While medical professionals are often who help women deliver new souls into this world, midwives still play an integral role in this magical moment, and they have for centuries.
Yet what happens on the other side of life, when souls are exiting this existence?
Who helps usher them to the next place besides those same medical professionals and mortuaries?
In the practice of curanderismo, the idea of death midwifery is often referred to as partera de alma. Midwife for the soul.
At my two-week course at the University of New Mexico, one of our sessions focused on this very moment—when it’s time to say goodbye to loved ones.
At those moments, the partera de alma works to create space for both grieving and celebration. When a loved one is on their deathbed, the mood should be a goodbye and a sendoff.
This can be done by bringing in the departing soul’s closest loved ones, memory books, music, and the smells of their favorite foods or flowers. The idea is to create an atmosphere of comfort.
The partera de alma will also create space for the dying individual and their loved ones to have their last conversations with each other. Here, the dying person can say their goodbyes, I love you’s, and I’m sorry’s, as can their loved ones.
It was this moment during the demonstration in the Anthropology Auditorium when I lost it.
Watching the woman lying on the floor pretending to be on her deathbed, surrounded by other classmates posing as her family, each of them telling each other how they felt invoked something in me.
It was almost like I was seeing the future of my own family, when my parents or aging aunts and uncles will be in their final moments.
I imagined us encircling our parents and sharing, at last, what we could not say until that moment. The demonstration, combined with my future vision, was so intense, I had to excuse myself from class.
What came with those visions was the suppressed words and thoughts that the nuclear family of my upbringing is only now starting to say. I knew right then, as I watched the demonstration, that the only time my family may ever have any kind of closure, will likely be at that moment.
And what I also saw in that vision was me in the role of partero de alma. I saw myself as the future healer I’m perhaps destined to be, at last, creating space for my family to grieve and move on as we have so desperately needed for so long.
I saw myself facing the reality we will each face one day—when our souls return to whence they came, and how that too must be celebrated.