My first official yoga student was my son’s first teacher of the visually impaired, a woman who set the foundation for my legally blind son to learn how to navigate life. Little did we know that both would later set the stage for me to help her learn how to navigate death. Here is part of an email exchange sent about two weeks after dropping my son off for his first college year, and about two weeks before she died.

...“Today as I was driving to teach Parkinsons class, I thought about the last view I had of Dylan. He was crossing the street after we said goodbye, walking among the crossing crowd, looking confidently forward. That is what you helped make happen. That is what I'd like to help you make happen.”

Thanks so much Tamara.... I needed those encouraging words. So enlightening,  trying to get my bearings after being released from hospital yesterday. A bit overwhelmed.  Pen pals might be good for now. I read and reread your wise words. I truly am blessed with the people in my life.  Brings tears to my eyes when I think about it. Eventually want you to come see me if possible. I do love you! I love the analogy of Dylan walking confidently forward,  that's how I want to go!”

And from what I could tell, that is how she went.    

There is just a little more to the story of how I got here, relating to how I got there, by her side. Heading to the hospital with full awareness that it was the final phase of what had been offered and accepted, I pulled over in a parking lot to answer my husband’s phone call. After hanging up with agreement to talk more later so I could focus on the priority at hand, I sat there wondering if I could pull myself together to show up in the way I needed to, to do the work that needed to be done. A young man who had been watching me from the row of stores I parked near started walking over, then tapped on the driver’s door window for me to roll it down. As I did he told me that I have what is needed. That God has a plan for me, and gave me the gifts to use for that purpose. He shared some more info about that message, general and at the same time, too specific to be random proselytizing. He was wearing a red Hannaford polo and embroidered on it were the letters JC. His skin was smooth and brown, and there was not a grocery store in sight. Looking up, I felt the same clarity that I saw in the open blue sky, expressed my gratitude, and continued on to do the work I am here to do.

My name is Tamara Lyn Cookingham and my career path includes end-of-life doula, hospice volunteer, yoga teacher, Reiki Master and retired New York State Police Senior Investigator. The personal path that so richly informs these professions includes early childhood loss of my mother to kidney disease, my own cancer survival, near death of my oldest child as an infant, and nurturing my father through hospice to death. Throughout life I’ve been around death, experiencing for myself and seeing in others the fears, anxieties and trauma that can be associated with it. I have also come to understand that it does not have to be that way. I have learned to comfortably accept that death will show up on its terms by crafting a good life on mine, realizing each informs the other.

Thoughts from a Death Doula

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