End of life doula-ing: Ordinary days

End of Life Matters

End of life Doula Melissa Murphy, a companion, guide and resource supporting our community in end of life matters.


I’m not long back from a sun holiday; a real blessing when it feels like rain has been the primary forecast since last Summer. Even so, routine breaks are wise, necessary even, however you spend your days. I was grateful to take a genuine pause from work: The only death-speak being ‘Life After Death’ by Elisabeth Kubler-Ross, a comforting, candidly written book that came along on the journey, but to be fair, only 85 pages long. I finished it in two sittings, unashamedly diving into it poolside. I suppose rarely do I pause 100 per cent from the subject, but so far I feel I’m genuinely ok!

I’m now settling into routines back home while Spring is making her presence known. Daffodils of all sizes are popping up from the earth and I’ve spotted a few baby lambs cautiously peeping out from behind their mothers. While inspiration abounds, it happens sometimes that a column topic doesn’t arrive with the predictability of a new month. This surprises me, as on one hand, I think there’s no shortage of topics on death, end of life and grief. But I also want to be thoughtful, hoping to be of some benefit to others whether educationally, or to simply offer validation or resonation. In any case, some reflections on this rather ordinary day.

I glance at my phone. A missed call first thing Monday morning. An unrecognisable Irish number but thankfully a message has been left. It’s someone from a national organisation based in Cork. One of their beloved staff, a relatively young person, died over the weekend. They wonder if I could potentially support them around the event of an unexplained, sudden death. My heart dips. I haven’t done this, but it’s not to say that I wouldn’t have the capacity and space to do so. I ring back, listen and enquire. Actually I feel I may have talked a bit too much. They ask me several questions about my work, but still. The person I’m connected with plans to offer a supportive space for employees to gather, share stories and reactions to the loss – all expressions welcome, she says, telling me that she would like to do this today; feeling she is well able for it. It sounds like she is and I applaud her. I wouldn’t change a thing I tell her, only offering a gentle reminder that being early days, the news of their colleagues’ death is still being digested, so support like this will also be beneficial in the weeks and months to come. They ask if they can keep my number and possibly get back in touch. Of course, I reply, and make a note to follow up in due time to see how they are getting on. I’m touched to receive this call – all from a google search apparently. I pause for a few moments more. A sudden traumatic death elicits so many questions. I imagine their beloved colleague; someone who went to sleep and didn’t wake up. I imagine this person, their family and community throughout the day. 

I check my email inbox. A fellow end of life doula is considering spending some time in Ireland; wanting to know if the role here has different requirements to America. I cordially reply, referencing an article I’ve written about this. I’m a bit humbled and astonished that someone in Las Vegas can find me in rural Ireland these days!

Another email and now my heart swells. I exhale deeply. A carer I have supported by phone and sporadically via email for about nine months has written to tell me their son has died. They write of this as terrible news but also share expressions of beauty in the final moments and the personalised honouring that was created to celebrate his life. I reply, wishfully thinking I might find some impossibly perfect wording but can only express what comes. The bereaved had also requested ideas for a quiet retreat in the area this summer and I shared a few thoughts; offering to discreetly ask around for other suggestions. I also remind them that I’m still here to support if /as they wish down the road – however long. 

There is a third email that catches my eye; an invitation to preview a film. At this stage, it’s quite time-limited to do so. It’s just over an hour, so I can indulge I think. It’s called  ‘A Love that Never Dies’. If you get a chance to see it dear reader, do. I wish everyone could experience it. “This film will change the way everyone sees grief,” was one review – my thoughts exactly. A couple take their grief story on a road trip around the US, meeting and sharing with other parents who have experienced the sudden death of a child. The stories are profound and deeply insightful. I believe that grief is an education that never ends, so unique and individual. The more grief aware we are, the more benevolent our society. The film is available to rent on Vimeo for a few euros or you can access it through the goodgriefproject.co.uk. I can’t recommend it or their work in the world enough.

Catching up on my social media pages, I became aware that there are four death cafes around the country coming up in the last two weeks of February. I’ve been asked to share the event details on the ‘Irish Death Cafes’ page I admin. These are the most I’ve seen since before Covid lockdown. People are wanting to have these meaningful conversations and there was a decent buzz of discussion in the comments section; others wanting to start one in their own community. If you are not yet familiar, ‘Death Cafe’ is just what it sounds like. I’ve written a past column about my experience with them and you can also learn more via deathcafe.com 

Remembering that the sun is shining and may not be tomorrow, I make my way out for a walk. My husband joins me, as we remember to call over to our neighbour who was kind enough to receive our mail while we were away. This 87-year-old soul is the salt of the earth type. His wife died about six years ago so we call in to him from time to time but also try to treasure our neighbours, especially the elders, some who have since died during our time here. Each has been so caring since our move here seven years ago. This gentleman is particularly refreshing, as you’ll never wonder what he’s thinking. I can easily forget his age, as he’s up to speed on current events and local craic alike. When we arrive he tells us of another full day looking after his homestead; particularly all the four-legged creatures he shares it with. Then, without hesitation or inquiry, he pours three taster glasses of Jagermeister. I look at the clock – it’s just after three in the afternoon – why the hell not, I think. We toast ‘slainte’ and chat until sunset. I love that I’ll get to remember him this way on an ordinary, moving kind of day.

“In this small span of life, if I can rejoice in the beauties of existence, the beauties of human beings; if I can share my love, if I can share my songs, perhaps death will not be hard on me. A conscious life is rewarded by existence with a conscious death.” – Osho

To learn more or to connect with Melissa, email her at starsbeyondourskin@gmail.com or visit www.starsbeyondourskin.com. She also welcomes your questions or ideas for future columns.

WCP Staff

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