• Lisa Potter

So, death doula - what's your story?

Updated: Jun 10, 2020

In my life to date, I have been asked quite a lot, ‘why are you so interested in dying and death?’ which invariably leads to observations like – ‘but, you’re so young and positive’ and ‘isn’t that a little dark and morbid?’ Or, 'I dont know how you do it!'

Of course there is a story, everyone has a story. People always want to know the reason why an educated, outgoing, vivacious woman is so passionate about the inevitable part of our lives that most people consciously avoid.

My connection to this work, to this purpose almost defies explanation, I actually find it challenging to truly articulate my 'why'.

This never wavering desire of mine to learn more about the process of death and to open people’s eyes to the potential of this experience is almost an obsession. Okay, obsession is not an entirely accurate description, implying some sort of manic, unhealthy fixation or pre-occupation with death, and specifically dying. I’m not certain there are even words I could find to adequately capture the authentic nature of my connection to this work. It is my souls work, it is something that fills my heart, it is my authentic contribution to assisting others in this lifetime. I know I was meant to do this.

With my experience as a theatrical director and stage performer, I wish I could write, produce and stage numerous theatrical shows themed around death. I'd love to see more portrayals in film and theatre and literature of what it is to die. I wish we included this, in a realistic style, not the gruesome, sensationalised violent portrayal of death, or comedic, gallows humour that makes it more palatable.

With my passion for assisting people to learn, grow and evolve in life, I wish I could work with children and young adults to discuss these issues, to share an understanding with them, to discuss potential meaning at a much earlier age. I long to educate and enlighten others, to normalise this often taboo process that is a normal part of everyone's life.

I could not think of another thing I would rather spend my days learning about and assisting others to deal with. I don’t think I could ever stop learning from those who are dying, they are grand teachers.

Yeah, but, WHY? (sounds endearingly like my 5-year old ..)

WHY are you fascinated with the dying process?

Undeniably, I have had a remarkable experience and a magnificent teacher who, unbeknownst to me fuelled a spark that set me up for a lifetime ahead of burning interest. My teacher? Her name is Wendy and she is my little sister. The time that Wendy and I shared was an apprenticeship of sorts for me. In the role of an older sister and one of her central care givers, I assisted her emotionally, practically and spiritually to navigate an ever-evolving, ever-changing confrontation with her dis-ease of cancer.

Right up until her final dying breath, I remained by her side, so this experience with a myriad of emotions, roles and challenges took on a life of its own. It was not unlike the role of a midwife, to support, advise, encourage, empathise, allow and embrace her through the process of dying.

By circumstance and by choice I played a pivotal role in Wendy's dying journey, experiencing numerous challenges, tests of faith, hurdles to overcome, small victories to revel in, a prolonged and exhausting timeframe, all leading us towards her death. Not all dis-eases will traverse a lengthy pathway, but for me and my family we lived with Wendy's cancer as a constant companion for close to 7 years.

I have never worked in the same job for an equivalent period of time, I have never studied for this long, in fact a committed relationship for this period of time would seem very significant. So, in terms of knowledge attained, personal growth and depth of understanding – this was a truly monumental life experience for me as a young lady, about to embark on my life ahead. It was a bewildering experience for me at the age of 25 to have serious spiritual and philosophical questions about death and my own mortality.

Wendy was, and always will be, my 'why'.

Did I develop my reverence and compassion for the dying process as a result of this experience, or was it inherent within me and this experience simply provided me with the practical knowledge and impetus?

Do you choose or are you chosen?

Do you find a path, or has it been in you all along?

I love this question.

For me, it is both. It has been in me all along, as I remember being a child fascinated in the mystery of life, in cemeteries and ghosts and rebellious acts. Interested in, and wanting to explore and talk about that which was considered 'taboo'. Never understanding why adults behaved like they did, with hiding emotions and treating children as if they were unaware. It was in me all along, but this direct experience opened up my heart and laid the pathway ahead.

My desire to support others in preparing and experiencing their version of 'a good death'.

As much as my desire is to put the soul back into the dying process, I am equally in awe of anyone connecting to their soul’s purpose and becoming empowered during their living years. We have a set time to be here in this life, a timeframe that is unknown to us - so every day and every decision matters. Live each day according to your plan and it will teach you and lead you to an enlightened death.

This is a gentle reminder to ‘follow your bliss’.

It has been my experience that a good life leads us inevitably to a good death.

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