Like many, death touched my life at an early age and many I love have transitioned over the years. While each and every passing has left their own personal imprints on my soul and touched my heart deeply, it was the death I experienced in 2015 that truly changed and my life.
In 2013, my sister was diagnosed with Stage 3 Breast Cancer when she was 26 years old, and in the same year my grandmother was also diagnosed with Dementia. After a 2-year journey with their respective illnesses, both of their souls transitioned in 2015 within 12 hours of each other. It remains to be the most profound experience of my life, and it is that which guided me to my souls’ purpose of being a Death Doula. While traumatic in some ways, it is the death of both my sister and grandmother that offered me the clarity of knowing my life’s purpose, and I will be eternally grateful to them for bestowing me with such a gift. I am humbly and wholeheartedly dedicated to being of service to those who are aging, terminally ill, and dying – To creating not just comfort and peace, but also bringing a sense of dignity and beauty into the journey of meeting death that we may not recognize, or otherwise have.
After the death of both my sister and grandmother, I experienced pain and grief beyond anything I had ever known or imagined possible. It felt as though my heart and soul had been completely shattered and were ripping me apart from the inside out. I felt everything at once, and at the same time, completely numb. I spent the next couple of years grasping at any sense of normalcy, but nothing in life made sense anymore. Life itself didn’t make sense to me anymore. Falling into deep depression, all-encompassing anxiety and suffocating panic attacks, the following years were spent with visits to my doctor, psychologist, being prescribed anti-depressants, and trying with all my might to “get back to it” – trying to eat healthy if I could stomach anything at all, trying to exercise while sleeping for no more than 2-4 hours a night, for months on end. It became apparent to me that I was drowning within my own self, that I was losing a battle I didn’t even want to be fighting in the first place. I felt dead inside, desolate of any true kind of life, and I knew I couldn’t continue going on in this way. If I was going to continue to be given the gift ( or what felt like a curse at the time) of life, I needed something more than just functioning on a barely human level. And so, in a simple and yet incredibly impactful moment, I made a decision that began my own personal and intimate rebirth. I signed up for a meditation class.
For 3 weeks, 1 hour a week, I showed up. For myself, and also in honor of my sister and grandmother. For the first time in years I felt a tiny spark of life, curiosity, and peace. Slowly, I began to connect with this new version of myself, and I became whole heartedly dedicated to nurturing my soul in whatever ways I felt would fuel this little fire that had created new meaning and purpose. My loved ones deserved to be honored in gratitude and love, and I knew that if I continued to follow this healing path, I would find a way to fulfill this desire and need. And so, I began exploring more. I dove into sound healings, shamanic work, drums circles, women’s circles, indigenous elder talks, meditation, kundalini yoga and mantra, and in 2019 I completed my Hatha Yoga Teacher Training. Through these modalities, and a lot of self-work and healing through them, I started to feel an all-encompassing love that connected me back to the drive to not just live, but to live fully. I was brought to an awareness that while my sister was no longer physically here, the love we shared was as strong as ever. And not only could I carry that with me everywhere I went, I could radiate that love outwards into the world. That was her eternal gift that could be given through me, and I knew that was a way I could truly honor her. I couldn’t think of any better way.
As I continued to heal, learn, and grow, it opened up space for reflection on the passing of both my grandmother and sister. I could start to look back and not only allow myself to fully grieve, but also recognize the deep gratitude I felt for the moments we shared and see where their lives and deaths had brought me. I embraced how they encompassed not just pain and heartbreak, but also tenderness, beauty, devotion, and compassion – A truly unconditional, infinite love.
My grandma had spent over 2 years in long-term care facilities, and as dementia enveloped her mind, it was clear that she experienced moments of fear, sadness, anger, and confusion. And yet, it also created some truly beautiful moments that we shared together. When I went to see her, I would take time to feed her, sometimes bringing her chocolates or other little treats she enjoyed, I would gently wash her face, or sometimes, I would simply sit beside her as she slept so she had the calm and comforting presence of someone who loved her close by. Watching her sway and dance in her wheelchair as her face light up as I played her favorite Elvis songs, or witnessing an ease flow through her body and the tension leave her face as I wheeled her outside to feel the crisp air and cool breeze, the sun on her cheeks, were some of the most precious moments, that are still so vivid in my memory.
The last Christmas I spent with my sister she was in quite a lot of pain as cancer had spent the last 2 years making its way from her breasts to her bones to her liver. After a night filled with laughter and love, watching our favorite movies curled up on the couch together, she said she was tired and going to head home.
As she stood in the doorway, she began struggling to bend over to put on her shoes, grimacing as she tried to navigate her way around this seemingly simple task. In that moment, I kneeled down and gently slipped her shoes on her feet and tied them for her. As she leaned on me for support, I remember the warmth of her hand on my shoulder and feeling her complete trust and surrender as she held onto me. It was such a surreal moment – There I was, at age 26 tying my older sisters’ shoes. It was heartbreaking, and yet so tender and full of unconditional love.
Throughout my sister’s illness specifically, I refused to let the thought that she could be dying even flicker into my consciousness. To me, I just saw her as my older sister, incredibly strong and still so vibrant. And while she was those things, she was also terminally ill. But still – she was young, and people don’t die at 28 years old; I couldn’t even comprehend such an idea. The only possible outcome in my mind, was that we were going to spend our long lives together, loving and supporting one another. Because that is how life is “supposed” to work.
And then, mid-March 2015, we got the call she had been rushed into brain surgery. As I flew into her hospital room, I was stunned into complete shock to find her lying unconscious in a bed, hooked up to tubes, with harsh beeping sounds from machines and blaring lights from monitors shining on her face. The surgeon came in and spoke to the family, and it was in that moment it became undeniably clear to me, for the very first time, that my sister was dying. Over the next 4 days, my parents, her husband, her in-laws and I all stayed by her side. Nurses and close family silently came in and out of the room, but I refused to move from my seat and hardly left that room for 4 days. Paralyzed by devastating fear, sadness, and confusion I sat by her bedside holding her hand, frozen in place never wanting to leave, watching every breath she took. I remember wanting so badly to hold her, to climb into the hospital bed and lay with her, and being so afraid that if I did, it would hurt her somehow or make the situation worse in some way. She was dying and I knew that I couldn’t stop it, and I didn’t know what to do. I realized that there had never been a plan for this – I didn’t know what she wanted, or how I could help her. Her husband was a saving grace in those final days. He spoke to her, held her, reassured her that she was safe and so incredibly loved, and guided her through her last breaths.
There are so few guarantees in this life, but one, is that each and every one of us will meet death. And I truly believe that we experience death on a daily basis, it is just that we do not to see it as such. Seasons change, days end with every sunset as night arrives and we drift off to sleep, and even as we exhale each breath the present moment transitions and slips into the next. What truly beautiful teachers these moments can be, that continue to leave me inspired and in awe of the human experience. We do not get to choose if we will or will not die. But, where we do get a choice, and a voice, is how we meet that moment. Whether it be our own transition, or that of ones we love, we cannot run from the inevitability of our mortality, and the unnecessary suffering caused by denying death is so poignant. I believe so deeply that we truly need to start embracing death as a community, and I know this statement may sound illogical in many ways. I do not deny that death can feel scary, challenging, vulnerable, heartbreaking and painful beyond belief. It is natural and human in many ways for us to shield and protect ourselves from these moments, especially in Western society where we have been raised in a death-phobic culture. But through my experiences and personal journey, I have discovered that what this results in is an unintentional disservice to ourselves and the ones we love so much. Through the many ways we fight death and try to deny its existence, by trying to hide or run away from it, it only results in more of the things we are trying to save ourselves and our loved ones from. Through my healing, I continue to discover that by blocking out what is hard, we also close the door on creating truly beautiful and meaningful opportunities for us to deeply connect with one another and experience unconditional love. We cannot block out death or grief, without blocking out love – they are inextricably intertwined with one another, and I have found great comfort in the knowing that what is below the deep grief I feel, is an infinite love. Each and every one of us deserves meet death in grace, dignity, with as much peace as possible. While the answers to what encompasses a good death is different for each person, it is also rooted in the same thing – Love. It is an invaluable gift that has been given to me in so many ways throughout my life, and it is truly an honour to share in that with others, as they experience one of the most momentous aspects of the human experience. As my beloved Guru Ram Dass says, “We are all just walking each other home”, and it is with the deepest respect and reverence, that I choose to wholeheartedly see and meet you, and walk alongside your journey home.
Namaste, Sat Nam