotions and if desired, assist with an annual celebration/remembrance of your life.
These moments matter. This is about you. This is your design. I will walk alongside you.
A Prayer Upon Learning of a Death by Eli Effinger-Weintraub
[NAME], I honor the body that you were The words you spoke The passions that moved you The love you shared The life you lived.
These were not always easy to live Or to live with But they were always you, And I honor you in that wholeness.
I grieve that you are no longer present in my life I regret that I could not be with you at the end I allow myself to hurt and to heal Whatever form that takes However long it takes
Whole and holy Earth, take back the body of [NAME] that was formed from you Make new forms and lives from it May a piece of [NAME]’s life infuse the new lives that grow from it. May the passing forms of this life and the tears of our grief sustain the web of your creation.
I have read this poem many times and each time something new comes to me, but then again, isn’t that what poetry should do in us? I think my grandma is on my mind more lately because I have recently connected with a relative in Norway – a third cousin. That’s a story for another time.
My grandma’s life wasn’t always easy. My cantankerous grandpa must have been part gypsy; they moved often and collected addresses in Minnesota, Florida, North Carolina, Arkansas, and back to Minnesota.
I grieve that she is no longer here. We exchanged letters and occasional phone calls. I miss that communication with her. She told me once that a ‘boring life is better than a troubled life’…good to know when I think I am bored; I keep that close to my heart.
I regret that I could not be with her in the end. I was with her near the end, but not ‘the’ end. I promised my grandparents I would take care of them when they got old. I couldn’t keep that promise for many reasons. I like to think that is one of the reasons I chose to become an end of life doula.
The Earth took her body (ok, her ashes) and on that same day, seven years later, my first granddaughter was born. A new form. A new life.
Now of course, this poem wasn’t written with my grandma’s name in it. It is written for us to insert the name of our loved one. I chose to put my grandma’s name in this poem this time. She is the person I am missing these days. Although she died in 1999, I miss her in different ways through different chapters in my life. I miss her lefse when I am trying to replicate it – using a modern day recipe because I need a few solid directions. I miss her tricking me into going to bed as little one – “Susie, will you warm up my side of the bed?”. I miss her beautiful hardanger stitching. I miss visiting her in Florida and eating the fresh fruit she always fixed for breakfast. I miss playing her Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass albums on her TV/stereo console. I miss her patience while listening to my flute music. Most of all, I miss her common sense. By the way, her name is Alice, but we always called them Grandma and Grandpa Walt (his name). She became Grandma Walt… The picture below was taken years ago. Grandma Walt created these beautiful dolls with her hardanger skills.
Who do you miss right now? Will you take the time to insert their name into this poem and spend a few moments honoring their memory?
Years ago, I was geographically far from a loved one when they were gravely ill. Feeling lonely and helpless can be overwhelming. If we can take a moment to catch our breath, those feelings will slowly get smaller and we can give ourselves the space to honor our loved one. The following chair ritual was shared with me by Anne Murphy, a celebrant, vigil guide, and death educator. You can learn more about Anne at her website, A Thousand Hands.
If you are anticipating a death or experiencing a death and you are unable to physically be with your person ~
Find an area in your home where you can be seated and place a chair in front of you.
Place an object that symbolizes your person on the chair. A few suggestions for an object: a photo, an article of clothing, or a blanket.
Sit down facing the chair.
Center your breath and body by breathing in to the count of 5 and exhaling to the count of 5; do this 3-5 times.
As you would open the door for a person who is visiting your home, invite your person to have a seat on the chair.
When you feel ready, speak out loud or silently as if your person is sitting across from you.
Share any words of love, gratitude, or forgiveness.
Receive any words, sensations, or images of gratitude, love, or forgiveness.
As you would walk a visitor out of your home, let your person know that you are complete.
Repeat as needed and adapt to what works best for you.
A group of doulas trained in compassionate listening, have launched a toll-free hotline for those who are struggling during the Covid-19 pandemic. I am humbled to be a part of this group – offering time and deep listening to those who are hurting and may not know where to turn for help. Along with listening, the hotline has a rich resource list for those who may need other professionals in their grief journey.
National Healthcare Decisions Day is today! This day is on the calendar to educate the public and the healthcare community about, well, their healthcare decisions. So many people avoid the conversation and the decision-making process because they are not sure what they want or what the future might hold. I advise my clients to plan for the ‘now’. You can always update it later. Maybe your circumstances change and you need to assign a different healthcare agent. Maybe you realize you don’t want a ventilator – especially now in light of the Covid-19 pandemic; or maybe you want one! Chances are you don’t understand the CPR procedure and the risks, so you avoid making decisions.
Starting isn’t as scary as it sounds. Have a conversation with your loved one(s) and let them know what your wishes mean to you. Create an Advance Care Directive, documenting those wishes. If you are frail or have a serious illness, speak with your physician about a POLST (Provider Orders for Life-Sustaining Treatment). Not everyone needs a POLST form. Advance Care planning visits are reimbursable by Medicare.
There are tools available for you. I am here to assist in this process. Now is not the time to leave anything to chance.
I recommend (and use) the following tools: Honoring Choices, The Conversation Project, Five Wishes, and End in Mind Project.
You have some time on your hands; call me and we can start the conversation.
I wish you peace and health in these uncertain times.
A group of end of life professionals gathered over Zoom (following our guidelines, right?) and created a resource guide on grief and loss during the Covid 19 pandemic. These are times like no other, so it is a time to find new ways to do almost everything. We aren’t able to be at our loved ones’ bedside when they die of this horrible virus. This is a different kind of loss. It requires a different kind of touch.
I am available 24/7 if you have questions, or don’t even know what questions to ask. I will hold that sacred space for you. The link below will bring up the one-page resource. Please feel free to share far and wide. It is our intention to help calm the storm.
We are facing unprecedented times right now (at least for my generation). I am shocked at the empty shelves in the grocery store. I have never seen a line in Target waiting for the toilet paper to be unloaded from a truck that hasn’t even arrived yet. Even my own pantry – more beans and rice than ever before.
When will this end? When will we be able to share a cup of coffee at a small table or go to the movies together? When will we do our normal grocery store run and not have to wonder if there is hand sanitizer available?
We don’t know.
Listening to the news nonstop can make matters worse. Isolating from our friends and family creates more loneliness. Worrying about our next paycheck or life without our tips can cause sleepless nights. Maybe you have a friend or family member who is in panic-mode right now. These are just a few of the things that will steal our peace.
If possible, turn off the TV for awhile. Unplug your devices. Take time to be still and find the quiet. Breathe. Focus. Find that calm within. Pray. Meditate. Hold your puppy close. Take a walk outside – in your neighborhood or a park. Nature is a great remedy for many things. Take the time to be gentle with yourself. When you turn your phone on again, call a friend or a neighbor – they might need to hear your friendly voice.
This will pass. We can do this. Breathe, and hold your loved ones close. Stay well, my friends.
Today we celebrate the caregivers ~ the paid caregivers and the volunteers who give their time and talents to make life just a bit more comfortable for our loved ones. Although you don’t have to wait for an official ‘day’ to show appreciation, it helps to have a reminder.
With families spread out across the country, many seniors are relying on outside help with household chores, errands, and healthcare. Maybe you are the caregiver for a loved one and with time as a precious commodity, you find a way to make sure your parent/friend/family member is comfortable and safe.
Thank you for the long hours you give; making sure your family member or clients are safe, clean, and happy. Thank you to your own family when they miss you during an extra long shift. Thank you to the agencies who carefully screen their staff to ensure quality care.
Do you have a caregiver? You can show them the love in a note and tell them how they make your life easier. If writing is difficult for you, a simple verbal ‘thank you’ will go a long way.
Have you hired a caregiver for a family member? A short thank-you note will make their day. If the caregiver is with an agency, call their manager to let them know how important they are in your loved ones’ life. Many agencies discourage employees from accepting gifts; if you choose to give them a small token of appreciation, check with their manager to see if this is acceptable per company policy.
Are you the caregiver? Treat yourself to a massage or a touch-up manicure if time allows. If not, a cup of tea and a little down time might be enough to recharge you. You are managing a crazy balancing act between your family at home and your loved ones’ or clients.
You are doing important work every day in every interaction with your client, patient, or loved one. I salute you and the kindness you bring each day when you show up and do the caring.
With the holidays approaching at the speed of light, it is easy to get caught up in our to-do lists, gift shopping, decorating…. and let’s not forget the holiday baking! While many of us are surrounded by family and friends year-round, there is a large population of older adults who are alone in this world and holidays can be very painful. In a study by the University of Michigan and AARP, 1 in 3 adults say they lack regular companionship. (AARP 4 March 2019).
Look around your neighborhood, check your address book; any solos who could use a friend? A recent widow or widower? Who sits next to you in church, alone, week after week? Let your family and friends know there is an extra dinner plate at the table this year. Not cooking this year? No one expects a gourmet meal – a friendly face and a simple cup of coffee can go a long way to ease someone’s loneliness.
See Synergy Home Care’s newsletter to read my original article about isolation around the holidays. Contact Synergy Home Care for more information on their services.
How will a doula help me? Your doula will listen and give you the space to process what is happening to you and around you. Deep in your soul, you know how to leave your earthly body when the time comes, but it can be unsettling for you and your loved ones. Your doula will companion you and your family through these last days. Your doula will walk with you during the end of life process, for as much or as little time as you desire.
Do I need a doula if I have hospice care? Doulas do not replace hospice; a doula is an excellent addition to the care team. Your doula does not make decisions that would conflict with hospice orders or treatment plans.
When is the best time to start with a doula? This is entirely up to you and depends on the services the doula will provide based on your needs and wishes. Your doula can be involved as soon as you hear a terminal diagnosis. For some, a doula will be called when death is imminent. The decision is up to you and what you feel will be most helpful during this final journey.
Do doulas have medical training? Some doulas have medical background, but the role of a doula is non-medical. Medical training can be helpful, but it is not required.
How are doulas trained? There are many programs available for training doulas and most have incorporated an internal certification process.
Are doulas nationally certified or licensed? At this time, there is not a governing body to certify or license end of life doulas. There is voluntary competency badge that is awarded upon completion of a comprehensive test by an independent group.
Are doulas paid by insurance? Because doula work is non-medical, it is not covered by health insurance or Medicare. Every doula offers unique services and will discuss fees with you in advance.
Please feel free to call me at 612-499-4155 with your questions. There is no charge for an initial phone consult to determine if doula services would be helpful.
If you are wondering if the time is right, it probably is.
Flame or Water? Now you have a choice with cremation. A water, or ‘Green Cremation’, is done using water and potassium hydroxide, that reduces the body to the bone ash similar to flame-based cremation with much less impact to the environment.
I recently toured Bradsaw Funeral and Cremation Services in Stillwater, MN and was able to see their Green Cremation machine during my tour of the beautiful building and serene location. Michael Sorrell, one of the funeral directors at Bradshaw, explained the benefits of the eco-friendly Green Cremation.
The carbon footprint is what impressed me the most. The Green Cremation is 75.72% less carbon impact on the environment than traditional flame-based cremation and it uses 1/8 the amount of energy of other death preparation practices (Green Cremation brochure, Bradshaw Funeral and Cremation Services). Mercury and other particulates are not emitted into the environment during the water cremation. You still get ashes as you would with flame-based cremation; in fact, you get a bit more!
The process follows stringent guidelines, including the type of shroud you use (if you choose). The shroud must be 100% organic so it will decompose in the process. The photo below is a raw silk shroud. Funeral homes can guide you in this choice.
There is a peaceful viewing room adjacent to the cremation area. The water feature, soft lighting, and calm setting makes it a perfect place to say your final words to your loved one.
The grounds are in a prairie-like location and I was fortunate to have a bright blue sky above. I walked the labyrinth on site, and communed with the friends and family who have gone before me, then I sat awhile near one of the Columbariums. I took my time, soaking in the peaceful setting.
You have choices. You have traditional methods of burying your loved one, green burials, flame-based or water-based cremation, and in the state of Washington, you can even become compost. More on that later….
As with any service, it is wise to visit with funeral directors, tour their facilities, and become educated to your options. Your family will appreciate your forethought and it will save them the stress of making decisions in a time of mourning.
The labyrinth at Bradshaw (available to the public to walk)~