A soul midwife is a non-medical companion who give holistic and spiritual care to people who are dying (Image: John Lund)
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If you’ve given birth, you never forget your midwife. They’re the reassuring professional you wanted to cling to, who knew the answers to your questions, and who cajoled and cheered you on through the pain as you gave birth to your child. Your midwife was with you during the most vulnerable hours of your life.
But what about the other side of the equation? What if you could have a midwife to help you through the process of death – an equally confusing, often distressing, sometimes painful and always profound time?
Fortunately, there are people who already do this job – soul midwives.
Used by some NHS trusts and MacMillan Cancer Support, they provide a valuable service both to those who are dying and those who are being bereaved. And you can even go to school to learn how to be one.
“If you think there are similarities with birth midwives, you would be right,” says Helen Latham, a former high school teacher of philosophy and ethics who trained in soul midwifery in 2017 and also has qualifications in hypnotherapy and aromatherapy.
“Both kinds of midwives assist the person, encourage, guide and comfort the person they are caring for. Giving birth is hard work. Dying is hard work too and soul midwives acknowledge this in the many ways they offer support.”
While the job of helping deliver a baby is relatively easy to envisage, it’s harder to imagine what might be involved in delivering “souls”.
Soul midwife Helen Latham
Soul midwives are non-denominational and will work with people of any spiritual faith and none. Their role is to support someone on their journey towards dying, giving full respect to their spiritual or atheist/agnostic beliefs and practices.
Helen explains what might happen during a session.
“There are many ways to offer a soul midwife service; we could, for example, be involved with a person from the day that they receive a terminal diagnosis,” she says.
“They might need support in formalising their end-of-life wishes with regards to how much treatment they wish to receive. Or they may want to share their anxieties with someone who is not a family member. They may need to share some stories that they have kept hidden, but need to be released from. They may be in need of reassurance; we can practise visualisations to help manage these difficult moments, and teach breathing techniques to restore calm.”
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Soul midwives mainly work with the dying but can also help support those who are being bereaved.
“They just feel so helpless,” says Helen.
“My advice is usually very simple – we have five tasks to complete before we can let go of this life. Firstly, we need to say sorry, then offer forgiveness, then say thank you, then ‘I love you’ then finally, to say goodbye.
“A relative is often in the best position to help their loved one to complete this work. I will also explain the signs to look for which can give an indication of where, in the dying process, their relative is.
“This is important work, since removing some of the mystery around dying can enable loved ones to be less frightened about what they are witnessing.”
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According to Helen, soul midwifery has been around “for as long as humans have been around” but it is “only recently that this work is being recognised in our Western, medicalised society".
She came into the profession as a result of caring for her mother during the last two years of her life. When she heard about soul midwifery, she followed her intuition, trained, qualified and began offering her time in her local hospital to sit with those who were receiving end of life care.
Soul midwifery has been around “for as long as humans have been around"
(Image: Getty Images)
“This work is so important, but busy clinical staff do not always have the time,” she says. “It feels like a privilege to do this work.”
Helen, who is based in the North East, also provides training in Tender Loving Care (TLC), a practical end-of-life care course developed by soul midwife, Felicity Warner, which has been adopted by some NHS trusts. It is useful for anyone caring for someone with a terminal diagnosis, professional carers, or anyone who is thinking of training as a soul midwife.
“There is so much anxiety and misunderstanding about the dying process that we have lost the art of making the end of life meaningful and positive,” says Helen.
“Soul midwives believe passionately that dying doesn't have to be a frightening or painful experience.”
To find a soul midwife, or simply to find out more about the service, visit: www.soulmidwives.co.uk .
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