at the beginning
I trained with INELDA as a death doula in the autumn of 2020, over Zoom, during the first part of the COVID-19 pandemic. Despite not being in person with the trainers and my fellow students, it was intensely intimate to show up. We did a lot of one-to-one breakout work, creating guided meditations on the spot, or walking each other through what we might want our last days to look like. Thinking through what kind of rituals would give us the reassurance and joy that whoever came into our space in those last weeks or days or hours, would know something of who we were and what we loved, even in our leaving. I am profoundly changed because of the work we did during the training.
Concurrently, I have been training as clergy since the spring of 2017. It is an old, oral tradition, and so far I have passed the first stepping stone and have taken oaths and been given a name. The pandemic has slowed down our learning and grounded us more deeply into the practices we do each day. Ritual and mindfulness and specificity are of huge importance to us, and to me. We train and we learn and in the process, hopefully we become less of who we pretend that we are, and more of who we actually are. I am grateful — a paltry word, really — to have found this tradition and this teacher and this way of living and being. It is through this work that I was led to deathwork, and found a place that could properly train me as a death doula.
Because of the pandemic, I have been closest with my chosen family, because we all live on the same property together, most of us in a big house where we eat together and watch What We Do In The Shadows together and celebrate the turning of the seasons together. We cry together. We hold each other up and we all choose this family we’ve created.
More than anything, I want my work to matter. Not because I think my ego needs it, but because I want to be able to hold the light for you. I would be with you at the end, so you are not alone. I would carry your last words, so they have been heard. I would help you find the right space to occupy in your active dying, so that you can die a good death. I would be here for your most loved people, who will grieve when you go, so that they are not alone.
The work of a death doula is not new work. There have always been people that sat with the dying, and there have always been people that sat up with their dead, who prepared bodies for funeral rites, who knew when to be silent and when to bring a casserole for the bereaved. But the culture I live in, here in the United States, is not very good at leaving room for an experience of dying. I think as a society we believe that death is the one-and-done immediate book slam of an ending, or at least that’s what we’ve wanted to believe. Death doula work is emerging, perhaps because we are ready to decolonize death, perhaps because we are ready to hold our hearts open to what is painful, perhaps because we are the generations that have seen what doesn’t work and we are looking for what does.
I don’t know where this work will take me. But I trust that if I am true to my calling, I will go where I am supposed to go.
One last thing; I am an out queer person. The community that matters the most to me, the community that is dying the most often, is the queer community (notably, black trans femmes). I am a white person and I should not be the first person in line to help black and brown LGBTQIA2S+ people, but I will show up if and where I am needed and asked for, no matter who you are under the rainbow umbrella. I want to be trusted, so I am working on being trustworthy. When you need someone safe, I hope that I can be that person for you.
I’m looking forward to sharing resources, writing pieces, and building a community here with you.