My beloved grandfather died one year ago this week from COVID-19. It was completely unexpected, coming after a week of ups and downs, hard decisions, and receiving the news that he was getting better. Then things took a quick turn in the other direction.
By virtue of my vocation, I have sat with plenty of people as they have transitioned from this life into the next. There have been some beautiful moments that I will treasure - this was not one of them. This was a hard death made even more difficult by the fact that the whole family was not able to be together due to necessary restrictions.
For months, I struggled with deep longings and regrets. One of my greatest unfilled longings was that if he had to die, I wished we could have brought him home on hospice, so we could all be together as a family.
As I sat with that longing, I felt a nudge to volunteer with hospice - to accompany people and their families on the winding road of their final journey in this life. However, I also had some misgivings, as I had tried to volunteer about a decade previously, to no avail, as there were hiccups in the process and I moved near its completion. So, I needed a sign. A sign that this was what I was to do be doing next.
That sign came in the form of a very, very large billboard along Route 322, close to where I live. Around the time I was searching for a sign, this billboard popped up, expressing the need for people to give of their time to volunteer with hospice. The next day I reached out.
That sign led me to a beautiful community of individuals who serve people and families in ways that are beyond my wildest imagination. It also led me to another sign, that of INELDA - the International End of Life Doula Association - which compliments the work of hospice by helping families fulfill the wishes of their loved ones and create meaning out of a difficult time.
Death is not something we talk about freely in our culture. It is almost as if we fear that talking about it will give death more power. But really, allowing people to accompany us along the way can be a blessing, for us and for those we love.
What has been your experience with death? And who have you accompanied on this sacred journey?
Michelle is a Spiritual Director and End of Life Doula. She is the founder of Abide in the Spirit.
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