real life

Imogen Bailey is a death doula. Here's what she wants you to know about dying.

We spend our lives running from death. It is imprinted on us from a very young age to follow the path of ‘do this, or take that’, all in order to “live longer”. It is no wonder most of us utterly fear any conversations about death. It seems that most of us would especially prefer to avoid a conversation about how we might want to die with our nearest and dearest. In fact, research shows that 75% of us have not had any end of life discussions and 45% of us die without a will.

A man sings to his 93-year-old wife and it is, put simply, beautiful. Post continues below…

Video by Erin Solari

What I’ve learned about dying is that it’s not something we can run and hide from. We are all dying. We are all going to die. We may not be able to choose how or when it happens but we can prepare a way to do it well. We can make choices early in life and put a plan in place, or at the very least have the discussion with family members so that when the time comes they know exactly what we want to happen.

As both a birth and death doula, I see both the incoming and the outgoing as celebrations of life’s journey. I work and walk alongside both birth midwives and palliative care staff. “Doula” comes from a Greek word – which means “woman who serves.” Traditionally doulas are present at the birth of a child bringing knowledge, emotional and spiritual support. As a death doula I believe the way we leave this world is as important as the way we enter it. My death doula mentor Helen Callanan eloquently depicts death as “another step in the journey of Life. It is a sacred transition, a precious step on our own personal way. Looking at it, talking about it and embracing it actually empowers us to greet its inevitability more openly”.

Even if they have already departed then those choices that have been made before death can allow family and friends to focus on the love.



  I have seen how making and communicating choices about death empowers people. Choices in death allow people to focus on the love in their final days. Even if they have already departed then those choices that have been made before death can allow family and friends to focus on the love.


Cute ❤️❤️❤️ #nieces #mrpopular ???? A photo posted by Imogen Bailey (@imogen_bailey) on Jul 11, 2016 at 8:02pm PDT

My first experience of death was my grandmothers passing. She had cancer and we knew she was going to die. What I remember most and I recall warmly with a smile on my face as I write, is her grace in dealing with the inevitable. My grandmother, Joan, made her choices right down to who could and couldn’t attend her funeral and that she didn’t want anyone to speak about her. Perhaps she felt it had all been said before she left.

I loved that she was so assertive. She knew exactly what she wanted and she did not hold back in communicating her desires clearly. It left the family with no questions. We could focus on the love and the letting go. We could celebrate Joan’s life and she parted with the knowledge that we would carry out her wishes. She made very specific choices about her end of life care and those wishes were met.

"My first experience of death was my grandmothers passing." Image source: Supplied.

My second experience was the suicide of a dear friend.

I carry the quote printed on his memorial keepsake with me in my work. “Even death is not unkind, when living love is left behind”. I recall this quote to anchor me when I think about working with families of people who are dying. I recall this quote as I make my own choices and have conversations with my family and loved ones about the choices I have made for my death. I want my family to focus on the love and if my mental capacity fades or my ability to communicate disappears they can reassure me at that time that when I was able to, I made good choices.

“Even death is not unkind, when living love is left behind.”

Death doesn’t have to be a prescribed experience; it doesn’t have to be sterile or filled with fear. It can be a warm, loving and a nurtured experience. We see many cultures that treat death as a celebration, a time when families and communities come together to commemorate a life. Comparatively in the west we traditionally fear it. The difference between a death that looks like what we are told it should be or the death you want, all comes down to making choices and asking for support. We can make our own way and be a guiding light to others.

I met a woman this week in Colorado, she told me the story of her mother's passing. Her mother had cancer and she knew that she didn’t have long to live. Knowing this, she opened her home and had a party. She played music and had family and friends close. She told everyone how much she loved them. She did special things with each of them. She created moments full of love and joy to celebrate her life. As her daughter recounted the story, her eyes were full of both tears and light. Her mother had showed her family and their community that death did not have to be feared. That it could be a beautiful and a heart opening part of life. Her mother became a guiding light for many.

Doing death well begins at home. It begins with the conversation. Pour wine or pour tea, break bread or cheese and crackers together and have the end of life discussion.





  This is how we do death well. We do it well when we throw away the list of do’s and don’ts . When we turn our backs on what we have been told it should look like since we were children. When we replace the fear with love and warmth and kindness. When we tell each other it is okay to talk about death and it is more than okay to say exactly what you want.

Doing death well begins at home. It begins with the conversation. Pour wine or pour tea, break bread or cheese and crackers together and have the end of life discussion. Or write each other letters if you are not big on talking. Either way here is a place to start:

Make a death plan. What do you want to happen before, during and after your death? Start with lists. Then expand on each of your desires. I studied to be both a birth and death doula at the Australian Doula College.

We need more birth and death doulas in the community, especially as we see the Australian medical system moving into more home hospital care, so if this work calls you please contact the Australian Doula College or Helen Callanan at Preparing The Way.

Imogen Bailey is a birth and death doula. She was previously a model, actress and singer. Her Twitter handle is @imogen_bailey.