Death Nesting – The Heart Centered Practices of a Death Doula by Anne-Marie Keppel is a brand new book that has just released. There is a lot to love within its pages no matter what aspect you are coming at this from – a Death Doula, caregiver, loved one, the person dying, or even just a person who wants to learn to live deeper. It would also be a great book for anyone who may still be experiencing a loss and finding difficulty with the grieving process.
Throughout the book you will find personal exercises to help you explore deeper into concepts, sharing different herbal recipes, ideas to incorporate all the senses, and various components of caring for those who are passing and those remaining.
As a person who has done this type of work for 20 years, both in critical care situations and home based, I thoroughly enjoyed this book. It is one of the best written books on the subject from this perspective that I have read. Coming from a heart / spiritual approach and not just the clinical approach most modern Doulas are taught.
So let’s get started by exploring some of the things you will discover within this book, as well as, some of my own thoughts along the way.
Role of a Death Doula
I think the author summed up the mindset of a Death Doula quite well in the section talking about Medical Aid in Dying:
I do not condone, I do not condemn, I do not judge.
I am watching. I am listening. I am feeling from one body away from yours, trying to anticipate your needs.
I will pen your goodbye letters. I will draw the curtains or open the door. I will rub your temples: I will Massage your feet. I will pray with you, help you find “the key” and be awestruck as you say to me, “My Mother is here.”
I will sit alongside you for your last breath and remain still through the time your breath does not return, when instead, I will focus on my own breath.
I serve so that you can feel loved, safe, and witnessed in your state of, and exit from, Being.
This is a doula-assisted death.
The work of a Death Doula comes with a different set of approaches and challenges than any other type of caregiver. When in that role, we no longer are focused on healing the body, to bring back to health or maintain the health they are in – we move into the space of healing the spirit so it can pass with grace. The actions, practices, and approaches change because the priority has changed.
It is not about us – our beliefs – it is about the dying and theirs. Our role is not to tell them what they need to do, but assist them in what they need us to do for them or with them. We comfort and care – We walk alongside and we listen – we Witness and we remember.
Ancient vs Modern Death Doulas
I really appreciate that the author notes the difference between these two approaches of caring for the dying. Although I use the term “Paganistic/Animistic” where she uses the word “Ancient,” the understanding of the approach is there.
The majority of certificate programs out there come from a more medical/ legal approach. This does not mean the emotion and compassion is not there – I honestly do not think you can do the work without it, but there is also clear separations in the material taught.
When I first started walking the role of a Death Doula I was coming from the more modern definition. I was an ICU nurse that had a natural talent comforting and helping those who were dying and the loved ones they were leaving behind. Walking with them through the grieving process, decision making, holding space for them, crying with them, praying with them, holding their hand as they crossed over, and preparing their body afterwards.
I was so good at it in fact, that every time someone was thought to be passing or strong probability of it, they were given to me to care for. A few colleagues started to call me the “angle of death” almost as a joke, but there was something to it. It was never easy work, and compounded even more because most were in emergency type situations and not ones where we had months or even weeks to move through the process.
The deeper I went into the work though, the more I realized the spiritual elements that seemed to be missing from modern death doula. It wasn’t books or classes that taught me that – it was my patients and their families. I live in America with a multitude of diverse cultures and faiths. The modern approach taught me a one– size-fits-all to the work – Experience taught me the Heart-Centered approach, as the author put it. The way we used to approach death and dying. How we used to hold space for them and care for the whole person, putting the soul at the center.
There is a distinct difference between the old and new ways in my mind due to my experiences, and it is nice to hear similar perspectives from another who also sees this. I had to learn this on my own though. A combination of learning from each death, each family, each culture, pulling from diverse spiritual studies and experiences along my own path. So when I began teaching others, I taught from a place of blending the two sides.
The author does go into some of the aspects that modern doulas need to know, such as advanced directives, but the focus really does stay to a more spiritual and ancient way of this work.
Living through Dying
Many people assume that dealing in death takes us further from living life, and I have always found it to be the opposite. The more we walk this road, the more full of life we become. The more observant, thoughtful, forgiving, and compassionate we become. The more pleasure and awe we tend to see in it, even in the darkest moments.
Anne does a fantastic job at referring back to this often throughout the book. Bringing a focus back to life even as we are helping someone move beyond it. The various ideas and examples in the Senses section I thought were brilliant and can be used in many ways, not just in death work.
Not Shying Away form the Bad
No matter how much we may plan, things can go astray, needs may change, circumstances may change. This is life in all capacities, and dying is no different. I love that she added a section in for that. Talking about when there are times people can not get through the grieving process. When they change their mind from not wanting treatment to doing everything they can do to live. When plans change from a home death to a hospital one – and things that can be done to still accommodate the needs of the dying in all of that.
Children and Pets
She left nothing out, including the small people in our lives. The author gives suggestions of ways to talk about the event with children, including a “child’s tool kit” with various different ideas of what to fill it with.
I really wish this book had been around several years ago when my husband’s father passed away from cancer. It was a matter of months, going from normal to hospice care, and about a week from hospice care till he passed away at home surrounded by his family. Our triplets were around 9 years old when it happened and they were the only grandparents my children had ever known (my parents passed shortly after they were born).
Even though I had done this work for so many others, it was more difficult helping my children through the process, on-top of my husband and his mother, all while keeping my focus on the needs of his dad. I absolutely loved the ideas she shares in this book and think many will find it extremely helpful. You could even think about an adult tool kit from these ideas to help the adult children and loved ones.
In the End
At the back of the book she lists many different resources, books, YouTube channels, and so forth. Some I have read, and other I have not – yet. I will be checking them out later but I did appreciate this as a Resource section. I think it will be very useful to others who read this book and want to go deeper.
The book isn’t written like a text book, but one of her own experiences and discoveries along the way. I am sure these works influenced her in different ways, but this book was more what she learned along her own journey as a Death Doula.
It is not an all encompassing instruction manual that answers everything, but I feel it is an amazing book for anyone! We all deal with death because we are all living. It can come in all forms, from the loss of people, pets, and even in those personal transformations throughout all aspects of our life – growing and leaving certain things behind. Yes, this is a book directed specifically at those who care for the dying, but I feel everyone can find value in it.
This is definitely a book I would highly recommend to everyone, and that is rare for me, especially with more esoteric/ spiritual books. There are pieces and parts I find important or useful in other books but I rarely find one I love from beginning to end.
I can honestly say I loved the entirety of this one.
As being a person with substantial experience in this area from a modern standpoint, spiritual one, and an esoteric, I give this book a 5 out of 5. It was well written, great perspectives, ways to incorporate the information into practice, and touching on some of the most important areas for death work.
This is also a book I am going to be listing in the “Highly Suggested” reading section for those who will be participating in the Death’s Emissary Course starting in October. As the Death Doula part of the course itself is more of the “ancient” approach the book speaks of, it also includes the necessary tools and skills of the modern doula for the modern age – A blending of the two but the focus being more on the spirit/ soul. Starting with a personal journey through the land of spirits/ the Dead, learning how to connect, communicate, and learn from that realm from the magical standpoint of Seidr – to the work and skills of a Death Doula.
I also feel several of the exercises, meditations, prayers, and ritualistic ideas in this book will be really helpful when participants start to develop their own Death book – filled with their own prayers, rituals, and works to use when serving in the role of Death’s Emissary.
The author is right in the fact that we need more Death Doulas, and we need them in a more ancient or heart-centered approach. I also feel we need ones who have been trained in more esoteric, non-christian, ways to serve our aging Pagan and magical community. This was the drive behind developing the Death’s Emissary course.
Again, no matter what your interest – whether it is to do this kind of work, to add to your own knowledge, to see another side of death that enhances living, or even to help move past a grief that may have you stuck – I highly recommend this book to everyone.
*For those who are interested in the Death’s Emissary course mentioned above you can go here for more details and full course outline. There are still 10 spots left for this year (year long course) and two different payment plans (the full year cost is $550). As I mentioned before, the class sizes will remain relatively small so everyone can get all the depth, individual one-on-one help they may need, and connect together as a community. Everything will be recorded, including the live discussion groups, so you won’t miss anything along the way. – The private server with additional resources will become available to participants this month, and classes will start in October!