By Krystal Penrose
Chances are that if you’re involved in the funeral profession, you’ll have come across Soul Midwives by now.
Also known as End-Of-Life Doulas, this movement is becoming a momentous force in the funeral service industry.
As we feel the force increasing, we’re curious about what Soul Midwives and Death Doulas can offer the funeral profession in terms of changing the conversations we have about death with families.
I had a chance to sit down with Felicity Warner, the founder of Soul Midwives and the Soul Midwives School recently to talk about what she does, and how she sees funeral service and Soul Midwives working together.
Here’s what she had to say about death, life, and everything in between:
What is a Soul Midwife?
Soul Midwives are a group of therapists combining holistic techniques and spiritual support for the dying. We work alongside medical teams within hospices, hospitals, care homes and also within the community if families are planning a home death for a loved one.
Being a Soul Midwife is an exciting and enriching vocation and we are all extremely passionate about helping people to achieve a peaceful death in whatever care setting.
Our holistic work involves using simple, non-invasive, gentle therapies such as soothing touch, meditation, sound healing, creative visualisations, essential oils and breathing techniques. Our spiritual work addresses the psycho-spiritual needs of the dying person, focusing on deep listening, mindfulness and companionship .
We are completely non-denominational and work with the beliefs/ideas and needs of the of the dying person.
Why did you choose to become a Soul Midwife? What inspired you?
I developed the concept of Soul Midwives over 20 years ago through my own involvement with six young women who were dying with breast cancer. I was a medical journalist and spent a great deal of time with them. Through my work with them, we had many deep conversations about how it felt to be dying, as well as the effect it had on those around them, including their own deep feelings, reflections and fears.
None of these dying women knew each other, but their experiences were very similar. They spoke of isolation, losing their identity, lack of touch other than for treatments, and of being a part of a disempowering medical process.
All I could do was listen deeply, be present, hold their hand, rub a sore shoulder and offer lavender oil from the depths of my handbag. I just wanted to help them relax, and through it all, remain as calm as I could be.
Tell us about your transition from a medical journalist to a Soul Midwife?
My work from journalist to Soul Midwife happened quite organically. After being invited to support the deaths of three of these women, and then volunteering at our local hospice where I sat with anyone who was dying and had no family, I began to see that bringing kindness, time and human touch to the bedside was powerful medicine.
Staff noticed a difference in patients who I sat with. They appeared calmer, more serene, more at peace. The hospice staff were intrigued by what I did and asked me to run a workshop for staff to show them what I was doing.
What did you teach in your Soul Midwifery workshops?
None of what I taught was rocket science. All of my ideas centered around old fashioned TLC (tender loving care). I was doing more hands-on work than the other volunteers and spending more time individually with patients, building rapport and trust.
I intuitively offered simple touch, re-assurance, listening, soothing, kindness and tuning into the dying person on a deep and authentic level. I made them feel as if they were the most important person in the world while I was with them. I used to think “what if this was my mother, or my child in this bed?” It was then I thought of these questions when I was able to make the biggest difference.
How did you begin working with hospice and palliative care workers as a Soul Midwife?
As my work gained momentum, more hospices asked me to train staff. Leading up to this moment, I have now written three books on my ideas and techniques. I also campaign for awareness of holistic care in the death industry. And over the last 20 years, I have trained over 600 soul midwives. I run a small school in Dorset, England, dedicated to teaching high quality Soul Midwifery skills and other end-of-life associated courses.
Last year I was awarded The National Council For Palliative Care End-of-Life Care Champion 2017 titles. Soul Midwifery has now entered a new and exciting era with recognition from the UK’s top clinicians and policy makers.