My Path is leading me

I felt it was time to remind people a little bit about me and where my path is leading me.

For those of you who don’t know much about my background, I have been a long time caregiver.  Over the years I have supported my husband after his back injury, his recoveries from surgery, medical appointments and long term pain management.  My mother had Parkinson’s for over 10 years before she died and I during her illness I advocated for her for years with doctors, medical staff, counselors and the seniors homes.  We experienced the loss of all of our parents, a few friends and I also spent time with others at their end of life as. I went back to school to become a Personal Support Worker because I felt drawn to it as a caregiver, but found I couldn’t work within the restrictions that the facilities ran under. Limited time with each client and so many restrictions on how to care for them.  This is my experience, I applaud all of those in this job right now, they are my heros, but I knew it was not how I wanted to serve people.

Fast forward and I tried a few other jobs but still felt drawn to being in business for myself.  It came to me that I was really providing a form of self care by creating my own business where art and outdoor activities could bring play back into peoples lives. The realization that I was caregiving in a whole new way and that this brings joy and satisfaction to my clients, which in turn makes me feel like I am making a difference.  I offer art classes year round, my paint, paddle and picnic daycation and I volunteer at the Seniors home where I am allowed to offer art classes on my terms. 

A few years have passed since I started my business and I was listening to a podcast with Jan Arden who mentioned that she had hired an End of Life Doula to help care for her mom during her dying process.  I didn’t totally understand what that meant, but it lit a spark in me.  I have always felt that people felt safe talking to me about their illnesses and their concerns.  I am honored that they felt they could and that by me listening they were able to express themselves freely and possibly relieve some stress (I do not pretend to be a counselor, I’m a listener).  I have always felt empathy for those dealing with illness and going through the dying process.  What I have often wondered was how can I do more to support people who are dying and may need to just talk, find a way to work through their feelings, make sure their surroundings are tailored for them, help them create legacy projects and make sure no one is alone who doesn’t want to be alone at the end of their lives.

Then a couple months ago, a post on Facebook told about a course for becoming an End of Life Doula that was being held in Kenora, when I looked into it, it was cancelled, but it was still being held in Winnipeg.  Still I was not completely clear on what this was all about, only that I felt drawn to explore it further.  I wrote back and forth to the Douglas College in BC for more information and decided to sign up.  I took the week long course on Jan. 13th – 17th.

Now with this training complete I can tell you a bit more about what an End of Life Doula does.  They are there to support people while they are dying, along with their families (just a heads up, we are all dying.  We have 100% mortality rate on this planet).  So there’s more, even though it says end of life, it doesn’t mean that you have to be necessarily near the end of life to make your wishes known and be somewhat prepared for when that time comes. 

This might be unsettling to some, but really, think about it.  The only guarantees in this life is that if we are born, we will die.   We plan for birth, we plan weddings, we plan retirement, we plan trips, yet we avoid planning for our death.  We have really become a death fearing society and we bury our heads in the sand.  Sadly that means people feel they can’t talk about it, they feel alone, families are left to guess what their loved ones want, we regret not getting through our bucket list, we forget to live until we die and we forget to share our stories with our loved ones.

I see my roll as an End of Life Doulas is to support those who want to make their plans known.   To provide information on possibilities for their funeral (the information out there is amazing), inform people of the choices they have and empower them to make informed decisions, have things in order ( know what you want, know what your family needs).  Create legacy projects families can work on, whether before you die or after a loved one has died (this aspect is very near and dear to my heart).  Be available to sit with those who are ill or in need of support, someone to listen.  Maybe create an art project to express their feelings, not being a Pacaso, just releasing any pent up feelings. Maybe it’s me sitting with a person who tells me their feelings and I put it on a canvas.  Maybe someone wants help creating a legacy project to leave for their loved ones.  Sitting vigil with family in the last days.  Offering support in creating a beautiful love filled atmosphere to be surrounded them.  There is so much that can assist people and remove some of the fear and distress that we feel when dealing with death.  And then there is the grief, sometimes the elephant in the room.  We grieve before people die, as they are dying and after they die.  Again our society doesn’t want to deal with that and often the person grieving feels alone and even ashamed that they “can’t get over it”.  We never get over losing those close to us, we don’t really get back to normal, it just becomes a new normal that can include a healthy acknowledgement of those who have passed and keeping our memories alive. Supporting people with safe places to talk openly.

This course was truly a wonderful experience.  I feel it was a perfect fit for me.  I learnt so much.  I felt so much. I realize I still have so much to learn.

What I am inspired to do now is share what I have learned.  Little by little offering support to those who are ready to reach out.  Guide people in the process of planning and try to make it a positive experience that empowers us to be in control when possible.  Stuff will come up, not everything we plan will work perfectly, but taking some of the pressure off of ourselves and loved ones at some of the most stressful times in our lives is a goal I want to reach for.  I feel strongly that people need to be informed.  I see ways of lessening the stress for both the dying and their caregivers through art and legacy projects ( these can be done at any time).  I see this as a way to fill the cracks of supporting the dying and believe me there are many cracks.  This is not me trying to fill any roles already in place, but it is me being open to finding and sharing what is already out there and available so that people are empowered in their own self care and dying process and being there to fill the needs that are not being met.

I have a few more things to put into place but I have already started doing what I can. 
I am creating a list of resources and reaching out to the Palliative Care and Hospice Care resources already in place.  I have no plans to reinvent the wheel, there has been some extensive work already done by some agencies, I want to make sure people are more aware they exist and that they are available now, not just when you receive a terminal diagnosis or are near dying, we need to know that information exists now so that we have access to it whenever we need it.   
I am putting myself out there for more training and being a volunteer for Hospice care.
I want to create some painting workshops where people work through their feelings if they want.  Take the fear out of creating. Explore some other legacy projects people might like to create.
I would like to hold some information sessions to share some of what I have learned and offer my services to those who see it as a fit.
I would like to create a support group in our local community to start to bring people together to share and support each other both before and after death. Let us get out of the death closet and talk. 

I will be creating a new name and Facebook page for my End of Life Doula role (I’m a little stuck on what the name will be).  this will be a place to post any information I think might support my audience in continuing to live until they die and support those left behind.

Stay tuned, there is more to come.  If you want to talk to me and learn more now, just send me a message or call.  I would love to answer any questions I can.  We have finally become willing to talk about mental health, lets remove the stigma and start talking about death and grief too.

Anyone who wants to know more about the course, End of Life Doula, through Douglas College, I would be happy to talk to you.

There are many different and interesting paths out there, I’m walking some and painting a few too.  Let me know if I can support you on yours.
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