My name is Amanda Carr and I am a death doula. Even my closest friends and colleagues don’t necessarily understand what that means though – so let me try to explain a bit better from *my* perspective.
A longtime ER nurse, I’ve transitioned into doing end-of-life work over the last few years. I’ve followed my growing impression that the medical establishment is spending increasing time on the wrong side of the equation: we are “saving” people too often that don’t want to be “saved”.
I believe in the wonders of the medical system; what I don’t believe in is a system where patients don’t get the full picture of their options and are not educated about the ramifications of their choices. Armed with this information, every patient has the right to choose whatever is best for them. For some, that will mean going to the ends of the earth in search of a cure. For others, it will be to shift focus to the inevitable. Most will want some melding of the two. Somewhere along that path, comfort and quality of life take priority over quantity.
As I death doula, I work with families all along the process, from early diagnosis and decision-making through end-of-life. This can often include talking through difficult decisions, family meetings to help figure out how to care for a loved one, legacy work such as art, writing or other projects to capture memories of amazing lives and other details that families can come together and work on, before and after the death of a loved one. Sometimes I’m part of the journey for only a moment. Ideally, I work with the family periodically on a long-term basis. (So little in life works out ideally, but then, it is often where the spontaneous meets the necessary that most of the magic happens!)
Every patient and family have their own unique needs, but I walk them through the illness – answering questions, providing support, empathy, occasional silliness, groceries (full disclosure: it’s best if I don’t cook!), working through issues, playing with babies, and problem-solving. I have experience with the topics, ideas and roadblocks you’re likely to encounter. I can help you set up your network of resources, daydream your bucket list (and plan how to execute it), help you design your quirky, themed funeral procession, or even hold your own Irish let’s-have-a-party-while-I’m-here Wake!
The idea is to help you live as much as you can in the time you have left, however you decide you want to live it. That is what I facilitate. That’s what death doulas do. Sure, I come packed with a bag of nifty ideas, but everything is optional. This is your journey; I’m a guide, but the adventure is all yours.
It might sound like I’m painting too rosy a picture of such a difficult subject, but I ask you this: say you have to walk down what you see as a long, dark road, and you want someone to walk with you….. Do you get the mysterious man in somber black, or the eccentric girl with a belt made of seventeen flashlights, the one with glow-in-the-dark stickers sewn randomly on all of her clothing? You’d choose the crazy girl: she carries the light with her, and might even make you laugh along the way. Laughter may not cure you, but it makes the process a whole lot easier to get through.
I might not be your cup of tea: I’m odd, my humor is off-color, my approach too far from your way of thinking… and that’s okay. You don’t have to like me, but I hope that you learn one thing from me: end-of-life is only as scary as we make it. That’s why I’m here doing the work, holding hands and walking people through this time. And if you’re open to the possibility, there’s magic. There is so much to see and learn and experience and to know about each other.
In our hardest times, it all comes forth, it all pours out if we can find a safe spot to let it. We don’t have to fear the thing we are born knowing we will someday get to. Dying isn’t your final failure, it’s your fulfillment of purpose; some do it in a single breath, and others take a hundred years or more, but we all get there.
Someday, when I fulfill my purpose here and I walk that last mile home, I’m throwing one hell of a party to celebrate – and if I don’t make it, I hope you do it for me! Until then, I’m looking for families in search of crazy girls with laughter and flashlights, people that need someone to plan a different kind of party, because they wonder if someone they love has almost fulfilled their purpose, and that’s a thing to celebrate, and a time to live.