Deborah's vision

Today was an exceptional day. My business partner Tricia Keith and I assisted our first home funeral.

We both had met Deborah’s mother Elsie a few times already in the last few months. We all felt it would be perfect to meet with her even though Elsie had advanced Dementia. Elsie and I held hands for quite a while as we all talked about the event of the home funeral Deborah so desired to have for her mother. Elsie had been living with Deborah, her sister Kim and extended family for under two years, and it was Deborah’s enthusiasm for a home funeral that eventually inspired her family to support this idea. At their own pace, everyone gradually warmed up to the idea of continuing to give their full support, from home, to their beloved mother/grand-mother, until her last breath and beyond.

Deborah’s dedication to learning  about the process of having a home funeral, including attending a workshop on preparing the body, getting the proper forms in order, making decisions about timing and location for cremation and burial; all were handled in a timely manner. Creating harmony with family members, who were less in favour of experiencing a home funeral, was done with patience, respect and compassion. Deborah held her vision and followed her heart to the end, amidst the hurdles, challenges and learning curves.  When Elsie died at 1:00am on Wednesday, (on her grand-daughter Lauren's birthday) Deborah remembered to place a scarf around her head and chin to keep her mouth closed. It’s more difficult to do that once rigor mortis has set in.

Tricia and I gave Deborah and her family our complete support, blessings, encouragements and shared the best of our freshly acquired knowledge through our Death Midwife and Home Funeral Guide training.

In our shared experience, we realized we all had one thing in common; Elsie, her two daughters, her grand-children, Tricia and I; we were all participating in our first home funeral. What a gift it was to trust each other so much as to rely on each others wisdom, each others heartfelt knowledge, each others spontaneity and desire to honour Elsie’s passing.

It all happened as if we had always done this together before. Everything we did felt so natural and normal. Candles were lit, essential oils burnt, Tricia and I gently tidied up the desk surfaces in her room and centered ourselves before the washing and dressing of the body ritual started. The energy of busyness and excitement that was in the air was easily redirected with simple words and suggestions. It was quite clear to Tricia and me, what our rolls were, and how perfect our presence was in simply and mindfully holding  space and energy, and how it made the process smooth and the flow graceful.

 

Washing Elsie’s body, which was still surprisingly warm some 8 hours after her death, while reading a prayer of gratitude; Blessings of the Body by Starhawk for all the gifts that Elsie bestowed on each one of her family members throughout her life was deeply moving. Dressing her in her elegant white dress honoured her femininity and her state of purity. While washing their mother’s fragile and slender body, the two sisters shed tears while sharing with each other stories about their mother whom they obviously loved so tenderly. We placed the Techniice under her to keep her 80 pound body cool. Her soft hair was gently combed, her bedsheets changed, and some beautiful scarves arranged around her head and feet.

The family dog laid at our feet, soft music played in the back ground. Our eyes gazed at the beauty and peace of Elsie’s gentle face and her body lying so peacefully on the sky blue sheets. We sang a few songs from the Threshold Choir song book I had brought with me. We hugged each other and Tricia and I left to return to our families and carry on with our respective daily lives.  The soup I had brought was on the stove ready to eat, everyone could relax and rest now that Elsie’s body was taken care of.

I was uncertain what to anticipate, but what I experienced felt so normal, so beautifully normal, that it is hard to believe that death and dying is not always carried out in this way.

Tricia and I visited the next day for a couple of hours to bring our support if need be, feel the state of mind of the family, and to learn from this experience. The family was in an obvious state of bliss with having their mother/grand-mother at home with them. They shared with deep emotions how significant and transformative it was to have Elsie’s body at home with the family. They could no longer imagine how it is even possible to have strangers care for a dear one. They were all surprised to see for themselves how natural, normal and “right” it was to have Elsie’s body at home.  Her body was now cold from the ice placed under her and on top of her abdomen. Her eyes had sunk in a bit, and her mouth was now ajar. She still looked so relaxed and peaceful.

I felt a sense of relief. I felt relieved now that I was having a real experience about what I’ve been studying, talking and growing passionate about. I felt relieved to see for myself how real, how perfectly normal death is. We talked, we laughed, we ate and carried on with normal living things that we do, while being around a dead loved one. It did not feel strange or disrespectful.  It simply felt normal. And it was such a relief to feel how normal death is when we treat it normally. Sadness and tears were flowing as were humour and laughter. Respect and dignity were integral ingredients within this event that was bonding this family at such a deeper level than anything they had ever experienced together before. 

On the 4th day, Saturday evening, family and friends gathered to celebrate Elsie’s life and to share the memories she had left in their hearts. There was lots of food, drinks, people, singing, a slide show of Elsie’s life and with family and friends. The room was bursting with so much love in this celebration for Elsie’s life. Tricia and I played the simple roll of opening the celebration and encouraged people to join in. This family party is very much what I want my life and death celebration to be like.

On the 5th day, Sunday morning, it was time to bring Elsie’s body for cremation. I had invited the Threshold Choir to sing while the family carried Elsie’s body from her bed to the Funeral Director's car. Again, I was observing how last moments with a loved one inspires spontaneous wisdom. Even the family dog Zaina had her turn to sing to Elsie, and the accordion was brought out of the closet for a last performance in Elsie’s honour. More last words were spoken to Elsie, more kisses, affection and love was bestowed on her. So much intimacy, so much devotion, so much empowerment to do it all the way spontaneously and how it felt natural to do so. They placed their mother’s body on a simple tray, and lovingly and personally decorated the cover they placed over her.

Through the pouring rain we travelled along HWY 1 to Abbotsford’s Fraser River Community Crematorium. Deborah and her family welcomed me to join them for this last event. It gave me a chance to be a continuing part of this family’s intimate celebration as well as learn about crematoriums, retorts and the set-up of this beautiful brand new funeral building.

They spontaneously gave their last memorial ritual, words, songs and affection to Elsie. Together as a family they carried her body to the cremation room. A cremation blessing was read and then they placed Elsie's body in the retort. Together the three sisters pushed the button. They did it all the way together. Just like Deborah had imagined and wished for. What an amazing vision and accomplishment.

For my first experience as Death Midwife and Home Funeral Guide, I don’t think I could have wished for a more ideal situation.  I am deeply grateful for Deborah and her family’s generosity, love and grace.