In ancient times, death and funerary rights were attended at home. The Pagan and Wiccan religions recognized the parallels of birth and death, and thus called the woman who attended birth a birth midwife and the woman who attended death a death midwife.
In the 1940’s, as medical and hospital care became widely available, the dying were moved to hospitals. Death then came to be regarded as “curative”. The Death with Dignity movement began as an effort to redefine death as a natural process, thus removing some of the stigma associated with dying and death.
Today, as further research become available on the benefits of dying at home and as services such as hospice become more commonplace, people are again choosing to die at home. Thus, the ancient art of death midwifery is resurfacing.
A death midwife is usually apprenticed, though she may have some professional training. She may work alone or alongside hospice agencies, chaplains or other support services. Natural healing (the use of massage, Reiki, etc) may be a tool she uses to provide comfort to the dying. The death midwife may assist with funerary arrangements. In some cases, she will conduct the funeral, if she is certified to do so. After physical death, the death midwife may assist the deceased through the process called transition. This may be done through ceremonies, songs or family created memorials.
Death can be a time of great confusion and overwhelming emotions. It can be a stressful time. A knowledgeable death midwife may prove invaluable to the family that could benefit from that extra support.