Dying

Becoming a Death Doula (Sort of)

A little bit more about my journey into the space of death and dying. 

In February 2019, I read an article in Bust Magazine titled “Death Doulas Guide People Through The End Of Life”. Simple, to the point, and it completely moved me. The knowledge that a Death Doula could be a person’s role, my role, nestled itself in a corner of my being and didn’t leave. 

This idea was immediately so comfortable, in part, because it had me thinking back on meaningful time I had spent with aging populations – in nursing homes, as a visitor, working with homebound elderly, and living with my Bubbe towards the end of her life. Whenever I told someone about this article I immediately started to tear up because it was incredibly affirming that there are people in this world who are actively working to make sure no one should die alone. If you know me, it is not surprising that I cried. If we are meeting for the first time: I cry at everything.

As it turns out, that was a bit of a simplistic interpretation (re: the role of a Death Doula) but…that’s where I started. 

That spring, I attended a training by INELDA, the International End of Life Doula Association. I learned concrete things like the signs and symptoms as the body transitions into active dying and I experienced more nebulous moments like sitting across from a complete stranger, tapping into deep places, and really listening to important pieces of their story. 

A Death Doula or End of Life (EOL) Doula as the role is also called, is a new(ish) role in the end of life space and can be an important addition to the care team for someone who is dying.

“Death Doula” by Natalia Bzdak

An End of Life Doula*:

  • Guides and supports the dying person and their loved ones (they are not there as medical professionals)
  • Works with the dying person and their loved ones on a legacy project before death 
  • Focuses on the needs of the dying person and is an advocate for them
  • Sits vigil during the active dying process 
  • Helps the loved ones of the deceased process grief 

During the training it became clear that in order to bcomee a practicing Doula, I would need to have a flexible schedule which I didn’t have at the time. As someone who has volunteered for the 10p-4a shift on a crisis phone line and has friends who are Birth Doulas, I should have seen this scheduling/life conflict coming but I didn’t. 

A vigil can begin at any time. Death is unpredictable. 

For that reason, I was never able to fully dive in but, hineni, here I am, ready to be part of the work. Ready to listen, learn, and share stories so that an understanding and common language can develop and we can all feel a little more prepared. 

* A Doula might also do some of these things and not others. It depends on where they focus their work and what is being asked of them.

Thanks to Janie Rakow for reviewing and editing this post. Janie is the Cofounder and Past President of INELDA and founder of FareWell Doula.

Resources:

INELDA: The International End Of Life Doula Association

Why People Choose to Make a Legacy Project
inspiration and about legacy projects

FareWell Doula
Death Doulas Janie Rakow and Jeri Glatter based in the Tri-State Area and available virtually

Hebrew and Jewish references explained:

Bubbe: Yiddish for Grandmother

Hineni: Hebrew meaning “Here I am”. A word with Biblical roots, it is often used when a person is ready to fully give themselves to a call.

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