Rites of Passage

According to Wikipedia it is:
ritual event that marks a person’s transition from one status to another. The concept of rites of passage as a general theory of socialization was first formally articulated by Arnold van Gennep in his book The Rites of Passage to denote rituals marking the transitional phase between childhood and full inclusion into a tribe or social group.[1]
The concept of the rite of passage is also used to explore and describe various other milestones in an individual’s life, for any marked transitional stage, when one’s social status is altered. Gennep’s work exercised a deep impact on anthropological thought.[2] Milestones include transitions from puberty, year 7 to high school, coming of agemarriage and deathInitiation ceremonies such as baptismakikaconfirmation and Bar or Bat Mitzvah are considered important rites of passage for people of their respective religions. Rites of passage show anthropologists what social hierarchies, values and beliefs are important in specific cultures.

So this morning has been quite an emotional one as my daughter attended her first funeral of a teacher she adored in Primary school. She inspired Imogene to enjoy art and her zest for life was wonderful … you will be missed and today was a beautiful celebration of your life as a woman, mother, wife, friend and teacher. Thank you for being a part of my daughter’s life … be at peace wherever you are looking down on us from …

It’s interesting how we change our perception of what our children can cope with.  When my grandmother passed away a few years ago I doula’d her in her final days as my parents were away on holiday, we had persuaded them that they should go and not to worry … that all would be fine.  Mum had organised everything before she left so it was a case of making a few phone calls.  Easier said than done when it comes down to it.

This morning made me sit and think about the last few days of my grandmothers life and how the focus was to support & nurture her.  I remember begging the lovely doctor to make sure that she wouldn’t be in any pain.  He was lovely and gentle and the male nurse who administered her pain relief was fabulous.  As they administered the medication my grandmother sighed as if to say “thank you”.

I was petrified of death and had never really got to grips with it and hated the thought of not being here to experience life and see all the wonderful things happening in the world.  Spending time and being with my grandmother really helped me to understand that departing this world is like arriving it takes time and the body has to be ready.  It’s not going to happen on anyone elses timescale and they certainly aren’t going to be rushed.

I read to her and made sure she was comfortable, kept her mouth moist and just chatted away – no I didn’t feel silly.  There were natural silences that I didn’t feel I had to fill with idle chatter – similar to a birthing woman who is in her zone.

I have colleagues who doula birth and death and they have said to me how similar the experiences are.  I found this blog particularly helpful in understanding what I as a grand-daughter should have understood before I stepped into the doulaing role for my grandmother.

This resonated with me so much.  I needed/wanted to understand how to:
transform the way dying is experienced in our society.  As a natural passage, it, too, deserves to be experienced as a spiritual journey …. observations have led  …. to believe that the journey has three distinct, equally important parts–the mental, the emotional and the physical.

The mental journey requires understanding how the dying process occurs.  …. the analogy of contracting inward, as if one were going back into the womb, where can find that final stillness within.  The physical preparation brings on fatigue and weakness, less desire to eat, more to sleep–getting ready for the final sleep.  As the soul starts taking over the body, the physical body shuts down. How does one know? Often there are vivid dreams, change in the use of language, and people emerge from the past.

“Helping a dying person on their emotional journey,” says Piela, “is different. Healing their ‘heart scars’ often requires talking through their lives. People want to know that their lives have had value, that they have left a legacy. This journey takes time, patience and a caring listener.”

Again, our modern lives have all too often given over this process to machines and strangers. Doulas for dying is not a strange concept after all. Suzanne Piela is a woman who has given her life to helping people make this most personal and singular journey a sacred one, one with meaning. ”Dying is the last frontier of human consciousness. It is our last opportunity for healing and renewal.”

Interestingly, I didn’t experience these stages with my grandmother as she was sleeping – getting ready for the final sleep.  She was in a nursing home and the lady who looked after us all came and told me to go home as I had been sat all day and needed to be with my husband and children.  Knowing my grandmother she would wait until the coast was clear and no-one was with her to do the final journey.  I had to go home and explain to the children that great-nanny was very poorly and why it was best that they didn’t go to see her and the guinea pig (it’s Matti’s lasting image of her and where she lived).  As we had cuddles the phone rang and I just knew that I couldn’t answer it … I knew she had decided that it was her time.  Mark answered and like robots on auto-pilot we just did what we needed to do.

I suppose the reason why I wrote this today was because in our ultimate wisdom our family made a decision for our children which I have always thought back and asked myself … “did they get the closure they needed and were entitled to, in order to move on?”  There weekly highlight was going to see great-nanny and the guinea pig at Argyle House.  They loved her to pieces as did we all and we never allowed them to have closure about someone so important in their lives.  I felt guilty for months about this until we decided that we would make the trip for them to say their own “Goodbye”.

A year later we went to her final resting place in South Wales and we celebrated her life with our children.  Laying flowers on her grave and then sharing a pot of tea and welsh cakes in a small tea room in Blaenavon where she had lived the majority of her life.  We felt this was a gentle way to say their own “Goodbyes”.

Today, Imogene had her initiation into the world of death … I asked her what she thought would happen and what she would see and bless her she didn’t really know.  It was a beautiful funeral and very gentle so I am glad that her rite of passage wasn’t traumatic.  It was good for her to see her teachers celebrate Mrs S’s life and for her to see that it’s an important part of our life journey … I saw a mature young lady take a step into adulthood and I was very proud of her but sad that she had to experience this.

As always I wanted to review some of the articles that have been written and this one by Tim Lott really helped.  I love the end reference to Six Feet Under:
A grieving relative asks the funeral director, the question to which all of us want an answer, and he somehow answers truthfully, hopefully, without being brutal.

“Why,” she asks, imploringly, “does there has to be death?”

“Because,” he replies, “it makes life important.”

To Mrs S – thank you for being a part of my daughters life and to my grandmother thank you for always being there … it would have been your birthday in 2 days time (19th September) so Happy Birthday … I know you are watching over us as from above as I keep finding your messages … thank you for the feathers … Cx

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