There are a whole lot of exciting trends bubbling up in the end of life space. One of the most interesting new developments is actually a really cool career path, centered around helping those who are dying to make the transition more comfortably. You may have heard of—or even worked with—a birth “doula.” But did you know that “death doulas” are becoming a thing? Read on!
What is a Death Doula?
“Doula” comes from the Greek for female servant, which is a little misleading, even if it’s a nice sounding word. First of all, some doulas are male. Also, they are not servants, although they do provide an invaluable service to those who work with them. They are guides and assistants. Death doulas (also known as end of life doulas) are helpers who assist people while they are actively going through the dying process. Doulas are generally not medically trained, so they don't provide healthcare services. Rather, they are there to offer comfort and warmth, to explain what’s happening, and to support the person who is dying, as well as their family. Many would call them a calming, even uplifting presence in a chaotic, emotional, and often frightening time.
What Does A Death Doula Do?
Doulas elevate and improve the experience of dying. Some have a focused process, but every situation is unique, so they often tailor their work to suit the needs and preferences of the individual and the family. They might offer companionship and reassurance through reading or ritual. They might shift the light or the furniture in a room or add candles or scent to create a sacred space. They might cite poetry or philosophy or help create legacy gifts or notes for loved ones. They might lead guided visuals or meditations to help with stress and anxiety.
End of Life Doulas Help the Family, Too
If there are family members present, an end of life doula will also consider their needs, giving them emotional support and care, along with the peace of mind of knowing that their loved one is being tended to with kindness and respect. Like birth doulas, their end of life counterparts serve the whole family. It can be exhausting and confusing to care for someone at the end stages of life. Aside from simply being with the dying person so that family members can rest for a bit, doulas offer the knowledge that comes with their experience. They can gently but clearly explain the natural processes that take place when someone is dying, and that can be a great comfort to family—and to the individual—as they navigate these uncharted waters. Knowing what to expect (or that what is happening is actually normal) can alleviate some of the stress that comes with such a new experience.
One of the most important things a death doula does is to promote mindfulness and self-awareness. They are both witness and guide, accompanying the person on this most intimate yet universal journey. Bonds between doulas and those they care for can be deep and true, even if they are forged over a short period of time. They may be privy to sadness or secrets—they listen and let the individual be heard.
Do Death Doulas Get Paid?
Yes, most do charge for their services. Fees vary based on location, training and experience. Many fall into a range between $40-100 an hour. Others will offer a flat fee or a daily rate. If you’re interested in finding an end of life doula, take a look at Inelda. They have a network of certified doulas across the country (not all doulas are certified, but those listed with Inelda have gone through specific training and evaluation). You can also find a death doula through your hospice provider.
When Should We Call a Doula?
This is a tough question. There is no exact standard, but you should think about the type and amount of support you’d like. Next, speak with your healthcare provider for advice and then decide what’s best. Don’t be afraid to have conversations with a few doulas before choosing one. The chemistry between you is important and you should feel at home and at ease with whomever you select.
How Do I Become a Death Doula?
Does helping people and families on this part of their farewelling journey sound like something you might like to do? Again, we recommend checking out Inelda, an organization that certifies and lists death doulas across the country. There you can learn more about the training involved and how to take next steps. In a nutshell, you must take classes, then have your work evaluated by another doula, among a number of other requirements.
Another good resource is Lifespan Doulas. Check out their site for trainings, advice, and even business guidance for becoming a doula.
And if you’d be interested in attending a future panel discussion or event about end of life doulas, please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org. We’ve seen a lot of interest around this topic and we’d like to support those who are looking into it!