In a two-part interview, Felicity Warner of Soul Midwives explains what it means to help someone explore and experience — even enjoy — their dying process
Today SevenPonds speaks with Felicity Warner, the mind behind Soul Midwives, a service that has helped pioneer the movement towards holistic and spiritual palliative care. As the founder of the Soul Midwives School, she trains others who wish to become “holistic and spiritual companions to anyone at the end of life.”
(credit: Felicity Warner)
MaryFrances : How did you get started with Soul Midwives?
Felicity: If you’d have told me 20 years ago that I would be sitting at the bedsides of dying people, I would have looked at you and just been amazed (laughs). It was never a part of my life plan. It happened by accident, you could say – though very naturally.
MaryFrances: Did you have any prior interests in health, or the subject of death and dying?
Felicity: Well I was a medical journalist 20 years ago, reporting on hardcore clinical issues. I began to work with young women who had breast cancer, to follow them through from their diagnosis, treatment, etc. It was just an extraordinary journey, being with them. I learned that they felt this need to cheer up other people, even though their feelings were so dreadful, so daunting. I wanted to know how to support them in a simple human way – through listening, holding hands, perhaps calming with essential oils. And I just learned what comforted them through that process.
“It was never a part of my life plan. It happened by accident, you could say…”
I was also a hospice volunteer and began sitting more and more with those nearing end of life; those who had no one else. I was managing to soothe people and take away some of their fears – but I wasn’t consciously trying, really! I just wanted to form relationships.
MaryFrances: How did you come up with the name, ‘Soul Midwives’?
Felicity: One day, someone rang me and said, “We heard you’re the lady who knows how to sit with dying people. Could you come and sit with a friend up the road who needs someone?” They called me a ‘soul midwife’, and it just stuck. The work I do now has taken these very simple ideas of my beginnings to be something very useful, even in a mainstream setting. It’s about gentle things you can do for someone in everything from an intensive care unit to an elderly home to someone’s own home.
MaryFrances: It sounds like you really build a meaningful relationship with the client.
Felicity: That’s crucial. A lot of our work depends on that deep relationship – it’s to do with trust, integrity and a real closeness. When you’re dying, suddenly everything that isn’t honest or based in love becomes irrelevant.
Felicity’s 3 Tips for Helping Those Dying:
1) Reading Material: Dig in to end-of-life and palliative care literature. Start the conversation!
2) Breathing Exercises: Essential to helping calm a dying loved one.
3) Creative Visualization: Can be a great tool for self-understanding.
Soul Midwives training in the Soul Midwives School with sound bowls.
(credit: Felicity Warner)
MaryFrances: Do you have any resistance from funeral directors?
Felicity: That’s an interesting subject, really. Because I think the times have changed so much in the past three or four years. There has been an incredible growth and change in the attitude of how we deal with death and the dying. When I began, people were very unsure of the work involved in what I do. I could sense that people in the medical profession were thinking, What on earth could she know that we don’t know? This is our territory.
“When I began, people were very unsure of the work involved in what I do. I could sense that people in the medical profession were thinking, What on earth could she know that we don’t know? This is our territory.”
It’s taken years for us to build a sense of trust with the public. Now, we’re finding that funeral directors are becoming our allies. In fact, we have quite a few soul midwives in England that are also funeral directors – it means they can be there for the person throughout the entire process; they build trust with the families. It makes for a truly positive, seamless process.
Check out Felicity’s books on Sould Midwifery here, and stay tuned for the second half of her interview.
You may enjoy:
- Our interview with death midwife Cassandra Yonder
- Our book review of A Very Easy Death by Simone de Beauvoir
- What are Home Funerals? An Interview with Ann-Ellice Parker