The Gift of a Death Done Well

Debbie Mechley (courtesy photo)

My youngest son has suffered from chronic illness since he was born, requiring many surgical procedures. During one of his surgeries, I sat in a peace garden at the hospital in meditative prayer. I sat with my face to the sun, embracing her warmth.

The harsh golden light of the sun became an intense white, yet gentle light that I was moving toward. I felt a presence at my side, and I connected with it. It was my son Devonn. He touched my finger to his and said, “Go be who you came here to be.”

Eventually I was released from a meditative vision. I found myself back in the garden. I re-entered the hospital and made my way to the family waiting area. The surgeon came out to speak with me. He said that for two minutes during the procedure, my child had coded — temporarily died.

Days later, my son and I lay reading in his hospital bed. I told him what I had experienced in the meditation garden: of the light, and the angel, and the vibrating tree of life. He said, “I was there. I brought you into my dream. You are supposed to know what to do.”

For many years since, I have questioned this experience, moving back and forth from curiosity to self-judgment.

Today, I believe that with intention, we can be guided from this life to what follows. Whatever beliefs anyone has, I think that there is a door which opens when we learn, with our loved ones, how to die well.

I now work as a death doula, and have spent time with hundreds of individuals whom I have held as they birthed out of this world. This passing of life as we know it has been an honor to witness.

There can often be a fear and dissociation with death. I create a space for the dying individual to lean into the journey of their life. Most reflect on their purpose, which they feel they did or did not accomplish. All of them contemplate forgiveness and assess their relationships.

What I am learning from my own journey in life is that the secret sauce to dying well is simple: live well, and become mindful of embracing death with meaning.

My role is to hold space for courageous conversations to take place. Five concepts seem to matter most. The first two are the ability to forgive another, and ask for forgiveness from others; forgiveness opens the gateway of sharing, intimacy, and healing. The third is the desire to express gratitude and say thank you. The fourth is the ability to express love and the gentle words that follow.

All of these elements in the journey lead to the fifth: say goodbye with meaning, before the lifting of the veil.