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Faux pas I’ve made as a death doula and will never do again. (I hope)

One of the marvellous things in my aging, is I can talk about the ‘many’ booboos I have made. When I was younger it was hard to admit my failings, until I learned that failures are imperative to growth.

It’s that simple.

I have now learned to not be scared of making a misjudgement as I don’t want to appear as wooden or not Annie-like a moment. Each of us brings our character, which was created from the past and the present.

As I delved into my memory bank I realised the countless mistakes I have made over my lifetime that made me who I am today. Fortunately I can chuckle over many of them and have used them in my training of other death doulas for Life Options by Denise Love.

I have been a death doula for 14 years now and whatever arrogance I had entering this service to humanity, hopefully has fermented into wisdom.

"We also do it with wisdom. To become wise is to extract the wheat from the chaff. To know what represents an important lesson and what doesn’t. To use the raw materials of our life to become more sagacious. And, then, like with a fine wine, we’re meant to share that wisdom." Chip Conley


The French author Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, who wrote “The Little Prince,” suggested, “Perfection is achieved not when there is nothing more to add but when there is nothing left to take away, when a body has been stripped down to its nakedness.”

One faux pas was when I was with a most glorious family, their patriarch was dying of Motor Neuron Disease. I had been with them for months and one day as I was leaving the father said to me, “I am dying”. My response was to say “we are all dying, I can never know when my last breath will be”. To this day I regret saying that, I served this family for many more months and on my next visit I explained my embarrassment at my words and I asked their forgiveness. Over a decade later I still cringe at the memory.

This man was truly dying and I had no right to attempt to minimize it by saying what I said. Although, if I had been in an accident on leaving his home and was killed, then perhaps my words would hover. Fortunately that didn’t happen. I practice shut-up-edness mainly because I came from a family who rarely let one finish a sentence and always had an opinion, albeit usually a strongly held one. I have spoken over a person I was with, I can’t call them clients as they really are my teachers. As soon as I did it, I recognised my rudeness and apologised. I haven’t recorded the number of times I have apologised to people I am with and this has been a pathway to further humility.

I adore my favourite scent, Indian Amber natural essence. But I can’t wear this to people I am with as usually their olfactory sense has been heightened by drugs, chemo etc. A person explained to me many years ago that they could not sit close to me as the smell was nauseating. Oh dear another lesson.

As you can tell, I have many examples, my last one in this article was entering a man’s room in his home. He was in a hospital bed and certain devices were not obvious and I almost tripped on his urine bag. I have now learned to do a thorough 360 degrees scan of every room I am in so as to avoid anything like this happening again. His catheter had not moved and I avoided any problem - but it was close.

I have often learned many more lessons from watching other people, such as I would never tell someone to relax, especially when they are coming to terms with a terminal reality. Has that ever worked for you? When someone (though often well intentioned), says to you ‘relax’.

May your mistakes lead you to wisdom, vulnerability and further knowledge.

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