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Prayers of Passing

2012 March 28
by admin

I found these two Prayers of Passing recently (March 2012). I recommend you create your own.

Departure Prayer

All That Is,
Beloved Angels,
Precious Source of Life, read more…

Going Out in Style

2012 March 23
by admin

I just finished reading a book by Marcia Beachy, Going Out in Style: A Guide to Planetary Departure. Marcia wrote a very interesting chapter that is a First Aid for Departure. She presents some very far-thinking perspectives, with lots of practical application.

The focus of this book is on conscious dying … which automatically results in more conscious living. I highly recommend reading this book. ~ Donna

Midwife to the Dying, there I’ve said it

2012 March 1
by admin

I have struggled for a few years now with what term to call a person who is working along side another who is dying. Here are some of the terms and in parenthesis are some of the problems with the terminology from my perspective:

  • 11th-hour companion (takes a lot of explaining what this entails)
  • non-medical support for the dying (too heartless) read more…

Conscious Dying: A definition and brief history by Dr. Martha Watson

2012 January 29
by admin

I was very interested to see this on Dr. Martha Watson’s website. It is very eloquent and an excellent summary of the idea behind conscious dying. Here is a link to the website: And for your convenience, below is the text only version.

Conscious Dying,
by Dr. Martha Watson

How can dying become a conscious act? When the person facing terminal or life-threatening illness chooses to use the dying process as a way toward a more present and loving opportunity for spiritual awakening, that person has entered the path of conscious dying. This choice offers a chance for profound healing not only to the person facing death, but also to the family, loved ones, and caregivers involved. read more…

Death can be a moment that connects us, even as it parts us

2011 December 1
by admin

Here is a piece that appeared recently in the  Minnesota Public Radio website:

Minnesota is one of the states where a funeral director has to be involved with a death. However, home funerals still occur in Minnesota and a home funeral guide, Merilynne Rush is making it happen there.

[Donna notes: I think this is an excellent title for the article because it suggests that death can be a gift in some ways.]

The article appears below:

Anne O’Connor is a speaker, writer and editor, and a member of the Threshold Care Circle.

It strikes me that more of us could stand to consider our own deaths right now, while we still have the chance.

You know you’re going to die, right? It could happen tomorrow or in many years. We just don’t know, do we?

Some of us fool ourselves, and say that we have time. We tell ourselves that we’ll get to sorting that stuff out. Soon. Or maybe we don’t tell ourselves anything at all: La, la, la … la, la, la … living our lives. Death? Who, me? Or maybe we believe it doesn’t matter, that somebody else can figure it all out.

Uh-huh. Thanks, Dad.

Is it any wonder that when our loved ones are dying we don’t know what they want? Or that when they are actually dead, we seek out people who know how to do this death thing and pay them lots of money to just … deal with it? Is it a big surprise that families are sometimes torn apart in the process?

There is a better way.

There’s a way that connects people more strongly than ever. There’s a way to have someone’s life and death be genuinely and deeply honored. A way that brings peace, healing and strength to those still living.

But death rarely just happens this way. We need to plan for it.

I live in a part of the world where people are particularly aware of the opportunity that comes at the end of life. In Viroqua, my tiny southwestern Wisconsin town, we’re changing the way we honor the process of death. I have been privileged to be involved in this critical part of life with several families.

People have begun to consider how they want to die, where they want to die, and what they want to happen to their bodies when they’re gone. The very idea of taking these steps is radical. You may be starting to get a little fidgety in your chair. But hang on, it’s worth it.

What is happening in my town is happening across the country. People everywhere have begun to realize that we’ve lost the vital importance of ceremony and ritual in our lives. People here have begun to understand that caring for our loved ones as they are dying and after they are dead is profoundly moving, healing work. Many of us have come to understand that when we get close up and cozy with death, the experiences can show us much about priorities in a full life.

This is something that hospice workers and others who work with the dying have known forever. It used to be a part of our cultural knowledge, and not so long ago. We used to have home funerals regularly, to spend a lot of time with the dead, to sit with the family, to hold each other’s hands.

Today, though, choosing your own way to die and your own style of funeral requires a large leap. Instead of handing over the entire experience of death and dying to the medical establishment and then to the systematic structure of the funeral homes, you decide how you want your death and how you want your loved ones to care for you.

In Viroqua, we’ve had an accidental death in which the parents of a teen-age boy decided to bring his body home and create the viewing and funeral there. We’ve had adults dying of cancer who have been lovingly cared for in their homes, died in their homes, and had the funeral right in their homes. Family and friends have cared for their loved one, often with the help of medical professionals, and sometimes with the help of funeral directors.

There is no right way, no black and white. You can decide to do as much or as little of the work as you care to. Things can change in the moment. The key is to consider your options now, while you can.

Here in Viroqua, a community group called the Threshold Care Circle has been instrumental in helping people consider these options. This educational group is working to let people know what is possible, both legally and practically. Such groups are popping up all over the country, including in the Twin Cities, as more people begin to understand that they want to be involved in the care of their loved ones.

Death is one of life’s most important moments. We only get one shot at it. Both the person dying and the loved ones will be best served by considering the possibilities in advance. No family member has to do all the practical work; there’s always help to be had.

But it is worth considering: Someone will wash the body. Someone will dress the body. Someone will close the eyes for the final time. Someone will. At the critical moment of death, someone will perform these tasks for the person whom we have loved and cared for all our lives. Why would we give those meaningful rituals away to a stranger? Why do we give away the best stuff?

We need not let fear of the unknown keep us from what often turns out to be one of life’s richest moments. We can plan, we can talk to each other, we can find out what options we have. In the end, we can have what we need.

“Mother Earth News” article about home funeral

2011 November 27
by admin

Here is an article from “Mother Earth News” about home funerals (Dec 2011).

Chicago Tribune, death midwife article

2011 November 22
by admin

Here is a link to an article in the Chicago Tribune about a woman who is a Death Midwife.,0,6947868.column


I have copied it below for reading.

Death midwife also assists at the end of life
Death doula listens to final wishes, brings peace to the dying

Ana Blechschmidt is a death doula who says her work with the dying consists of “assisting the soul to birth its new life.” (Stacey Wescott, Chicago Tribune / November 10, 2011)

by Dawn Turner Trice
November 21, 2011

When we think of a midwife or a doula, typically we imagine a person who helps a mother during her pregnancy, labor and delivery. While Ana Blechschmidt is a certified birth doula who works in this regard, she also specializes in the end of life, helping people pass on.

That makes her a death doula, or death midwife.

I first talked to Blechschmidt, a volunteer chaplain at Northern Illinois University, in October for a column about ecofriendly burials. When she told me she was a death doula, I told her I wanted to know more.

“Most of the time, it’s for people who want to stay away from hospitals and a sterile, mechanical world or machines and tubes,” said Blechschmidt, 64, of Sycamore, who became a death doula four years ago.

She said it’s her job to make the environment as peaceful as possible for the person who’s dying as well as for family members and friends. She’s careful to note that she doesn’t assist in suicides.

What makes a death doula different from a hospice nurse is that a death doula doesn’t administer medicine or perform medical procedures, and is not certified or licensed by the state, according to the Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation. Also, the death doula will remain — if the family wants — after the client dies to help with the funeral, which often is carried out in a place other than a funeral home.

That place could be the person’s home, a nursing home, an elder-care facility or even a hospital. The death doula might also facilitate an array of social arrangements, such as contacting a minister or simply accepting food that people offer as gestures of condolence.

Blechschmidt said her job first and foremost is to carry out the wishes of the person who is dying. To do that, she begins by conducting a lengthy interview that helps her client become clearer about his or her wishes and helps the family members get on the same page.

She said some questions she asks of her dying clients are similar to the ones she asks of her pregnant clients.

“The main questions I ask are: ‘What do you want?'” Blechschmidt said. “‘How much do you want to spend? Do you want intervention by medical people or family?’

“In many cases, when a person is dying what they want is a quiet, peaceful exit. Some people want to die by themselves, but others may want their whole family there playing pinochle in the corner.”

Blechschmidt encourages her clients to have a will, a living will, a power-of-attorney document for health care and one for finances, and a written plan regarding the disposition of the body. After determining a client’s wishes, she suggests that the person put everything in writing.

“I talk with the family sometimes in the presence of the ill person,” she said. “And then it’s my job to make things happen as gently and harmoniously as possible.”

Maintaining peace and harmony is important and tricky, especially in families where relationships have been fractured. It’s also complicated when family members are of different religious faiths and may have diverging beliefs regarding an afterlife.

“And, yet, to facilitate the end-of-life transition, I really don’t need to know anyone’s faith path except the dying person’s,” Blechschmidt said. “When everything is in writing, you can say, ‘This is what Fred wanted.’ That way, it’s legal and the person who has the power of attorney has to carry it out.”

She said another role the death midwife sometimes plays goes beyond sounding board to the heavy who’s there to take the heat.

“There are harsh things that have to be said or done and someone may need to be the bad guy — and that would be the death midwife,” Blechschmidt said. “Family members can hate me and be mad at me because I don’t have to show up at their holiday dinners as (a relative) might.”

If having a death doula or home funeral seems odd or newfangled, it’s actually a return to the way end-of-life matters used to be handled.

Though embalming became popular during the Civil War, Blechschmidt said that most American families still laid their dead loved ones out for visitations in their homes. Funeral homes had been used mostly by the wealthy and were a status symbol until after World War II, when more middle-class people could afford their services.

“But that still wasn’t for everyone,” she said. “I was 7 years old in 1954 when my father’s mother died. She died at home. She was laid out at home, and she was taken to the Methodist church for the services.”

Blechschmidt said there are no written rules regarding how much time she spends with a client. Death is as individual as birth.

“I usually make a couple of initial visits, and then maybe a dozen to a half-dozen phone calls,” she said. “And, at the end, if (the client and the family) want me there the whole time — overnight as well — I’m there until the person who’s passing has left.”

She said that in our modern world, too many people tend to isolate themselves when the life of a loved one is ending.

“When you get caught up in grief and losing someone and all of that is going on, you need help,” she said. “A hundred years ago, this is something that would have happened automatically. If I’m assisting in a death passing, what I’m really doing is assisting the soul to birth its new life — and that’s such an honorable, necessary thing.”
Copyright © 2011, Chicago Tribune

Use your “inner state” to create an optimal healing environment for others

2011 July 29
by admin

I am working with my elderly mother who has been diagnosed with Alzheimers. The first thing I do is educate myself about what the possibilities are, different perspectives on approaching interactions with her, etc. I read the following segment in a book and was struck with how it could be used in working with people who are dying.

I have often wanted to know what more I could do, or wondered if my presence was really making a difference as I sat with someone at their bedside. The following paragraphs address that in a very simple way.

Source:”Moving Your Aging Parents” by Nancy Daniel Wesson, Page 97-28

  • Through the process of thought, we have the ability to synchronize our brainwaves with one another and the most “ordered” brain pattern prevails (allowing us to give calm support to those with whom we wish to connect);
  • We have the ability to “shield” ourselves from intrusive emotions or intentions from others (empowering us to consciously distance ourselves from destructive attitudes of others);
  • Sending another “good thoughts” for healing or calming has the same impact as if they had that thought for themselves (making it possible for us to support loved ones at a distance);’
  • The release of a thought or intention and its receipt by the “target” is instantaneous (enabling us to communicate our support simply by releasing the intention).

So, we have a lot of potential to impact the well-being of another person, and for that matter of ourselves. Consciously managing our thoughts and intentions presents us with a grand opportunity to be aware of our emotions, and to promote a positive outcome.

Stefan Schmidt, Ph.D. of the University of Freiburg, Germany discusses how “health care professional can create an optimal healing environment, with a special focus on which inner state and way of being in the world can create a healing intention.” We have the potential to calm, support, and facilitate healing by calming our own minds and holding the intention for well-being.

While conversation can help, it is neither possible nor desirable to be in dialog all of the time. Sometimes we just ache for a way to help, to communicate or to soothe without saying a word. What a wonderful realization that we can do precisely that — by holding the desire as a thought, a prayer, or a visualization of the emotion of compassion regardless of time, place or other constraints present in very complex relationships.


How to Lower Casket (or body) into Grave

2011 June 11
by admin

Here is an information sheet that describes one way to lower a casket (or body) into a grave. Years ago when families were doing their own burials this would be common information!

How-to-Lower-Casket-Into-Grave [pdf file]

Pronouncing an unattended death

2011 June 7
by admin

Recently a volunteer with the local Funeral Consumer Alliance affiliate did some checking on a few items people ask about:

If it is an “Unattended” death at home … how soon do I need to call 911 (if the deceased wasn’t under hospice care or your attending physician can’t come to the home to pronounce the death)?

The family should call 911 within 30 minutes of the time of death. According to Sarah Scott, Chief Administrative Officer at the Travis County Medical Examiner’s Office, any further delay will “complicate the investigation.”

When you call 911, Emergency Services personnel will ask questions about the state of the body to determine whether to make a Code 1 response OR a Code 3 response.

  • A Code 1 response is typically made by an EMS Commander, who will arrive in an EMS staff car. No lights or sirens will be used.
  • A Code 3 response involves lights, sirens, and, typically, the fire department too. (Even though Fire Department personnel cannot pronounce the death, they come because they are usually able to arrive sooner since there are twice as many fire stations as EMS stations.)
    Note: If it is determined that the response will be a Code 3, you can still request a “Code 1 approach” so that lights and sirens won’t disturb your neighbors, etc.

EMS does not honor an Out-of-Hospital Do Not Resusitate (OOH-DNR) over the phone. They have to see the document, or medical jewelry, in person.

Cost Per EMS Billing (512-972-7210) (as of June 6, 2011)

  • $815.00 (EKG, IV and/or other resuscitation therapy)
  • $415.00 (no EKG, IV, or resuscitation therapy)
  • If the Fire Department responds there is no charge for their services