“You will be a singer, in that I see you singing songs about the past and…commemorating those who have gone before us.” As a child of some privilege, and 20yr old theatre and writing major, I had no idea what this had meant when non-medical healer first shared this advice or foresight with me. My family, on father and mother’s side is predominantly devoted to medicine and agriculture.
I grew up the daughter of a talented emergency room RN who served underprivileged people—my mother later expanded her reach within of the web of life using her special gift for understanding the power of the human/animal bond and hospital administration, and created further connections in this web with a green thumb and compassion for plants, by establishing and championing green spaces in our community. My father is also a mentor as well as an active dad, and teacher in the cycle of life and death—for over 40 years he has been an amazing intuitive Veterinarian who practiced not merely the science but also “the healing art of veterinary medicine”, and serves pet families as well as his community, because he has a wonderful ability to see the compassion connection fostered by a healthy human/animal bond as a lasting legacy that uplifts the lives of all animals. These two parents encouraged safe spiritual and scientific exploration of birth and death as part of a healthy childhood curriculum in our house.
I was blessed to grow up surrounded by great grandparents and grandparents (within walking distance from my home) at a time when multi-generational homes were already becoming a rarity in the U.S. with two great grandmothers living well into their 90’s, I am no stranger to the wonderful elder care workers and at times, the failing modern institutional cultures which surround the aging and those challenged by illness. I served as an administrative assistant, eulogy writer, and obituary author for a family owned funeral home. In 2019 (ten years after those student jobs in the funeral home) I was shopping in a store when a lady stopped me and called me by my maiden name. She had remembered me because I positively impacted her when I interviewed her for her mother’s eulogy. I had just learned what an End of Life Doula does and this led me to research my dedication to this emerging field.
For 20 years I studied and worked as a veterinary patient technician turned administrator. Like many Doulagivers, my first doula roles were born out of necessity to a loved one: I was called to sabbatical from my job in animal medicine in 2010 to serve as an elder doula and then end of life doula, for my Grandmother who died on her terms, in her home, after living the best days possible during her lung cancer diagnosis. I enjoyed making connections and collaborating with care groups such as Home Instead and Visiting Nurses, and then Hospice to make her wishes known, even when she could not, and to live our best quality of the day together. She loved the sound of my voice and loved to here me sing. She taught me so much about death with dignity and the power of a positive passing surrounded by loved ones. I literally granted the gift and privilege to sing her soul home for her and she transitioned with lots of moments of smiles and calm on her face. My family encouraged me to write her obituary and eulogy, and we walked each other through this journey in the best way possible. It would NOT have been possible for me to provide this care without the mentorship of my husband, a former social worker—whose career had been mostly within discharge planning and medical social work. He encouraged me in that role and provided advocacy and support as a partner in this most important work.
When I joined the Doulagivers program as a student, he was considering enrolling in a following Fall or Spring. He helped advise me when supporting a terminally ill friend, immediately, who had just been diagnosed with a rare and aggressive thyroid cancer, to live her best twilight weeks surrounded by her support system—best friends (human and animal). My husband, Kim Welch, would have made and amazing Doula (or Anam Aire as he wished to be called). Sadly, his last words to me were “I am so proud of you for all your work you have done for K.” Within two hours he had an aortic aneurysm and died unexpectedly. I have also known what it’s like to be confronted with unexpected grief. I was able to write his obituary and tributes with the help of my old mentors at Browning Funeral Home where I had worked so many years ago. I am living and loving on this journey, even with the natural ups and downs of a life fully lived.
I have learned that 1.) When the Universe calls, its best for you to answer and 2.) Once you befriend death, you find that you truly spend the majority of your time living well. My personal motto as an End of Life Doula is to Listen, Inform, Advocate, Guide, Empower and Comfort. It is within my business plan to further join the death positive movement by engaging with a rich and diverse list of local resource and service providers, and to become an educated advocate for green burials and cemetery spaces and home funeral services in my area of the country.
Through Twilight Doula Services, LLC, I hope to provide excellence, compassion, more smiles, and yes even some laughter to my clients as an elder doula and care consultant, and as an end of life doula I hope to continue to serve as a songbird in the twilight for many more families to come.