End of Life Doula
The Basic Idea of an
End of Life Doula
An End of Life Doula is a support person who exists between the medical world and the funeral world, to help an individual and their family to plan and/or experience an end of life journey that respects the individual's Expressed Wishes and values. We aim to help reduce unnecessary suffering in a time when there is suffering beyond your control.
It's about ensuring we do our utmost to comfort, care, demystify, support, advocate, educate, assist, plan, respect, provide respite, and just be there for you and your family during a time that is likely emotionally and physically difficult. Regardless of your age and stage in life, an End of Life Doula, sometimes also called a Death Doula, is a valuable resource along your journey. You can read more about my training on my About page and in my FAQ.
What is most important is that we act as a resource for the family in a way that you, the family, and the individual facing death, need. We meet you where you're at and follow your cues. We do not push any beliefs, services, or customs upon you and your family. We truly aim to ensure your journey reflects your wishes, values, and beliefs. We are of service to you; after all, that's where the term Doula comes from (in Greek).
Ideally, however, an End of Life Doula meets you well in advance of your end of life. We never know when we're going to die and we all should have plans and wishes in place and detailed, much before the need becomes apparent (because sometimes it's too late).
An End of Life Doula's purpose is, simply, to help you live fully until you die.
Below you will see the benefits of having an End of Life Doula and some of my specific services.
How is an End of Life Doula Beneficial?
The benefits of having an End of Life Doula are several:
- We bring support, courage, kindness, and peace of mind.
- We hold space for you to feel how you need to feel. We honour your life and your wishes.
- We save families time, expenses, and stress by being present to assist when others cannot.
- We allow other healthcare providers on your team to be freed-up to do what they need to do and we're there on your schedule when they cannot be.
- We are a stable presence during an unstable time.
- We help minimize additional suffering in an already difficult time.
- We provide resources and education.
- We increase an individual's and family's quality of life and assist you with coping.
- We put an individual's and family's minds at ease, knowing your wishes are documented and will be respected when the end of life comes.
Advance Care Planning and Advance Directives
Although I go into more detail on Advance Care Plans and Advance Directives on their own page, it is important for you to know that, in BC, these are specific and different documents. The easiest way to explain the difference is that the Advance Care Plan is the umbrella that encompasses whatever you put into it - from Executor and Power of Attorney, to what kind of funeral and celebration you would like to have, to specific medical wishes for if you are incapable of speaking for yourself. It is that latter part - the detailed notation of what your heroic medical wishes would be - that constitute Advance Directives. As an end of life planner and having spent 20+ years as a nurse, I can walk you through various medical end of life scenarios and make sure your wishes are noted. Don't think you need one? Read myths about advance planning here.
Legacy Work or Life Review - not currently being offered
A large part of what End of Life Doulas do is help document or create a way for you to review your life's accomplishments and what brought your life meaning. This review is for both your own purposes of reflection and to create a legacy for your family and friends to cherish after you've died. There are so many ways we can do this together and it depends only on your preferences and energy level when we take on the task. Life review and legacy work can involve video or audio recordings, written documents, letters to family members, scrapbooks, memory scrolls, quilts (though I am not a seamstress) - the list goes on! There are several ways we can use apps and new media technology or we can do old-school handwriting and photobooks. The choices are limitless. We can explore events in your life together that have given you the greatest satisfaction and meaning or reflect on values and traits that you wish to convey to future generations. Ideally, this work would be initiated well before your last days of life but, even in the case of imminent death, there are things we can do to preserve a legacy for your loved ones.
It's your story; I just help uncover it.
Read more about legacy work and life review here; then please feel free to contact me today to get started.
Being Present/Vigiling - not currently being offered
Sometimes, a family will hire an End of Life Doula to be a trusted companion to be present with a family member with a life-limiting illness, well in advance of their final days. When death is imminent, however, many families choose to be at their loved one's side around the clock. End of Life Doulas can assist you during this time in several ways. We can be an additional support for you to talk to while you're sitting with your loved one; we can coordinate family vigil schedules so someone can always be present; we can provide respite for you, and stay with your loved one while you take a much-needed break but you don't want to leave your loved one alone; we can assist with communication with hospice providers, funeral homes, and others who need to be notified, including family members; and we can assist you in organizing or completing any family rituals you might have around the time of death, which can be anything from contacting a spiritual provider to acquiring and saving a lock of your loved one's hair.
Sometimes, we are in situations where our voices can no longer be heard, whether due to physical incapacitation, or being overwhelmed by other people's voices. Your End of Life Doula is an advocate for your wishes. This role is particularly tied in with honouring your Advance Care Plan. Your spouse, children, or friends might honestly believe that they are acting in a way that you would wish, could you verbalize for yourself, but occasionally conflicts arise within family members as to what kind of ritual, funeral, or spiritual practices you would want. An End of Life Doula is your advocate, your voice when you cannot speak for yourself. We can mediate between family members, speak to medical teams on your behalf, and ensure your voice is heard.
Education and Resources
Sometimes, you don't know what choices you have available to you. Sometimes, you don't even know that you have a choice. For example, many people believe that, after you die, your body is automatically to be taken to either the hospital morgue or sent to a funeral home, but did you know that you and your family have the right to immediately bring you home for a period of time for family visitation? This is the kind of information your Doula can discuss with you and your family, as well as the myriad other choices and resources available to you surrounding your end of life.
I am also pleased to be able to present information on end of life choices and resources in public forums and to requesting groups. Please be sure to sign up for my newsletter and check out my Facebook page to stay informed about talks, Zoom webinars, and more. If you are part of an interest group, organization, or facility that would like to have me do a presentation, please email me or give me a call.
These are just some of the ways an End of Life Doula can assist you and your loved ones. Let's have a chat to explore what matters to you at your end of life and how I can help ensure your wishes are respected.