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A doula is a non-medical person who provides support and nurturing to a person in life transition. Birth doulas provide information and nurturing care before and during birth, and death doulas do the same in the days and months leading up to death.
Death doulas generally have a holistic view that encompasses the physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual aspects of end-of-life experiences, working with the family as well as the individual.
Other terms used to describe this work include end-of-life doula, end-of-life coach, end-of-life guide, death midwife, soul midwife, transition guide, death coach, and doula to the dying. Practitioners may have completed a certification course for death doulas, and usually bring a rich background of other training and skills that help them guide people through the end-of-life experience.
Who is a death doula?
A lawyer, a psychologist, a nurse—all are death doulas. In the videos that follow, you’ll hear each of them describe how she approaches her work with the dying.
Alua Arthur is a lawyer and one of her specialties is advance planning documents. But her services encompass much more, as you will see. You can find out what she does at Going With Grace.
In her video, Alua refers to “memento mori.” I had to look that up. Here’s what I learned from Merriam Webster:
Memento mori literally means “Remember you must die.” The early Puritan settlers were particularly aware of death and fearful of what it might mean, so a Puritan tombstone will often display a memento mori intended for the living. These death’s-heads or skulls may strike us as ghoulish, but they helped keep the living on the straight and narrow for fear of eternal punishment. In earlier centuries, an educated European might place an actual skull on his desk to keep the idea of death always present in his mind.
Sarah Kerr has a PhD in psychology and additional training that has led her to focusing on non-religious ritual and ceremony. Her purpose is to help people naviagte death, loss, and transformation.You can find out more about the scope of her work at Soul Passages.
Sarah’s website is highly educational. She says, “We’ve forgotten how to meet death well, and we need to develop a wider literacy in the culture.” To that end, she posts short videos that I highly recommend. You can find them here and here. And you’ll probably want to download her Free Holistic Death Resource Kit.
Suzanne O’Brien is a registered nurse with extensive experience in palliative care. She’s the founder of a training program who those who wish to be certified to work as end-of-life doulas. You can find out more at Doulagivers.
You don’t have to want to become a death doula to benefit from Suzanne’s work. I highly recommend the 90-minute free webinar she offers regularly. You can register by scrolling down the home page on her website. Anyone who might one day be dealing with a dying family member will benefit from the detailed practical information she covers in this webinar, including what to expect as the body shuts down and how to help when the person is in the last stages of dying.
I’m not sure if I would hire a death doula when the time comes. But right now, I’m glad to know they are an option. And you?