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To care for the dying is sacred work.

Updated: Jun 30, 2020

This blog was written by Amanda Waring, Dignity Champion, Author, Campaigner, Trainer and Film maker.

In our lives we go through many transitions from leaving our mother’s womb, through to saying goodbye to childhood as we become an adult.

Throughout our lives we are continually moving through life events, embracing changes, releasing, growing, learning, shedding old patterns, the past, re-adjusting, moving through, loving, feeling, breathing, letting go.

A life of change and death, birth and growth, grief and wonder, trust and love.

To care for the dying is sacred work. Death shouldn’t be something we have to shield each other from, rather it is something we should guide each other through.

At the end of a person’s life it will be the love that they have received that they will remember. Love in care is what sustains us.

I cared for both my parents till the end of their lives. I moved from London to West Sussex to be near them. I tried to give them the support that they needed but it was not always smooth sailing! I was a single mother and, having moved from London, did not have a support network of friends and family, so I understand the emotional rollercoaster, physical exhaustion, and deep aloneness that can be overwhelming at times when you are caring for elder loved ones.

My time with them was full of moments of love, frustration, laughter, despair, grief and healing. I learnt so much during that time – about them, myself, my limitations, my resilience, my fears and my capacity for love.

When my father was dying I was riddled with unexpressed rage at certain aspects of his behaviour that I had endured for so long without challenging him. I loved him fiercely but was frightened of him, particularly of his drunken rages, and rarely found the courage to stand up to him, choosing the path of acquiescence for fear of the consequences. I had to find some sort of resolution and forgiveness for him and myself, to allow for a “clean death” where we could both be liberated in our ultimate separation. To do this I knew I had to speak my truth to him. On the day of this unburdening, this releasing, truth telling, I felt calm and held Dad’s hands as I spoke to him gently but freely about all aspects of our relationship. I asked if he would listen until I finished speaking, that it was important. I spoke for over an hour as the memories flowed through me. I asked for his forgiveness, as in the moment of speaking so honestly with him I could feel my forgiveness of him too. I thanked him for creating me and I thanked him for the challenges he gave me. I told him that his life had enriched me, that I had felt his love and that I would miss him, but now without my rage or anger I could let him go. I washed my father’s feet and combed his hair and honoured him in a way that felt right for me. It was a profound life-changing experience and I could feel the peace and healing between us and so could he.

Everyone’s death is unique and the purpose of sitting with the dying is to honour their experience and nurture it by giving them all our attention, kindness and care.

I have sat with the dying since I was eight years old, when I used to be taken by my granny to sing at the bedside of those who were terminally ill in the hospitals where she volunteered. Even at such a young age I seemed to have an understanding of what was needed through sound and songs, or holding that person’s hand. It was as if I had done it before. I was not frightened.

As a teenager I continued to sing regularly to those in the Royal Hospital and Home for Incurables, as it was then called, and in other care homes, to help bring comfort and ease to elders in their final days.

From my twenties onwards I have undertaken many trainings and initiations in shamanism, Celtic ways, Hawaiian healing, Buddhist meditation and Native American rites of passage, to assist the transition of those who are dying.

I instinctively use this knowledge when working in my role as death doula, or soul midwife, and it is an absolute privilege to do this work.

All around the world communities have their own specific traditions for sitting with, and keeping watch over, those who are dying. This is often known as a Vigil. Everyone’s death is unique and the purpose of sitting with the dying is to honour their experience and nurture it by giving them all our attention, kindness and care. So if possible be open to being with the dying, as sharing part of their journey with them can actually be one of life’s most enriching experiences.

A heroine of mine is Helen Keller who is famous for overcoming the misfortune of being both deaf and blind to become a leading humanitarian of the 20th Century, she said “I am only one, but still I am one, I cannot do everything but still I can do something, I will not refuse to do the something I can do.”

During this time of Covid 19 it feels more important than ever that we all do the “something we can do” when it comes to caring for others and ourselves. The coming together of communities, initiatives and solutions has been inspiring. Never before have we had to face our mortality in such circumstances where there is separation, loss, isolation and fear. Never before has Care of our Elders and the valuing of those who care been so positively highlighted.

Parts of us are dying to make way for the new as we go through this transition, so how loving are we being to ourselves at this time, how nurturing? We may often be compassionate with others, but with ourselves it can be a very different story. In isolation have we learnt to be tender with ourselves? We all want to feel loved but rarely take the time to acknowledge the parts of ourselves that feel unworthy of being loved. At this time there is an opportunity to see, forgive and comfort the deepest wounds you have. Be gentle, be kind, be patient, be compassionate with yourself and let your healing process begin. We are all of us going through a transition, a birth, a death if you like and as a Celebrant and soul companion at this time, I am having to conduct ceremonies to as few as five people, it is heartbreaking but also intimate and strangely healing because of the intimacy.

As a Soul Companion I am having to be with the dying virtually, helping someone cross the rainbow bridge with my drumming, crystal bowls, words and song over the phone without physically being there and yet still the love is there and felt and the work that needs to be done is done through the ethers.

Trusting in Love working it’s magic, however tragic the circumstances, has helped me continue in my work at this time.

I train others to care for loved ones with my Heart of Care online trainings where I will share with you sacred ceremonies, the power of sound to heal and harmonise, the gift of personal presence and nurturing healing ways from other cultures to enrich your capacity to be tender, patient , effective and grounded with yourself and those you care for.

Using the drum is a beautiful way to honour someone’s journey echoing their heartbeat and the universal heartbeat and it often brings tears of remembrance to those who experience this with me. To be able to bring in peace and to create a sacred space around the dying I will sing songs of blessing and burn sacred herbs if appropriate and allowed depending on the setting.

In lockdown it is so hard for people who are perhaps not getting the normal outside support from visits for healthcare support or hospital visits have been postponed etc, people can feel desperate and uncared for so I am excited to introduce my solutions to the COVID CRISIS that I have created during lockdown.

Realising the need to provide virtual companionship for those who may be dying on their own and to help support isolated carers too  I am launching my Recording -  I AM NEAR YOU. This recording is a comforting presence to those on their own or where carers are too busy and already many hospices and family carers are using this. Meditations for anxiety and pain relief, sacred song and adult lullabies for comfort, forgiveness exercises and my poetry to aid in honouring  and letting go of the physical. I am near you is  a gift of solace, connection, forgiveness, grace  and healing with soothing melodies and healing words to uplift, calm and alleviate aloneness.

I am also taking pre-orders for my book BEING A GOOD CARER  which I have created to support and educate all of us to be better Carers. For when this pandemic is over we will all be called upon to care for others which we can see as a burden or the opportunity to share our gift of love.

BEING A GOOD CARER is essential reading for those of us who will be called upon to care for family members and loved ones now and in the future with inspiring hints and tips and well being support, I am there to hold your hand as you embark on this journey of care.

You can purchase more Amanda Waring training resources here.

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