Article translated from the Spanish Magazine “Radical”, Mallorca 1992.
To speak about death continues to be difficult … and to do so with a dying person seems even more censurable than to mention it to a retired hangman. In the school death doesn’t exist and at the family table it’s a total taboo. That the term THANATOLOGY does not exist in the dictionaries corroborates that we are dealing with an UNSPEAKABLE SUBJECT.
Antje Auren, A S H I R D A, believes that it’s time to break the taboo and for that reason she offers herself in the Alternative Catalog of the Balearic Islands (Mediterranean Sea in Spain) under the interesting heading of “Dying well?”
Antje was born at the shores of Lake Constance in Southern Germany 53 years ago and in 1971 she established herself in Mallorca after a large nomadic pilgrimage. Her early restlessness about oriental philosophies and studies of religions brought her to know ‘in situ’ different cultures such as the Buddhist in Burma, the Taoist in Japan, Islam in Pakistan and Hindu in India. Thanks to these traveling experiences she says that she discovered that the “death doesn’t necessarily need to be a terrifying affair. In the opposite it can be an occurrence which may be lived with happiness.” It is this belief that motivates her singular profession: To help people die a dignified death and to assist their anguished family members.
Her interest didn’t come from a sudden revelation. One thing lead to another and she knew how to start from the bottom – that is to say from the feet. “When I was young, a Californian seer told me about the healing power in my hands, and she urged me to work with them, which lead to my first course in foot massage” she tells. What Antje probably did not know then is that the feet encompass a funeral symbol: He who dies is walking; he goes and leaves only his footprints.
Today she lives off her hands and our feet, as Reflexologist in Mallorca, because she does not charge for her work as “Midwife for the Dying”. “For me, talking with someone who is dying is like talking to a friend” she explains, “and for that reason I only accept gifts or donations. It’s like an exchange. Once I was given an old car!”
Certified in Foot Reflexology, Antje bases her work with the dying in the scientific experience of Dr. Elisabeth Kubler-Ross, who is considered a foremost authority in the field of thanatology.
“I deal with fears”, says Antje to resume her unusual work at the bedside of death. “Sometimes I just sit and hold a hand for hours, so as to relieve anguish.” Helping family members, whom she invites to share their restlessness openly with the dying person – so that they do not feel isolated – is her primary interest. “Generally a dying person intuits that life is about to end, and if we stay silent, or worse, if we plead ‘don’t die, don’t do this to us’, we rob the person of the last opportunity to speak honestly and freely. That’s why Antje defends the RIGHT TO DIE AT HOME and not to prolong the sure agony of dying alone in a hospital.
“We need to engage in dialog and to share understanding in the cherished home (move the sofa from the living room and put the bed there?). If possible, toast a loved one surrounded by family and friends, even with their favorite music, that’s the biggest gift you can give to someone in their lifetime!”
A South-African painter living in Mallorca had the good fortune recently of having Antje accompanying him toward his death in just such a way. As his niece later explained “Thanks to her he died happily. She helped him to accept his coming death without fear, that’s probably the reason he called his three enemies one by one to clear up their differences.”