Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Interview with Nora Cedarwind Young

A few years back, I was able to meet in person someone I admired.  I nominated her for the KRobins Peace Pendant Award which she was chosen to receive.  With Memorial Day upon us, I thought I would share this interview I conducted with my mentor (and since, grown into a friend and sister of the craft) Nora Cedarwind Young.


Interview with Nora Cedarwind Young

by Crystal LunaRouge

With Samhain upon us, many of us think about remembering those who have passed and left this realm during the last year's turning of the wheel.

This past year, I have the privilege of meeting a Death Midwife. Her name is Nora Cedarwind Young. We first met through her website www.thresholdsoflife.org. Then this past June, we met in person at PSG (Pagan Spirit Gathering http://www.circlesanctuary.org/psg/ ).

Earlier this year, I nominated Nora for something called the Peace Pendant Award. She was accepted as one of the 50 recipients (http://www.krobinsdesigns.com/peace.htm). It was an award she truly deserved receiving. Sharing her knowledge trying to prepare people for their crossing into the Summerland is truly a gift that she is sharing with us this Samhain.

1. What is a Death Midwife?

My role as a Death Midwife is to support family-directed end-of-life choice usually in the family home, but not always. Sometimes families need support with end-of-life in a hospital or care facility environment. Our main focus is to support the person that is dying and family in the realms of comfort, spiritual support, creating ambience, paperwork, active listening, and details that assist in realms from art therapy to direct cremation or direct burial. Most cultures have some form of death rituals. Many involve family caring for the dying and supported by an experienced person to help direct the transitions, and these were usually positions held by women. Some cultures did utilize shamans or tribal priest/ess to help the transition be in line with their belief systems. Most include practices of comfort, nurturing, bathing, prayer, song, family or ancestral connection, farewells and ritual preparation of the body once passed.

No two encounters are the same; however, they do embrace certain patterns. The major work is education, advising people what their choices are so they are not making important decisions under duress and grief…when you make a good plan, a home funeral can be a healing and beautiful experience.

I like to say I am “proudly reclaiming family directed choice at end-of-life.” Death midwives offer comfort measures like washing, herbs, touch, Reiki, massage, touch, touch, touch, holding the hand, stroking the head, swabbing the mouth. Even chanting, singing or praying can offer comfort to the dying.

I provide all kinds of services, from education or counseling folks on how to prepare necessary paperwork that will assure they have requests that will be honored to hands on physical support.

I answer questions for family and friends and help support them in all sorts of ways, from shopping to cooking. But usually I sit bedside with the dying, caring for them, listening, listening, listening. I also educate and do workshops on caring for the body of our beloved dead (how to bathe and prepare a body for home viewing and funerals). Education can include alternatives to the funeral industry, as the high costs can cause unnecessary hardship. I also educate people about ordering your own cremation container, how to decorate it, what permits you need, what the laws are in each state, how to keep the body from deteriorating quickly. I do memorial services, facilitate funerals and often do bereavement work later.

As I said before… No two deaths are the same, however they do embrace certain patterns.

2. What training takes place for one to become a Death Midwife?

There are some trainings through Funerals for Families with Jerrigrace Lyons. Crossings with Beth Knox offers workshops too. I also teach workshops, including three and four day intensives. It also requires the research and reading of lots of experiences and learning about what is going on in the realm of choice and the home funeral movement. I suggest people always volunteer with Hospice for at least six months to a year to become exposed to end of life and what impacts death has on families. Reading books on the various aspects of death and dying is important also.

3. What lead you to this calling / path?

The Goddess. She brought me to the balance of life and death through the wheel of the year and through that, I saw that death was inevitable and we need to start getting ready, not dealing with it as a necessity, but as an educated choice and deciscion.

Is certification available?

My certification is through Funerals for Families and is available after completing all three levels with Jerrigrace Lyons.

4. Do you offer train others?

I think teaching is one of my favorite parts of this work. I love watching people become empowered and think on things that can be challenging.

Yes, I do teach and I can come to any state. It keeps costs down when only one persons travel instead of all of them coming to me. I can do groups of six to ten for best dynamics.

5. What would a male be called, would he use Midwife as well?

Yes, and I know Male Midwives.

6. How did your path lead you to Circle Sanctuary? You being in Washington state and Circle in Wisconsin?

My husband is originally from Wisconsin and I have been reading what was originally called Circle Network News since it was first available. My husband goes way back in the PSG community and Selena and Dennis did our handfasting for us at Circle.

I was already an ordained priestess before I began in a two year “minister doing advanced studies” program with Selena. During that time we did an on line study with Dr. Marilyn Stoner on end-of-life preferences for Wiccans, Pagans and Nature Spirituality Practioners. The results were published in The Journal of Hospice and Palliative Nursing.

7. How long have you been involved with them? See above

8. You are one of the few ordained ministers through them, could you give us a general description of the training did you received and how long it took to accomplish that goal?

Actually, there are several ordained ministers through Circle. Each person comes to ordination through different work, training and aspects. Many of us have done work in special areas such as death midwifery, military issues, social justice, some have more Wiccan and some are more Shamanic….it’s really a one on one experience. I do know Selena is looking at revamping the Ministers Training Program.

Some groups have specific lessons and requirements. My ordination was a full on three year commitment including outreach, community service and a year long project like a masters thesis. Training in counseling, and in several other faiths and worship styles etc.

9. What was it like to be recognized as the first Pagan Clergy at your local hospital?

Although there were no trumpets, it felt great that they believed in me and were willing to welcome me. I live in a very liberal and fairly alternative community so they recognized the need to have alternative spirituality addressed in the spiritual care team.

10. Where they receptive of the services you offered to them?

Absolutely. I have done some education to help clarify some misunderstandings, and it’s been good to be able to support those that need support when they need it.

11. Where there any struggles becoming recognized?

Most institutions think in an academic mindset, that is what degrees you have after your name. Since my faith is mostly oral in teaching, and includes many teachers, I just had people write letters on the work I was already doing on my behalf. But this has been a constant struggle for folks that have a lot to offer, but do not attend a seminary school.

12. What about going into and serving the Hospice system?

I think everyone should try this at least once in life. The people you meet, the stories you hear and the personal transformation you embrace will be well worth your minimal time commitment.

13. What information / advice would you give to someone that wanted to become a Death Midwife?

Check out my reading list on my website www.thresholdsoflife.org and start reading. Volunteer for hospice or consider volunteering at an elder care facility. Then, have me come do a training, or seek one out from other providers.

14. Earlier in the year when I wrote to you, you were generous enough to provide me with some information about furthering my own education after the loss of my father. You provided me with a number of books that could help me and others wanting to learn. On the list you provided you noted your "Top 10". Out of your top 10, what would be your top 5 books and why?

Caring for the Dead by Lisa Carlson

The Pagan Book of Living and Dying- M. Macha Nightmare and Starhawk

Final Gifts: Understanding the Special Awareness, Needs, and Communications of the Dying by Maggie Callanan and Patricia Kelley

Grave Matters A Journey through the modern funeral industry by Mark Harris

Lifetimes - The Beautiful Way to Explain Death to Children by Bryan Mellonie and Robert Ingpen

Lisa Carlson did incredible work and tells us what is legal and what the law codes are in every state. It is a must have of must have books for home funerals and death midwives.

The Reclaiming Collective, Starhawk and Macha Nightmare wrote the Pagan Book of Living and Dying after the 80s AIDS crisis and the loss of many community members. The offer excellent rituals, prayers, chants and insight into the death process, including that it isn’t always calm and can come at any time.

Maggie Callanan and Patricia Kelley cover the language of the dying in Final Gifts. This book has helped countless people understand the words and process of the dying, a priceless book.

Mark Harris gives the best insight into green burials and what’s happening that I recommend his book to everyone.

Bryan Mellonie and Robert Ingpen make death real for children, explaining everything that lives will die. From trees, to butterflies to people. It’s simple and complete. I carry it with me to every house I go to

15. You were nominated to receive K Robins’ Peace Pendant. What were your thoughts when you first learned about it, especially being nominated by someone you never met until today?

The nomination was deeply, deeply touching. I felt so touched that such an act of kindness was shown to me, and that the work I am doing is appreciated. I was surprised that you Crystal were surprised I would write back to you. I try to respond to everyone that inquires through my website. Very kind of you Crystal.

16. What were your thoughts, when you found out that you were going to be a recipient?

I was touched immensely. When you presented it to me at the morning meeting and everyone applauded, standing up and shouting my name, it was just deeply moving. I sat down and I was shaking. I so value this award as I am truly committed to peace. For my bio at the hospital we were asked to state an inspirational quote. Most did scripture, I simply put “Imagine all the people, living life as one.” – John Lennon.


  1. Oh you are SO lucky! I love Nora! I've taken a few of her courses at the past two Cons and she is just wonderful!

  2. She is a beautiful person whom I have been lucky enough to call friend and sister. She was thinking of coming to Convo next year just as an attendee.


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