By Rebecca Bertucci
Have you ever thought to yourself, following someone’s death, “Wow, I’d really like my death to be as peaceful as hers,” or “Why can’t more celebrations of life be like that?” Or worse, “I never want to die that way.” Of course you have; heck, we all have. Death is part of life.
Though we’ve all thought these things, few of us have actually had the discussions that should accompany them before it’s too late. Our death denial often makes the end-of-life process one of fear, leaving us scrambling to get our affairs in order upon receiving the “news” of our impending end.
Have we as a society strayed so far away from ourselves that we can’t see the beauty, dignity and grace in our final days? It seems so. But there is a path back, a way that allows us comfort, acceptance of the unavoidable, and a feeling that we have done all we could to avoid any unfinished business. There is grace, Eternal Grace, to be exact, a new service offered by Hannah Fowler, who’s on a mission to help normalize death and dying.
As a former hospice nurse, Fowler found that although the services provided were necessary and valuable, the care never felt comprehensive enough. “I often felt limited by the company I worked for and I wasn’t always at liberty to provide the care I would want to receive when I die,” Fowler lamented. “Clients used to ask me to stay longer or provide more frequent visits through the week, but policies or Medicare guidelines disallowed it.” A nurse by trade, over the last few years she’s been providing counseling and facilitating group psychotherapy at the Behavioral Health Facility in town.
Fowler relocated from Colorado to Key West a little over three years ago to work at VNA/Hospice, which closed shortly after her arrival. Unable to practice her passion for compassion, Fowler learned about end-of-life doula work and quickly dove into training and certification.
If the term “doula” is new, you are not alone. Most people don’t know what a doula is, and if the word does sound familiar, it’s likely been associated with the birthing process. The word comes from ancient Greek and translates loosely to “woman who serves.” It’s used today to define a support person who assists with life’s sacred transitions (such as birth or death).
Simply put, Fowler provides comfort, support, resources and education to those undergoing the inevitable changes and decline that come with illness and aging.
Just as a birth doula advocates for her client and helps create a beautiful birth experience that’s specific to the patient’s values and beliefs, an end-of-life doula does the same. A doula helps clients and their family create an end-of-life plan to ensure their final wishes are carried out. They foster a safe space for their clients, free from judgment and full of unconditional support so this last act can be filled with as much grace as possible. To create the individual plans, they hold client sessions that focus on different domains: physical, emotional, spiritual, mental and practical. Physical deals with pain management and comfort therapies. Emotional addresses the family dynamics, healing relationships and offering grief counseling. Spiritual is support for clients’ religious beliefs, such as meditations and/or prayer, if desired. Mental helps clients honor their life legacy through after-life projects or services that most accurately reflect their beliefs and values. The practical domain makes sure clients/families have set up advanced directives and other planning.
In our death-phobic society, not everyone wants to talk about death when it’s personal. The one, natural thing we all are going to do in life makes us avert our eyes and remain silent. The sooner we stop seeing it as a terrifying concept, the sooner we can transform it into the thing of beauty it should be — for ourselves and our family.
“In this work I am able to remind myself and others that we are one day closer to death. How will I live today? How will I meet those around me?” Fowler said. “These questions remind me that this present moment is good enough and sometimes it’s all we have.”
Fowler navigates the uncharted waters of death with her clients.
“I am not the grim reaper or angel of death who comes at the final hour,” she said. “This work is meant to be done as early as possible; preferably when you are healthy, long before illness or decline so there is no unanswered question or frantic rushing when this process begins.”
In addition to doula guidance, Eternal Grace offers grief counseling, workshops and grief rituals to help people move through grief as an individual, family and community. She also facilitates a monthly “Death Cafe” via Zoom to help the community make the most of life.For more information, contact Fowler at [email protected], 860-368-9154, or eternalgracedoula.com.