By Anne-Marie Keppel
Delia’s Story: I am 96 years old and I am dying. I have lived an incredibly wonderful life caring for those who are dying and I am not afraid. My body is doing strange things… Cold then hot, great thirst, then not. I am in and out of deep, deep, peaceful sleep, with periodic sensations of a great lightness of being and pure bliss. Then, I am back to my dry lips and aching bones. Fortunately, the meditation practice I have been doing for the past 90 years is helping significantly. This is s real blessing as I am now unable to speak or communicate with those around me. And, as it turns out, dying is the most challenging episode in all my years that I have ever encountered.
As I can gather, my daughter is flying in from wherever she has been, I can’t remember, and my son is on his way too. In the mean time, they’ve hired this unbelievably attentive young woman who is called a Death Doula of some sort. I believe it’s safe to say she must be “hot off the press” because I cannot twitch an eyeball without this woman pouncing on me. I’m feeling a little bit like a playground for this woman to spread her oils over, sing to and “prep for death.” I’m not sure I have enough strength to take a swing at her the next time she comes at me with the damned lavender oil but I’m going to try.
Death Doula: Shhhhhhh, okay now Delia, your children are on their way. You daughter hired me to care for you until she gets here. And, maybe after she gets here too. I don’t think she has seen anyone in your condition and I’m not sure she’ll know what to do. I’m going to help you die well. There is no need to worry, I’ll be with you the whole time.
Delia: The whole time. You don’t say.
[The room is 76 degrees with dim lighting and the curtains partially drawn. There is harp music playing and a pastel LED light diffuser sits on a nearby table. Delia’s six year old grand daughter keeps coming into the room and wanting to help]
Death Doula: Here Mary, I have set up some crayons for you at this little table in the corner. You can color about your feelings. What are you really feeling right now? Are you scared? Are you feeling sad about your grandmother dying? It will be helpful now to discuss your feelings to help with the mourning process.
Mary: No, I want to look at her lips. They’re all cracked.
Delia: Oh thank god, child. Yes, get my rose lip balm.
Death Doula: I know, Mary. That can be scary. As people are dying and they stop drinking as your grandmother has, the body becomes dehydrated. Can you say dehydrated?
Death Doula: Dehydrated.
Mary: [pause] My grandmother wants her lip balm.
Delia: Mary! Can you hear me, Mary? Oh, I love you. Jesus, get my lip balm and get this woman out of here.
Death Doula: Oh, Mary, you’re so considerate. Lip balm won’t help at this point because of the dehydration. I think you’re going to feel a lot better if you get in touch with your grief. But, we can moisten her lips and tongue with a damp cotton cloth.
Delia:. That scratchy cloth again? Oh Mary… Can you see… Can you see that beautiful light? It’s so beautiful, I’m so peaceful… Everything is right in the world… Oh, who is this? My sweetheart, my sweetheart is here, your grandfather, Mary… He’s waiting for me… It’s been so long….
[Delia makes a small grunt which sends the Death Doula leaping across the room knocking into a wobbly table and spilling a cup of water. The Death Doula ignores the spill and sits heavily on the bed to check Delia’s pulse and whisper close to her ear]
Death Doula: Shhhhhhhhhhh, It’s okay Delia, you are doing it just right. Shhhhhhhhh, it’s okay. I’m right here. I’m going to Reiki you. Mary, get the lavender oil on the dresser and hand it to me.
Mary: My grandmother hates lavender.
Death Doula: Okay, Mary, just get the lavender it’s very soothing. Shhhhhhhhh….
[Delia, shocked back into her body from the crash of the cup of water and the bed bouncing, awakens to lavender oil being rubbed on the inside of her nostrils. With the effort of a royally pissed 96 year old dying woman, she makes a grand sweep with her left arm and clocks the Death Doula in the shoulder.]
Death Doula: [in a frantic whisper] GET THE PSYCHOPOMP!!!
Delia and Mary together: The psycho what?
Death Doula: Mary, your grandmother needs a spirit guide immediately!! I asked my friend to wait outside in case we needed her. Go get the woman who is sitting outside in the car.
Mary: There’s a woman outside our house?
Death Doula: Yes, sweetheart, please! She’s going to help guide your grandmother’s spirit to a place of great peace. She is in turmoil.
Delia: You have got to be kidding me.
[Mary returns with the Psychopomp]
Psychopomp: Hello Delia. I am a soul guide. I understand you are in distress so I’m going to try to figure out what you need in order to transition out of your body peacefully. Mary, can you pull those curtains completely closed to block out the sunlight? We need to go deep here.
Delia: Block out the sunlight? Is it sunny out? Mary, is it sunny out?
Mary: My grandmother loves the sunlight.
Psychopomp: Not when she’s dying sweetheart. We need to go deep for this. Now lets all breathe together while I connect with her spirit. If you both could just hold space while I go into trance.
Delia and Mary together: Hold what?
Psychopomp: Delia, I know you can hear me…
Delia: Unfortunately, yes
Psychopomp: Since you are no longer able to communicate in ways that we understand, I’m going to ask you to visualize where your blockages are. I’m going to view them with you and help you to move through them and bring you to your Ars Moriendi.
Delia: My “ars” is tired. You and your “death positive” fiend are the only blockages I have right now.
Psychopomp: I’m sensing some hostility…This is very natural as we resist the dying process….
[Delia groans out loud as the Death Doula surrounds her bed with crystals and silks and lights a bundle of sage. She chants, sings, sways and begins to massage the soles of Delia’s feet and third eye with lavender oil… Delia twists around in the sheets]
Delia: Mary! PLEASE! Tell them to get rid of that fucking lavender!
Mary: My grandma says to get rid of the fucking lavender.
[Both the Psychopomp and Death Doula stop and stare at Mary. There is a gentle knock at the door and Delia’s son and daughter enter the room]
Daughter: Mom, hi, we’re here. Finally.
Delia: Thank GOD. Can I finally get a move on out of this body now? These two have hijacked a dying woman and I don’t care what kind of certificate they have, they’re torturing me!
[Daughter turns to the Death Doula and Psychopomp concerned and confused]
Daughter: Oh, no, are you using lavender? Mom hates lavender. And why is it so dark in here?
[Mary quietly applies Delia’s rose lip balm to her lips and kisses her forehead gently. The Daughter flings open the curtains and a rush of hot, glorious sun fills the room, engulfs the bed, and with abundant elation, Delia exhales her last breath]
Daughter: Didn’t you see my mother’s Advance Directive and Ethical Will? She has all of her dying wishes listed in this little book next to the bed. She’s been planning it for years. It says clearly right here: “Touch me as little as possible. Keep the sunlight shining on me at all times. I want my grand daughter to attend to me. Please use all of my regular products on me and under no circumstances do I want any of that trendy lavender shit used anywhere near me. Just let me be in peace while I meditate myself out of my body”
[The Death Doula and Psychopomp apologize and quietly pack up their things and leave. The son and daughter come to the bedside and lovingly hold their mother’s hand.]
Son: Good job Mama. You always knew how to enjoy a good beam of light.