One of my greatest hopes is that others become educated as death midwives in order to serve the large cohorts that are approaching end of life. I'm aware that the Institute of Traditional Medicine in Toronto Ontario offers a Contemplative End of Life Care training program as part of their Thanadoula Project and that graduates call themselves thanadoulas. I love the etymology of the title (and have a dog named Thanatos myself) but I fear the term may be less accessible to the public than death midwife. I believe that many of those students are already certified personal care workers, community care assistants and licensed practical nurses, which is so appropriate and I'm heartened that such professionals who are out there working at a grassroots level having real, meaningful end of life exchanges with dying people and their families are interested to develop their skills in such ways.
If I had my own school for death midwifery the programming would focus (as does ITM's) on self awareness. Students would be asked to face their own values and beliefs around death, dying and post death care in order to be able to put those aside with the intention to be present to others. As practitioners I believe we need to be able to walk closely with our own death and our own grief and we need to be able to care for ourselves, especially when we are at risk of developing compassion fatigue. The foundation of the philosophy of my school for death midwifery would be one of self awareness, cultural competency and present mindedness.
The bulk of the rote learning would be dedicated toward what I feel is the "meat and potatoes" of what a death midwife does; which is not only developing the clinical and sensitivity skills to be able to be present to those who are in the midst of what is likely some of the most intense moment of their life, but also a solid working knowledge of the variety of professional services that are available around end of life. I think that what death midwives really need to know pertains to the full scope of services that are available to their clients. My wish would be that students learn from experts in every field from palliative care physicians to home care providers, shamans, social workers, first responders, lawyers, funeral celebrants, grief counselors and all of the other professionals who contribute to the field. I believe a death midwife's role is to help families navigate all such options and helping families in this way is necessarily an interdisciplinary venture.
Electives would be based on skill development in specific areas of specialty where gaps can be found in the continuum of care that should be available across the pan death experience. I envision training and practicums in areas such as energy medicine, mediation, home funerals and disposition alternatives.
As a thesis, I would ask students to articulate their wishes for one's own death. We would ask ourselves how we intend to live our own dying. Students would complete their own legal and medical advanced directives or living wills by accessing existing tools for such purpose or developing their own. Detailed funeral plans would be drawn up in such a way that they could be easily executed, and practical matters such as sharing computer passwords and the location of keys to one's safety deposit box would be included in addition to sharing deeper, more spiritual wishes that are to survive us. We would contemplate what is to be done with our remains and how we want to be remembered. Our hopes for resolving some interpersonal relationships might be included too, as well as our beliefs about our purpose in life and what we believe about what happens when we die. It is a big project and a worthwhile undertaking for those of us who want to be with others in such profound ways.