Katie Costello – Celebrant and Soul Midwife

This week on WHITEBALLOON INSIGHTS we talk to Katie about her dual roles of celebrant and soul midwife and how both enable her to support people during some of the most difficult times of their lives.

Q: You are both a celebrant and a soul midwife.  Whilst many people know what a celebrant is, they may not be familiar with the role of a soul midwife.  What does a soul midwife do?

A Soul Midwife (SM) is a holistic, non-medical companion to those who are dying, supporting all faiths and none. Some call themselves death doulas or end of life companions, we are all the same but different in our own way and training. SM are not new, we are as old as time itself. We are the ones who sit by the bedside, hold space, and support the journey of death, hands on, hearts open, no judgement or agenda. In modern day, we draw on these skills to facilitate a gentle and peaceful death and to allow people to talk about, create and achieve the journey they need, want and deserve. We have and use birth doulas, this is the same role, but a SM supports the soul leaving this life, instead of entering it.

Q:  Have you always been involved in this type of work and was there something in particular that led you down this path?

I started work in care 10 years ago and very soon realised I was ‘home’. My heart and soul knew exactly what to do in this world and I felt drawn to sit with the dying. I have a deep spiritual faith and believe I have been doing this in many lifetimes. The same way people are drawn to work with animals or have a specific profession they always knew they wanted to do, or are born with a gift or natural talent, this is my version of that. I have always loved people, and people are drawn to me.

All my jobs in life have involved people, management, personal development, coaching, help and support etc and for 10 years now have been in end-of-life care. I also work at my local hospice on the community team supporting people who wish to die at home. Similar to my SM role but in line with their hospice care. My SM role means I support people in hospitals, nursing homes and other health care settings as well. I have had many of own personal experiences that also lead me down this path. Death doesn’t scare me despite what I may have experienced, and I feel comfortable here. Sounds strange I know!

Q:  What do you feel are some of the qualities required for a good funeral celebrant?

Similarity to the SM role, a good celebrant needs to be able to listen, and I mean properly deeply, truly listen and be able to sit with someone IN their pain rather than trying to fix or change it. A good funeral celebrant will be able to hold space, with no judgment and come from the heart in their approach and support. Along as a celebrant comes from the heart with the best intention, makes it all about the person that has died and their loved ones, and can see everyone as the unique, wonderful souls we all are, they will no doubt be able to host a beautiful and fitting service for each person they support.

Q:  People might assume that being surrounded by death and dying is difficult and perhaps depressing, but I am sure this isn’t always the case?  Are there moments of joy as well as sadness?

To be with the dying is sacred, profound, and often very beautiful. My role as a SM and celebrant is a privilege and an honour. There can be moments of magic and there is always so much love. Death is safe. More often than not, it is not the dramatic situations you see on TV or in films. Yes it can be hard to watch, and it isn’t always pretty, but in all the hundreds of souls I have witnessed dying, only a small handful have been difficult.

My role brings me joy every day. I feel gratitude and appreciation daily. I am so blessed to be able to support a soul to leave this world and to be there for their loved ones in their times of rawness and vulnerability. I wouldn’t change it for the world. There is often laughter and joy around the bedside, and there is also peace and grace. We just need to be present enough and aware enough to see and feel it. We get so caught up in the sadness, which of course we will, but if we can calm our hearts and minds enough for just for a second, we can feel the magic too.

Q:  You hold wonderful workshops that aim to give people the knowledge and understanding to lovingly support the dying.  Are these just for professionals or can anyone enrol?

These workshops are for those people who will be involved in a death, will be supporting a death, who will have someone they know die or who will die themselves. So, that’s EVERYBODY. I have had GP’s, funeral directors, oncologists, nurses, businessmen, artists, therapists, and everybody in between attend these sessions. Some of strict faith, others are atheists. Some people that come are looking after someone they love who is poorly, some come because they are curios and want to learn. Some have never experienced death or grief, and some have dealt with it for years and have lost many people. Others want to understand what they went through in their past, but all want to know more.

This supports us all whether the motivation for coming is personal or professional. We learn about the dying process, how to support it and what we can do and also how we can BE. This isn’t about teaching everyone to be a SM, it is about providing valuable information, empowering, and creating a level of confidence and understanding when it comes to being with and supporting the dying. Every single person who has come has gained something; something that has made them think, help them understand and possibly most importantly, has made them feel they can talk more about death and dying. This alone is something we all need help and support with.

Q: And your ‘Dying for a Cuppa’ sessions sound intriguing!  Tell us more.

Dying for a Cuppa’™️ was born in 2019. Another SM and I created a session, similar to a death café, in support of Dying Matters Awareness Week. It was a huge success, and we hosted a few more in person before covid came along. That’s when I made the decision to take them online. They are now run on Facebook where I go live, around every 4-6 weeks, with a different topic that I discuss and share information about. The aim is that people can listen, learn, and interact if they wish, from the comfort of their own homes with no pressure to participate, say anything, or even let anyone know they are there. I try to cover topics that are relevant. Often things that people do not think about when it comes to death and dying, as well as the very factual, informative side of death. I do it in a very normal, open, and honest way for all to understand. We know that Doctors use a lot of jargon and big words, but when it comes to such an emotive topic, we don’t often hear or understand them. I try to give similar information but in a way everyone can relate to and be able to process.

My voice is my superpower and here I get to use it for the greater good. It is free for everyone to come and listen. There are about 25 sessions, all available on my Facebook page. Also, you can contact me via my website and I can come and host or facilitate a ‘Dying for a Cuppa’™️ event for you. Or you can contact me to discuss topics you would like to learn about and would like me to cover. I have hosted these sessions with other businesses, with families, and supported companies to support their staff, as well as creating a safe space to talk, learn, share, and explore.

Q:  And finally, I am sure that your work life can be very emotionally demanding.  What helps you to unwind and switch off in your spare time?

Having a talkative, slightly crazy 11-year-old helps me to unwind believe it or not! Spending time with family and friends is important to my mental health and emotional well-being, plus I have a spiritual faith with various practices that are a huge support to me. I love nature, I love the sea, and being outside in general really refills my cup. I enjoy, and turn to, the simple things to help me switch off, like coffee and cake; cake makes everything better if you ask me. As much as I talk, having some quiet time and silence also does me the world of good. Having time and space to recharge, replenish and just ‘be’ is often just what I need after time with the dying or a funeral service.

Thank you Katie for sharing these insights

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