Sunday, August 12, 2007

Midwife for the Dying

My friend Lee will die soon. He has struggled off and on with cancer for the past 3 years. He is my age. His family has been on the death watch for two days. Most folks don't realize how hard it is for the body to die. When his soul does leave his body, I will help his wife Kathy prepare his body. Lee has chosen to die at home. Together, he and his wife Kathy elected to have a home funeral. His body will be available for viewing at his home after he passes. He will then be cremated and a memorial service held at our church. I love that he has chosen a death, like his life, outside of conventions. (After homebirth, homeschooling, and home business, home death somewhat completes that philosophical cycle.) They even set up a website where he and his wife have journaled his dying process. Its a wonderful tool for communication. Along with journaled updates on how he is doing, folks can leave him messages, post pictures, and even videos. (The site has wonderful videos of a recent wedding of one of their sons- they had the wedding at Lee and Kathy's house and Lee was able to attend in a wheelchair, with a portable oxygen tank.) I'm so glad they elected to be public with this death- our culture is far too mysterious, hiding it away and shrouding it in fear.
The title for today's post is apt, because for me there are glaring similarities between the act of dying and the act of being born. How can that be? It is the same doorway, all are passing through, some coming in, and others going out. On either side of that doorway, helpers are needed. The midwives who guide the passage in, and the midwives who guide the passage out. Both are a holy service for those gifted to bestow it.
Birth requires a great work of labor, but so does death. Unless a person dies instantly such as a traumatic car crash or gun shot wound, the body struggles toward death. The body wants to live, it wants to be in homeostasis (balance) because thats what it knows to do. Death is foreign to the body and the shutting down process is long and arduous, much like utero emergence is foreign to the fetus, and a long arduous, mysterious journey. Ask anyone who ever sat bedside at death. Like labor, it can seem to go on forever.
Death requires the same tender mercies rendered for birth. Respect and dignity are paramount for both. Quiet, sometimes solitude are called for. There is a gathering of family and those who are close. Meals are brought, memories are shared, there is communal rejoicing/sorrowing.
I will miss Lee. Strangest for me will be Kathy without her Lee. They have always been a strong, bonded couple. He was her knight in shining armour. It seems especially cruel for her to be without him, headed into their empty nest years when they would have enjoyed each other's company freely with the kids all married or away at college. Unfortunately, we have little say over our coming and going on this earth. We only have say over what we do with our time while we are here.
Lee used his time well.


Sage Femme said...

this is such a beautiful post - and definitely something that has been a passion of mine since working in a mortuary right out of high school. have you ever read "the american way of death" by jessica mitford?

if you think the birth industry is messed up, the funeral industry has it's own demons.

Laborpayne said...

Yes, I've read "The American way of death" and "Birth as an American rite of passage" by Robbie Davis Floyd. And yes, I agree- we do death even worse than we do birth.

I am a Monkey's Momma said...

I'm so glad you posted this, it must have been difficult to write. It's so easy to get caught up in our every day passions about birth and the rights of women, when the truly do deserve the same respect.

I'm so sorry for your loss.