‘Death doulas’ help the dying and their loved ones say goodbye – San Francisco Chronicle

The emotional crumbling started when she was 14 and a friend was killed in a car crash. By the time a close friend was murdered three years ago, the coping skills Bonnie Ludwig had for dealing with death were shattered — and she found herself one day on her knees on a sidewalk, sobbing obliviously. Therapy gave healing, which allowed her to help comfort dying dogs at the pet care company she runs — and which soon led to her sitting in a San Francisco hotel room on Friday, learning how to help people die better. Ludwig, 45, was taking a class in how to become a “death doula,” someone who helps shepherd the dying and their families into loving, peaceful exits. The man who founded the craft in 2003, Henry Fersko-Weiss, is guiding her and 47 other students through a weekend-long course on handling what for many seems like the worst moment possible — but, if handled deftly, can be a beautiful journey to whatever lies just beyond a heartbeat. “I have found that the people who come to these trainings have a great deal of compassion and want to serve people at this incredible period in their lives — death,” said Fersko-Weiss, who lives in the small town of Warwick, N.Y. They are self-selecting. The idea of finding a better way of dealing with the obliteration of life came to Fersko-Weiss when he was a hospice volunteer and saw too many people missing the last breaths, not saying the words they wanted to say before passing, not feeling complete in what they were leaving behind. Students learn techniques for calming the dying and their family and friends, and then they help them find the right kind of intimacy to say the things that need to be said. Sometimes doulas ease pain by having the dying visualize soothing times in their lives or by giving therapeutic touch. Sometimes people want candles burning, certain clothes, favorite poems read out loud. Doulas stay at the bedside, ready to recognize when death is minutes away — mottled skin, fingernails turning blue, other clues — so everyone can be prepared. Recently she was helping a son sit vigil with his terminally ill mother, and found herself sitting at the woman’s bedside, holding her hand while the son stood stiffly at the foot of the bed with a TV blaring in the background.

Source: ‘Death doulas’ help the dying and their loved ones say goodbye – San Francisco Chronicle

About Sue Rosenbloom, M.A., CT

Thanatologist: Loss and Grief Coach - My blog is for educational purposes only. I am not a licensed professional counselor - Bachelor of Arts in Human Studies - Marylhurst University (2007)- Certificate in Thanatology - Hood College (2008) Master of Arts in Thanatology - Hood College (2009) Certificate in Thanatology - The-Association for Death Education and Counseling (The highest level of loss and grief education). * Hospice, Alzheimers and Senior's Advocate * Former first responder for Trauma Intervention Program, Inc. (TIP) * Hospice and Bereavement Volunteer for Providence Hospice Bereavement Program * Association for Death Education and Counseling Member * National Alliance for Bereavement of Children * Hood College Thanatology Association * American Group Psychotherapy Association * Marylhurst Gerontology Association * Oregon Gerontology Association * Hospice, Loss, Grief and Bereavement Researcher * Creative Writer
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