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Wednesday, 27 March 2019

Soul Midwife Sofa. Not a Diva, or Mary Poppins, or Jesus.


The Soul Midwife Sofa

On  Monday 6 May I open a new service.  Based at Waltham House Studios, the new and emerging Arts and Wellbeing Centre here in Bognor Regis, I am starting the Soul Midwife Sofa.

This is what it is -


The Soul Midwife Sofa


A confidential holistic support and listening service for anyone facing the end of life, either their own or someone else’s.  

The dying process can be full of emotion, fear and sadness.  It can also include deep moments of healing and reconciliation.  Talking over our feelings, fears and asking questions can help us to face our journey, whatever it may be.

Antonia Rolls is a trained and experienced Soul Midwife with over ten years of experience.  Non-denominational and without judgement, she offers a safe and loving space for feelings, thoughts, questions and fears for all who are experiencing a death or a dying.

Call Antonia on 07787754123 to make an appointment.  £20 is required on booking to reserve your space.


Over the years, I have called myself a soul midwife, and at the same time I have wondered what on earth is a soul midwife.  It has taken a long time to work something out, it is a long and personal journey.  No two soul midwives are the same.  Here is what I think it is not -

  • A super hero.  A soul midwife cannot fly in through the open window and shoot rays of power from her fingers.  She can't zap baddies, whatever and whoever they may be, across the room and pin them against a wall 
  • An oracle.  A soul midwife can't tell the future though she may have an opinion based on observation and experience.  She has no mystical powers to foresee things, nor can she predict the date and time of a death. 
  • A Diva.  She won't want to make a grand entrance with her hand on her heart and an expression of pain and grief on her face.  She will not identify so deeply with her clients' pain that she needs to sit down and fan herself with a copy of this month's Saints Weekly.
  • Mary Poppins.  A soul midwife cannot come into a situation and magic it all better.  She cannot make the room tidy itself, pull medical equipment out of her bag, and sort everyone out
  • A push over.  She isn't able to take on everyone's negative emotions and make herself responsible.  She isn't there to take whatever is happening personally, and make herself ill.
  • Jesus.  A soul midwife can't make anyone better, can't heal anyone so that they get out of their beds and go for a run.  She also doesn't have a hot line to any deity, and can't work miracles.

I have been a bit of all of the above at some point or other over the last ten years, that is why I know it doesn't work.  That leaves what a soul midwife is.  She is, I am, aspiring to the following -

  • A listener.  A soul midwife listens deeply, carefully and attentively.  She listens with her ears and her heart.  Often what is being said is being conveyed without words.  A soul midwife learns to listen and keep herself out of the way, and really hear what is being said at as many levels as she can.
  • Boundaried.  Having porous boundaries creates confusion and resentment. A soul midwife will not want to become involved in another's pain if she can help it.  Her wise detachment will mean she is stronger in her support, and she will know it is not her story.  She knows her limits.
  • Compassionate.  A soul midwife is compassionate and practices empathy and patience.  She knows that the people she is working with will take this journey that they are on in their own way, and sometimes, they may be in great pain. She does not tell them to snap out of it, she engages her compassion and works from the heart.  Sometimes fear and distress make a client angry and confrontational.  She will work out how to deal with this with compassion and boundaries.
  • Healthy.  It takes energy to sit with clients, and a soul midwife will be aware of her own health and need to rest and live in her own world too.  She will try never to become a wet dish rag.
  • Honest.  Soul midwives can say that they don't know when they don't know the answers to questions.  She may be asked about how an illness is progressing, she may be asked about powers of attorney, she may be asked what happens after death.  She can say she doesn't know, and if it is appropriate to find out, she may help with that. A soul midwife is tactful, and if asked the question Am I going to die? by someone who is on their way out, she finds a way of answering truthfully and taking into account the client's ability to hear the truth.




A Thought on Energy and Light


Energy is all around us.  We feel the vibe when we walk in on someone's argument.  We know when we feel bad about someone we have just met, we know when we meet someone we connect with at once.  We both emit and receive energy, we bring with us our own energy and this affects all those we encounter in our day.  We are responsible for our own energy and if we are aware of this, and understand it, then we are aware of how we are affecting others around us.  In order to do this, we become more aware of ourselves.  Becoming aware of ourselves is, to me, the most important thing we can do.  Insights into ourselves lead to awarenesses of others.  How can I become truly aware of you if I have no insight into myself?  How can I maintain understandings of others if I do not understand myself?  It is like the instructions in the aeroplane about the oxygen masks.  Put your own on before you help your child. Look to yourself first before you can understand others.

If I meet a new client as a soul midwife, I must be very aware of my energy.  It must not get in the way, I must be calm and aware and kind.  In this way, my client is able to express themselves without hindrance. 

Light is beautiful.  I believe we all carry light, but it gets switched to low and sometimes switched to off.  Our light shines when we are happy, in love, excited, inspired, laughing with joy (as opposed to laughing at someone's mishap), kind, peaceful - and so on.  We are often so mean to ourselves, so critical and unkind, that our lights get very low.  And if I am good to you, the light inside us both flickers up a notch, and when we practice self awareness, we begin to understand how simple this business of looking for the light in ourselves and others is.

There is great healing in the light.  Sometimes, it is possible to simply be the light.  If I am meeting a new client who is very ill, who may be uncomfortable, and I am nervous of what I will find (and nervous that I will mess it all up and get it all wrong), the simplest way to find the light is to embody it.  So I become the light.  I don't shine like a sixty watt bulb, I don't walk a few inches off the ground, I don't short circuit the kettle and the television, all I do is let the light come in, take it into my body, and let it work through my energy.  It is so simple and so powerful, and like all these wonderful things, very much an ongoing process.

Simples. 


I am taking bookings now for the Soul Midwife Sofa, the holistic listening and support service for anyone experiencing their own or another's death, dying and grief journey.  I will be there on Mondays from the 6 May and if you think I may be of service, please get in touch.



Sunday, 17 March 2019

Seeking our father inside his Alzheimer's, part two





It is very hard to watch our father shouting, though he is comforted and cared for constantly.  He is struggling with progressive Alzheimer's disease, his once fine mind is shutting down and he knows there is a great darkness where once there was poetry, music and conversation.  Where once he was reserved, private and amusing, there is now an unstoppable outpouring of confusion and distress.  Help me, he calls, and my brothers and I hold his hands and watch. 

It sounds as if he is in great pain, but we are assured that he is not.  I took him in his wheelchair out into the bright February sunshine, his knees and shoulders covered in blankets.  He will like the feel of the cool air, and the brightness of the sun, I thought.  He will know he is outside and he will like it.  But he did not like it.  The bleakness in his brain came with him, and he was unsettled by the change in temperature and surroundings.  I took him back inside, trying to wheel him carefully over the grass, hoping the tiny bumps in the ground that I would have given no thought to, would not jolt him and cause him to call out in fear.  Once inside, I took him to a large sitting room, and sat him by the window to feel the sun on his knees.  We sat together and I tried to distract him from his shouting, but he couldn't understand my questions, and didn't remember what I was describing when I spoke of our childhood with him as a wonderful father, and he shouted his responses in between calling for help. In desperation I sang him a song he loves from his own childhood, though I couldn't remember the words, and muddled my way through it.  It did calm him, and so we sang it over and over until it was time for me to go.  And now I have gone, I thought, he will shout again, and what on earth was the point of my visit?  I left feeling tearful that this most gentle and educated of men, this kind and independent father of ours, would have already forgotten how I had sat with him and found a way to calm him just for a moment.  For me, it was a big thing.  For him, it seems, it never happened.

And yet he is in there.  I keep asking him to look at me.  He always does, and I know he can see me for that moment.  He knows who I am.  Tone!  he says when I say hello Dad, it's me. Tone!  Where have you been?  His delight is real, and if I say I have been here all along Dad, I just popped out to the loo, he will believe me.  I don't say that, but it doesn't matter anyway, because I will be forgotten and so will my visit, as soon as I leave his side. 
Today when I went to see him, he was not shouting.  He seems to have stopped.  He is peaceful and calm and sleepy.  My brother John said, his face has sunk into itself.  It's true, his face has lost its old definition, and yet he is still handsome.  His face does not care about how it looks anymore, it is only responding to the shutting down of his mind.  He cannot control it, he has no awareness of it, and it shows how weak and tired and old he is.  In a strange way he is like a baby that has no idea of who it is; a very old, white haired, gentle sleeping baby.

I want to ask him something about what is happening to him.  I want to ask what it is like to be so old and with Alzheimer's.  I want to get through to the eccentric, clever, witty and philosophical man that still lives inside his brain somewhere.  What are you thinking, Dad?  I ask him, and he seems to pause, as if he knows I am asking him an important question.  His mouth moves and I can see he could once have said something profound in response, but his brain has shut down a way of making any sense of the question.  But he knows, he knows we once would have talked like this.  Instead now, he closes his eyes and his head droops onto his chest, and he disappears back to that place that I cannot understand and in which I cannot find him.

There is not much time left to make him understand we love him.  He may go on physically for ages, but the sparks of light in his mind will soon remove him from us completely.  I love you, Dad, I say, and he smiles.  I hope that lodges in all his brain cells, and cannot be dislodged.






I asked my brother Ralph to write something of his feelings for this journey of Alzheimer's and endings and our father.  Here is what he wrote -


My father has Alzheimer’s.  Apparently there are seven stages. He’s had it for quite a few years now and for so long there was no impairment whatsoever. It was a phoney war.  There were minor memory problems that I put down to old age and the result of TIAs some thirteen years ago.  The decline was gradual and punctuated by odd periods of trauma resulting from the loss of loved ones. Three years ago I got married and my father sat at the top table resplendent in his morning coat and making mildly caustic remarks about the speeches. In those days he looked after himself in his smart riverside flat. Each day he did the Times crossword and assiduously read the TV schedule marking off programmes he might like to watch that day. He was part of the pre surfing generation who sat down to watch specific programmes and turned the TV off when they were over. His life was ordered: he shaved every day; he ate all his meals at the dining table at the same time each day; he went to church on Sundays etc. he drank too much but never got drunk. He justified it by saying he was healthy- “I walk to the shops every day.”  Alcohol was ubiquitous. A glass of beer with his lunch; a couple!!! of gins and tonic at 6pm; a bottle of good wine with his evening meal.  “Once a bottle is opened it will become oxidised and so MUST be consumed that evening.”  Cumulatively it had an effect.  His blood pressure grew and in the autumn of 2006 he crashed his car whilst having a series of  TIAs.

Even then the justification for drinking continued. He would argue that experts believed that light-to-moderate consumption of any form of alcohol — not just red wine — could reduce risk for stroke. One to two alcoholic drinks per day may increase the amount of HDL, or good cholesterol, in the bloodstream. Alcohol also may serve as a blood thinner, helping break up blood clots. And then the memory started to go: the repetition of questions; the misplacement of keys and money; the disorientation and the getting lost in public. I began to notice that in family or social activities he would sit quietly and speak only when he was spoken to. This was a man who before would charmingly interview people when he spoke to them. He was a consummate conversationalist. Now he was withdrawing from social activities. However he was still jolly and gentlemanly. I once remember him reading the epistle at church. God only knows what he read; it was certainly not the reading on the lectern. 

And now when I go to the care home and walk down the corridor to the day lounge where so many sit, I dread it. Only a year ago he mischievously called it the ‘dribble lounge’ and asked to be spared sitting in it. And now there he is, inert, head lolling indolently; dribbling.  He is permanently confused; he is seemingly lost; he has all but left his body.  All conversation has gone. Recognition is sometimes by sight but more often by hearing my voice. I hold his hand and either read him poetry of play tunes on my mobile phone, from his childhood. He will nod; sometimes beat in time to the music; occasionally smile. He relaxes and for a while we connect silently. I miss him dreadfully.


Ralph – 11 March 2019

Friday, 8 March 2019

Looking for our father's soul not lost to Alzheimer's



Dad has Alzheimer's and progressive dementia.  At the moment, I don't want to go into his history, nor give you his background.  I want to look at his eyes and find the man inside.  Since the beginning of this year he has become more and more agitated, and less and less able to move.  Now, he can't walk, feed himself, understand where he is, speak much sense, he can't move himself, he can't work out what he is or is not doing.  Today, I uncrossed his legs at the ankles for him, because he could no longer do it himself, his thin hot legs felt heavy and fragile, his delicate papery skin vulnerable to bruising and breaking.  He is eighty seven years old.

My brothers and I go and see him when we can.  We are busy and Dad lives in a care home about a three hour round trip away from us all.  We have to make a plan to go there, stay a while, and go home again back to our lives, and I think all of us feel we should be doing more - but what more can we do?  It is hard to see him shouting and in distress, it is hard to see him unable to talk, and we think that this must be put right.  Somebody needs to do something, but the staff explain all that can be done is constantly being done.  They explain the way the diseases progress, and they show us a list of his medications.  We all know, my brothers and I, that the carers and nurses and the Augustinian Sisters that look after Dad and all the other residents, many much worse than Dad, are angels and bring so much love to what they do.  But Dad is so distressed, I say to them, and they say - and this is true - that they all sit with him and hold his hands, and different medications are being sought to help with the shouting.  Your Daddy is a gentleman, they say.  I want to say to them that he was so tall and dark and handsome once.  I want to tell them that he made me laugh when I was little, we wrote poetry together and his was always a pastiche of mine.  I want to tell them that he could sing beautifully and that it was he who took me to London and let me wear blue eye shadow when I was thirteen.

I look at him now, lying helpless on his recliner chair in his room so that his shouting does not disturb the others, washed and brushed and clean with soft blankets on his legs, and I think You are still here, Dad.  You are still in there.  When I say hello and kiss him, he smiles and says hello.  Then he asks me if we should go now.  Where to? I ask him.  But he can't tell me where, he just waves one hand gently back and forth and forgets to speak.

I am looking for my father inside the Alzheimer's.  His eyes are  deep set beneath bushy grey eyebrows, and his glasses reflect the light.  It's hard to find him in there, and the disease has taken away the window to his soul.  But if I say, Dad!  Look at me!  he does, and he smiles, and I can see him again for a second.

Today he was calm and peaceful.  Last time, he was shouting goodbye to me, and telling me he had to let go, it was all over.  A wise person once said that while someone is making a noise, they are still finding a way to get their needs met.  I didn't feel that Dad was slipping away and I wonder if he was articulating his awareness of where he is going.  It's not time Dad, I said to him while stroking his forehead, this isn't your time.  You will do what you have to do when the time is right, and you will know what to do.  But that time is not now, not today.

Come with me, he said.  We will go together.

I will be there, Dad, I said, and I will come as far as I can. 

Today he was calm. There was a silence around him that is new.  Maybe there has been more medication and the shouting has finally stopped.  He seemed soft and wise and old and wonderful.  His hair had been cut, and the carer told me she was going to give him a manicure later.  I have left some magical hand cream with marigold and lavender essential oils for him, and she will rub that into his skin.  Dad took great care to keep his nails smart and clean, I told her.  A manicure is just right for him. 

I had to leave early today, after only an hour with our father lying peacefully on his recliner chair.  I will be back, I said, and he smiled.  We have had a lovely day, he said.  I thought, we have had a lovely hour, and if he thinks it has been a whole day, then I am relieved.  My brothers will be with him over the weekend.  I must not feel guilty about leaving him after just one hour.

Today I visit a client with cancer.  I had to leave Dad and drive an hour and a half back to Bognor for our weekly session.  He is older than Dad and says that he has had a blameless life in the church, so why does he have to suffer with this cancer?  His wife is ill too, with dementia.  Why did God give us these illnesses?  He asks.  I don't know, I say.  And I think, isn't life so strange.  Why is our father suffering like this, when he loves poetry so much?  When he was the only one who agreed that I was a fairy when I was a child? (You always said I was a fairy Dad, I said today.  I wore some net curtains as a fairy costume, do you remember?  Ah yes! he replied, you should still wear them.)

I am painting portraits of Dad, looking for him in his eyes.  I am recording him too so that I can understand.  He never complains, he is gracious and lost and sweet.  I will go back in a few days time, and we will see how things are.


Looking for our father in his eyes.  His Alzheimer's is taking him further and further away from us. Oils on wood.



Look at me Dad!  I say, and the Alzheimer's clears for a second and he smiles,  Oils on wood.