This weekend's housesit client asks how Dartmoor was. I tell her Dartmoor was desolate and glorious. That somewhere in its icy darkness I decided I want to train as a death doula. A midwife to the dying.
I've always had a soft spot for the shadow. The shadow in the Jungian sense. The darker emotional places in people. The hidden bits. The taboos. The places where so much of the magic and the power lies. All my life I've had people reveal their biggest secrets to me. Grief has always been such a known quantity to me; so normal and familiar. I expect that's part of it; informs my relationships with others and with the world around me. I've never had much capacity for being shocked and perhaps that is somehow tangible.
When I've facilitated workshops, one of my favourite things has always been when people have felt comfortable enough to air their deep stories - be it their writing or their sharing from their lives. This might take the form of scar stories. We've all got those: the stories of our physical scars and our emotional ones. I believe those kinds of stories are safest when they are given space: allowed, seen and heard. To name something is often an act of empowerment.
Yet our stories - and sometimes our entire realities - can be framed in so much judgment - from ourselves and from others. The shadow is taboo and death perhaps most taboo of all. Few people really know what to do with death; how to broach it as a topic or face it as a reality. We don't create a lot of room for grief. In a world obsessed with answers and control, we try to shrug off the unknown and what could be more unknown than death itself?
That, if you like, is where I come in, or at least: eventually hope to. The movement of death doulas and death midwives takes myriad forms, bridging that gap to some degree. Death doulas can provide help of various kinds to both the dying and the grieving. This help can be practical. It can also be spiritual or emotional (or all of those things). A lot depends on the death doula or death midwife themselves and what role they choose to fulfill. (This is my understanding of it. I'm still learning).
I'm at the very beginning of my path. Or, at least, I'm sidestepping within the larger framework of my life, re-focusing. I'm just starting to investigate death midwifery training, wanting to ground this feeling of vocation in practicality. It feels like opening a door. This feels right in a deep, instinctive way. If I tell you I believe this is a beautiful path, I don't want to romanticise it. This won't be an easy path, but 'easy' has rarely been of interest to me.
Patience and a commitment to just not flinching: these are capabilities I have. Chronic illness taught me patience. Gradually, I taught myself to flinch less and less, redrawing my own boundaries, rethinking my own capabilities. I relearnt my boundaries the weekend I first felt this call: the call that said: Become a death doula. One icy morning on Dartmoor in late November, I threw myself naked into a cold, fresh stream. A careful, calculated risk. I'm a cold water swimmer. More than that, though: I wanted to cement this commitment to not flinching, to acknowledge I'm stepping out onto a new path, a challenging one.
I submerged twice, emerged impossibly refreshed. Ready.