Caring for the Dying
The Doula Approach to a Meaningful Death
By Henry Fresko-Weiss
My wife fed me this book subtly, on the edge of the coffee table, not quite in my pile of books but close, with the suggestion I look it over. So I did and after twenty pages I said, “I’m going to review this one.” She made no comment until another hundred pages or so and then said, “I was not looking for an intellectual response, but an emotional one.”
The point was that she was in favor of contacting a Doula to work with us in planning our dying. Since I am eleven years her senior, eighty-two, this translates to contacting a doula to arrange my dying.
I started this book with the experience that everyone I knew who died, just died, and did not plan it at all. Some quietly and gracefully, some in agony. My Dad’s last words to me were that the last six month of chemo and recovery from the chemo had not been worth it. I listened to that.
But for him there was no stopping point where the decision to go through that agony was considered. The oncologist expected a “yes” to his offer to give Charlie his “medicine.” Charlie was not in the best of shape for deciding anything. Charlie thought he had had a successful operation and was cured. Turns out a successful operation meant the surgeon got out what he set out to get out. That left enough stuff to kill my dad in a couple of weeks and here was the oncologist offering six months. What a deal!
And then we called the funeral home and the undertaker came when we were not there and the deceased reappeared a day later in a casket looking nearly as good as new, although of course he wasn’t. Visitation scheduled , old friends of the dead circling around, the funeral, the burial all by the book, and then silence. Went home. Got on with life.
So what will you gain by reading a book by a doula on caring for the dying?
First, you will find out what a doula is. Short form, a doula helps you and your family plan the last couple of weeks of your dying and burial. and then supports you and your family through the process. If I remember correctly, doula was a name for a mid-wife. Early mid-wives cared both for the birth process and the dying process, as did doulas. Nowadays, the term is being used by a new group of people mid-wifing death. (If you decide to look for one, there are other professionals performing these tasks using other titles so do not be put off by the title or for that matter do not be pulled in by the title. Ask them what they do.)
Second you will learn how a doula thinks and acts . You will learn what it takes to do the job. You will admire those who do it. Good to know that kindness still walks the earth. You may envy them as I do. For their skill and for their presence at a critical time. How awake to life they must be, who constantly face death!
Third, you will learn the myriad decisions that you need to make, and needs that you may want to plan to meet. A friend of mine, a person of some stature as a common person but with many contacts and much influence held two funerals a couple of weeks before he died so that he could hear all the nice words. He told me that the only problem was that when the party was over they all left and he was the only one still dying. But I remember that, and would like one of those anyway.
Where do you want to die? In the hospital? Do you want to be resuscitated if all that will come back is a living corpse? A room in a place dedicated to caring for the dying? Would you like professional hospice care? Would you prefer to die in your own bed? Or at least in your own house?
Do you want to hang on as long as possible? What efforts do you not want employed? Sustaining efforts like feeding tubes? What is your final state? Cremation? Burial of the remains? In a crematorium? Or scattered from the old boat midway up the Mississippi between St. Paul and Inver Grove Heights. Is there a family plot that you have nearly forgotten exists. Or do you just do not care what happens after you die and will let your relatives do what they want to do? Do you want your body prepared by your family or by the mortician.
In all of the above the doula has expertise and offers help. She or he even offers support for the difficult communication that must occur.
Fourth, you will read the stories of thirty or so people who have faced death, their struggles, bravery, and for the most part peaceful deaths. Among other things it wakes you up to the fact of death. To the courage and fatalism required.
Fifth, Maybe, you too will take a little more control over the nature of your death, perhaps even bringing to it, if I dare say, meaning and pleasure
My wife and I plan to check in with the doula soon. So here is one person, me, that found Caring for the Dying a useful book. Oh, and so did my wife, I think she is getting what exactly what she wanted. I have never known the difference between an intellectual and an emotional response. Such decisions have always been a muddle of both as is this one. So this one, contracting with a doula, makes sense and feels good.