My mother’s peaceful death


The author’s parents enjoying their retirement in New Zealand, 1991.

By Jane Peterson

My mother’s last words were “It’s not working.” She slurred them before she fell into a deep sleep. Just prior to that, after ingesting medication mixed with applesauce, she had placed a plastic bag over her head and secured it. According to her meticulous research, this would hasten her passing.

Her death had been planned for months, if not years. Both my parents were members of The Voluntary Euthanasia Society in New Zealand, where they had retired from England to be close to my eldest sister and her children. Even though I had married an American and moved to rural Colorado, I was fortunate enough to be able to visit them every year and stay maybe two or three months.

Contemplating end of life

Our end-of-life discussions had been ongoing for many years, and both my parents were determined to die with dignity at a time of their choosing and before any needless and expensive medical procedures. Their wish was to pass away at home, as peacefully and as inexpensively as possible. As a family we agreed, with no hesitation. Now I pray that my sister and I can end our lives, legally, with the help of an enlightened physician, when quality of life is no longer an option.

My parents generally were in good health until my mother was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis at 82. This horrible disease was rampant on her side of the family—her beloved sister became ill in her 20s. She suffered mightily, without today’s wonder drugs that can alleviate some of the unpleasant symptoms, and died in her early 50s.

My mother had obtained a supply of Seconal from her doctor in London and had guarded her “stash,” with a mind to her eventual death. Despite the capsules being several years old, Mother did valuable research, including obtaining a prescription for anti-nausea pills, as well as taking six 10-mg Valium, with a glass of wine, before ingesting the lethal dose of Seconal. She had written separate goodbye notes to my father and to my sister and me. This was necessary to exonerate her family members in aiding and abetting her demise.

The final weeks of her life were filled with joy and laughter, and the planning took on a military aspect that my father, a lieutenant colonel in India during World War II, reluctantly took part in. I can honestly say that we had never laughed so much, despite the looming event that was ever present.

My mother’s pain was becoming increasingly unbearable and even sitting up in bed caused her appalling agony. The family doctor (they still made house calls in New Zealand) had given her Prednisone and Methotrexate. However, throughout her life, my mother had been unable to tolerate strong medications and she was terrified that the Prednisone was making her blind. The Methotrexate, on the other hand, messed with her mind. To our horror, a few weeks before, we found her lying outside in the driveway, in the pouring rain at 3 a.m., crying softly for help.

Goodness knows how long she had been there, and thank God I needed to use the bathroom in the middle of the night. When I checked her room and she was not in bed, I alerted my father. She was taken by ambulance to the nearest hospital and she remained there to be stabilized for a week.

Dying with dignity

Trying to keep on an even keel the morning of her death, I heard her speaking with my father who was asking her (again) if this was what she really wanted. I was cleaning up in the kitchen, and I am not ashamed to say that I lost it. I was privileged to have exceptional doctors in America and was prescribed suitable medication to help me through difficult times. This was definitely one of those occasions and I make apologies to no one.

Darling, darling Mother! So adamant that she could leave my sister and me as much money as she was able. She needed relief from her torture and, thanks to a long relationship with her family doctor in England, she was able to obtain it, in her own bed, surrounded by loving family. My sister and I monitored her pulse. It became weaker and weaker, until it was apparent that she had passed. The whole process took less than one hour.

It remains the most spiritual experience of my life, and I was similarly affected when my father died at home, just over a year later. Desolate after my mother’s death, he lost the will to live and had even asked my sister about getting a gun.

He passed away a week after being placed in a morphine-induced coma by his physician, so there was no verbal contact in his last days. Although he did not have to resort to my mother’s method, he succumbed to an illness that had no name since any diagnosis, advice or procedures that might have prolonged his life were adamantly refused. I suspect it was pancreatic cancer that prevailed.

He died around 11 a.m. on September 1, 1996, with me by his side, holding his hand and professing my love.

The right to make our own choices

As before, with my mother’s death, the funeral director who came to the house was incredibly disappointed when my sister and I firmly rejected his top of the line caskets. My parents always said that they wished to be cremated in matchboxes, a standing joke in our family for many years.

I give thanks every day for my parents’ decisions. My friends are coping with family members suffering from Alzheimer’s, dementia and worse. Their loved ones die in hospitals and nursing homes, lives needlessly prolonged. It results in loss of dignity, immeasurable suffering and devastating financial consequences.

I am so encouraged that more states have passed laws enabling physician-assisted dying (end-of-life options). To those of a similar persuasion, I urge you to become members of Compassion and Choices, based in Denver and available at 800-247-7421 or www.CompassionAndChoices.org. This progressive organization endorses Death With Dignity, and was instrumental in the Colorado voters passing the End-of-Life Options Act, now legalizing medical aid in dying. They continue their efforts in all states.

We should all be so fortunate to have the legal right to pass as we wish, and I say no state or federal agencies have any right to dictate how we make personal medical decisions.

Complete Article HERE!


10 Signs Death Is Near


What to expect and how to respond to the natural dying process


No one can predict the moment of death. But physicians and nurses involved in end-of-life care know that certain symptoms are usually associated with the body’s shutting down. These signs of approaching death are specific to the natural dying process (apart from the effects of particular illnesses the person may have).

Not all dying symptoms show up in every person, but most people experience some combination of the following in the final days or hours:

1. Loss of appetite

Energy needs decline. The person may begin to resist or refuse meals and liquids, or accept only small amounts of bland foods (such as hot cereals). Meat, which is hard to digest, may be refused first. Even favorite foods hold little appeal.

Near the very end of life, the dying person may be physically unable to swallow.

How to respond: Don’t force-feed; follow the person’s cues even though you may be distressed by a loss of interest in eating. Periodically offer ice chips, a popsicle, or sips of water. Use a moistened warm cloth around the mouth and apply balm to the lips to keep them moist and comfortable.

2. Excessive fatigue and sleep

The person may begin to sleep the majority of the day and night as metabolism slows and the decline in food and water intake contribute to dehydration. He or she becomes difficult to rouse from sleep. The fatigue is so pronounced that awareness of immediate surroundings begins to drift.

How to respond: Permit sleep. Avoid jostling the person awake. Assume that everything you say can be heard, as the sense of hearing is thought to persist, even when the person is unconscious, in a coma, or otherwise not responsive.

3. Increased physical weakness

A decline in food intake and lack of energy leads to less energy, even for activities like lifting one’s head or shifting in bed. The person may even have difficulty sipping from a straw.

How to respond: Focus on keeping the person comfortable.

4. Mental confusion or disorientation

Organs begin to fail, including the brain. Higher-order consciousness tends to change. “Few conditions leave people hyperaware when they’re dying,” says palliative-care physician Ira Byock, author of Dying Well.

The person may not be aware of where he or she is or who else is in the room, may speak or reply less often, may respond to people who can’t be seen in the room by others (see Passing Away: What to Expect When Witnessing a Loved One’s Death), may seem to say nonsensical things, may be confused about time, or may act restless and pick at bed linens.

How to respond: Remain calm and reassuring. Speak to the person softly, and identify yourself when you approach.

5. Labored breathing

Breath intakes and exhales become raggedy, irregular, and labored. A distinctive pattern called Cheyne-Stokes respiration might be heard: a loud, deep inhalation is followed by a pause of not breathing (apnea) for between five seconds to as long as a full minute, before a loud, deep breath resumes and again slowly peters out.

Sometimes excessive secretions create loud, gurling inhalations and exhalations that some people call a “death rattle.”

How to respond: The stopped breathing or loud rattle can be alarming to listeners, but the dying person is unaware of this changed breathing; focus on overall comfort. Positions that may help: the head slightly elevated with a pillow, sitting up well-supported, or the head or lying body tilted to the side slightly. Moisten the mouth with a wet cloth and moisturize with lip balm or petroleum jelly.

If there’s a lot of phlegm, allow it to drain naturally from the mouth, since suctioning it out can increase its quantity. A vaporizer in the room might help. Some people are given oxygen for comfort. Be a calm, physical presence, stroking the arm or speaking softly.

Complete Article HERE!


A Better Way for Families to Care for Dying People


Rutgers palliative care expert Judy Barberio gives patients and their families strategies on how to ease the transition to end-of-life care

Although 70 percent of Americans die from chronic disease, most do not make their preferences for end of life care known to their families, leaving loved ones unprepared for their final days. Patients who wish to die at home and who can benefit from palliative or hospice care usually are referred too late – often in the last four weeks of life – to maintain comfort and quality of life and to better prepare for death.

The nation’s aging population is presenting new challenges to terminally ill patients and their loved ones, who must manage chronic pain, disability and questions over when to engage palliative or hospice care, and to health care providers who help them navigate the end stages of life.

To advocate for health care that maximizes quality of life and that minimizes unnecessary suffering in end-of-life care, Rutgers School of Nursing has partnered with Barnabas Health Hospice and the Visiting Nurse Association of Central Jersey Home Care and Hospice to educate nurses, physicians, social workers and other professionals on how to improve the end-of-life experience for patients and their families through the “Hope and Resilience at the End-of-Life” conference in New Brunswick on March 7 and 8.

Judy Barberio, associate clinical professor at Rutgers School of Nursing and one of the conference’s organizers, discusses some of the most pressing issues faced by terminally ill patients and their families.

How can palliative care and hospice improve the quality of life for the terminally ill and their families?

Palliative care assists a person who has been diagnosed with a life-limiting illness who might die within the next one to two years. It provides an additional layer of support and symptom management as the patient continues with disease-modifying treatment and provides bereavement support for families as well as addresses the patient’s physical, psychological, social and spiritual needs. Studies have shown that people who start palliative care early in the advanced stages of their illness can prolong their lives and have a better quality of life.

Hospice, which is engaged when disease-modifying treatment has ceased, is appropriate when the patient will most likely die within six months and the focus turns to making the patient comfortable and maintaining quality of life.

How can family members help a terminally ill person continue to live a full life with a chronic illness?

People don’t stop being who they are just because they are dying. They can still enjoy a full life by focusing on the small things that make a difference: wearing clothes they love, eating favorite foods, listening to music, reading books and spending time with friends and family.

Palliative care can help by supporting the patients’ family and friends, who often are grieving the illness and eventual loss of their loved one. The team can help family members come to terms with their confusing emotions and understand what the patient is going through. They also help with addressing pain and managing distressing symptoms as a patient goes through treatment and physical decline. They assist patients in expressing their decisions as to the kind of treatment they want at the end of life. They even can help patients live their dreams at a time when they need their dreams the most.

Can pain be controlled when you have a terminal illness?

Pain is one of the most frequent and feared symptoms in advanced disease. For many families, the last memory of their loved one may either be that of a “peaceful” and comfortable transition or that of a painful end. Most pain can be relieved or controlled. Effective pain control requires good communication among patients, caregivers and health care providers. Pain control plans are tailored to meet the patient’s particular needs and are adjusted as these needs change.

How can caregivers and family members combat “compassion fatigue?”

Compassion fatigue has been described as the “cost of caring” for others in emotional and physical pain. It is characterized by physical and emotional exhaustion and a pronounced change in the caregiver or family’s ability to feel empathy for the patient and can lead to depression and stress-related illness. Signs of compassion fatigue include feelings of exhaustion, reduced ability to feel sympathy or empathy, anger and irritability, increased use of alcohol or drugs, and impaired ability to make decisions and care for the patient. Once compassion fatigue sets in, a caregiver should receive assistance through a health care provider and counseling. Compassion fatigue counseling should screen for and treat depression and secondary traumatic stress as well as provide an early detection system to prevent relapse.

Self-care is the cornerstone of compassion fatigue prevention. Often family members or caregivers put their needs last and feel guilty taking extra time for themselves to engage in stress-reduction strategies, such as exercising, taking a long bath, sleeping well, meditating, doing yoga or getting a massage. It’s important for caregivers and family members to put their own health and wellness at the top of the priority list while caring for loved ones.

Complete Article HERE!


‘It’s all about making this better’


In the season of giving, hospice grants patients’ end-of-life wishes

From left, Deborah Holmes, Leslie White and Lisa Price work with patients of all ages at Seasons Hospice. Their job is to provide comfort and love to a person in his or her last days, weeks and even months.


Deborah Holmes adjusted her glasses, eyes watering as she glanced up at the ceiling of Seasons Hospice’s family room.

“I’m glad I didn’t wear mascara again today, though none of us [nurses] do much because we cry so often,” she said, smiling as her voice cracked. “I’ve almost given up wearing glasses they fog up so much too.”

Steadying her voice, Holmes laughed — a mixture of sadness, humor and joy.

Though the holiday season is often thought of as an especially important time for giving and making wishes come true, for Holmes and her fellow employees at Seasons Hospice, every day is an important time to grant wishes to their patients, the overwhelming majority of who are dying.

Unlike hospitals, which mainly focus on curative measures for patients — even those who are terminally ill — hospices are intended to provide comfort and love to a person in his or her last days, weeks and even months.

Hospice workers give the gift of dignified end-of-life care daily, holiday season or not, Holmes said, which she added is the most rewarding part of her job.

“Seeing those patients be free of those acute symptoms — to not be writhing in pain, to have that hospice success, to see them share laughs and hugs and things with their grandchildren and their own children — that’s the best,” she said.

“At night when I lay down — and it’s me and God, that’s who I deal with — knowing that that family member made it for their son to come home from the military, for that nephew to come in from out-of-state, for that patient to have their cat on their lap or for them to eat lunch without their oxygen because that’s what they want to do and they don’t care how low their stats drop, it’s those things, just making sure they have what they need, that’s my measure of success.”

The success varies from patient to patient, though, who range in age anywhere from 18 to 98.

“We do get very young patients; usually 18 years old and up, though we do get a lot of 30s, a lot of early 40s and 50s [and] a lot of 60s,” Holmes said. “Usually, cancer is the culprit, unfortunately, and those are especially hard because the [patients] generally have young families and their parents are still with us a lot of times. To have that parent experience the loss of their child at such an early age is absolutely devastating.”

As she continues, Holmes’ smile fades, sadness beginning to cloud her coffee-colored eyes.

“I’ll be honest,” she said. “In my 25 years of nursing, fortunately and unfortunately I’ve been involved in quite a number of situations where you do kind of go numb after a while. When I meet these family members, too, they don’t know what hospice is and I think it’s because there’s not a lot of talk in the community about hospice.

She added: “We’re not here to take anybody’s lives; we’re here to enhance the time that is left, so I do comedy with them. I may crack a little joke and I kind of develop a little joke with each and every family member or patient and that’s what I keep thinking about. It just brings a smile to my face because you know that was a connection that you made with those people.”

It’s the connections, too, that hospice employees make with one another that lighten the nurses’ daily burdens, as well as family, friends and pets.

In Bulldog country, the University of Georgia’s recent SEC championship and the team’s January trip to Pasadena, Calif., where they’ll challenge No. 2 seed Oklahoma in the Rose Bowl Game, also helps, Holmes said.

Lisa Price, one of the facility’s social workers, smiled, half-whispering ‘Go Dawgs’ as Holmes paused, mid-sentence.

“That’s the thing about it,” Price interjected. “We’re a big team and none of us could do our job without the others and the families, too. We have a good social and psych support here, and we’re a team.”

That team is part of what keeps Holmes coming back to work every morning, good days and bad. Her patients, too, make the job worth it.

And, at the end of the day, Holmes said she also knows she can turn on her radio, cued to a Pandora comedy station, and just laugh.

“I have a really good sense of humor; I love to laugh and I love to crack jokes,” she said. “I think it’s real important to keep a good sense of humor because even patients who are terminal, they still like to laugh and joke and kid, and we really enjoy that part, too. It’s not all crying; it can be, some situations that’s just where you’re at, but it’s all about making this better.”

Complete Article HERE!


People are hiring doulas to help them die


By Molly Shea

Chad Lewis charges $20 to $25 an hour to assist the gravely ill and their families.

When Chad Lewis’ mother passed away seven years ago from complications from diabetes, he couldn’t stop thinking about her death. “It wasn’t loving and sweet,” he says. “It was chaotic and angry and scary.”

So Lewis, a 39-year-old who lives in Astoria, set out to find a better way to process the end of life, ultimately making a career shift from Broadway stage manager to death doula.

Doulas who aid women in giving birth have been trendy for years, but now a different type of support person is helping people navigate life’s other major passage. Dying people and their loved ones are hiring death doulas to help them coordinate end-of-life care and vigils, plan funerals and provide a sympathetic but unattached ear.

The profession first came into being in the early aughts and is growing increasingly popular. In 2014, Suzanne O’Brien launched the New York City-based Doulagivers, an online training program for death doulas.

“I can hardly keep up with demand,” says O’Brien, who also holds monthly seminars at an Upper West Side branch of the New York Public Library.

The process usually starts with a patient deciding how they want to die and outlining that with the doulas.

“It’s similar to a birthing plan … Where [do] you want to die? What kind of room you want to die in? What [do] you want to be looking at? What [do] you want it to smell like?” says Shelby Kirillin, 41, a Richmond, Va.-based death doula. She charges between $1,000 and $3,000 as a retainer fee, and asks for payment upfront to avoid chasing down money posthumously. She’ll also work pro bono if a situation merits it.

The “scary” death of Chad Lewis’ mother led him to become a doula.

“I had one young girl say she wanted to die in a yurt,” says Kirillin of a client who’s currently planning her own death. The girl’s cancer condition makes a yurt too impractical, so Kirillin is getting creative. “We decided on mosquito netting over her bed, and twinkle lights to look like stars.” After she takes her last breath, her loved ones will put wildflowers in her hair.

Death doulas also help out after someone passes. Lewis, who charges $20 to $25 per hour, likes to create a basic plan to take care of issues such as child care, grocery shopping and bill payment, to clear up mental space for grieving families.

And more than anything, the professionals help patients process what they’re going through.

“Families buffer pain — you hate to see people you love in pain. And doulas aren’t buffers,” says Kirillin. “Instead of saying, ‘OK, let’s see if we can give you meds,’ I’ll say, yeah, ‘I bet you are in pain. Tell me about it — what does it feel like?’”

When Richmond resident Mel Titus’ best friend of 31 years, Kim, was entering the final stages of her battle with cervical and breast cancers last year, they were introduced to Kirillin.

They were skeptical at first, but Kim (whose last name is being withheld for personal reasons) decided on a death doula so she could manage her death the way she did her life. “She was a processor,” says Titus. “She really liked that she could come up with a plan and do things a certain way.”

And for Titus, Kirillin provided emotional support during an impossible time. “I would have tough days, and I’d call Shelby, and she’d walk me through it,” she says.

Kirillin helped the duo plan Kim’s visitor schedule, and what music they’d play and books they’d read in the final days. Taking care of logistics freed them up to reminisce about Kim’s life, and even laugh about how things were going. “We actually had some funny moments, believe it or not,” says Titus. “It’s sad, but it can be a happy thing, too.”

Complete Article HERE!


They Comfort Strangers, So No One Dies Alone


David Wynn, 62, and Carolyn Lyon, 74, in Santa Ana, Calif., volunteer at a hospital where they accompany patients who are near death and don’t have loved ones to be with them in their final hours.

By Liyna Anwar

When patients are near death, and don’t have loved ones to be with them, David Wynn and Carolyn Lyon rush to the hospital.

“They have no one for various reasons, you know, they’ve outlived family, they’ve never married,” Lyon says.

For about six years, Lyon has been comforting patients in their final hours at St. Joseph Hospital in Orange, Calif.; for Wynn, it’s been about nine years.

“For some reason I always wonder about the person’s mother,” David Wynn says. “She saw him first, and I saw him last. It was her and me that are the bookends of this person’s life. So each time that I leave a patient who has died, there is this element of sadness.”

But this kind of work also has its rewards. Wynn remembers one man who was estranged from his family.

“I was sitting there with him and I heard somebody at the door. Turns out it’s his son,” Wynn says. “And he, I guess, felt a little bit uncomfortable, and so he asked me to stay.”

Then, the patient’s daughter came in. “These are people who hadn’t seen each other in maybe 10 or 20 years,” Wynn says.

While the family members exchanged apologies, Wynn recalls the daughter saying, “I don’t even know why I was angry at you, I don’t even remember.”

“And they said, ‘We’re going to try to be a family again,’ ” Wynn says.

“You know, we talk about the last senses to go would be the sense of touch and hearing,” Wynn says. “And I hope that there was enough left of the dad that he had some sense that this bad situation had been healed through his death.”

Wynn says he felt honored, simply to witness that reconciliation, at the end of the man’s life.

Complete Article HERE!


Families turn to death midwives for help with final passage


Anna Benton, of Milwaukee, left, Georgette Paxton, of Madison, center, and Jennifer Snow, of Waunakee, look over Heather Ockler, of Monona, who is playing the role of a dying person wrapped in a shroud during a home funeral demonstration. It was part of a death midwife class taught last month by Sharon Stewart, who helped aspiring death midwives practice skills such as washing and shrouding a body. Death midwives, sometimes called death doulas, are increasingly helping families prepare for and navigate the death of loved ones, in addition to or instead of hospice care and funeral homes.


Before Valli Warren’s husband died last year after a long illness, the Stoughton couple knew they wanted a home funeral and green burial.

But they weren’t sure how to make those things happen. They turned to Sharon Stewart, who delivered ice packs to preserve the body, shared videos about how to wrap it in a shroud and taught pallbearers how to carry it out of the house on a board.

Stewart also helped Warren file paperwork, including a permit letting her transport her husband to Circle Cemetery, near Barneveld, where he was laid to rest without being embalmed or using a casket or vault.

“She walked me through every phase,” Warren said.

Stewart is a death midwife, a new kind of occupation that provides emotional, spiritual and practical support to families before and after death — in addition to, or instead of, hospice care and funeral homes.

The service, which has emerged around the country over the past decade, is analogous to what birth midwives do compared to obstetricians. Some who offer the assistance call themselves death doulas or end-of-life midwives.

‘Back to their roots’

Whatever the title, the providers say they help people “take back” the death process from hospitals and funeral homes. Services include leading family discussions about death planning, sitting vigil with people as they die, helping family and friends wash the body afterward and aiding in tasks such as selecting memorial cards, sending obituaries to newspapers and closing social media accounts. It often involves home funerals or green burials.

“We’re taking families back to their roots, the tradition of when we were born and when we died in our own homes,” said Stewart, a former detective who lives near Brooklyn, south of Madison. “We laid in honor in our parlors, and the community came together to provide care for the family.”

Liz Humphries, a former birth midwife and hospice nurse who recently added an end-of-life doula service to Seasons of Life, her senior care company in Middleton, said, “It’s about reclaiming a really sacred and beautiful human experience.”

Mary Paulauskis, a former hospice nurse from Madison, has added what she calls end-of-life transitions counseling to her business, Mindful Awakenings, through which she teaches meditation.

Paulauskis focuses on helping people think about who and what they want around them as they die. She also coaches loved ones on what to say to a dying person and how to interact — letting them know it’s OK to lie next to the person if they want to, for example.

“It’s creating a space of whatever the patient said they want,” Paulauskis said.

Many people don’t realize that there are several ways to dispose of bodies without embalming, including new, greener types of cremation, said Angie Buchanan, a death midwife in Waukesha who trains death midwives around the country. She informs clients of the options and guides them through their choice.

“We’re the water that runs between the rocks of the medical profession and the funeral industry,” Buchanan said.

Dr. Toby Campbell, chief of UW Health’s palliative care program and a board member of Agrace Hospice and Palliative Care in Fitchburg, said he understands why death midwives are catching on. He said hospice care typically includes two or three visits a week from a nurse or social worker, and an occasional call from a doctor.

“That leaves about 99 percent of the time you and your family are on your own,” Campbell said. “That’s a big space. There are giant gaps between the health care system and death, even including hospice.”

Jim Olson, president-elect of the Wisconsin Funeral Directors Association, said caring for a body after death and managing a funeral are big jobs. Most people will continue to seek help from funeral directors, he said.

Death midwifery is “another alternative for families, which we think is great,” said Olson, who owns Olson Funeral Home and Cremation Service in Sheboygan. “Am I afraid it’s going to affect my business? No, absolutely not.”

There is no licensure or government certification for death midwives. Experienced practitioners, such as Stewart and Buchanan, offer training, as does the New Jersey-based International End of Life Doula Association, which held a session in Madison last year.

Many training programs offer their own certification. The burgeoning field is in a similar situation to massage therapy in the 1990s, before doctors pushed for its regulation, Buchanan said. In Wisconsin, certification for massage therapists started in 2003, with licensure beginning in 2010.

Fees for death midwives vary. Buchanan said she charges $100 for a consultation and up to $2,000 for services covering the whole death process. Stewart has accepted donations of $100 or $200 from some clients, but she doesn’t plan to establish rates until she retires from her day job, at the state public defender’s office, and devotes more time to death midwife duties.

Paulauskis said she plans to charge $25 to $50 for a counseling session and negotiate rates for other services but let people pay what they can. An academic adviser at the UW-Madison School of Social Work, she plans to continue making her living in other ways.

Humphries, who started her end-of-life doula service last month, said she might charge $40 to $100 an hour but offer a sliding-fee scale for people with low incomes.

Humphries is also an organizer of Walking Each Other Home Madison, a group that started in 2014 to help people carry out home funerals and green burials. People can rent the group’s home funeral kit, which includes a body board, ice packs, soap, lotion, diapers, latex gloves and small bags of rice to place over the dead person’s eyes to keep them closed.

‘The personal touch’

Stewart, who has long volunteered at Monroe Clinic’s hospice program, said she saw the need for a more personal death service after her brother died in a car crash at age 19. She was 21.

Police came to the house in the middle of the night, told her mother her son was dead and left. Stewart wanted to see her brother’s body before he was embalmed, but the funeral director wouldn’t let her, she said.

“There had to be a better way,” she said.

Later, as a detective for the Lafayette County Sheriff’s Department in Darlington, Stewart tried to deliver death notifications with more sensitivity. But she wasn’t able to do all she wanted to help grieving families. After a shoulder injury forced her to retire, she discovered death midwifery.

“I thought, ‘This is it. This is the personal touch. This is the attention that families need,’ ” she said.

At a death midwife class she taught last month, Stewart told students to help dying people reconcile with others if they ask, separate arguing family members at the bedside if necessary and encourage loved ones to say goodbye and leave the room if the dying person wants to die alone.

“Your job as a death midwife is to be an advocate for that dying person,” she said.

When Laurie Larson’s husband, Dennis Presser, died suddenly from a heart attack at age 54 four years ago, Stewart helped Larson and her two teenage children navigate the chaos.

Stewart joined Larson when she met with a funeral director to plan the funeral, which took place at the funeral home.

She organized an intimate gathering for family and close friends at the crematorium, with candles, incense and music. As Presser’s body lay inside an open cardboard cremation box, people read poems, told stories and colored the box. Then they placed him in the chamber, and Larson hit the ignition switch.

“I would never have had the energy to create that beautiful ritual,” said Larson, of Madison. “Sharon helped me in so many ways that I never would have thought I needed to be helped.”

Warren’s husband, Spencer, died at 64 from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or ALS, also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease.

Stewart helped the couple carry out their wishes. His body remained at home for three days, instead of being whisked off to a funeral home. “I had time to be with him; it was very healing,” Warren said.

As family and friends came for the home funeral, volunteers changed ice packs beside his body as he lay on their bed for viewing. Warren drove him to Circle Cemetery, where gatherers sang and played guitar before shoveling dirt over his shrouded body.

“It was the most natural thing I’ve ever experienced,” Warren said.

Complete Article HERE!