Author: Julie Keon (page 2 of 2)

Honouring the Crone Part 1

“I am not old… I am rare. I am the standing ovation at the end of a play. I am the retrospective of my life as art. I am the hours connected like dots into good sense. I am the fullness of existing. You think I am waiting to die…
But I am waiting to be found. I am a treasure. I am a map. And these wrinkles are imprints of my journey. Ask me anything.”

~ Samantha Reynolds

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Courtesy of www.vaboomer.com

I am acutely cognizant of the great blessing it is for me to have my mother alive and well and a part of my life forty-four years after my birth. I got lucky in the lottery of motherhood and could not have custom designed a better mother for me. Reading this, she would stammer a little and maybe feel a bit embarrassed by my words because that is who she is. She is a lover of life and most of all family and so the way she is, is as natural to her as breathing. Being an extraordinary caregiver, a gentle soul, a loving mother, wife and friend, is just who she is and she would think nothing of it. My mother is a content woman who delights in so many of life’s simple pleasures that you might assume she missed out on childhood and is only getting to experience it for the first time now. Each year, we have “the BEST Christmas tree ever” and she is never bored with the bursting buds in springtime, the magnificent foliage in autumn and the first snowfall is magical every. single. year.

I do know that there is a part of her that dreads getting old and another part of her that plans to fight like a demon when death comes to pay a visit. She will certainly not be “going gently into that good night” and she will most definitely “rage against the dying of the light.”  Even to speak of it brings her to tears and seems to cut off oxygen  interrupting her ability to speak. If she could live forever, she would. No doubt about it.

And so, last year, after she turned 69, my siblings and I began to plan her 70th birthday. With my dad’s input and much thought, we knew that she would be happier with a small family dinner rather than a huge surprise party. We know our mother and as much as we wanted to go big with celebration, we knew that we needed to do what would be most meaningful to her. A part of her celebration weekend included a Crone Ceremony. The intention was to set aside some space, physically, emotionally, psychologically and spiritually, to pause and acknowledge this milestone year. Although I think my mother was born with an old soul, it was important to shine light on the seventy years she has lived and to honour the wisdom gained.

As a Life-Cycle Celebrant, I am so privileged to help individuals, couples and families transition through life’s  moments, big and small, through ceremony and so creating and writing my first Crone Ceremony was both exciting and challenging. It didn’t take long for the ideas to flow and come together and with the approval of my siblings, this “Honouring The Crone” Ceremony came to life.

After a family dinner on the Friday night complete with artwork by her grandchildren and bbq and cake, we continued the celebrations into Saturday with a surprise three hour afternoon trip to the spa. As she was pampered, we (her children) got busy preparing the house for a special Crone Ceremony and a gourmet dinner to follow. Due to the nature of this type of gathering, the number of guests were kept to a minimum and mom chose a handful of friends to surround her. We anxiously waited for this part of the birthday weekend to unfold so that we could finally share with her everything we had been planning for months before.

**Stay tuned for Part 2 which will include a description of the ceremony**

The Fledgling

The Fledgling

I find myself in a very strange place these days. And by ‘strange place’ I am not referring to somewhere geographically but more to somewhere psychologically. As a birth worker since 1998 in the capacity of a birth doula, postpartum doula, breastfeeding counsellor, belly caster and traumatic birth workshop facilitator, my identity was naturally a part of the work that I wholeheartedly participated in.BabyWhen you are a part of the intimate experiences of others’ lives, and you love every part of it, it doesn’t feel like work. I was considered an “oldie” doula to some extent due to the years of experience and knowledge I gained in the last seventeen years being with birthing women, babies and newborn parents and families. In 2012, another job title was added to the list; that of marriage officiant. In 2013 after an eight month training course with the Celebrant Foundation & Institute, I graduated as a Certified Life-Cycle Celebrant specializing in funerals and end-of-life celebrations. These past few years of writing/ creating custom ceremonies for the entire life cycle  has prompted me  to let go of my birth work little by little….work that I loved but was no longer fulfilling me in the way it used to.

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Photo courtesy of Union Eleven: Ottawa Wedding Photographers

I am embarking on a new path. My work as a funeral celebrant serving families who are dealing with the death of a loved one, has ignited an interest in end-of-life care that has lain dormant for many, many years. Death isn’t something that I have been afraid of or shied away from in my life and I know where that stems from. My mother was a nurse for over forty years and as children we listened to her stories of patients dying and I recall how she always told the stories in such a way that the dying process, although mysterious, seemed so natural and sacred.

There were things she observed over and over. She would tell us that, “Oftentimes they wait until their loved ones are gone and then they die” or “This woman waited until her son arrived from far away and the moment he was there and took her hand, she exhaled for the last time.” In addition to hearing these accounts, my sisters and I often sang at the funerals of our local church and we attended many wakes of people whom we didn’t know personally but who maybe didn’t have family to pay their respects. Thirty-five years ago, people would die at home and my mom would send my sisters and I to deliver food for a weary family needing nourishment. It was all a natural part of growing up in a small, Ontario town. When a family pet died, the neighbourhood kids gathered round while we performed a makeshift funeral and burial. It wasn’t until I was much older and living in a city that I recognized that this was not the experience of all children.

My interest, though, in end-of-life care began in high school when a progressive teacher offered a course called Death Education as part of our Man in Society class. Granted, this teacher was the brunt of many jokes and when I look back now, I realize how much courage it took for her to not only offer a class with this title but to offer it to a bunch of teenagers. I will tell you, though, that it is probably the one class I remember and that impacted me deeply. I recall going on a field trip which involved a bus trip to Ottawa to visit Tubman’s Funeral Home. Can you imagine a class of 15 and 16 year old students filing into the funeral home and trying to behave seriously and respectfully? The tour even included a walk through a visitation room complete with the open casket of a woman named “Mrs. Bobolink” (yes, I even remember the deceased woman’s name!). Some of the students had never seen a dead body before and fled within seconds the moment their brain registered what they were in the presence of. We were shown the embalming room and educated on all aspects of preparation and handling of the body after death. It was a memorable class to say the least.

A few weeks ago, I came upon an accordion file of articles I have clipped from newspapers and magazine over the years and it was interesting for me to see the number of death-related items I had kept over the years. One in particular was entitled, “Funeral Homes Help Diminish Grief,” a handout given in that Death Education class in high school. A subtitle reads, “Funerals are for the living…….they cause us to come together in a way we otherwise never do.” That simple phrase stuck with me and I carried that belief with me over the passage of time.

Pearl Funeral 6

In my early years as a birth doula, I was drawn to hospice care and I wondered if it would be a bizarre combination to be assisting with ushering souls in and out. In the end, I just never seemed to get around to exploring this desire any further and my birth work kept be busy. In 2003, I became a mother and that became my main focus for many years especially considering our daughter’s medical fragility.

So here I am today……….a fledgling. It is strange to be in the beginner’s shoes after so many years as an experienced birth worker but end-of-life care is calling to me loudly; no longer in whispers. I am half way through my hospice volunteer training and I have taken the plunge and enrolled in death midwifery training which will begin January of 2016. I intend on using this space to write about my learning and reflections as I move forward in this direction as well as share aspects of some of the ceremonies I get the privilege of taking part in. Stay tuned as I track down my old high school teacher for an interview and write about things that perhaps most of us think about but don’t dare say outloud. I hope you will come along as this doula leaves one end of the life spectrum for another.

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The Circle of Life

And the seasons, they go ‘round and ‘round and the painted ponies go up and down. We’re captive on the carousel of time. We can’t return, we can only look behind from where we came and go round and round and round in the circle game.”

~ Joni Mitchell

I started out as an adult believing that I would work with people in one way or another. I graduated from the Social Service Worker program at Sir Sandford Fleming College in 1992 and assumed I would work in the mental health field, as this was an area that interested me. I also knew that I wanted to work with women specifically. In 1998, I came upon the Doula Services Association of BC exhibit while attending a women’s health fair in Victoria, BC. A Doula is a woman who provides continuous emotional and physical support to a woman and her partner during labour, childbirth and the postpartum period. I knew, in that moment, that I had found my calling and I proceeded to take my training a couple of months later.

Since becoming a Certified Doula and prior to my “retirement” in 2003, I had the privilege of attending over one hundred births. I attended births in the hospital and home and I worked with Obstetricians, General Practitioners and Midwives. I had witnessed highly medicalized births including cesarean births as well as all-natural, low intervention births. I always felt it to be an incredible honour to sit with the labouring mother, sometimes for short and intense periods as is the case with precipitous labours and more commonly for many hours and even days as is the case of a long, prodromal labour. I was very sad to hang up my doula hat but my life circumstances did not allow for me to continue this work; an unpredictable job that includes being on-call almost continuously and being away from home for many hours and even days at a time.

In November of 2010, my paternal grandmother, Pearl Keon, became ill and it wasn’t long before we knew that she was most likely not going to get better. She was moved from the medical floor to the chronic floor at the Renfrew Victoria Hospital while she waited for a bed to become available in a long-term care facility. Although the doctors and nurses were positive and encouraging, my mother, who is a retired nurse, felt that Grandma was not going to be with us for very long. At the age of 91, it was as though her body was shutting down even though her spirit was still alive and well and sparkling.

Because my mother was a Registered Nurse for forty-three years, she and my father made the most loving and selfless decision on Boxing Day to bring Grandma to their home for end of life care. We were overjoyed to know that Grandma would be surrounded by those who loved her most and that she would spend her final days basking in the warmth and familiarity of a home where she had spent so many joyful times in the past twenty years. How many birthday celebrations, Christmas’, Easters and family dinners had she participated in at this home? My mother created a space for her in the dining room that is made up mostly of windows so that Grandma could look outside and be close to the kitchen. We played Irish music for her, displayed photos of her with my Grandpa, pasted cards and drawings on the wall from friends and family and we took turns sitting with her round the clock. Family and loved ones offered to sit and help out and soon my parent’s home became a sacred space where this amazing Matriarch was living out her final days.

In that week, I learned a profound lesson that, like labour and birth, dying can be hard work. This very natural process takes time and a smoother transition often involves the loving support of trustworthy caregivers. As I spent time sitting with Grandma, I reflected on how similar the care is when one helps to usher in a new soul as in birth and when one helps to send a soul on its’ way. My sisters and I gave birth at home and I thought of how we had taught my mother about giving birth at home and how our mother was now teaching us about dying at home.

There were so many parallels in the care given in birthing and in the care given in dying. The care given to Grandma in that last week of December reminded me of the things that I did during hundreds of hours of labour. The skills of a birth doula can be easily transferred to the skills required of those walking alongside the dying. These skills include but are not limited to: continuous emotional and physical support, assistance with personal care, soft voices and gentle touch, a calm environment, protecting the space, soft lighting, background music, the display of familiar things like photographs, offering sips of water or ginger ale with a straw, assisting with nutrition and feeding and sometimes simply knowing when to do nothing but sit quietly and be present. I remember smiling to myself when I wrapped my Grandma’s cold feet in a heated rice sock; the same rice sock that had comforted countless labouring mothers many, many times before. Grandma died peacefully on January 1st, 2011, surrounded by two of her children, her daughter-in-law and three grand-daughters.

The Circle of Life

As with all of the births I have attended, it was an honour and a privilege to help “doula” my grandmother through the dying process and to be there in that moment when her soul was no longer with us. I am so grateful that my parents were in a position that they could not only provide this care to my grandmother but that they gave this opportunity to myself and our family. To witness how incredibly sacred, respectful and beautiful the dying process can be is something that I consider so very positive and life changing. I feel very blessed to have been a part of these two transitions that all of us must go through in this circle of life.

** Originally published in the Whitewater Cobden Sun newspaper in Julie Keon’s weekly column “One Woman’s Words” April 2011 **

© Julie Keon 2014

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