During the ’80s, as AIDS was decimating the gay & lesbian communities of Toronto, I volunteered with various community organizations. Some raised funds to fight the disease and others focused on supporting those living with the virus. Plus political action groups that fought for our human rights as LGBT citizens. My work with the Toronto Order of Perpetual Indulgence brought a spiritual element to the very worldly issues we confronted. It seemed a minor element at the time, in light of the great injustices that surrounded me.
In addition to the fundraising activities, I sat with patients in Casey House, a hospice for hiv/aids patients. After I swore off funerals I spent more time there, as I felt that such comfort as I could provide was a better use of my time, energy and emotion. The last funeral I attended before I left Toronto was for John, Mr Leatherman Toronto 1991; an exception to my ‘no funerals’ rule in recognition of the wonderful person he was. The service reminded me that taking care of those left behind is part of my Ministry. With improved medical treatments people with hiv/aids are living longer and so my Calling has focused on we who are here now.
Sadly I was not able to spend much time with either of my parents in their last days. One of my sisters (biological rather than spiritual) was. Asked about the experience, she said “having that chance to be there with them is something I will never forget, or be able to fully explain. It’s sad and happy and spiritual.” The words brought back memories of my life 30+ years ago. The power and honour of sharing the last days here, in this existence.
We have largely lost touch with our primal approaches to death. To a certain degree, our modern medical and funeral practises have removed focus from the dignity, peace and spiritual concerns of the person passing away and placed it solely on those remaining. The healing power of rituals grand or precise are needed as part of the funeral/memorial process for we who remain, but they should not be denied to the person facing their mortality.
There are times and areas where we are beginning to reconnect with traditions older than the earliest movable type printing press. The concept of ‘End of Life Doula*‘ is new- replacing, it seems, the traditional support offered by clergy (and other persons religious) as well as extended, multi-generational families that resided in close proximity to each other. But it is based on the ancient sense of community that did not shuttle the age and infirm into distant facilities and sterile, programmed, memorial services.
It may not be the perfect substitute, but it is an option for someone who seeks an ‘end of life guide’ to accompany them and their families through their final days together. As an End of Life Doula*, I am committed to help make the experience of dying something less isolated, if no less painful, for all those impacted. My Calling is focused on LGBTQ communities; those who openly accept and honour my Queer Calling will be recognized as Allies.
The word seems to be of Greek origin, and is generally defined now as “an assistant who provides physical and emotional support, in a non-medical capacity, during childbirth.” Most are women who have actually experienced giving birth. We now celebrate births and idolize youth, while trying to ignore the reality that our days are numbered.
Rubber Chicken Ministries:
My services as an End of Life Doula are part of my Ministry at Rubber Chicken Ministries – a queer humanist ministry that reminds us that no one is getting out alive.