A Death Doula (also called end-of-life doula, or death midwife) is a trained non-medical professional who provides emotional, physical, and educational support for someone nearing death. We can be considered a mentor for the final chapter of life, who accompanies and provides comfort for the dying person, has open conversations about hard feelings and helps to make the dying process more pleasant for all involved.
Death Doulas offer a wide range of services, and can help normalise whatever arises and support clients to engage in ways that support meaning, purpose, joy and grief.
1. Facilitate end-of-life planning. Since COVID, people are talking more about death, planning for end-of-life care, making decisions on what will happen with their body after death, and how their life will be remembered and honoured. Death Doulas help clients get paperwork together before they are facing death, including creating a will, advanced directives, and listing durable power of attorney for healthcare to guarantee that medical wishes and advocates are in place.
2. Mediation and advocacy so that the dying person’s wishes are honoured. Regardless of what the individual wants for the end of their life, it’s up to the Death Doula to respect these wishes and help folks plan accordingly. The job of the doula is not to influence the requests of the individual and their family, but to respect and honour the wishes. This may mean reminding family of the wishes of the dying individual.
3. Comfort measures for the dying. Creating a “Good Death Plan” for the person dying, which documents their physical, emotional and spiritual wishes for their last hours, days and weeks of life; such as what they want to happen, who they want to be there and how they want their sacred environment to look, smell and feel. Some Death Doulas also offer to be there in the final hours, called Sitting Vigil.
4. Emotional support. The Death Doula is there for the dying person, talks to them throughout the process, and provides someone consistent beside them as they begin to exit this world. Bringing a focused and intuitive presence to the final stage of life, the doula encourages deeper engagement during this hard time, for the individual and their family.
5. Life review and legacy projects. When someone is facing death, an important part of the process is putting together legacy items to help carry on the memory of the individual. Throughout this process, the doula gives the dying person a window to reflect on their life and an opportunity to explore the impact they had on others. Family members can also be part of this process.
6. Education, information and resources. Since a Death Doula is trained in what to expect in the weeks, days, and hours leading up to death, we can help explain the symptoms and signs of the dying process as they occur. While death can be very overwhelming, having a sense of “what’s normal” during this time can bring relief.
7. Respite for caregivers. Something as simple as getting water, opening the blinds, or brushing someone’s hair can both help make the individual more comfortable and give caregivers a break. Some doulas may sit by the individual’s side for an evening so that primary caregivers can take some time for themselves.
8. Logistical and household support. If there are loose ends that need to be tied up, such as de-cluttering an individual’s house and belongings, there are doulas that take on this responsibility to provide additional logistical and household support where needed.
9. After death care. The Death Doula helps families with processing emotions and experiences after their person has died, guiding them in their early stages of grief. Some doulas also help coordinate the funeral, cremation, and burial process to help lessen the load for grieving family members.
Diagramme courtesy of the Lifespan Doula Association