Spiritual Director, Celebrant and End-of-Life Doula: My Wife’s Unusual Job Titles Mean Helping People Through Difficult Times
President, nurse, truck driver, doctor, sales associate, cook, teacher, judge, accountant, web designer, dog trainer, receptionist, superintendent, real estate agent, electrician. These and thousands of other titles like these describe the jobs people have – and in many cases what they aspire to be (“I want to be an astronaut when I grow up!). The beauty of the vast majority of job titles is that we have preconceived notions of what those titles mean. When most people read them they immediately have an idea of what the person does for a living – and asking someone what they do for a living is standard conversational fare in our country.
My wife, Jackie Naginey Hook, has several titles that she uses to describe herself and indicate what she does. Except, in her case, they are titles that most people don’t immediately associate with anything. I should know, because as her husband I didn’t know what any of them meant when I first heard them. It was only after several explanations that the words began to have meaning for me.
Those words are… spiritual director, celebrant and end-of-life doula.
I know, that was my first reaction too. What the heck are those?
Let’s start with the first title: spiritual director.
Spiritual directors companion others to explore matters of the soul and faith. They inspire them to experience authenticity in their lives, and connect and explore the deep truth beyond life and death. It is a practice found in many faith traditions, but, as the name implies, is spiritual as opposed to religious.
Again, I know. Even the description is a bit tough to grasp. So what exactly does a spiritual director do?
They get together individually with their “directees” on a monthly basis, usually for an hour, and talk about any experiences and encounters the directee has had that they want to process and sort through. These can be small items or significant decisions. There is no judgment or criticism. It is done with confidentiality and in a safe space. They work with their directee to take practical steps to integrate spirituality into their day-to-day living, while supporting them to explore and make space for their passions and talents.
Not your ordinary job title by any means, and one that took three years of training.
The next title is celebrant. Specifically, in my wife’s case, a funeral celebrant.
Celebrants are specialists who are trained in the history, ritual and traditions of ceremonial events, and study many cultures and religions. Funeral celebrants work together with the families and friends of loved ones who have died, learning about the individual by gathering with these people and hearing their stories. The celebrant then spends time crafting a ceremony with music, quotes, readings, unique symbols and rituals. Once the ceremony has been written, the celebrant gives it to the family to review to ensure it compassionately and sincerely presents the life of the deceased. The celebrant then officiates at the funeral home, crematorium, cemetery and/or memorial location of the family’s choice.
Celebrants work with people of all denominations and spiritual levels. Whether the families and friends are secular, religious, spiritual or interfaith, or if they simply want to present the deceased in the manner of the deceased’s or their own choosing, celebrants will create a meaningful, memorable and fitting tribute.
Again, not an ordinary job, and as the percentage of people in our country with no religious affiliation keeps growing – from 16% in 2007 to 29% last year – funeral proceedings are increasingly being led by non-traditional individuals like celebrants. Something that also requires a year of training to be able to do.
The last title my wife holds is end-of-life doula.
End-of-life doulas guide people who are dying, as well as their loved ones, through the dying process. The doula can become involved at any point during the process – soon after someone receives a terminal diagnosis, when a sick person’s body begins its final breakdown, or even after the person has died and left loved ones in need of help to start their grieving. End-of-life doulas provide emotional, spiritual and physical support to everyone involved in the dying process.
End-of-life doulas listen to the concerns, fears, hopes and life stories of the dying person and their loved ones in an effort to bring them peace. The doula helps them to find a way to live in the best way possible for them during the dying process, while utilizing experience and expertise to offer an expanded view of dying that can bring greater meaning and comfort to this intense process. And also as with the other two titles there is a long training period before someone can use it.
There are several common themes in each of these three jobs. One is open-hearted service to others. Another is the ability to deeply and intentionally listen to others without judgment. And another commonality is the ability to “hold space” for others so they can, as much as possible, experience the moments of life in a way that honors them and their loved ones and helps them pay attention to what matters most. These are not the types of qualities you would see on a job description sheet for the thousands of jobs like those listed at the beginning of this column. But perhaps they should be. Or better yet, perhaps they are qualities we should all aspire to incorporate into our daily lives.
But in either case, the next time you are talking with someone and ask, “So, what do you do for a living?”, and the answer is one or any combination of spiritual director, celebrant, and/or end-of-life doula, hopefully you’ll remember what those are, and maybe even think, “Gosh, I’d like to be one of those!”