Bright Blessings of the Day to You.
Last evening your friendly neighborhood Detroit Paganism Examiner finished up an interview with a very special lady with a very special Calling, Kris Bradley, and learned about her Path to becoming a Death Doula, or Death Midwife. As our population grows older, hard and gentle choices are becoming more and more prominent in many people's minds. The option to have a funeral at home for End of Life care, as well as other choices, is something that needs to be discussed before it becomes a crisis point.
Enter the realm of the Death Midwife. She is the Advocate, the Guide, the one who Serves. And Kris Bradley does a service to us by giving a peek into the world into which she has found herself Journeying. So take a moment to center yourself, relax, and glimpse the world through the eyes of one who dances in the fields of Thanatos as we take a moment to learn something new from this remarkable woman.
So, first things first, I think that maybe an introduction may be in order. You are not just your average private Pagan. You are rather public. So for those who have been living in a haze of censer smoke, tell us who you are and why most of us probably know you.
Well, I don’t know if most of you will probably know me, but I hope a few will. I’m Kris Bradley, perhaps known more online as “Mrs.B.,” blogger on (the now retired) Confessions of a Pagan Soccer Mom. I’m also the author of the book “Mrs.B.’s Guide to Household Witchery.”
I am a huge fan of your work as well as your Weekly Prayer posting. You seem very committed to doing positive healing work. In that vein, can you tell us what exactly is a Death Doula?
A Death Doula serves the dying and their loved ones. They provide emotional, physical and spiritual support, sitting vigil, and helping to achieve a “good death.” They work with the patient and their family to create an individual plan to ease the transition that might include music, reading aloud, sharing family photos or various complimentary therapies such as Reiki or aromatherapy. It’s all about the patient and their needs.
What drew you to this work?
My very first introduction to the word Death Doula was in an article on The Wild Hunt about a woman who was thought to be on the verge of passing to the next life herself (she actually recovered). In speaking of her accomplishments, there was a mention of her being a Death Doula, which I had to go and look up. I felt so very drawn to the description at that point, I immediately ordered a book to read up on it. From that moment on, I knew that this would be work I’d need to be involved with at some point.
How did you find the way to get started in your studies? In other words, who were your first mentors?
Up until recently, all my studies have been self-lead. I’ve read many books on death midwifery, books on grief and books for hospice providers. I’ve watched videos to learn how to bathe a body, researched the laws on home funerals in my state. If it’s connected to this subject, I’ve researched it! I finally got to a point recently where I realized that I’ve gone about as far as I could on my own, and wanted to continue with a teacher.
What classes and training have you undertaken thus far?
Most of what I’ve taken up to now have been classes that would be considered “complimentary” classes. I’ve been a Reiki master for several years, and it will be a very useful tool in this work. I’ve also been taking a flower essence remedy class and an aromatherapy class, focusing my learning on their use in hospice type situations.
Going through the courses you already have, would you say that it is an emotionally challenging work?
Any time you plan to work with not only a dying patient, but with the grieving loved ones left behind, that’s going to definitely be emotionally challenging. One of the most vulnerable, fragile times in a person’s life is when they are grieving a death. It’s certainly not going to be easy work.
What are some of the issues involved in being a Death Doula that you have passion regarding?
My biggest passion going into this is to make sure that the patient’s needs and wants are recognized and valued. People often think, with the best of intentions, that they know what’s best for a dying family member or friend. The patient has the right to refuse visitors, refuse to “take just one more bite.” They have the right to want more hugs or less hugs or to not want pain medication. They have a voice and they have rights and those rights should be respected. A Death Doula is first and foremost an advocate for the patient.
With the major overhaul in the Health Industry, and more people entering hospice and end of life transition industries, what do you foresee the field looking like in the next five years insofar as your role?
Considering that a quarter of the U.S. Population is 55 years old or older, I think that “alternative” end of life care will be a very popular choice over the next five years and beyond. The “baby boomer” generation is already starting to choose more green options for their funerals and there are increased numbers of people starting to plan for their end of life care every year. I think that more and more people will be exploring wanting to be home for their last days and looking into the possibilities of a less expensive, more personal, home funeral.
How important is the ability to process empathy with professional distance in this work?
This is definitely a concern of mine. I am a very sensitive person and I know that there is only so much professional distance that I’ll be able to hold. I’m not sure that’s a bad thing, though. This is work that calls for you to care for each patient as if they were family. Though you treat them with the utmost respect and professionalism, you care for them, fight for them if necessary, and hold them dear. I’m not sure how much distance you can hold on to as you help someone transition to their next stage.
What are the resources for self care for the Death Doula?
As of right now I am unaware of any specific resource for self-care for the Death Doula outside of a few online groups. My hope is that once I’ve been certified and have enough experience, I’ll go on to teach this art locally, and create a circle of support within our community.
Now the big question, you have a fundraiser going on right now in order to accomplish your certification. Can you tell us about that?
I recently started a “Go Fund Me” campaign to help raise funds to get closer to my goal to becoming a certified Death Doula. The campaign had three goals, the last being the ability to take both parts of the certification program from Beyond Hospice. This program is an 88 hour course comprising of both online modules and a short residential program in Austin, Texas. I never expected to reach that goal, but I’ve been tremendously blessed by an outpouring of support and have gone just past my goal amount. As soon as I wrap up some current projects, I’ll be starting the online part of the program!
What will the credential allow you to do?
Technically there is no national certification or credential for Death Doula work. In the big scope of things, anyone could hang out a shingle and use that title. What the credential does offer, however, is a bit of legitimacy for those who want to see what your background is before working with you. It’s proof that you have studied and committed yourself to the work. It also gains you the knowledge, wisdom and experience of someone who’s been doing the work hands on.
Would you say that spirituality plays a large role in this work?
For me, I’d say that it plays a huge role. I’m not sure if I’d have been open to this work if I did not have a very strong faith in what I believe in and that there is something on the other side. I can’t, of course, speak for anyone else, but my spirituality is what gives me the strength to even consider this work.
As a Pagan, have you found that there is a lack of practitioners who are empathetic to nontraditional religions?
So far I’ve had no show of any concern about what my religion is at all. Many of the people I’ve been in contact with who are doing this work are themselves Pagan practitioners or are very open to the them.
Are families open to Death Doulas that may not share their beliefs?
I’ve not yet worked directly with a patient as a doula, but I can say that my emphasis will be on the beliefs of the patient, so my beliefs should not be an issue (barring anything that specifically goes against my moral or ethical beliefs, of course). Hopefully that will never crop up as an issue, but if it does, I’m prepared to explain that my beliefs are my own and I would certainly never try to push them onto anyone else, certainly not at the time of their death.
When you see yourself, five years from now, what are you visualizing your Path to have developed?
In five years I’d like to be at a place where I’ve been working steadily in this field and have created my own workshops to help others come into the field as well. I’d like to be an active, working asset to my community.
If the readers come away with only one thing from this article about Death Doulas, what would you like that to be?
The one thing I’d like to leave those reading this article is to know that there are people out there that can help you in your time of grief. They can help you get organized, create a plan for a good death, and will sit by your side in vigil. There is no need to be alone or worry that your wishes will not be carried out, because there are advocates out there for you.
To learn more about becoming a Death Doula or Death Midwife, please visit Safer Midwifery For Michigan's page to find out more about Michigan information.
To get to know a little about Kris Bradley the author, check out her book "Mrs. B's Guide to Household Witchery",