What Is A Death Doula?

A death doula is a non-medical person trained to care for someone holistically (physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually) at the end-of-life. They recognize death as a natural, accepted, and honoured part of life. Death doulas are also known as end-of-life coaches, transition guides, and end-of-life doulas.

Although we’ve been dying for thousands of years, it is only in the last century that we have removed the natural life occurence of death from our awareness. Death is not a medical event- it is a human experience. Hospice, although a beautiful model of care, has many ‘gaps’ and is only partially available to most patients and families. There is a need for additional support from trained and knowledgeable people in this space of end-of-life care.

Death doulas can help create positive and empowering end-of-life plans; provide spiritual, psychological and social support; suggest ideas for optimal physical comfort; help plan home vigils; educate patients and families on the new and progressive options including home wakes, community-led death care, natural burials; and more. They can work with the dying person, family and/or friends, from initial diagnosis through bereavement.

Most families do not have extensive knowledge about how to care for someone who is dying. This contributes to difficult end-of-life experiences and heartbreaking outcomes for many people. What is needed, in addition to medical practitioners, is a death doula who can have a functional impact within the home and understands what matters most to the patient. A doula can develop a plan around the wishes and values of the dying person, advocate on behalf of the patient, help attend to their symptoms, be a stable heart-centred presence, and help to resolve unresolved issues. By working collaboratively with the patient, family caregivers, and the medical care team, a doula can contribute to a strategy outlining what’s best for the patient’s journey and overall experience.

The death doula movement has not only brought forth an industry of practitioners to support patients and families in one of the most stressful times in their lives. It has also brought back the conversations, questions, and fundamental teachings about death. Caring for someone who is dying is a skill once handed down from a grandmother to a grandchild. We’ve all but lost the ability to look after the non-medical needs of the dying in our modern-day society… but there is some good news – we are starting to bring it back! By doing so, we are helping to create beautiful, sacred end-of-life experiences. After a century or so of medicalizing and outsourcing end-of-life care, death is having a rebirth and end-of-life care is beginning to return to its holistic roots.

Submitted by Margaret Verschuur, using information from Suzanne O’Brien’s Doulagivers Death Doula Guide, which can be downloaded for free. Trained death doulas are available on the island; email quadrawaytogo@gmail.com to learn more.