Many years ago I had an opportunity to be with a friend in her final days. I had promised her I would be there without really knowing what that meant except I knew there was nowhere else I’d rather be at the time. She was at home surrounded by friends and family. When the time came she was knee slapping laughing in the moments leading up to her final exhale. She couldn’t tell us what was so funny, but maybe she knew what we were in for. Her sister and I had never washed and anointed a body before. How hard could it be? With mom supervising and watching over us we washed her, anointed her body with essential oils and dressed her. We laughed almost as hard as she did and got it done in record time.

She was absolutely beautiful. The oils had brought the color of her skin to a rosy glow. The room filled with light and an all pervading atmosphere of peace settled on us. When the neighborhood and the rest of the family began to arrive we were ready. It was a mix of sadness and joy. We cried and sang and hugged and cried and sang and hugged with each new round of folks who came and she just lay there glowing and grinning. It was quite incredible. It was my learning curve and even the hospice nurse who was there had never seen anything like it. Did I mention the wind that swirled around the house?

It gave me the courage to do it again. and to have the conversation even when it was a challenge. To be with family, friends, clients and their families at a time when the final goodbyes are said in a home environment has been very different than hospitals, nursing homes and funeral parlors. To be the witness of a life ending and honoring the passage from life to death is transformative. It seems to dispel the fear and mystery surrounding death and is an opportunity to both give and receive.

There are workshops that assist us in preparing for those final days, with legalities and paperwork being addressed too. I continue to participate in them to gain experience, widen the community, connect with resources and find answers to difficult questions. The Crossings Care Circle is one such Texas home funeral organization. It is a small yet very effective group of dedicated individuals quietly doing the work and teaching us to take care of the people we love in a home environment. This experience is invaluable!

I am thankful there are people in communities educating us with a gentle and compassionate delivery of solid and much needed information. There is also a growing cooperation between some funeral directors and home services. Let’s start the conversation within our own families and circle of friends so we are a little bit more prepared. When death happens suddenly we need to move fast and stay with it. Having a support network in place is helpful and essential at a time when we are vulnerable to a system that is difficult to navigate.