Moments House class teaches understanding of death

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PITTSFIELD — Death is a frightening concept, but understanding death can ease that fear.

That is the idea behind end of life classes offered by Moments House, a nonprofit organization that focuses on supporting individuals diagnosed with cancer and their families.

Moments House recently won a "One Hundred" award from the Massachusetts Cancer Center. This is an international award that recognizes 100 individuals or organizations who excel in the battle against cancer.

Moments House is not, according to co-founder Alice Trumbull, a part of Hospice. Rather, it augments Hospice with a plethora of programs that include massage, acupuncture, yoga, counseling, financial help and various other types of assistance.

In addition, Trumbull said, there is a library, a small spa room, a wig center and dolls without hair, with which children undergoing chemotherapy can play.

The end of life classes, offered over the weekend, train applicants to be end-of-life doulas. The term "doula" is an ancient Greek word meaning "a woman who serves." It was adapted in the late sixties and is now a term that refers to someone who assists women during and after childbirth.

It is also, said Trumbull, a term that can reference someone who assists a person with end of life issues.

"There have been birthing doulas locally for years," said Trumbull. The intent of the Moments House classes, she said, was to provide similar personal support for people who were dying.

"They don't necessarily have to be relatives or friends," she said. "You can provide doula service for strangers."

While the courses can include individuals stricken with cancer and their families, Trumbull said, the training will assist anyone facing end of life issues.

The classes were broken down into three phases, according to Suzanne B. O'Brien, an author and certified end-of-life trainer who taught the classes.

The first phase of classes, offered about two months ago, presented fundamental end-of-life training, including an understanding of the basics of caring for a dying friend or relative.

The second and third levels, she said, get more into the medications used in end of life care, discussions of disease processes and case studies.

The doula program is a "significant stress relief for the families," said O'Brien. Doulas can sit with those who are dying; they can run errands for the family of the dying and even spend time with them to ease the burden of a family member, she said.

O'Brien emphasized that the most advantageous time to take the class was before a loved one or friend was dying.

"That process is so stressful," she said. "You learn more when that's not an issue for you."

There were a total of 11 students in the weekend class. One woman, Amy Feld, explained that she wanted to take the classes "to understand [death] better. I think Alice does a fantastic job here. I wanted an opportunity to know more about end of life issues."

Another student, Frances Zurrin, concurred that she also wanted to learn more. Zurrin has been in elderly care for several years.

"It's such a beautiful process," she said of death. "It's something I want to explore more."

Contact Derek Gentile at 413-496-6251.


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