Last night, together with ten others, I completed an eight week program of preparation to become a compassionate companion to those whose life is ending . The program is sponsored by the Jewish Board of Family and Children’s Services, and for ten years has prepared doulas to help the dying experience their final moments peacefully and with personal meaning. “Doula” is the Greek word for servant and is commonly associated with the activity of birth. This term is now applied to the task of accompanying seriously ill patients through the process of dying. To be a doula, a servant of life, is a great privilege. In the words of Rachel Naomi Remen, “When I help, I have a feeling of satisfaction, but when I serve I have a feeling of gratitude.”
To serve in the capacity of doula to the dying is to act as an “empty vessel” into which the dying person can pour her fears, his hopes, her rage and his pain, and feel comforted that the compassionate companion will not judge, recriminate or moralize but listen lovingly and through compassionate acceptance affirm the dying person’s dignity and humanity.
I am grateful for the opportunity to serve not as a rabbi or a social worker-professions for which I have been schooled and trained-but simply as Henry, as another human being who hopefully will discover in his heart the capacity to care for another human being.
Finally, my gratefulness is particularly poignant because the class has been blessed with the teaching presence of two extraordinary social workers and human beings, instructors not only in the skills of human service but in the wisdom of the human heart. Not once did a word of judgment or insensitivity cross their lips; not once did anyone ever feel anything but the profoundest respect and compassion from these women; their honesty ,love and dedication to compassionate service, reflected an authenticity of soul so rare in today’s world of self concealment and the need to be rigidly perfect and untouchable. They were indeed model “doulas” who brought comfort and joy, and a spiritual discovery to people from every walk of life, enabling, encouraging and inspiring.
To all doulas:
Blessings for a future of abundant gratefulness.
Thursday, October 29, 2009
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Your attitude seems caring and compassionate. Now, the prognosis for my father is quite uncertain, and likewise my mother. Utterly frail but relatively stable nonagenarians. Even a minor wound my father suffered recently is immediately life threatening. Or, they might live five more years if they are both lucky and obey doctor's orders. I imagine other people also have very uncertain futures, and I hope your training is to bear all that uncertainty in mind when you talk to people. I suspect that illness is terminal or not, depending not only the body, but also the will to live, their spirit. In that way ruach is what preserves the willingess to endure breathing above the water-on-the-lung. Do not discourage people from living if there may still be room for inspiration.
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