My name is Carl Orosco* and I’m a Death Doula. A Death Doula is a individual who helps someone through their dying process and also helps to emotionally support the family through the death. I am told by people all the time that they don’t know how I have the strength to do what I do because they couldn’t handle being confronted with death and dying on a normal basis. What people don’t see is that this calling for me is in love and being confronted with love, and I don’t see a deeper type of love and compassion for myself to give to the world than to be with someone while they go through this transition.
Most people, even people within my own group of friends and family, view my calling as macabre, sadly this is because we live in such a death-denial culture where we don’t see all the life that goes hand in hand with death. My work with individuals, usually the elderly and the mentally ill who are on hospice or palliative care, looks like a lot of things, from putting together a end of life plan to holistic comfort care such as message therapy and setting up the death bed, to working with families and loved ones as they try to process what is happening and what next steps they need to take.
In working with death I see the sacredness of life and that even the pain and sorrow that goes hand in hand with it are just as important as the joyous moments in life. One of the biggest misconceptions about what I do is that its all gloom and doom when in fact its the opposite. I have a wonderful time laughing, crying, hugging, and talking with families while at the bedside as they share their most joyful and even sometimes heart-breaking memories of their loved ones, or being able to share sacred moments with them as we attend to the needs of their loved one what ever that looks like.
I always recommend to people if you haven’t sat vigil you should try it because it is not as dark as one would think. I find comfort in helping to try to remove the stigmatization around death in my community and bringing it back to a humanized level and back to a more communal experience because other then being born death is the most human thing we do. Just as we are not born into this world alone we should not have to die alone. My job helps me to help honor humanity and teaches others to honor each other.
From a young age death has always been part of my life. I can remember going to my first funeral at the age of four and numerous others after that. I have always been attracted to things that the rest of society views as dark and macabre and shuns. I’ve been a part of the goth culture for 18 years. A lot of people get the misconception that I must be heavily sad or depressed but anyone who really knows me, knows its the opposite. My life long confrontation and acceptance with the darkness has brought a lot of light and lividity to my own life and has enriched my calling by reminding me that each day is precious and that another day is not promised so I need to live it to the fullest each day. I love life and everything that comes with it the laughing, smiles, good days, bad days, hugs, tears, being with my loved ones. To me this is the purist expression of love that I can give back to life and i have such gratitude to be able to do this work and to send out that love for life into the universe as it reaches its end.
I am also a devotee of Santa Muerte since 2005. To me she is my patron saint. I view her as the angel of death from the bible and that she is on the side of God. I come from Nevada, a small impoverished largely Mexican/ Latino town called Sun Valley. My family is mainly Protestant but I grew up within a Catholic community, went through the sacraments of the Catholic Church and still very much believe in the Catholic teachings I grew up with but now not with as much enthusiasm as when I was younger.
Growing up as a gay man in my community was difficult to say the least. Who I am now you would have no idea that I grew up in such a rugged “ghetto” community. I met La Santisma Muerte back when I was eleven at the local botanica around the corner from my great grandmother’s apartment. Her statues were just sitting there on the top shelf behind the counter in white, red and black. It was a instant love connection between the two of us. I still have the original statue of La Roja from that day and she is the main robe I work with.
In 2019 I became a ordained minister through Universal life church and made it my life’s mission to help spread her devotion. I’ve performed weddings, baptisms, funerals, etc. at my home altar. Before I moved, people would come for monthly masses that I would hold for her in my home. Or they would come to my home for spiritual readings and guidance. Years ago I used to professionally as a spiritual reader and I still offer consultations out of my home.
When the epidemic hit back in 2020 I felt a deeper need to help to bring her to the people and I asked her for guidance. The next day I was watching Ask a Mortician on Youtube and Alua Arthor was on talking about being a death doula and this is where I felt my deepest calling to help be a midwife for people at life’s end and to be present with her and serve my community alongside her. Helping to spread her love and the love of God through this sacred practice.
A year later I graduated from Going With Grace as a certified Death Doula. When I have a client who is in the midst of dying one of the first things I will do when I get up in the morning or when I get that phone call in the middle of the night is to pray for them that they have as easy a transition as possible and that she takes them fast so they don’t suffer, and generally they will die within the next couple hours peacefully after I’ve finished working with them. If i have a client that is sick I will remember them in my daily prayers and ask her to heal them. She is that flicker between life and death and it doesn’t matter who you are or where you come from as sooner or later rich, poor, Black, White, gay or straight we all succumb to her embrace. Without her I know my life would be a disaster. I feel she has helped me to get ahead and to guide me.
*By guest contributor Carl Orosco