Navigating Doula Polarities

November 12th, 2009

Well… first, polarities. That paradoxical pairing of seemingly incompatible opposites, that, it turns out, are more often than not just two sides of the very same coin.

For all of us, the only universal polarity is life and death. We all were born. We all will die. Now, is it just me, or do you notice that, even though this is the ONLY thing we ALL have in common, it rarely, if ever, gets talked about! The death and/or dying part anyway, unless we’re talking about someone else’s funeral.

For most of us, probably the easiest one to identify is… love/hate; sometimes a very fine line there. One minute, we’re feeling the love, the next we want to either run away from that person, as fast as we can, or inflict ridiculous amounts of pain. And maybe then run away.

Others… how about work/life? For you workaholics, maybe one in the same, but for most of us an ever elusive back-and-forth between what sometimes feels like an impossible competition; a no-win situation.

Though, when we get it right, we find work/life in a sublime state of balance. We’ve not only done our very best work at work, but managed to simultaneously navigate all of our home connections, and not just as an after thought, but, as an integral part of the people we love and trust the most… a complete win-win, in any book. Very sweet indeed.

Other polarities we navigate… me/we, action/reflection, advocacy/inquiry, concrete/abstract, mensch/putz.

You get the drift.

It’s not that one is right and the other wrong, although in certain situations, and here’s where the ‘navigation’ part factors in, it is in our best interest to move from one side of the polarity to the other. Quickly at times.

We need both sides. As crazy as it may seem, even the ‘hate’ side of love/hate; though my mother must be rolling in her grave, as she admonished her kids to “never use that word”. If we rework that word as a mere representation of the dark side in all of us, that might help make it more palatable. And understandable. We all have a dark side. For some of us it’s more hidden, but it’s there. And, when it pops out, often when we’re not even aware, it is dark and nasty and negative. Better to be aware of our dark side, know that it will rear its ugly head at some point, so we can be prepared to apologize, make amends, perform the necessary damage control, or whatever it is that needs to be owned and cleaned up.

Sometimes it is about we and sometimes it just needs to be about me. Sometimes it is all about the action at hand, and other times we just need to be in a state of reflection, when not doing anything is the wisest choice.

On to the “doula” part of the heading of this post… the explanation is a little bizarre, so please bear with me.

For most of my entire adult life, since the ritualistic young age of 13, I’ve had the opportunity to be ‘up close and personal’ with death, and dying. At 13 it was my maternal grandfather, Isaac, my favorite grandparent, a mensch of a man if there ever was one. Then, for a multitude of reasons, I experienced death of close family members pretty much every few years. Aunt Evelyn, dying of cancer a few years later, when she was in her early fifties. Then, only a few years later, her son, Victor, died in a freak accident while celebrating his graduation from college. On and on, and not just grandparents and aunts and uncles, but most of my ‘younger’ cousins, each dying before their time. Lots of funerals. Lots of mourning, and grief.

In some of the more recent deaths, I played a more active role than that of a grieving family member. With my very dear cousin Betty (we were the two youngest of the eleven maternal cousins, and grew up together not only in our home town of New Rochelle, but then as adults in Northern Vermont), I sat by her side and helped her let go, as she finally was able to release herself from the ravages of MS and, right before she passed away, transformed her whole face with a radiant smile reminiscent of the ones we shared while playing Peter Pan and Wendy on her swing set in her families suburban backyard.

I helped my mom and dad in similar ways when it was their time to pass on. Comforting them with the knowledge that death was not something to be feared, but to be embraced, as a comfort and relief from the pain and suffering they had endured for way too long. And, that the ones they loved and were leaving would be ok, would have their love within them, even though their physical presence would be gone.

My wife Lisa is a birth doula. She has spent the past thirty years helping women and their partners find the inner resources that best work for them to navigate the fears of child-birth, finding the joy and beauty in whatever kind of birth they end up with, be it natural childbirth, C-section, or anything in between. As Lisa likes to say, it’s her contribution to world peace, helping families begin their new configurations as connected and judgment-free as possible.

My role seems to be at the other end of the life cycle. Helping people find the peace and comfort in letting go of this lifetime, with the comfort of knowing that there is more than just this lifetime, even if we don’t have any physical evidence of what that next experience will be. The ultimate test of being able to let go and just ‘trust the dance’.

We don’t have to wait for our death-bed to understand that this is a great way to live; outside of fear, letting go of control, having faith that the love we’ve given our family and friends will not only help sustain them, but will be our living legacy. Now, and forever.