What is an End-of-Life Doula?
End-of-Life Doulas are trained in the physiology of death and provide physical, emotional, and spiritual support to the dying and their loved ones.
As an End-of-Life Doula, I foster relationships with my clients that extend beyond their diagnoses. I strive to minimize their loneliness and isolation by enhancing their remaining days with meaningful reflections and thoughtful preparations.
As an End-of-Life Doula, I fill a long-forgotten role that is often too difficult to be played by close family members and friends.
While many people refuse to think or talk about death, the conversations can shift from avoidance to embracing the inevitable. We will all die. That said, as an End-of-Life Doula, I want each of my clients to have a “good death”–a death that is imbued with legacy, relevance, recognition, and acceptance.
In our culture, we hide death. This makes sense given that we have been encultured to fear it. Occasionally in our lives, we might have the opportunity to witness a death, usually that of a loved one. Sometimes the death occurs in a hospital or a nursing home. Frequently, we’re unsure of how to best support their loved ones in their last days.
More and more, people are rethinking how they’d like their own deaths, and the weeks and days beforehand, to unfold. Planning for end-of-life care, making decisions regarding what will happen with their bodies after death, and how their lives will be remembered and honored are all topics of conversation that an End-of-Life Doula is well-trained to handle.
What I Can Do for You
and Your Loved Ones
as an End-of-Life Doula
There’s no question that death brings up intense and sometimes confusing emotions for the dying as well as their loved ones. Death and the subsequent grieving process is extreme for all involved.
As your End-of-Life Doula, I serve a trained and educated third party who is present to provide an enlightened outlook on the dying and grieving experience.
I will share my expertise and resources. I will support realistic expectations. I will help make sense of it all. And most importantly, I will facilitate conversations to ensure that there is clarity around end-of-life wishes.
The following list pretty much sums up how I work with my clients. Always willing to try new things and be creative, I’m open to embracing unique requests and special tasks that will help my clients find peace.
1. Facilitate end-of-life planning.
As your End-of-Life Doula, I encourage the dying person and their loved ones to speak openly and frankly about dying. Once I gain an understanding for the needs and wants of my clients, I advocate for them by speaking clearly and dispassionately about those topics that the loved ones may feel uncomfortable, unready, or untrained to ask.
In working with my clients to prepare for their “good deaths,” we have meaningful conversations about the dying space: how it looks and feels, what music or sounds are desired, what readings or rituals can be included or created to make the final weeks and days of life filled with emotional and spiritual comfort.
Also, as part of creating the end-of-life plan, I help facilitate what will happen with the body after death both immediately after death and then thereafter through burial, cremation, or other method.
2. Advocate so that the dying person’s wishes are honored.
Regardless of what the dying person wants at the end of life, it’s my goal to ensure that my clients’ wishes are respected and implemented. After collaborating with the dying person to develop a personalized and therefor unique vigil plan, I make sure that my client’s loved ones and any necessary hospital or nursing home staff know “the plan.”
Additionally, I help the dying person’s loved ones plan accordingly. When I consult with the dying person’s loved ones, especially if they are separated by distance, I do my best to ensure that all loved ones are involved and that their loved one will not be alone when they die.
My role as an End-of-Life Doula is not to influence the requests of the dying person and their loved ones but rather to respect and honor them. Paramount is always the honoring of the wishes of the dying person. So sometimes, I need to remind the loved ones of those wishes as my loyalties are to the dying person.
3. Comfort the dying.
My role as an End-of-Life Doula is neither medical nor clinical but it overlaps with the comfort that is provided by medical and hospice staff. That said, I help to make my clients more comfortable whenever possible. I advocate for the comfort of my clients, whether that be physical, emotional or spiritual.
4. Provide emotional support.
When my clients or their loved ones hire me, I have found that it’s common that the dying person and their loved ones to feel awkward, sad, and confused. At times, everyone involved is at a loss for words. I help my clients and their loved ones find those words.
The dying often become lonely in their last chapter of their life. It’s not uncommon for loved ones, doctors, nurses, and care providers to start to talk as if the dying person is no longer there. My service as an End-of-Life Doula includes frank and honest talk with the dying person so that my clients understand the entire process. I want to be a present and consistent person with my clients as they end treatment and begin to prepare to die. I bring a focused and intuitive presence to that final stage of life by encouraging a deeper engagement for my client and their loved ones.
I do not shy away from hard conversations. This commitment of mine often helps facilitate conversations that support both the emotional needs of my clients and their loved ones.
5. Support life reviews and create legacy projects.
When my clients are facing death, an important part of the dying process is taking the time to consider legacy. This process helps to carry on the memory of the dying person. I make sure that my clients reflect on their lives and make room for them to explore the impact they had on others. By creating a tangible legacy project, for example a scroll of memories that may include photos, videos, collages, and other keepsakes that will be passed on after my client’s death, my clients are an active part of preserving their legacy.
6. Educate and inform.
As I am trained in what to expect in the weeks, days, and hours leading up to death, I explain the symptoms and signs of the dying process as they occur. This in-real-time education is a comfort to my clients and their loved ones, especially since these physical changes can be unnerving as they are unfamiliar. Death is often overwhelming. Having a sense of what is normal during this time is a big relief to everyone.
7. Give respite to caregivers.
Depending on my clients’ specific situations, either loved ones or medical staff will be acting as the primary caregivers for the dying person. While my role does not replace that of the primary caregivers, I am comfortable in assisting with physical and practical care, and that can certainly ease the burden on my clients’ caregivers.
When appropriate, I will be present with my clients for periods of time so that the primary caregivers can take a break to take care of themselves.
8. Offer logistical and household support.
When there are loose ends that need to be tied, I am happy to help or find the resources to help. Whether it’s helping to sell a car, figuring out what to do with a beloved pet, or making referrals for services beyond my role as the End-of-Life Doula, I provide additional logistical and household support where needed.
9. Staying on for after-death care.
Once my clients die, I continue to be present for their loved ones both to support their grieving and to ensure that my clients’ end-of-life plans are completed. I am present to aid in the processing the emotions and experiences after my clients have died and during those fragile early stages of grief. When requested, I can help coordinate the funeral, cremation/burial details to lessen the load for the grieving family members.