7 Stages of the Pan-Death Journey (Adapted from CINDEA: the Canadian Integrative Network for Death Education and Alternatives)
The pan-death journey can be understood by dividing it into 7 distinct stages. Because each situation is unique, I may offer guidance through some or all of these stages, in partnership with the Death Journeyer, their support network of family and caregivers, and/or palliative care workers.
1. The first stage involves consultation regarding end-of-life (EOL) planning options, including Living Wills, Representation Agreements, estate affairs, and the like. These documents are an insurance that, when the Death Journeyer is no longer able to make decisions regarding their own care, that their wishes be honoured in their final years, weeks, and days of life.
2. The second stage deals with the planning involved after a terminal/life-limiting diagnosis, which can include organizing palliative care, deciding what further medical treatment is appropriate for the Death Journeyer's quality of life, creating a life-plan for their remaining time, and dealing with anticipatory grief. If the Death Journeyer wishes to die at home, this is the time to make those arrangements, or to arrange for the body to return home after death (as per the wishes of the family), should the dying time occur in a hospital, hospice, etc.
3. The third stage is that of active dying, in which the Death Journeyer is likely bed-bound, and may or may not be able to make decisions regarding their own care. My role here is to ensure they and their support network of family and friends have the comfort-care necessary: emotionally, spiritually, psychologically, and physically (often in partnership with medical professionals and other spiritual counsellors).
4. The fourth stage deals with the death of the physical body. At this time, I would support and/or facilitate any soul-release practices desired by the Death Journeyer, and to emotionally support their family and friends. This stage may include vigils, bedside singing, and similar practices. The main focus is to simply be fully present and aware with the Death Journeyer: to show up with one's own vulnerability in a spirit of unconditional love. The most important thing at this time is for the Death Journeyer to achieve closure.
5. The fifth stage is the period of time immediately following the death of the physical body, and can encompass spiritual/religious practices concerning the soul; care of the body (washing, dressing, closing of eyes and mouth, etc.); building and/or decorating a casket or shroud; contacting a funeral director (if the family chooses) or coroner (if time of death or the death itself is unexpected); filling out and filing all necessary paperwork, and handling the obituary and other methods of notifying family and friends.
6. The sixth stage can include the facilitation of a home funeral (a "lying-in" or "wake") and/or arrangements for a traditional funeral service; arrangements for disposition (usually burial or cremation); and for the transport of the body (if not using the services of a funeral director).
7. The seventh and final stage includes grief integration work with bereaved family and friends. This can encompass a wide range of practices including (but not limited to) the co-creation and carrying-out of a memorial service; talking circles; guided group meditation; and somatic experiencing techniques (such as Grounding Grief andGrief Integration Yoga sessions). I may also recommend individuals to other counsellors or alternative wellness practitioners at my discretion. This stage can also include a one-year anniversary memorial/honouring event.