What Is An End of Life Doula?
As an end-of-life Doula, Reiki Practitioner, and Bereavement Specialist, I can provide support before, during and after the death, helping to facilitate a more beautiful and less painful journey.
What Does An End of Life Doula Do?
The vast majority of people would rather do just about anything, other than to discuss death (their own, their parents, their spouse, or their children). On any other difficult subject, most people turn to a professional for advice and guidance, someone who has experience in the area of their struggle. When it is the topic of health, you turn to doctors and specialists, when it’s a legal matter, a lawyer. When the doctors run out of options to save your life, you’re faced with that conversation... how do you want to die? It should make sense then to ask for the help of a professional who has experience with assisting people who are dying. That person would be an End-of-Life Doula.
How To Start the Conversation About Death
What is an End-of-Life Doula? The word "Doula" is Greek for servant or helper. In the same way that a birth Doula supports a woman as their child enters the world, an End-of-Life Doula supports a person during their journey leaving this world.
Far too often, the important discussions about how each person wants to pass their final days, is left too late, and the end-of-life experience morphs into the wishes of the loved ones family. It simply doesn’t reflect the dying person’s wishes. The periods just before, and just after the loved one's death are rife with emotional chaos that often comes with someone’s death. Family and loved ones may be acting out of love, but just as often, not with respect of the dying person’s last wishes, because it’s just so difficult. People and their families are different. It follows, that people have extremely different views on how they want to pass from this world. Is it quietly at home? Is it using all possible medical means to buy more time? Is it by medical assisted suicide when you can no longer tolerate the pain and treatment? Do you want your family around you? Do you want to slip away peacefully with no one watching? The choices are countless, but the “how” is often poorly understood by anyone.
An End-of-Life Doula can bring about meaningful conversations about the options, provide support and practical solutions to facilitate the person’s death wishes and mediate the conflicts that so often arise when a person, whose death is imminent, wants to “talk about it”. They can provide comfort and relief to both the dying individual and the family and/or primary caregivers. If the patient has had a prolonged period of illness, or is elderly with significant impairments, there is a huge toll, both physical and emotional, on those around them.
Having knowledgeable, compassionate support can help make the experience more meaningful. An end-of-life Doula is a professional, trained to deal with most of the non-medical aspects of death, who provides emotional, physical and educational support to someone who is living with a terminal illness, preparing for their death and/or actively dying. This support also extends to their loved ones.
Being There For Support
An end-of-life Doula makes him or herself available to assist a dying individual often, also with the family before, during and after death occurs. He/She provides physical, emotional, psychological and spiritual support, if requested. This role may be referred to by different names such as: death midwife, end-of-life coach, funeral guide, death-and-dying guide, etc.
An End-of-Life Doula offers and/or assists in a wide range of services that vary greatly, depending on each individual’s circumstances and wishes. More recently, the End of Life Doulas have been associated with the Home Death/Home Funeral movement, where people have sought to contain their end of life journey to their home, a place where they are most at peace. The Doula seeks to provide a holistic, hands-on, non-medical approach to the fundamentally natural process of dying. While it can assume many forms, the intent of an End-of-Life Doula is typically to help transition or "bridge the gap" for both the living and the dying. The focus of medical practitioners is on saving lives and the role of a funeral director (and others) begins after death occurs. The End-of-Life Doula functions across the journey from one state to the next.
For The Dying Individual
Whether in the family's home, hospice, hospital or other setting, an End-of-Life Doula often provides the gift of companionship. This might comprise simply of holding the dying person's hand; actively listening to his or her comments; conversing and attempting to offer answers and comfort to the individual's questions,concerns, and needs; watching television or reading a book aloud; discussing end-of-life wishes; helping the dying individual resolve and find peace about real or imagined wrongs; etc.
For The Family Members
Whether in the family's home, hospice, hospital or other setting, an End-of-life Doula provides the gift of continuity across the pan-death spectrum, i.e., before, during and after a death occurs. This might comprise of performing various basic tasks usually conducted by a home caregiver; staying with the dying individual while family members are away; facilitating supportive communication and/or conversations between all parties; assisting in the creation of meaningful goodbyes during the remaining hours of life.
An important part of the service I offer as an End-of-Life Doula, is to provide information and support to the loved ones of the dying, so that they can focus on caring for the loved one and help them make the most of what time is left. Aside from providing insight and knowledge about what to expect during the dying process, I can also provide information and support for important practical actions that need attention, such as:
Creating and implementing advance care directives,
Grief and bereavement support for the dying and their loved ones,
The practice and importance of self care for caregivers,
Assistance to organize and facilitate a home funeral, if that is the wish of the dying person.