The Guardian recently posted an article on Sheila Kitzinger, a natural childbirth activist who died in April. The article speaks of her passion for her work and her advocating for more natural births at home, the de-medicalization of the child birth process, as well as her plans for her own death. Sheila understood the power of regaining control over the death process by advocating for herself, writing and speaking her wishes and desires; much in the same way she helped so many to reclaim control over childbirth by planning for at home and alternative birthing techniques. She, unlike so many of us, didn’t fear death in a way that made her keep silent about it, she expressed her wishes to die as she had lived, strong, happy, at home and in as much control as possible.
The Article can be found here: Sheila Kitzinger’s Story
Sheila’s work in the de-medicalization of the birth process is similar to what many of us now feel passionate about doing with the dying. Here is the root of the idea of a death doula or end of life midwife. The modern medical technology and advancements are amazing, they have changed our paradigm, they have changed the way we die. These advancements also have great power in making our end days much more comfortable, they offer pain control and ease of physical suffering, increased mobility and safety as medical issues take their toll on our bodies and mind. Palliative and hospice care have come leaps and bounds in recent years, though we continue to have a long way to go.
The advances in healthcare, as wonderful as they are, assure that most of us will not die suddenly in our sleep, with no warning. The very real fact is that most people these days die slowly of incurable long term diseases, COPD, cancer, heart failure, MS, ALS and other diseases with horrible complications.
The journey to that death can be controlled by the individual, the choices of life sustaining treatments or heroic measures are yours. If you choose to make them. If you want everything done until the moment of your last breath, that is your choice as well, and I would support you 100%.
The choice to die at home, for your body to be laid to rest in one of many different methods, for final viewing and services, all of these choices are yours.
No, I assure you, you can plan and control your death if you choose, and those that accept that dying is an inevitable part of life, are choosing more and more to plan their final journeys.
This planning, though difficult to contemplate for many, can often make the final days, weeks, or months far more peaceful and joyful for families and friends. Your wishes known they seek to live out your time with you, celebrate amazing lives and let you rest in peace when the time comes, knowing they have honored your wishes and loved you until the last moments.
Think of the child, standing in front of their mother’s hospital bed. Her mother never shared her wishes, the last weeks have been filled with medical interventions both painful and invasive, she has watched her mom suffer greatly, and now watches her live on a ventilator…kept alive only by the oxygen forced into her lungs by that machine. Imagine the doctors that present her with the option to turn off the machine, to let her mother go….imagine that child has no idea what her mother would want.
I know that child…she was 27 when the decision had to be made, and to this day she is haunted by guilt and fear that she made the wrong decision.
The power of choice, the power of letting your desires and choices be known is not only for yourself but also to ease your passing for those that remain.
You can plan, and I beg you to….
All of these resources however, are only as valuable as our ability to express and communicate our wishes, in essence, our ability to face the reality of death and the conversation about what it is we desire in our final journey. Sheila Kitzinger did what I wish the entire population would do, she wrote down her wishes and shared them with family and friends….she thought about her death and planned it in accordance with her life and values. Have the conversations my friends, the tough ones that consider what’s to come, and make your desires known, so that you might have such a beautiful journey to peace.