St Bride - John Duncan - 1913
A chance posting of a favourite painting of mine opened up a very heartfelt conversation with some online friends yesterday. The beautiful painting is that of the death of St Bride by John Duncan - pertinent because Monday was the Feast Day of St Brigid of Kildare, the Christian personification/adaptation of the Celtic Goddess Brigid. In Celtic spirituality, Brigid is associated with Imbolc, the festival between the Winter Solstice and the Spring Equinox, when the return of the light and the stirrings of fertility is celebrated, but the presence of Winter is also still acknowledged and gratitude given for the warmth of hearth and home. But the image of the death of the Christian Saint was an image which led to a discussion of mortality and, amongst other topics, to the growing movement of Soul Midwives, tutored and encouraged by the founder of the movement, Felicity Warner.
Many readers will know that I spent a few years studying and obtaining a Master's degree in Death Studies at the University of Winchester (a course now available online, entitled Death, Religion and Culture). One of the many blessings of engaging in such a course was to meet a number of very exceptional people; Felicity is just one of those individuals, an immensely warm and gentle soul, who is the very embodiment of Metta - loving-kindness.
In a Western world which has become ever more 'hospitalisation-oriented' for those reaching the end of their lives, Felicity has (building upon her own personal experiences with death) grown an ever increasing band of people who do just what it says on the tin; they partner and 'midwife' the transition of individuals through death, giving them gentle and compassionate physical (non-medical) and spiritual support in both Hospices and at home; they help to take the fear out of dying.
As an ageing population, many of us are now experiencing the death of loved ones and contemplating our own mortality. One of the most frequently expressed fears in our Western societies is the fear of the unknown nature of the death experience. As in all other areas of life, knowledge can be powerful. Death is the one thing guaranteed to us all - so if it still holds unspeakable fears for you then I encourage you to empower yourselves by at last putting those fears into words, person-to-person or written on the page.
I know many people who are ready and willing to talk about death - what you think about it, what you may fear about it - what you might hope for yourself and your loved ones. There are many of us out here, nowadays - people from many different backgrounds, offering many different pathways, who will help you to talk. Look out for Death Cafés near you - forums where you can chat about mortality over coffee and cake. They are held in congenial places and give time for thinking and deciding what is wanted for the final days of your loved ones and yourself. And discover more about Soul Midwives and how you can incorporate their approach to death in your own wishes and desires.
Also - don't forget - there is always my own listening ear here as well. If you want to talk…I'm just on the other side of this blog-page.