A Day in the Life of an End-of-Life Doula

a day in the life of an end-of-life doula

While I was driving to my client’s house this afternoon for a legacy work visit, a wood thrush flew right into my car windshield. I had hoped the bird was still alive, but I could see it lying in a heap on the road behind me in the rearview mirror. I turned around, hoping for the best. Unfortunately, the bird didn’t make it, so I gathered it up in a towel and continued to my client’s house in tears.

Today happened to be the day that the Keene Sentinel’s photojournalist was joining us to take pictures to accompany an upcoming feature article about end-of-life doulas. And, my client also happened to have friends visiting from out of town. I walked up to the house with the shrouded bird. It was an emotional introduction for all of us, and it was quite the inspiration for the stories we shared over the next couple of hours.

After our visit, we had a little burial service for the bird. My client dug a hole near his garden, we buried the bird wrapped in a paper towel, and I read the entirety of “In Blackwater Woods” by Mary Oliver, especially because of these lines:

“To live in this world you must be able to do three things:
to love what is mortal:
to hold it against your bones knowing your own life depends on it:
and, when the time comes to let it go, to let it go.

The burial service for this little bird brought me back to my first experience with death at five years old when I found a dead mouse outside at my grandparent’s house. I was distraught, but my grandfather explained that it had died, and told me to go get some cloth from my grandmother. He proceeded to bury the mouse and officiated the ceremony with a short but very sweet eulogy.

Upon reading the poem, I felt immense gratitude for this bittersweet experience, because somehow my life made more sense today. I expressed my thanks and said farewell to the four people who shared this experience with me today, and then I was off to my next appointment — the first meeting with a young mother with metastatic breast cancer. Today was not the day that I expected, but it was the day that I was gifted.

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