Doula’s aren’t just for birth. You can hire them for any “transitional” time in your life including moving interstate, illness, recuperation or even death. They are called “death doulas” or “end-of-life doulas” and demand for their services is increasing in Australia and around the world.
We live in a society that is largely afraid of death and who can blame us? Not all of us have religion to fall back on and even that isn’t always a comfort. However that fear of dying has lead to an inability to even think of death let alone discuss it and prepare for it. Thankfully we can now hire “death doulas” to help us navigate the process of dying and ease the burden on family and friends
The Australian Doula College trains doulas to deal with life and death. They describes their end-of-life service as:
An End-of-Life Doula is someone who undergoes special training to empower and support the dying and/or their friends/family members, however the journey unfolds. Their role is to preserve the quality of well being and self-worth up to and beyond the end of life as we know it. They are the “informed companion” bringing comfort, support, compassion, and assist a person and their family in feeling safe and supported during this important transition.
Helen Callanan is an Australian end-of-life doula, someone who you pay to be there with you until the very end, supporting you as you pass away and helping loved ones through the process. I asked Helen if she’d answer some questions about her profession to help us better understand what it is that she and her colleagues do to help people die better.
Doulas deal with birth and death, are there any other services you offer?
Given the pace and demands of today’s world I anticipate more people engaging the services of a doula at a variety of transitional times. For example: moving interstate, illness and recuperation, supporting a sick or elderly family member etc. Recently, I was engaged as a ‘doula’ to assist a person who had a medical emergency requiring surgery and 11 days in hospital. I assisted that person in hospital, liaising with the medical and nursing teams, managing things at home and preparing for her coming home and the first week at home.
What is an end-of-life doula specifically required to do?
In regard to death and dying, an end of life doula is commonly engaged in cases of terminal illness. It can be when a diagnosis is received to assist navigating the myriad of issues, choices, options one is faced with and/or further along the life trajectory when additional support is needed and sometimes towards the very end in the active dying stage to support the dying person and the family/friends
What is your most important role during those final days?
Providing a peaceful, safe, nurturing space for the person approaching death as well as those around them by doing all we can to ensure that the person who is dying has all their physical, mental, emotional and spiritual needs met. A doula does this by being a resource: providing options, explaining what is happening and what one might expect, giving support, listening and caring.
How important is it for you to support loved ones as well?