A few months before Samhain, I started having a rather unusual visitor. Lord Hades, whose name means, the “unseen,” is often very misunderstood and has a great deal of baggage attached to him. In many ways Hades gets the gyp. Hades is the first born son, and as such should have inherited the rule of all the Gods, but that honor went instead to the youngest son, Zeus. Hades accepts everybody into his realm. Good, evil, neither; all are given a place. The greatest travesty of how Hades is treated, in my opinion, is that he is treated as a great evil. My personal opinion for why he is thought of in this manner is because the various Christian sects identified him with Satan and translated the Hebrew word Sheol (meaning a place of the dead, but without the afterlife connotations) with the word Hades. In the older myths about Hades, he tends to be a rather neutral or passive toward events that are taking place, and even sometimes charitable.
In his book, “Deep Ancestors,” Caisiwr Serith talks about how when we do ritual we are contributing to the *Xartus, which is the proto-indo-european word which describes the pattern or order of the universe. I would argue that Hades serves the *Xartus as well. Without death chaos would reign. Our world works, we have healthy ecosystems, as well as simply being able to eat, because death exists. Death and decay serve a purpose in this world. This is not to detract from the severe emotional pain that it can cause, especially when the death is an unjust one, but without death there would be no life. We use the three world cosmology of the indo-europeans in which the underworld is base of the tree of life. Death is the base for life in the middle and upper realms. Without the underworld and the land of the dead the tree would not grow. True, this realm is fed by the waters of chaos, but it is not a part of the chaos itself.
Even though death serves a purpose in life, it is often seen as a defeat, or some type of failure in Western culture. I have heard a story that hospice started because doctors refused to admit that people might die in hospitals. It is understandable for doctors to view death as a type of defeat, but in reality it isn’t. Death is part of the order of the cosmos, and while it shouldn’t be forced or encouraged, it shouldn’t be feared or hated.
When Hades first came to visit, he started talking to me about what it meant to have a meaningful death. We chatted about burial and what a good death should look like. He nudged me to teach a class on green burial at my fellowship, and I researched the different ways to care for the dying as well as their remains. I found out about Death Doulas or Thana Doulas. Thana Doulas help give people options when they die as well as while they are in process. They provide presence and comfort care, often singing and touching the person to help them find ease. They provide support for the families as well. They can help with grief or act as funeral liaisons. Often they will help the family navigate the sometimes serpentine system that is the modern funeral business so that they are not being forced to make rapid choices in the throws of new grief.
“...a thana doula or death midwife, helps people with 'How am I going to deal with my death?' both literally and practically. Funerals and wakes are usually steeped in culture, tradition and religion, so much so most people don't think there is a choice. But there are options. Toronto thana doula Elizabeth Lancaster said more people are dealing with their death in their own way. She said first, people have to consider what's important to them.”1 As I look at my new protogrove and form and shape a vision of its growing and staying for years to come, I am faced with one very true reality, if the grove lasts as long as I dream it will, at some point in time someone will die. This is something I want to be ready for. I want to be able to serve the people as they have need. I believe this is why Hades came a knockin’, as my grandmother would say. I feel a call to get training to be a death doula and to help people in one of the most emotional times of their lives. I want to help people have a good death and be buried in a way that has meaning to them and their families. In turn, I hope that by starting a tradition of death doulas in my area, that maybe when it is my turn, there will be someone to walk beside me, and show me the door. Hades willing, it will be so.
1 Inside Toronto article, “Death midwives help people have a 'good death'”: http://www.insidetoronto.com/community/life/article/980068--death-midwives-help-people-have-a-good-death