What I learned coming out of the pandemic that many of us are still grieving the loss of normalcy, the loss of jobs, loss of peace and stability; not to mention the generational grief and trauma that many of us carry through our ancestors as well as the disenfranchised grief that is being carried due to Black maternal mortality and morbidity rates, the weathering effect of racism in this county, food desserts, housing discrimination, under resourced families, and the inhumane system of mass incarceration.
Since January 2021, I’ve been able to take a deep dive into the study of grief, death, dying, and bereavement. As a student of Stardust Meadow & Village Deathcare in Craftsbury Common, Vermont, taking a deep dive into the challenging work of Anne-Marie Kepple, Resmaa Menakem, and Bayo Akomolafe including advanced training in the Art of Dying Program in Integrative Thanatology at The New York Open Center’s Art of Dying Institute. I can proudly say that I am now a certified Thanatologist. Also, I am a current Board member for the Center for Conscious Living & Dying in Swannanoa, NC and previous Treasurer, Board of Director, Chair of the Education and Events Committee for the National End of Life Doula Alliance. This is where I’ve been able to acquire more knowledge, training, and hone existing skills.
Throughout my vast experiences and during the pandemic, I’ve discovered new ways to be in community through the many lows, highs, transitions, the stages of liberation and liberation in life resulting in grief, loss, and hope within a larger group, while being able to remain private with a bit of insight resulting in peace, spiritual healing, self-reflection, and self-expression even while experiencing immense sadness, pleasure, and joy. I’ve learned that it’s imperative that we aim to build authentic and lasting solidarity among BIPOC communities to be able to experience a “good death” while at the same time being able to bring a grounded and compassionate presence which is often what comes with transitional spaces while grieving the death of people that you didn’t even know.
Attorney Ben Crump and Erin Brockovich have proven to the world that time and time again that all of us do not have the privilege to live, breathe, or experience a good death in the same way. For example, as a Safety and Environmental professional in the beginning phase of my career; I soon realized that Superfund sites cleanups are ignored in communities of color, these contaminated sites exist nationally due to hazardous waste being dumped, left out in open, or otherwise improperly managed can affect the air, surface water, groundwater, soil, and cause a very serious health threat that can lead to various harmful health outcome as well as determine how we breathe which increase how pollutants increased the number of children and adult living with asthma and other respiratory diseases. As a result, many low-income renters are paying for government inaction with their health because more than 9,000 federally subsidized housing properties sit within a mile of a Superfund site. Anti-Black policing also impacts the way we breathe; like the way being pinned down to the floor, a knee to the neck or back can be an obstruction to your breathing as with the premature death of Irvo Otieno, George Floyd and Jaises Elam. That’s why it is very important to understand that each culture does not have the privilege to experience grief the same way.
My offerings draw upon the ability to establish trust as well as a shared understanding with my clients, to hold space for their stories, their grief, and their hopes. My education as well as my experience as legal analysis and corporate paralegal working with one of the greatest trial lawyers in the country for 12 years specializing in wrongful death, catastrophic personal injury, and medical malpractice cases; winning multiple multimillion-dollar cases has allowed me to acknowledge the inherent value in everyone whose path I’ve cross of the Global Majority. I am extremely grateful to have trained with and currently training under some of the most respected attorney’s and one of North Carolina’s best law firms in the Triangle.
Lastly, my Legacy involves educating the majority about the death positive movement and seeing more “Lamenting Doulas” trained because deathcare belongs to everyone. Through examining our own mortality, fears and aspirations, and discovering the challenges of today’s complexities of caring for our own dying and dead, we will begin to understand the great importance and urgency of reviving community deathcare. As end-of-life doula’s become more mainstream with the death positive movement it is very imperative that people of African descent be fully present while remembering our whole selves; not just the most traumatic and painful experiences of our lives when telling our story as well understand what it means to experience a “good death.”
Matthew 5:4 says, “Blessed are they that mourn, for they shall be comforted.” This is a biblical concept. Jeremiah 9:17 speaks of professional mourners coming to offer lamentations. Amos 5:16 “Therefore the Lord God of hosts, the Lord, says this: “There shall be wailing in all streets, And they shall say in all the highways, ‘Alas! Alas!’ They shall call the farmer to mourning, And skillful lamenters to wailing.”
“While I have only heard of the concept of doula’s being for birth, there is a need to be cared for before and after death is experienced in a family.
I would counter the idea of death doula, with grief, mourning, lamenting doula because it seems more intimate instead of the brashness of death. Also, What you are offering is absolutely more life than death. You are making it easier for people to cope with their life after the death of their loved one. This is necessary for families who often don’t embrace the need for therapy or counseling. As a pastor, I have seen folks take weeks/months just to move past the loss of a loved one, and unfortunately yearn for help during this period. It is awesome to think some folks would be willing to help fill the void that exists.
In a world where folks have become more lonely, busy, mentally fatigued, and emotionally unavailable dealing with dying loved ones, it can be a relief to know that there is additional support that exists.”
~ Rev. James Hagwood