A Journey Home (Stefanie Blech)Feb 16, 2023
(This guest blog is by Stefanie Blech a member of our End of Life Doula community)
A Journey Home
It feels like a long journey already... this journey with death. The first big door opened when my uncle died. He was a wonderful man. The most adventurous, active and funny person I’ve met. He would go to Cuba to sell Nutella and rescue turtles from Russia. For a while, he was hiding his diagnosis of pancreas cancer and isolated himself. His sister, my mother, realized what was going on and was able to accompany him throughout his last journey.
I was a teenager at that time. He was in a hospice quite far away from where we lived. He preferred to say goodbye over the phone to me. We had an awkward, yet very intimate phone call, where we said our last goodbyes, laughed and talked about travelling. He was the first close person to me that died. I remember how touched and fascinated I was when my mother came back and talked about their time together and the support he received from the hospice and how he embraced his last days.
I didn’t yet understand or let’s better say found it rather strange at that time that how my mother grieved afterwards. She created a little altar after his death, was wearing his clothes and was going through his life story by looking through the old photo albums. His death brought a lot of change to my families and my life and left a seed in the heart wanting to work with death and grief.
Yet things took time, and I was still naively following my helper syndrome for some years trying to save the world and everyone around me with doing a tremendous amount of volunteer projects and services abroad and locally. In one voluntary service we had to write a testament, in case you would die abroad that the organization could take care of wishes and your will. It felt like a strange thing to do, yet it really sparked the aspect of death and mortality to the surface again. It also felt like a relief realizing how simple my life was and how little material things I had at the time and a deep gratitude of the people and support in my life. Throughout this time, I realized that something feels not seen, not right. I felt I didn’t know how to really be with the grief and sadness that I encountered, within others and myself. In the institutions I was part of it was mostly about improving. Needing to set out goals what will be achieved in what time and then being checked again if it has been achieved. I felt there was no space to be present, to really go deeply, to acknowledge and to see another as fellow human beings. There was no talk about death or grief or accompanying someone.
I firstly decided that I would like to ordain as a Buddhist monastic, contemplate life and death and see what this is all about. To spare my parents a shock I started to study social work and philosophy instead and specialized in Hospice Work. I felt it was a two-way street that was connected, exploring my own world view and being involved in communities and projects. It too felt like long journey. This time it felt like I’m journeying towards home …. and that this home has big doors, where life AND its end, and darker shades could be welcomed.
During the time working in a Hospice, I often got irritated when people would comment on my young age. It would be comments like: Why not working with children? This isn’t a topic for you, go and enjoy life while you are still young and healthy. What experience do you seem to have about death and dying?
I would be responding sometimes that we never know when we will die so why would age matter? In my experience age didn’t naturally brought wisdom with it and why should there be an age-limit to something essential to our human experience anyway? Why does it feel like something alien to us?
Sometimes I thought a bit ashamed: yes I truly don’t have much life experience, or similar experiences to what some people around me were facing for example traumatic losses, terminal illnesses, near death experiences… I was trying to find my way to open to this bigger concept of death, to trust that it is something to be present with, to open to, something that unites all living beings, even though our life stories are so individual.
I will still remember one woman I had the pleasure to spend time with before she passed. Her name, translated into English would mean something like Mrs. Strong, and she was a very strong woman. I was very touched as her strength wasn’t physical at all. Her strength was in her honesty and vulnerability how she embraced and talked about her upcoming death together with a big sense of dark humor. One day I went into her room to bring her to the community breakfast table and with a cheeky smile she said: Let’s go and say hello to the fellow living dead.
Moving to Ireland I realized that accompanying people on their journey towards death, seemed bound to the Christian religion. I applied in the wish to continue Hospice work yet realized that this field was connected to being a Chaplain and that my foreign qualifications weren’t accepted. I was so excited to find that there is a term for what I was drawn to: Death Doula. After doing an online Death Doula training, I realized the wish and importance to connect with a community. It felt isolated.
I loved this aspect and the humanity of the Doula Preparation Course with Sacred Circle and I realized how much more there is to look at. Now looking back, I understand more the thresholds that have been past and the rituals my mother did when my uncle died. I got to understand so many more doors in this home inside, with reflecting on ancestry and the unseen landscape. I deeply believe in working collectively, and to weekly being able to come together and journey together with death as a teacher. I feel being with grief and death is something so precious and a journey home.
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