Welcome to the first of a two part guest post from one of our super-star graduates, the remarkable Sylvia Sienikehä Pearlman. Sylvia is a holistic therapist, Reiki Master, hospice volunteer and certified death doula. She is the owner and founder of Soulmilk Healing Arts Studio based on the east coast of the US in Maine and on Hornby Island, British Columbia.
And What Do You Do?
I’m an (eco-conscious) Death Doula
I don’t do weather, sports or Kardashians. Corner me at a dinner party and within two minutes we’ll be talking about death. And why not? Death is fascinating and real. Far more so than it is morbid, creepy or weird. It also happens to be vastly more interesting than Khloé’s latest relationship crisis, imho. Frank talk about death is a good thing, or talk about Frank’s death, if that be the case. Fascinating, real, relevant and worthy of wine and cheese.
When I tell people what I do, I give them a moment and wait for the polite cough followed by the eyes-cast-down-head-nod-eyebrow-arch combo. This is generally then followed with an “Oh, that’s nice.” And then a, “Say, isn’t that (insert random made-up name) over there?” Which is then followed by a speedy exit to no such person.
This doesn’t happen all the time, actually, very seldom, but every so often, there is the odd person who has the sudden urge to refill their already full wineglass and book it to the other end of the room, where moments later, their voices can be heard over the din of the party. “Omigod. And did you see those tacky wedge sneakers Kim was wearing?!”
OK, I’ve never actually heard anyone say that. Most of the people I know don’t know who the Kardashians are, let alone own a TV. I have my pop culture-vulture sisters to thank for my intro into that reality. But, there you have it for examples sake. Different interests. We all have them. And, to turn the tables around, if I were cornered with Kim’s wedges right off the bat, it’s easy to envision myself as the full wine glass refiller. Then, it would be my voice booming back over the din, “I know — the mushoom burial suit! Amazing right?” And them, rolling their eyes.
I’m a holistic therapist, hospice volunteer and certified death doula. I host and facilitate Death Cafés in mid-coast Maine and on Canada’s west coast. A community radio show on death and transition is on the horizon as is a book on death-centric poetry. Essentially, I serve the dying and the dead. I rolled up my sleeves in utero to do this. I’m passionate about my work and I love what I do.
Death workers. Who we are
Death workers and mourning professionals are known by an assortment of names, which are used interchangeably to amplify the confusion; end of life doulas, end of life guides, mourning doulas, doulas to the dying, death midwives, death coaches, companions for the dying, midwives to the soul, soul midwives, thanadoulas, transition guides and psychopomps to name a few off the top of my head.
Though there may be slight variances in the roles and they may differ from death worker to death worker, the essence is the same: we serve those who are actively dying or who have died as well as their families and loved ones. We provide support and information to those who want to preplan for the future; young families, middle aged men and woman, people of all demographics and from all walks of life — helping them rest easier knowing their affairs are in order (and ensuring that soand-so isn’t getting her grimy hands on grandpa’s antique dinky car collection).
It’s a fact. No one gets out of here alive. Death will happen to all of us. Some sooner, some later, yet, certainly death will affect and collect all of us. (Unless you’re a zombie, vampire or Keith Richards.) Navigating the intensity of emotions and life changes that accompany death along with the massive array of options and details that need addressing can be overwhelming. We can make the process smoother if we are prepared. This is where the professional death worker comes in.
A what doula?
Oh death. Wait, death-death? Just as a birth doula provides support at the beginning of life, a death doula serves the dying at the end. My role is simple and multifaceted; I am here to serve, support and advocate for the dying, addressing everything from getting all those dreaded documents in order to offering companionship and emotional, informational and physical support and assistance with end-of-life planning and options for care, final arrangements, disposition and post-death care.
I support my clients in creating meaningful and personalized funeral, memorial and vigil services and offer post-loss grief coaching as well as organizational assistance with personal effects, helping the bereaved through the process of sorting through belongings and navigating the life changes that death brings.
I believe in dying a good death, a conscious death, one that reflects the way we lived. A good death is within the realm of possibility for everyone. We owe it to ourselves and to one another to die well; with integrity, dignity and grace. It can be immensely freeing, insightful and empowering to consciously take charge of how we want our final months, days and moments to play out. Death workers and mourning professionals can help with this. They are part of the growing death positive movement, affecting and evolving the way we approach end-of-life.
CHECK BACK TOMORROW FOR PART 2, GREENING DEATH
Image: Gina-Rae Horvath