My earliest encounter with death was when I was around 7 years of age; probably my hamster or goldfish had died, and I asked my mother what happens after we die. We had a non-religious home, and I’m not sure what I was expecting or hoping to hear, but it sure wasn’t her answer: “Nothing happens, just nothingness”, she replied casually. WAAAHH! That threw me into a panic and an existential crisis – I couldn’t even imagine “nothingness”, and would I be aware of it being nothingness? Yikes. The next encounter I remember was when my grandmother died and my mother wouldn’t let us go to the funeral because, I suppose, she was trying to protect us yet again from something or other. More than having wanted to go, I recall wondering why she didn’t want us to be there; later in my life, I’ve wondered who was she really trying to protect – it was the first time she let us see her cry, so I knew something big had happened.
I encountered this doula work in a roundabout way. After earning an M.S. degree in Education and working in human services and women’s health for several years, I had a homebirth 33 years ago; this existential experience changed who I was in a profound way – including deep reverence for what the human body is capable of. I came to believe in the value of providing adequate support to the mother and her baby through this most human, yet miraculous process. Since I was so impressed with myself and my ability to actually give birth at home to a beautiful, healthy daughter, I was spurred on to becoming a childbirth educator, which I did through Informed Birth & Parenting, and later a labor doula.
I was with my mother as she was dying in an inpatient hospice in 2010, and it was my first time seeing someone die. I was struck by how amazing hospice services were, as well as the similarities between the birthing and dying experiences. One of the nurses had been a midwife and, finding a quiet place to sit in the group living area, we were able to have an amazing conversation. The epiphany sparked my desire to expand beyond birth and explore the end of life; subsequently, I became a Hospice & Palliative Care Volunteer with Jewish Family & Community Services, as well as a Volunteer with Kaiser Oakland Hospice.
After starting to feel that there was a missing component for me in serving as a Hospice volunteer, I was thrilled to discover the work of End of Life Doulas, which is based on the service delivery model of how birth doulas serve women and their families. I trained with INELDA (International End of Life Doula Association) and became convinced of the tremendous contribution that providing this type of care offers to dying people and their loved ones.
In 2017, I worked with my first client who chose the Medical Aid in Dying option. As she had no one in her life to help prepare and hand her the medicines (since Hospice staff were not allowed to participate), I was able to assist her in getting her wishes met to end her suffering and die peacefully. Since then, I have continued to assist others who choose this option, as I firmly believe that people with a terminal prognosis have the right to choose how and when to die, to relieve their pain and suffering in a humane and dignified way.
I’ve long thought that we shouldn’t have to wait until we get a terminal diagnosis to appreciate life, to notice all of the everyday miracles all around us. We also deserve to die as peacefully as possible, with as much emotional and spiritual support as needed to fully release this life and to open to death without fear.
I have experience with Jewish traditions for death and mourning, including Taharah (ritual washing and dressing to prepare for burial or cremation). I’m also comfortable working with people from varied cultures, lifestyles, family constellations and dynamics.
Re: “Comings and Goings”, I chose the name to reflect my fascination with the two most basic realities of being human, and being drawn to helping guide people through their entrances into and exits from this world.