all posts, community, mental health, mortality, nature/the environment

death as my guide

Death studies

I have been reading books on books about death. Death from the perspective of the dying, death from the vantage point of medical professions, death from philosophers, death from people who have lost someone. It’s weird to say, but I love death stuff. Not because I am morbid and have a weird fascination with the idea of being dead (frankly that scares the bejeezus out of me and sends my head into terrifying loops trying to conceptualize it), but because outside of being born, dying/being dead is the only thing I will share with all humans/living things on earth (except maybe tardigrades, and I’m still not convinced they aren’t aliens).

It’s a strange place to be in, being a student of death. I began by systemically reading the most respected books on the subject, am currently looking for a hospice place to volunteer at, and I begin my formal death doula study work in January. In other words, I have jumped down the rabbit hole and am going full speed into embracing the world of mortality.

My shift into this new paradigm of living probably has heavy roots from a topic I mentioned in a previous post. If one lives in a culture obsessed with youth and our early years (think of all the adages we use: “age before beauty”  “you are young, live a little”, etc) having a condition such as eczema/TSW/gene mutation that causes you to have “aged” and sensitive skin to the extent that it alters how you live day to day… eventually you are bound to reflect on the life you are living. The serendipity of ending such a reflection ending up on death’s doorstep is when you look around, you realize everyone will eventually join you. When someone loses a loved one, they are faced with their mortality. When someone grows up able-bodied and becomes disabled, they reflect anew on their mortality. When one grows up in a society that values/develops around intrinsic factors that deviate from one’s own, the forced recognition of not being/having the “in” qualities caused mortal reflections. In every scenario, at some point everyone will be faced with accepting their mortality, so when you do, you are just accepting what makes you innately human, knowing you will die, and the company it comes with is surprising sweet.

I have also been plagued with the urge to try and communicate what I learn from my deep dive into death, and struggle to decide what medium works best to do so. My issue is that I prefer the written hand, but how can I reach others to connect with when the written world is dominated by themed bloggers with deep followings, pay-for-ad bloggers, lifestyle bloggers, and other algorithm-based advantaged bloggers. I miss the early blogging days where it was unique enough that getting your words out what enough to provoke communal responses, before it required hashtags and search optimization. Or maybe I am simply not as compelling of a writer or communicator or thinker, and so my words as mostly unheeded from the larger populace. Either option has the same result. I am stuck learning so much but unable to communicate it with mostly anyone other than my lovely husband, who can patiently decipher my meaning even when my words are obscured by months of sleep deprivation.

I recently also contemplated podcasts, despite my obvious inability to (compelling) speak aloud. My logic was that I would improve in the former, and that most people don’t enjoy reading long form anymore, unless it is streamlined directly into their subset of interest. But who knows, maybe I will return to this idea in a few months or so. It could be fun.

Speaking of months…

Ours flew by and we are finally all moved into our new home. It’s a lovely little 3-bedroom we are renting that is shaped in such a way that our baby’s room doesn’t receive much noise from our upstairs TV room, despite us being able to hear her from said bedroom. As a result, we have been able to talk above a whisper and host friends/my parents after the baby goes to sleep, despite her habit towards light sleeping.

It’s good to be home. I missed this neighborhood, with its friendliness and quirky characters. I am excited to see our little one grow up in this town that is not a town (actually though. I googled it and it is apparently a census-designated place or an unincorporated area with no definitive boundaries). We also have vultures…? I mean, yes of course. I’m studying death so a bird of death must appear!

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At the same time, the transition here hasn’t as smooth as I would hope. Having lived away for years now, I have developed a plethora of bad habits that I need to break (like feeling trapped in a city and thus emotionally eating to the point that I gained 20+ pounds in a year!).

I also need to learn to balance my time in a whole new way now that I have more freedom (including the stress reduction of not being able to get myself and my little one forest bathing/into nature). The flip side of this lovely return to a land with trees and fewer cars is that I have been so inundated in environments that always have a heavy amount of ambient light that I no longer know how to sleep well in the deeper darkness of my childhood town. And at night, every sound this house makes sets me on edge (but that’s the case with almost all new places).

In lieu of sleeping

So now I’ve constructed this post to clear my mind. I also re-read many of my older posts. Since getting into death as a subject of interest, I have been reflecting a lot on myself. I have, and continue to, expend so much energy trying to conform to fit in with models of how I have been trained to believe the world needs to work. Many of my posts reflect this as I oscillate back and forth from trying to get my entrepreneurial start to trying to conform to a cookie cutter career; both in an attempt to fit in with this world model I have internalized from my years on this earth. I’m not saying that reflecting on my mortality has rid me of this tendency, but more so that it has helped me highlight the neuroses of it, which in turn is letting me better chip away at the anxiety that comes from it. Though I am no longer to having the ultimate job/career smoothly going, I have gotten better at trying to figure out what my self-decided purpose is with the time I have on this earth.

all posts, community, mortality

let’s talk about death

I seem to be drawn to fields of study that general society deems taboo. From talking about vaginas and all things women’s health, to my desire to talk about death, I really seem to have no boundaries. And so, with that, let’s talk about death.

I recently came across the profession of death doulas, and if I have a calling, I think it’s to become a death doula one day. More on that in a bit. First, look at this nifty, relevant journal that I had to buy for my future death doula training:

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And now back to the topic at hand.

So what is a doula?

I believe a doula is traditionally defined as a woman who serves, and is used to denote women who work with other women, specifically in a birth and postpartum context. Both birth and postpartum doulas work as support people for pregnant women/moms, helping them to navigate various systems and life changes. Historically, communities were stronger and so the need for doulas was not so defined (women generally were supported by other women of varying ages, from friends to skilled midwives, and this support could start during the pregnancy and continue through childrearing years). But as we’ve become more individualized and modernized, this communal support has seen rapid decline, and so the doula profession developed to help remedy the lapse of the support.

So then, death doulas?

Well, another consequence of the rapid modernization and aggressive individualism has been a shift away from dealing with death. We don’t tend to our deceased personally, we often have family members in homes that we don’t visit, we see more and more people dying in hospitals alone, or dying after enduring unending painful medical attempts to save/prolong their lives. More and more people are starting to feel that the way we treat the dying, and the lack of support around the times of dying are wrong, and it was from this belief that the profession of a death doula was formed.

The first formalized death doula I believe was Henry Fersko-Weiss. Inspired by the birth doula model, and disappointed by his own experience with his father’s and many of his patients’ deaths, Ferkso-Weiss wanted to create a profession that would allow for people to die better.

I know this is a weird and uncomfortable thing to get around

How on earth does one die better? Dying is miserable! It’s the end of life, etc. It’s hard to wrap one’s head around it, but that doesn’t make it any less important. A consequence of our culture’s death aversion has been increased fear. I distinctly remember my own personal existential crisis around age 7 or so when I confessed to my best friend that I was terrified about dying and becoming nothing. She replied back that this is why many people turn to religion, because it gives us something to believe in (very wise words for a 7-year old). This led me to years of trying to decide whether I believed in something or not (jury’s still out) and if not, how did I make sure I had a meaningful life until my time was over. The culmination of years following show a web of confused choices as I tried (and continue to try) to figure out what is important to me. As a result, I personally come across as erratic and fickle because I seem to change my mind instantaneously when in actuality I am constantly weighing my choices via long term projections, and thus constantly tweaking my day to day behaviors.

Now many people think that thinking and talking about death will get you depressed and worried. I believe the results of the death doula profession are seeing the opposite. Many people find that understanding that we are mortal and working towards accepting that allow them to appreciate life more. And people draw to being death doulas seem to be extreme lovers of life. My personal role model is Alua Arthur. She has an amazing video called I Plan People’s Death For A Living, which so distinctly highlights why she does what she does, and how it’s not as morbid as you think.

To fill the time between now and when I start actively studying to become a death doula (so after the baby (babies?) is (are?) in high school most likely), I have begun the process of reading all there is to read on dying, death, and how we as humans think about it, and how we process and deal with our/our loved ones’ mortality. It’s a fascinating field. And yes, it definitely can provoke the waterworks, but that’s just part of being human.

It’s also interesting because having the skin condition/autoimmune issues I do has made me much more aware of my mortality. If everyone is going on about how your 20s are your magic years, your skin is still great and you are super healthy, yatta yatta, than I already identify as someone who is past her prime. And I don’t feel negatively about this, but I do believe it influences the way I see the world and makes me think about the future in a more concrete fashion than many of my peers. Like when I said I wanted kids before 30, I realized I was 26, that it takes 10 months (ish) to create a baby, and so if I want to be done having kids by 30, it was time to start (and luckily my partner felt the same way).

I’ll end there for now, but this will probably be a running series of posts because it helps me get things out of my head if I write them down.

all posts, mental health

anxiety

The anxiety has a name

It is change

It is decisions

It is mortality

It is priorities

It is choice

But what if we chose wrongly?

Will we know?

Will we feel it deep in our souls?

Anxiety is not just unknown

It’s the future

Not the abstract

But the knowledge that we will butterfly ourselves to this place

And it will be final

But with finality will we find happiness in our choices?

Or bitterness of regret?

How can we know until we do it?


Hey, if what you read seemed dated or familiar, I’ve been combining all my other blogs’ content to this site. Please bear with me as I post older content.  🙂 This poem was written June 7th, 2019.