Diary of a Death Midwife

I was called in today to sit with a patient who was extremely agitated, and unable to communicate what exactly was causing their distress.

It is like I must play the role of ‘mother’ and find the source of discomfort.

It always amazes me how people return to such a vulnerable state at the end of their lives.
How much they rely on others to offer them comfort and care.

My job is to find and meet their emotional needs, whatever they may be. It is an extremely intuitive process. They often speak only through eye contact and/or body language.

My person was afraid, and as a result retless and agitated.

Dying is an entirely new experience that we only (most of us) experience once. So full of unknowns even for people who have strong faith in something beyond this life.

I handed my person their blanket, stroked their forehead and sang to them, much the same way I have with each of my 5 children.

Isn’t this what we all crave at the deepest level?

Presence, connection, comfort, and love.

Each, such primal needs, beyond mere desire.

Such a beautiful, rich experience ❤

A Day in the Life of a Death Midwife

Today, during a staff meeting with a team of beautiful souls, dedicated to the work they do with Hospice, I share a story about one of my patients who is suffering from the late stages of dementia.

Often times all I have to offer her is my presence, and somehow that leaves me feeling as if I am not truly reaching her, reaching deep down into that space where the essence of who she is lives on in spite of her cognitive decline.

She offers bits and pieces to me of her former life, her former self, mostly childhood memories of growing up here in the Blue Ridge Mountains.

The Winter that she contracted measles and became deathly ill.

The way the youngins acted up (all 8 of em) when they’d been cooped up too long.

Bits and pieces, like a puzzle I so desperately try to put together so that I might help her make as smooth a transition as possible from this earthly reality to the next.

I look into her piercing blue eyes and they speak to me where words fail.

She reaches for my hand and we sit together in silence.

And then, restlessness sets in, she is resisting this process, there is something inside of her still unsettled.

We sing a few rounds of Amazing Grace.

She is calm once again.

Her eyes suddenly show deep sadness. I pull out my iPAD and play a youtube video for her of scenes from the Blue Ridge Mountains set to Bluegrass. Her eyes suddenly light up.

“Banjo!” She shouts, as she starts tapping her leg with her wrinkled, frail hand, visually engaged in the scenes of her childhood here in the mountains upon the screen.

It was a good day, we connected.

Success!

This is a small glimpse into my day as a death midwife. It is an extremely intuitive process in many ways, especially while sitting with patients who can no longer communicate.

Body language, breathing, the subtle shift of a gaze are often times the only indicators I have to go on.

It is both challenging and rewarding.

It is an honor.