“Because of our society’s overwhelming fear of death, it is almost impossible to teach families how to fully care for their dying loved ones,” said O’Brien. “Compounding that is the short amount of time the patients spend at home.”
A National Hospice Organization Gallup Poll found that nine out of ten people in the US who were terminally ill wanted to die at home, yet half were dying in the hospital.
“We have literally become paralyzed by the topic of death, and this fear is making the experience so much harder than it needs to be for both patients and families,” observes O’Brien. “Planning for end of life wishes and discussing them with loved ones takes a great weight off of both patients and families.”
It was during a recent trip to Zimbabwe though that O’Brien got the idea of an ‘end-of-life Doula’. A Doula is a Greek words meaning a non-medical person who is trained to care for someone physically, emotionally and spiritually. Although it is usually associated with the birth of a child O’Brien noted that, “I have always drawn the analogy between new life entering this world and the phase of life leaving this world. Both require special love and preparation,”
In Zimbabwe, because there is a large demand for palliative care and the resources are so limited, the hospice workers often teach neighbours how to care for patients and their family in the last phase of life. It was this practice that so inspired O’Brien.
Having worked with so many people from all different cultures and backgrounds, O’Brien appreciates that people across the world are more similar than different. One of these similiarites is that at some point, we will all be affected by death. “Death is inevitable,” says O’Brien, “but with the right education, kindness and compassion, we can help one another through this natural part of our life’s journey.”
About Suzanne B. O’Brien
O’Brien is a Hospice and Oncology Nurse in New York. O’Brien facilitates Death Café Millerton, NY, and started Boston Death Cafe this January and Death Cafe Dutchess County N.Y. coming in March. She has begun to train End-of-Life Doulas throughout the country with the hope of eventually having a volunteer End-of-Life Doula resource network in every county.
For more information about The END-OF-LIFE DOULA Program and workshops, visit http://www.suzannebobrien.com