Christina Nienaber-Roberts had a background in geology. She was the child of academics and skeptics, and grounded in Newtonian physics when growing up in South Africa.
She travelled around the globe for work, but a cancer scare years ago brought on a profound shift in the way she approached life – and death. In her case, it was a voice in a dream telling her to get a lump checked. She started looking into Eastern thought, studying illness and how people can heal themselves. In her case, she paid attention to eating, sleeping, yoga, meditation and became conscious of chakras, or energy centres in the body, and their influence.
Her health improved, but she understood if that was not her time, the time would come and she needed to be ready.
“I needed to find out why people get ill,” she says. “To me, the cancer scare was the best thing that’s happened.”
She left her career and began her path as a death doula – a service she offers, along with others including birth doula.
“The transitions both into and out of life are very profound,” she says.
Beyond her birth and death doula services at Relax and Feel Radiant, she does other work involving yoga, massage and energy work, which she describes as a blend of practices such as reiki, healing touch, sacred movement – all of which are described on her website.
Regarding being a death doula, she cites the importance of her parents’ deaths and how these affected her. When visiting her mother during her mother’s later years, she learned from others too, particularly in the home where her mother lived.
“One of them I really bonded with was a little old Scottish lady who had no family,” she says.
The woman encouraged her to become a death doula when she returned to Canada.
Nienaber-Roberts also spent 15 years volunteering with the local hospice society, and she credits them for the support they provide for people who are dying and their loved ones.
“It’s so enriching, it’s so enlightening,” she says.
Her training included palliative massage and working with the body’s energy. Through her own services, Nienaber-Roberts works with individuals and their loved ones to help them understand the process and provide comfort.
Part of being a death doula, she says, involves interpreting symbolic language, which can take the form of words one who is dying uses or their gestures. Often, this means metaphors, such as speaking about flying or needing a passport, which might suggest the person is nearing death. In her mother’s case, it was wanting her bags packed. Often, the person is trying to resolve something or let their loved ones know it’s OK to let go.
“It’s really important to pay attention,” she says. “The more we listen, the more we learn.”
Nienaber-Roberts stresses she works with people at where they are in life – that they do not have to have a set of beliefs, and more people are opening up to the transition – facing the inevitable, not out of fear or pain but of acceptance or the chance to address key questions. For her, this work has become the opportunity of a lifetime.
“I love it, I’ll never retire,” she says.
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