I've been impressed by Cassandra Yonder ever since I started reading about death midwives. She has a great video about the term "death midwife" that is worth watching. In this article, she expresses exactly how I view this work and why I lean toward the use of death midwife as a descriptor.
The ability to witness what is, recognizing the centrality of those who are living and dying their own authentic experience without directing or manipulating in order to forward one’s own agenda is what is meant by midwifery to me, and birth midwives seem to understand that in a deeper way than others do. Death midwifery is not about claiming a set of professional skills as much as validating the ways in which we serve our families and communities as we empower one another to remember what it is to re-inhabit the deathbed, as well as the bedside, of those among us who are dying, those who have died, and those who are bereaved.(emphasis mine)
Recently, I spoke with a birth midwife who said that midwives don't "deliver" babies so much as "catch" them. It reminded me of Cindy Crawford's description* of labor in "The Business of Being Born 2" bonus episode "Special Deliveries". She expresses appreciation for how her midwife steps back at a point in labor when Cindy felt she needed to be by herself. She needed to face her fear- no one else could labor for her- and push through it. She would "deliver" the baby for herself. Her midwife would be there to offer support and guidance, but the work of childbirth was Cindy's alone.
Samuel Beckett wrote:
"...perhaps they have carried me to the threshold of my story, before the door that opens on my story, that would surprise me, if it opens, it will be I, it will be the silence, where I am, I don't know, I'll never know, in the silence you don't know, you must go on, I can't go on, I'll go on." (emphasis mine)
You must go on, I can't go on, I'll go on. I can't have this baby - that baby is coming ready or not. I can't live without my beloved - time keeps passing just the same. I can't face dying - the end comes anyway.
I love death midwifery framed in this way. For me, being a death midwife is about holding space for people to do the work of dying. By the work of dying I mean preparing to meet the end through reflection, confronting fears about death, saying what needs to be said to loved ones, etc. The work of dying is different for everyone. At the core, I see my role as simply being present with death; listening without judgement, accepting without prejudice, bearing witness without flinching. I can't do the work for you. All I can do is be there while you do it.
*I watched this video years ago so pardon me if I'm fuzzy on the details. I looked for a clip but couldn't find one.