Some of you know that I’m a volunteer for one of our local hospice groups. Every once in a while we gather together to add to our education about the process of death and dying. It’s more than just continuing education but also a way to share experiences and support one another.
Our meeting this month featured a guest speaker, Nancy Ward, Death Midwife. Before you shudder and click the delete button, I’m hoping you’ll be intrigued enough to keep reading. Nancy opened my eyes to a whole new alternative in dying that I never knew existed. No, she hasn’t found a way to avoid it but suddenly there’s a new/old option that resonates with me.
I’d always thought cremation was the way to go but now I’m having second thoughts. Nancy talked to us about home funerals as a natural extension of hospice care. In those rare moments when we consider our own death, most of us want to die at home surrounded by the ones we love, rather than in a sterile hospital environment. That’s one reason why hospice is so popular. If you’re going through the death process with an aging parent or another family member, you get to keep them in a place that feels much more nurturing and supportive not only for the one who is transitioning out of this world, but for the entire family.
Family directed funerals are sort of an extension of a philosophy that sees death as a part of the life cycle. It used to be that families and communities naturally came together to bury their dead. While the men built a simple wooden box and dug the hole, the women sewed the shroud and washed the body. It was a time of bringing the community together to grieve, celebrate and experience the loss to all of them.
Somehow we’ve lost the connectedness that comes from such an experience. Now the body is whisked out of sight and the next thing we see of our loved one is usually a closed casket or an urn. I think we lose something in the process. Having a Death Midwife who is familiar with all of the procedures and the laws surrounding death offers a whole new set of options and provides the opportunity to regain some of that support and community interconnectedness.
I have an Advance Directive sitting on my counter waiting for me to fill out. I guess before I write in the spaces I need to talk to my family. What I want is changing but I have to also find out what they want.
If you’d like more information about an organization that offers education, support and service during each stage at the end of life – from diagnosis through death and remembrance, you can find it at End of Life Care Collaborative or visit eolcc.info.