More About Carolyn
Degrees & Certifications
Conscious Dying Educator
Conscious Dying Institute, 2021
Sacred Passage Doula/End of Life Doula
Conscious Dying Institute, 2019
Homiletic Peer Preaching Coach
Vanderbilt Divinity School, 2019
Masters of Divinity
Boston University School of Theology, 2007
Masters of Arts in Religion
Miami University, 1994
Bachelor of Arts in Religious Studies, French
University of Tennessee, 1992
More about "Why work with death?"
I spent my first two weeks at Saint David's Episcopal Church on the comfortable blue couch in the library outside the parish office. The final round of chemotherapy I had just 10 days prior to my first day left me dizzy and fatigued. As I would soon discover, Saint David's people were gently welcoming, supportive, funny, and they let me recover in my own time with the gracious space they offered me. I grew to know individuals and couples, kids and their families. Saint David's is an extraordinarily healthy place, a people with a heart for people, a people with a mind for learning and growing. My vulnerable condition, I believe, granted me a special entree into the core of this people. Such honor would stead me well over the next few years.
Faith leaders get to do the work of rites of passage, celebrations, "steering the ship." They also get to companion families as they sojourn through some of the hardest days of their lives: illness, dying, death. Between June 2017 and May 2019, Saint David's celebrated the lives of about 20 persons who passed from this life "into perpetual light." That is a lot of hospital visits and conversations in homes or over the phone. That is a lot of funerals, a lot of burials. While I maintain that "death" is one of the best things the Episcopal Church does because of the exquisite burial rite, celebrating 20 beloveds, and then missing them as a community, was something I was not prepared for when I said Yes to this work.
I needed formation. Solid, evidence-based, case-study rich education that would help me help others not only during their dying time, but also help me to be present to their families and the Saint David's Community following this time.
Thanks to two key conversations with thanatologists at Saint Thomas Hospital and Alive Hospice in Nashville, I began researching "death doula" certification programs. I found the Conscious Dying Institute and ran their program by a couple of psychotherapist friends, who saw that it was beefy. I applied. They accepted me. I went. I fell in love.
I had been doing the work of an end of life doula or death doula in my work as a priest in part, but now I was equipped with a far broader understanding of the various facets surrounding the dying time. Medical conversations, pain management, anxiety mitigation, family dynamics, death phobia, and so on. Moreover, I grew to understand that dying was as much a part of living as being born, growing up, encountering challenge, walking through grief - all of this is living, and sometimes living abundantly.
Now a conscious dying educator through Dying Well, I equip those who want to live their life with understandings of just how much power they hold over their manner of dying. No, we cannot choose the cause of our death; but we can die well according to the decisions we make about how we live our dying time.
The best part of this work? Equipping people with tools for wielding their own power through decisions effectively assists them in living well now. Doing this work, having the hard conversations--this labor brings into stark relief what is living and what is killing us. Seeing folks do this work and then seizing the whole of their lives to find the depth of their gratitude, I am gratified to no end. This is the Good of which the ancient Greeks spoke; this is the Beautiful.
photo by S. Wood
More about what kind of person I am
I am most alive when I am Outside. Outside by myself, Outside with other people, Outside gardening, building from scrap wood, rock climbing, hiking - the Outside is my home, source, hope. I came from the Outside. To the Outside I shall return: ashes to ashes, dust to dust. Spending time under trees, on mountain trails, and among the nimble creatures of air, water, and earth, I tend toward the mystic in my living, moving, and having my being. All this sounds like an unholy mixing of Disney princess and Mary Oliver, doesn't it?
I am an odd blend of highly practical horse sense, well-timed irreverence, simple humor, artist, biology and engineering curiosity, quiet companion, entrepreneur, sap, goofball, nun, activist, and nerd. I can also cook food that will make you slap your mama, as we say in the South. I use all these parts in all of my work: dying, death and grief work, pastoral leadership, public speaking, mothering, canine caretaking, and generally being human.
I am deeply grateful to be a creature, alive, walking on the earth.
photo by C. Bartoo