How Life Coach Training Prepared Me to Work With the Dying
By Melanie Eggleston
As an Oncology Massage Therapist working with cancer survivors, Melanie realized the need for open discussions about the emotional and practical aspects of reaching the end of life. And so began her entry into the world of coaching.
In her current work as a Death Doula, Melanie has been described as a “professional daughter,” acting with the care and compassion of a family member to support and guide individuals and their loved ones through the dying process. She considers it an honor and a privilege to help those at the end of their lives experience the “good death” they desire, whatever that might look like for each individual.
Melanie is a 2017 graduate of the JRNI Coaching Intensive. You can follow her work on Instagram at Pathway End of Life.
After a long drive, I pull into the driveway, put on my N95 mask and approach the house. I pass the garden filled with its glistening glass sculptures, some twirl in the breeze, windchimes sing to me. I knock on the door and high pitched yapping ensues.
“Come on in!” she calls, scooping up the two tiny dogs that sound like ten. My client’s wife greets me, she smiles sleepily, long hair piled wildly on her head. I ask how my client is doing and she sighs and updates me. She fills me in on what his sleep has been like, if he’s been in pain, if he’s eaten anything recently and if he’s currently awake.
Somehow he’s always alert when I arrive, she invariably tells me it’s because he’s looking forward to my visit.
I find him in bed, surrounded by tie-dyed tapestries and bright colored bedding. He may be at the end of his days, but his eyes still have a mischievous twinkle to them. He’s a no nonsense kind of guy, he swears a lot and tells it like it is.
He may have just greeted me with a sparkle and a grin, but a moment later he’s annoyed, and informs me he’s “sick of this shit” and “When will I die already?”
I don’t have an answer for him. I nod empathetically and rest my hand on his delicate arm. I sit by his side and listen for as long as he has words and energy to speak them. I bear witness to his struggles, I hold space for him to say whatever it is he needs.
I am not there to fix things for him, my presence is enough.
There was a time that I would not have believed I could do this!
Before I became a Death Doula, my primary work was with cancer survivors as an Oncology Massage Therapist. Once my clients were alone with me in my peaceful office they would often open up and tell me how they were really feeling. Oftentimes they would explain that no one would truly listen. Sometimes they said that they didn’t want to burden their loved ones with the weight of their worries.
Being with them I would hold onto their every word and yet, I felt like I was failing them. I felt pressure to fix what bothered my clients, both physically and emotionally.
What good was I if all I did was listen and nod?
My decision to take the JRNI Life Coach Training course was filled with optimism that I would be taught how to find the answers for my clients. I wanted to know what to say, how to solve my clients’ problems, how to fix things. It was within this training that I soon learned that I do not have the answers, my clients do. They hold them within themselves, and it is not my role to fix anything.
Instead of learning the answers, I learned to be comfortable holding space.
Solving my client’s problems is not what they need me to do, they need me to accept their truth without judgment. It is here that my clients will truly find their peace.
Now as a Death Doula, I often feel like a Life Coach for the Dying.
This may sound like an oxymoron, but it’s an appropriate description for what I do. Taking the JRNI Coaching Intensive was integral to this shift in how I feel about what I bring to my relationship with my clients. Becoming a Death Doula puts me on a deep dive alongside them. Here in the depths I am kept company by what I have found to be my anchor, the biggest takeaway I had from the Intensive and the most important aspect of my job - listening.
Death companioning is a needed skill and growing field.
If this feels like it could be your calling, I recommend both life coach training, as well as specialized training to work explicitly with the dying. Here’s two of my recommendations for reputable end of life training programs: Going with Grace and National End-of-Life Doula Alliance.
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One of our values at JRNI is that we dare to be different. Our coaches like Melanie follow their personal calling and carve out their unique path. If you are ready to leave your mark on the world, check out JRNI Life Coach Training. Grounded in science, our ICF accredited program features authentic instructors, a robust curriculum, business instruction to prepare you for liftoff as an entrepreneur, and fellow students dedicated to becoming a collective force for good.