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Death Doulas

Death Doulas

An informed companion to bring calm and provide support for the dying and their carers

How can Death Doulas nourish your soul?

A Death Doula assists people to arrange after-death care and experience a peaceful passage to death. They are also known as End of Life Doulas, End of Life Consultants, Death Coaches, Death Midwives, Soul Midwifes or Transition Guides. The role of Death Doulas may include continuous care through the stages of terminal diagnosis, deterioration, death and post-death grieving.   

A Death Doula offers non-clinical care, unlike palliative care professionals who provide medical services. Death Doulas provide physical and spiritual support to the terminally ill and to those around them. Their role is to provide education and options, and work to “preserve the quality of life, wellbeing and self-worth” of those who are dying. The Death Doula’s role is consistent with holistic hospice care in that it may entail emotional support and practical support such as organising informal support systems, funeral arrangements, vigil planning, or arranging a will and power of attorney.

The Death Doula title originated in New York in 2000, when a volunteer program called "Doula to Accompany and Comfort" focused on pairing so-called "Doulas" with terminally ill people. The term Doula, usually associated with a birth assistant, is derived from the Greek word 'doulé' meaning “woman who serves”.

In countries such as Oregon, USA, Death Doulas are required to be licensed by the Oregon Mortuary and Cemetery board. Australia currently has no accredited Death Doula training or centralised governing body, although there are calls for government regulation

To ascertain a Death Doula’s suitability, it is advisable to enquire about their experience, training, fees, whether they have a spiritual motivation and the scope of their duties. 

Benefits of Death Doulas

Dying is a crucial time that can be challenging and confronting for many. Death Doulas can offer support, information and coordination of care through the difficult process and fill in any gaps in the dying client’s care. The Death Doula acts in accordance with the terminally ill patient’s wishes and needs. They are also there to educate and empower loved ones to care for the dying person and to fulfil their after-death wishes.

Surveys indicate that up to 70% of Australians want to die at home but only approximately 14% achieve this. A Death Doula can help to facilitate a person’s desire to die at home by organising all essential aspects. 

Death Doulas can compassionately navigate the terminally ill and their loved ones through all the decisions around dying and death. This can create calm, improve communication, ease emotional suffering, forge deeper connections, help with legacy projects, finalise legal matters, eliminate regret and allow grieving. 

Death Doulas can assist in relieving issues related to:

  • Anxiety and stress
  • Clarity/Focus
  • Communication
  • Decision-making
  • Emotional issues
  • Emotional pain
  • Grief and loss
  • Happiness
  • Life crisis
  • Relationships
  • Stress management
  • Support
  • Tension relief

What to expect from a Death Doulas session

A Death Doula’s duties differ according to their expertise and the client’s requirements. The initial meeting with a Death Doula will establish if they can meet the client’s needs, whether it be in the home, hospice or residential facility. The Death Doula will identify what is personally, culturally and spiritually relevant for the terminally ill person and their loved ones.

Sometimes a Death Doula addresses a single issue such as funeral arrangements but they generally assist in various areas over a period of time. The Death Doula may act on behalf of the client to enquire about possible arrangements and options, but should always honour their client’s beliefs, needs and wishes.

As clients are often confused in this new territory, a Death Doula can clarify all the decisions that need to be finalised with wisdom, delicacy and compassion. The Death Doula can also ease the carer’s load by taking on tasks ranging from domestic duties to legal matters and providing companionship to the dying. They may also act as an advocate for the dying by liaising with medical care, funeral homes and other service providers.    

As with any complementary practice, please consult your medical professional before consulting a Death Doula. If you have any concerns at all, also speak to your Death Doula, who will be happy to address these and evaluate whether it is a suitable option for you.

References

What is an End-of-Life Doula? | doulagivers.com

What is palliative care? | Monash University

End of Life Doulas l Australian Doula College

Six principles of palliative care | International Association for Hospice and Palliative Care

Your first ‘End of Life Doula’ Vigil | International End of Life Doula Association

Oregon Senate Votes to Regulate Death Industry | oregonlive.com

What role do Death Doulas play in end‐of-life care? A systematic review | Health and Social Care in the Community 

Preparing the Way | preparing theway.com.au