This month I had the honor of participating in an on-going Zoom conversation about A Thoughtful Death with the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of San Miguel de Allende, Mexico.
Care team member Lydia Jane Failing was the lively and engaged producer and host. Many thanks to her and team members Wilka Roig (co-host), Francoise Yohalem, Joan Wolf, and Rev Tom Rosiello.
They are dedicated to discussing why and how it may be wise for expats to prepare for their demise legally, psychologically, and spiritually in Mexico.
I adore informal chats but for whatever reason when it was announced the conversation would be recorded just as we began, my mind froze and I omitted helpful information. I sounded like a newbie instead of someone comfortable and experienced. Yikes!!!
Some clarifications for the listeners:
- Palliative Care
Freedom from pain is a humanitarian right. Few countries are able to provide it in part or fully. When it exists, it is provided by a trained and empathetic team of doctors, nurses, psychologists, social workers, nutritionists, chaplains, and volunteers creating palliar (Latin) – comfort, support, and protection. This support extends to patient’s families and other loved ones.
Mexico has had a palliative care law since 2009 (modified in 2014). It states everyone is entitled to relief from pain, especially in the last six months of life. Few places in Mexico are able to provide or sustain such an important and needed service. Few people know the law exists, let alone where to go and how to access needed services.
Juntos Contra el Dolor, A. C. in Guadalajara is the first and only 24/7 palliative care hospital (and ultimately hospice) in the state of Jalisco. Its founder is nun physician Dra Susana Lua Nava, a palliative care thought leader. Every person, physicians included, is a volunteer except for two civilian palliative care nurses (day and night shift), and the cleaning lady. My social service for Juntos coordinating patient care, companioning at the bedside, community outreach, and raising funds has been and continues to be as a volunteer. All donations go directly to Juntos Contra el Dolor, A.C.
Dr. Diane Meier, Director of the Center to Advance Palliative Care (New York) shares a three-minute explanation of the value of this service:
- Lydia Jane asked: How do you bring a level of spiritual acceptance to the people you encounter when their transition is imminent?
I do my best to live by one motto: “The secret of the care of the patient is caring for the patient” – Dr. Francis W. Peabody at the Harvard Medical School, 1925.
When I am invited in, I recognize that someone is willing to share exceptionally sacred, tender, even mystical moments. It is an honor to companion.
Human engagement is about feelings. Each experience is different, intangible.
I do my best to bring authentic presence and friendship.
One of the easiest openers is to ask what environment they wish for.
Windows and curtains open? Flowers or no flowers? Candles or no candles? Perhaps anointment with frankincense? More pillows, a change of dressing gown? Bathing each day? Linen changes each day? Photos nearby. Practical considerations. Then, sit quietly with full attention to needs of water, nourishment, and more.
“Companioning” seems to involve spontaneous creativity, trusting intuition about the care of the soul before you.
For those who are anxious, I guide breathing exercises which seem to help.
Each person teaches me, not the other way around. There are no rules. I feel any of us may be present by sitting quietly, hand holding (if wished for), and being open to whatever arrives. The journey is always theirs, not ours nor that of their family member.
In my experience, most folks have answers inside as long as the person at the bedside is there as support. We are listening posts, and on occasion guides. I listen until something appears, perhaps a clue or a cue. Invariably feelings are expressed. The process is usually slow.
In my experience people who are fading surprise themselves into acceptance, but not all. Some folks see someone waiting for them. Most folks seem to wish a witness alongside, someone honoring their existence in order to lapse into peace.
Note: my service as a companion to the ill and their families in Mexico is as a volunteer.
- No burials of bodies on your property in California. Ashes of loved ones have been known, however, to be buried not just at sea but under trees, rose bushes, and more.
More thank yous:
My appreciation for our conversation extends to talented designer and technology wiz Diana Amaya for making certain we were appropriately situated. Thanks also to Wilka Roig psychologist, death doula, Director of Elizabeth Kubler Ross Foundation SMA, and first speaker.
On June 10 San Miguel de Allende gerontologist and thanatologist Dr. Pepe Valencia talked candidly about how he has overcome government and “Catholic” challenges as they relate to serving patients at end-of-life in Mexico. He has been serving older adult residents, expats in particular, for over 40 years. Here is the link to his talk:
On June 17 Carlos F Chancellor, Jungian-Archetypal Psychotherapist, Somatic Movement Educator, Integration Therapist, Dream Worker, Mythologist and Storyteller joined the program. His sensitive and healing talk can be listened to at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0iFcrgQadZc&t=107s
On June 20, Felicitas Rusch-Lango, a life coach and yoga instructor offered breathing exercises to calm anxiety, poetry, Buddhist wisdom, and more. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=l7yTnvhQyes
Wilka Roig is continuing the A Thoughtful Death dialogues through the Elizabeth Kubler-Ross Foundation Central Mexico. Please write email@example.com or Wilka at firstname.lastname@example.org for more information on how to participate. The June 30 talk was by a member of the Green Burial Council in the U.S.
May this find you, your loved ones and all beings well and healthy.
Wellness Shepherd Wendy