What is a Doula?




Doula for the Dying

What services does an End of Life Doula offer?

From the ancient Greek word Doule meaning “female slave” or “woman servant”, a professional, certified doula can offer a wide spectrum of services. Options may vary depending on whether a doula is in private practice or employed through an organization such a hospice (click to read how doulas work WITH hospice and complement this care), residential community, or hospital system.

End of life Doulas, although most frequently noted for their work attending the dying bedside, have the training and wisdom to provide structure, support, and planning to ANYONE at ANY stage and ANY age of life.

Doulas are an excellent, affordable, and knowledgeable resource for general end of life planning. This includes advanced care planning services and care directives. These arrangements NEED to be set long before illness, old age, or an emergency occurs. These plans outline your wishes, designate your healthcare Power of Attorney, and make clear what you do and do not want to have happen should you be unable to convey those wishes yourself. An end of life Doula has the knowledge necessary to walk you through the entire process, answer your questions regarding rules and regulations in your state, complete the necessary paperwork, and, in some cases, even notarize your documents for you.

End of life Doulas, outside of pre-planning, are invaluable in a time of crisis; may this be after a terminal diagnosis, an accident, or the rapid onset of decline due to advanced age or illness. A Doula can provide immediate emotional, physical, and logistical support. We advocate for the client and support the needs of the caregiver to the best of our ability.

Doulas assist in creating care plans for the dying. These plans outline what comfort measures and wishes a person has for their end of life. We work directly with our clients listening and learning about who they are; their needs and wants, their fears and wishes. We provide a safe and open space to explore death and dying. We are skilled at creating open dialogue with family about these thoughts and desires (if it is the wish of the client that we do so). We create action plans detailing what needs to be done, by who and by when, and even steps on how-to execute these tasks.

End of life Doulas focus on the following care domains: physical, emotional, spiritual, relational, and legacy. We are equipped to walk loved ones and the dying about every domain and step in the end of life process. Although we are not grief experts, we also have training in this area and an array of tools at our disposal to support those working through their grieving process. This often includes follow-up care with the primary caregiver after the transition of a loved one.

Many Doulas work with clients and family on legacy projects; focusing on ways to memorialize and honor the dying. In this work, the Doula is a project manager facilitating and guiding the individual on life reflection and review. The Doula is often responsible for keeping the project goals on track and moving it forward towards a timely completion.

End of life Doulas are often most known for their vigil support and attending bedside in the active dying process. This service can be priceless to the dying AND to the grieving alike. A Doula is there to provide hands-on care in whatever way(s) the client has wish and need. A Doula will often serve around the clock through this transition assisting in rituals and other end of life care.

Following the transition of a client, a Doula is skilled to provided after death care including, yet not limited to, washing of the body (often this education is encouraged and provided to families who want to do this for themselves with a doula’s support), anointing, blessings, and logistical planning and follow-up.

Often times, Doulas will also assist in home viewings and home funerals (where permitted by law – In North Carolina, this is legal). Doulas can also help organize burial wishes and coordinate plans for cremated remains. Doulas are knowledgeable about alternative / non-traditional options and can provide lengthy resources and assistance along these lines. Doulas are also skilled at working within the mainstream funeral and religious community structures. Having an advocate during this time of planning can provide tremendous support and empowerment.

An End of Life Doula can be a guiding light, a compassionate hand, and a treasure trove of resources and support. We are here to provide comfort, care, and compassionate wisdom to those wishing to bring dignity and light into life’s final months, weeks, days and hours.

Why do I, and my loved one, need a Doula?

Death and dying. Illness, old age, sudden accidents. End of life is inevitable. And yet, the thoughts around such can be overwhelming; the do-to list impossible to tackle, the questions too numerous and the answers often too confusing. Where do you start? What do you do next? Do you really need to make ALL of these decisions RIGHT NOW? (The answer is NO, by the way!).

It’s a time you wish you had someone to hold your hand; to walk you through and talk you through what needs to happen and when. Someone who can help you clarify your wishes and desires. Someone who is knowledgable of the options and possibilities and can help you define what you really want. Someone who will sit bedside; read to you, hold your hand, and listen to you with an open heart and a warm presence. Whatever end of life needs you and/or your loved one have, a professional doula can meet you where you are and support you where you’re going.

Having a Doula will provide you and/or your loved one with the support needed and the peace of mind wanted as your make your way through this emotional and challenging season.

Media Articles:

Scope of practice (NEDA) – National End-of-life Doula Alliance

National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization (NHPCO)- This is an excellent overview, as I am often asked HOW doula care is different from HOSPICE services. The NHPCO explains the complementary services of both very well.

End-of-Life Doulas: The Professionals who Help Guide the Dying

NC Death Doulas: Embracing an Ancient Practice

Death Doulas Guide the Way for those Face the End of Life

Deathwives, Death Cafes and Death Doulas

Learning to Serve the Dying (AARP)

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