Death Doulas Make it Rain (Tears) But Their Coffers Are Empty

Three year old viewing her deceased beloved grandfather at Home Funeral

There is this call… Echoing through the astral plane, rumbling through the bones of our ancestors and tearing through hospitals. It’s a beckoning for those privileged with life to look at their own mortality… To peer into the cavern of questions that we were told as children would swallow us up whole if we looked too deep.

It may be that our collective unconscious is sensing an impending doom… our earth has reached 7.7 billion and perhaps the next massive plague is not far away. It may be that we are desperately trying to find something real in a society that is severed from its root and is increasing shallow (swipe left). Or, perhaps after we get sucked into ancestral research like millions of us currently are, we have a personal desire not to be forgotten like they were.

Less than 100 years ago our babies were born at home, our sick and elderly died at home and the family witnessed it all. Now since life cycles are no longer home-schooled and the only deaths we see are played by actors in movies and in violent video games, maybe we, as a society, are craving the real… to see, to touch, to smell… to feel something that validates that we are, in fact, living. There is no better, faster or more thorough way to confirm living than to spend time with a corpse.

And so, a movement of death is upon the living. Some will scoff as they have been studying death and dying for decades and before them, philosophers, scientists and religions, for centuries. But what I am referring to is new in our time; an insurgence of young, healthy, smart, ambitious- mostly women- reclaiming deathcare. Once, we were the family matriarchs who cared for the dying, the mothers who held their plague-sick babies as they took their last breath, the witches and medicine women who did everything they could to heal the body… And if not the body, then the soul itself before the departure.

This new movement of Death Doulas, end-of-life caregivers, home funeral guides, green disposition advocates, artists, musicians, weavers… We are not necessarily matriarchs, mothers, herbalists or doctors. We are your neighbors, your barista, your therapist, your former school teacher and we hear the call of something ancient that is demanding to be reconnected: Life to Death.

And, on the other hand, some of this wave “hearing the call” is quite literal. It is comprised of those who have been working in the medical field who know the ICU is filled with elderly that will die there, but yet, no one speaks of it. Some advocates for Death Doulas are trying to get ahead of the “silver tsunami,” the onslaught of baby boomers that are about to hit residential care and nursing homes and though the majority of them may wish to die at home most of them will not.

The grassroots deathcare movement and the call from the medical field are using the same names of “Death Doula” and “End-of-Life Doula” as if they share a root intention which could be seen as end of life care. Instead, I see three branches forming: the call from care facilities that need help with dying; individuals who want to make a living serving individual families with dying; and the third, a social movement to incorporate deathcare into the value of life.

I’ve been called into various care facilities to talk about what a Death Doula does. The job of a Death Doula in a care facility is a no brainer. Hospitals, nursing facilities, residential care… They need people who are willing to talk about death as none of them are trained to do so. Money should be found within these facilities to compensate Death Doulas for their time.

The Death Doulas that wish to work on their own clock serving individual families and want to fill their coffers- yes, there is some room for that- but for the most part, it’s too soon.

In our communities Death Doulas need to be building a foundation. It is too early to be charging for services when our society has no idea what a home funeral is or what deathcare empowerment feels like. We are flying in like a swarm of locusts and disrupting the funeral industry’s crops… Which is getting the attention of the “professionals” who are irritated, but the families whose bodies the funeral homes have been taking for the past 75 years remain clueless. We need to start closer to the ground.

The crust was cracked with the brilliant design of Death Cafés. We have learned that people do want to talk about death, you just have to give them an opportunity to discuss it- for free. Death Cafés are a wonderful model for the grassroots Death Doula movement. Shift the focus from the open discussions of Death Cafés to Death Doula Cafés… information share, compile stories, pull out advance directives, research laws together, discuss your Death Doula training… This work must be free, at first, in order to build a foundation and cultural shift.

My intention is to educate and encourage others to care for their own dying loved one as much as is possible in their life circumstance, and to spark their own innate ability to care for their own dying and dead. The broken-open heart, witnessing the labor of a life leaving, floundering, and wondering if you are doing it right and finding the confidence in you somewhere that you did not know existed, learning to value life (your own and others) because it is finite… These are just some of the possibilities of enlightenment that are available to every human on earth… being with the dying is the very gift that contains all of this preciousness. I believe this work will awaken and heal our society one family at a time. In the meantime, I’ll keep making it rain tears for those that I work with. One day maybe I’ll fill some coffers with this work before I wrap it all up with my own ars moriendi.