Wednesday, 19 February 2014
On Vigiling with the Dying, by Soul Midwife Mandy Preece
I am delighted to have Soul Midwife and dear friend Mandy Preece write a guest blog for me. Mandy has much experience sitting with the dying and their families, holding the space for them and helping to enable a peaceful dying. She is attached to her local Macmillan Unit, teaches at the school of Soul Midwifery run by Felicity Warner, and is a trainee Home Funeral Celebrant. Mandy has much experience, and is the happiest, jolliest, most loving lady. Over to you my friend.
The art of sitting in vigil
I sit with you dear mother
Watching your chest rise and fall
I am hyper-aware focussed on your breath, alert for any change.
But nothing changes, so I begin, eventually, to settle,
to sit with the ebb and flow of your remaining life force.
I read you prayers,
but mostly I sit in silence,
aware that this is the last of our time,
that you will leave and I will stay.
The hours pass and still I sit:
the observer of your final journey.
When will you be free?
I can do no more than be present for you:
to be the witness to your journey.
I finally sleep next to you. I am so very tired.
You pass into the light; and when I awake my life has changed forever.
(© Mandy Preece, 2013)
That is the story of my mum’s final days as I sat in vigil with her. The art of vigiling is as old as time – to sit with a dying person, to honour their journey by being a loving presence next to them.
When my mum died, I sat with her because I loved her and didn’t know what else to do. Now I know that if sitting with someone, holding their hand, is all you do – you have done enough.
I have since trained with Felicity Warner at the Soul Midwives’ School as a soul midwife (www.soulmidwives.co.uk). Soul Midwives work with the terminally-ill from point of diagnosis to death. We can teach our ‘friends’ (the name we give the dying people we work with), breathing techniques, meditation (or what I like to call ‘finding your happy place’) techniques to ease pain and anxiety. We can help with death planning. Where would you like to die if you had the choice? In your bed, swaddled with soft blankets? Outside with the sun on your face? That’s my choice! By the sea? In your garden? Who would you like with you? Would you like loved ones at your bedside or, like my mum, would you like to drift away when no-one’s looking.
Soul midwives can often help therapeutically – some soul midwives are Reiki practitioners, aromatherapists, reflexologists or trained counsellors.
Soul midwives also recognise and work with four distinct stages in the dying process – and can adapt healing techniques to match each stage. Recognising these four stages are the cornerstone of our work – they act as a map of our friend’s journey and help us assist our dying friends by recognising these signposts.
And, at the end, we can sit in vigil. We can be a steady presence in the dying room. Begin by creating a loving space. Providing a good atmosphere in which to die can be invaluable. If your loved one is dying in hospital, it can be difficult to create the perfect ambience. However, there are many things that you can do to make a room or bed space more restful and pleasant. If your loved one is dying at home, try to create a beautiful and personal space for them. Above all make the room personal – it should reflect the very essence of the dying person and should be an uplifting reminder of happy times, hobbies, holidays and moments shared with loved ones.
To sit in vigil and witness someone’s journey towards death and beyond it is an honour. If you have helped someone achieve a good death it is also a pleasure. It is deeply humbling and deeply life-affirming.
Sitting in vigil is sacred. There is a sense of time slowing, daily concerns drift away; there is a sense of ‘beingness’ – just being in the moment – sharing a journey with honour and love.
All is well. All will be well.
My mother is dead, but her legacy to me leads me on in the work I do. I thank my mum for bestowing me this gift and I hope to do her proud.
(Mandy Preece is a Soul Midwife and home funeral enthusiast. She has a Blog at www.loveattheend.co.uk exploring her work as a soul midwife and her forthcoming training as a funeral consultant and celebrant.)