Imagine that you have a loved one who is moving closer to death – it could be weeks, days, or hours. You don’t know. You are not certain of what is happening, and how long before the person dies. Or perhaps you are the only family member in town with the loved one, and have no one to lean on for support.
Now, imagine those two scenarios, but this time there is an end-of-life doula with you. They provide you with an understanding of what is happening and of what might come next. They spend time with you and your loved one, supporting both of you on the journey.
An end-of-life doula, also known as a death doula or soul midwife, is an individual who offers emotional, practical, and spiritual support to individuals nearing the end of life. They also support the individual’s family. The term “doula” is derived from the Greek word meaning “female helper” or “maidservant.” Drawing inspiration from the birthing process, end-of-life doulas provide non-medical support, comfort and aid for an individual who is dying and for their family. Working with an end-of-life doula can help individuals and families to shift from feeling fearful and uncomfortable, to accepting and eventually feeling closure. By offering personalized support, doulas empower people to take control of their end-of-life journey, making it a deeply meaningful and peaceful process.
Let’s look at five ways that an end-of-life doula can help families (and their loved one) through end-of-life questions, concerns and issues.
1. Providing Emotional Support and Companionship
One of the most crucial roles an end-of-life doula plays is providing emotional support and companionship. They help to create a safe and non-judgmental space for individuals and their families to express their fears, concerns, and emotions by supporting the person’s emotional well being. The ongoing emotional support and guidance provided by end-of-life doulas can alleviate anxiety and fear associated with dying. End-of-life doulas are trained to actively listen and offer empathetic support, helping families navigate the ups and downs of the emotional journey with compassion and understanding.
Through comfort care, end-of-life doulas strive to enhance the overall quality of life for individuals during their final days. By addressing physical, emotional, and spiritual needs, they can help individuals find comfort, meaning, and purpose.
2. Supporting Decision-Making
During the end-of-life process, families often face numerous new decisions regarding medical treatments, care options, and advance directives. An end-of-life doula can help clarify the available choices, provide information, and facilitate conversations between family members and healthcare professionals. With this support, they empower families to make informed decisions that align with their loved one’s wishes and values.
3. Providing Practical Support and Advocating
End-of-life doulas offer practical support by assisting individuals and families with various tasks and arrangements. They might, for example, help coordinate medical appointments, facilitate communication with healthcare providers, and ensure that the individual’s comfort and dignity are prioritized.
In their role, end-of-life doulas can empower individuals to actively participate in decision-making regarding their care and end-of-life planning. When individuals make decisions and their care wishes known, it has the potential to reduce the family’s stress by providing clear directions for the family to follow should there be a time that they cannot speak for themselves.
As an advocate, the end-of-life doula helps to have the values and wishes of the individual respected and honoured. In this way, individuals may experience a sense of control during this vulnerable period. End-of-life doulas can also support the family and/or substitute decision maker to advocate for the wishes and needs of the person nearing the end of life, ensuring their voice is heard and respected throughout the process.
4. Helping Personalize Rituals and Legacy Projects
End-of-life doulas are familiar with the dying process, and can help the family to create meaningful rituals during and after death. They can work closely with families to help them to personalize rituals, and ceremonies before and at death. And they can help with celebrations that honour the individual’s life. This can include creating memory books, recording life stories, or organizing special events that allow family and friends to share memories and express their love and support.
5. Supporting Through Grief and Bereavement
The dying journey does not end as soon as the loved one has died. End-of-life doulas recognize that grief continues on after the person’s death. They can provide continued support to families during the bereavement process by offering a listening ear for individuals as they navigate their grief and find ways to heal, sharing print and community resources about loss and grief, or by facilitating support groups.
When facing the end-of-life journey, the support of an end-of-life doula may be helpful for you or your family. If you or your loved ones are embarking on this journey, you may want to consider reaching out to an end-of-life doula to help you navigate with compassion and support.
Join us as we talk with Jennifer Malmes, end-of-life doula, in the September 12 webinar!
Jennifer will talk about the roles, and scope of practice for end-of-life doulas, and share examples of ways that end of life doulas can complement, and contribute to the health care team.