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Soul Midwives – by Felicity Warner

Many years ago, I became a volunteer at my local hospice. I had been drawn for a long time to work with the dying. But as I was a journalist by profession I wasn’t sure how I’d be able to help. But I knew in my heart that working with the dying and in a unique new way, was very much my soul’s calling.

But after a few weeks of sitting and listening, making cups of tea, arranging flowers for bedside tables, stroking hands and helping people to eat their lunch when they were very weak, my view of death and dying was transformed by the extraordinary stories and situations I witnessed. I could see that dying was indeed an amazing journey.

Most people die either in hospital, a hospice or a Care put it all into a nut shell, I realised that in looking at death in a purely medical context we are disregarding and dishonouring one of life’s most important and sacred rites of passage. It is the one experience, that prompts the soul into a blossoming, often for the first time in a person’s simple terms, death is a huge initiation for the soul. The potential for growth and awareness of our divine nature is the greatest gift that we are given as we face death, yet sadly in our modern hi-tech world this is barely recognised, or understood.

Sitting with the dying and being aware of the process and stages it involves became a real “heart-opener” to me. I began to understand that dying is so similar to birth and that there is a profound emotional, spiritual and soul transformation going on as the physical body diminishes. These ideas as well as practical observations eventually led me to develop a simple method called “Gentle Dying” which can be learnt by anyone who is sitting with a dying loved one in a day. I also came up with the idea of Soul Midwives, who are compassionate companions to the dying. We now have around 70 of them in the UK and also some working in New Zealand and South Africa and Europe.

We can help people to die well in any setting whether it be in hospitals, care homes, hospices or in the dying person’s own home - and we often begin our role when the doctors have done all that they can. Our work fits in alongside whatever treatment is in progress. We aim to make the atmosphere around the dying person serene and safe to enable him or her to let go quietly, when he or she feels ready. It’s an ancient and very human way of helping people die rather than any strictly medical one.

People don’t realise that dying can take a long time and that it can be such a very lonely process. All the best treatment and medicine in the world isn’t going to keep some one alive when their time has truly come. Therefore switching the focus from trying to make them better, to making them feel comfortable and safe is a wonderful way of honouring the end of life.

Controlling pain and all the other distressing symptoms is of course very important, but the heavy handed use of drugs may mask the dying experience, robbing the person of the full richness and revelations that can occur .A gentle death , which is what we all hope for, can be achieved by combining the best care that medicine can provide, alongside other subtler methods such as massage, visualisation, breathing techniques and other holistic ways of calming and soothing. By using these, the amount of drugs required may be reduced, helping the person to feel more in touch with what’s happening and also more in control of their own well being.

How to help someone experience a more soulful death:

When we are asked to help someone who is dying, we start straight away to work on a plan which will take them towards their deathand sometimes beyond. This plan, although very flexible, keeps us on track. If someone has asked you to help them plan their death, this is what you’ll need to discuss:

• Where would you like to die - at home, in hospital or a hospice? • How much information would you like to be given? • What level of pain relief would you require? • Do you want to remain lucid at all times and be able to make decisions? • Would you prefer the information to be given to a proxy (ie, a partner or relative)?

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