Death-Midwife: PSG Interview with Nora Cedarwind Young

Death-Midwife: PSG Interview with Nora Cedarwind Young July 7, 2010

Before Pagan Spirit Gathering I had never heard of a death-midwife but it makes perfect sense. Midwives were healers of body and spirit, they guided people through the transition of birth, death and even marriage by matchmaking. While birth midwives have been making a comeback since the 1970’s, midwives who help families with the transition of death are still uncommon.

Along with sharing her stories and thoughts about PSG, Nora Cedarwind Young told us about death-midwives: what they do and how she became one. If you enjoy this interview you may was to check out Nora’s site: Thresholds of Life.

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  • Edmund Howls

    Glad Star found her fieldwork in the wilds of Missouri of merit!
    Big Nora fan here and her work is exquisite. Here’s a bit more to consider: Just gotta pay respects to all the ancestors.

    The term death midwife was coined by the Aids activist, Nat Blevins about 1980, and it seems to have moved from the HIV network out to pagans. It’s a good term, and another term is “Hospice volunteer”, “hospice nurse” and “friend”.
    It’s a false dicotomy to present pagan end of life care in opposition to competent mainstream hospice, where patient and family autonomy is a prime virtue. Pagans are developing wonderful end of life and death rituals, and being cared for by your own is often best, but providing sensitive and meaningful care at the end of life is also part of standard hospice care. We should develop our own traditions, and work with hospice professionals to educate them about what pagan folks might need at end of life. Folks shouldn’t cut themselves off from the best practices if they come from the secular world.

    On the green burial question, credit should also go to Ernest Morgan, a Quaker, simple-living witness guy- who’s 1971 book “A manual of simple burial” is still available on line. I believe the Celo Community where he lives in Western North Carolina is also a green burial site.

  • Hey Edmund, thanks for the kind words. Nice to hear from you and get the name of Nat Blevens. I have heard this before and also from several Jewish women that have shared this term has been around for the ages…its a great one to be reclaiming, it helps inspire people to ask questions.

    I just want to validate that I am totally onboard with your views on Hospice Care. Not sure if in someway you felt I was saying we don’t need Hospice, not my intent in anyway. I WORK for Hospice and infact, feel Hospice creates the best environment for the Home Funeral. I always value your input and of course, your work!

    Thanks for the info, I will be sure to add it to my resources!

  • Edmund Howls

    Howdy back attcha Nora!
    Just pulling the focus a bit. Lots of us still think like the old counterculturals, and one of the bits of wisdom that came to me at PSG was showing the benefit of taking our values mainstream, because they are , after all, really better ;-).
    I got the image of deathwifing as just the opposite of catching babies as they are born, of tossing the soul back up into the unknown as the body dies. Down, up; repeat as necessary.
    Our local hospice did our “first” green home burial last year (first in quotes, because folks been burying their kin at home for many years). And the home care hospice team just loved the idea. The fact that the individual was a well respected agriculture professor and passionate farmer gave his decision more weight.