Whole Life Magazine

October/November 2019

Issue link: https://digital.copcomm.com/i/1173846

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Page 17 of 31

S he stood at the threshold, not wanting to enter the room in which her friend lay still … perfectly still, no more moans, no more shallow tiny breaths, no more rise and fall of her chest. Her fear was palpable; it was clear she had never been in the presence of a life-less body before. She watched as we gently bathed and loved her friend, not sure what she was supposed to do or feel. Soft singing could be heard coming from a room downstairs where people were gathering to sit vigil. I watched her take a step forward and receive a few drops of essential oil in the palm of her hand. The scent of sacred oils enveloped us — myrrh, frankincense, and geranium among them — each oil bringing a gift to help guide our friend and ease our hearts. She stood waiting her turn as one by one people bent down to touch their beloved friend's feet, legs, arms, and hands, anointing her, loving her. She inched forward. I gave her an encouraging smile and placed a gentle hand on her back inviting her to take another step toward her friend. She hesitated; her fear was making it impossible for her to breathe. I inhaled and exhaled inviting her to follow my lead … she stood looking down at the oil in her hands looking lost … then with a big exhale she moved forward and placed her hands on her friend's leg; she did not move. Silently I was counting the seconds and waiting for the magic to happen ... slowly she began to move her hands and she relaxed ... now she looked and was able to see her friend, a beloved, not a lifeless body ... she did not pull away. Her hands moved up and down one calf then moved to touch the other ... a loving touch, a final gesture. When she looked up and met my eyes, it was she who smiled; there was no more fear. There was instead an understanding and gratitude for this ritual that allows us to tend to those we love after they take their last breath. There were tears in our eyes, tears of love. We had broken through fear and come out whole and filled with love…. "Wow" was the only word she said. As a Death Doula, I experience beautiful, profound moments like the one above that involve existing, new, and re-imagined rituals from many different family traditions, religions, and cultures. Anointing our loved ones with myrrh and frankincense or elevating a 18 wholelifetimes.com A story of death and ritual By Birgitta Kastenbaum At the threshold

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