End-of-life Doula: Working with Dying People and their Families

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The word “doula” is Greek for servant or helper. Just as a birth doula supports women during the labour and birthing process, an end-of-life death doula supports a person during the dying process.

Death is a process that can occur over months or even years. My role as an end-of-life doula is to support and help people and their loved ones. This includes educating, empowering and encouraging individuals and their families to discuss and make the important decisions that need to be made. Having a plan ensures that the care a person receives at the end of life is aligned with their wishes.

I work with individuals nearing the end of life and their families, as well as people seeking advice and information on end-of-life issues. I connect individuals and families with available health-care and end-of-life resources and can assist in coordinating these services and resources. I also facilitate discussion groups and workshops on end-of-life issues.

End-of-life doulas do not duplicate the work of others providing care, but they complement and augment that care, while respecting the roles of everyone involved. By spending time with and listening closely to a person and their loved ones, doulas provide non-medical physical, emotional, spiritual and practical support. Because end-of-life doulas are with a person and their families before, during and after death occurs, they can act as a bridge among various care services to ensure continuity and make everyone aware of the wishes and plans in place.

Doulas can help a person nearing the end of life develop a written legacy, oral history or life history. They also provide compassionate emotional care to ease anxiety, provide comfort and ensure the person has a personalized passage that reflects their wishes.

I recently began working with a couple shortly after one partner received a diagnosis of terminal cancer. In addition to providing emotional support during the partner’s final months, I helped the couple explore options around cremation and funeral services. After the person died, I handled all the arrangements to ensure that their wishes were carried out.

Many people aren’t sure how to begin a conversation about dying or what they need to talk about. I help people discuss and document their wishes for advance care planning, goals of care and consent. I also help them identify what they want and don’t want at the end of life, who they want to be involved and who would make decisions about their care if they could not. Typical discussion topics include housing options, medical care options, the legal and financial documents required, how they want the end of their life to play out and what they want to happen after they die.

Being ready for the end of life is important, no matter what age you are. If you would like to learn more about the role of an end-of-life doula consultant, please visit ( dying2talk.com. )


Bereavement Day 2020 edition – Article By:  Denyse Burns, End-of-life Doula.