As I sat beside my dear friend in the quiet, early morning hours of hospice, ensuring that he was not alone through the final stages of life, I saw death transforming into a type of birth.
Once the process begins, there is no stopping or turning back from the journey. The body intuitively knows what to do, breathe is intrinsically connected to both processes. A woman in labor experiences changes in her breathing pattern throughout the birth. As an end of life midwife, I have witnessed similar patterns of breathing in those who are approaching their final hours. The medical term for the abnormal breath cycle most often encountered during this transition is cheyne-stokes. It is characterized by deeper, faster breathing with pauses that become longer and more pronounced.
Breath is the energy powering the birth of a baby and breath is the energy powering the departure of a soul. The work involved in both of these instances can be intense.
Each individual approaches their departure in a unique way. Having a loving presence with them helps to reduce the fear and the anxiety. I feel blessed and honored to be present at such a time. In the end we all have to cross over on our own, but we can have love, care, and presence right up to the sacred moment of letting go. Not wanting to feel alone is deeply embedded in our human identity and this need is vast when we are about to begin the greatest journey of our life.