What is a Death Doula?

An End of Life Doula is not a new concept. For thousands of years many cultures have been familiar and comfortable with the practice of staying in their homes to die, being looked after by family and community. However, in the modern Western world there has been a trend towards nursing homes and hospitalisation. Often this has lead to isolation, lack of choices for the dying person and a lack of opportunity for loved ones to be involved. Death, which is inevitable, has become for many, a lonely, sombre ‘medicalised’ experience.

An End-of-Life Doula is a non-medical role that provides support, options and education that assists the dying and those around them. The Doula is there to work in alignment with their clients wishes, to preserve the quality of life, well being and self-worth up to and beyond the end of life as we know it. They are the “informed companion” bringing comfort, support and compassion, whilst assisting a person and their family in feeling safe and supported during this important transition.

Looking after, caring for and sometimes even knowing someone who is dying can be confronting, confusing and challenging for all involved. Having an end of life Doula walk alongside you on that journey, whether in the background as a guide and reference point or more deeply involved, allows those involved to move forward knowing someone has their back. 

Having an EOLD offers resources, knowing what’s available for the dying and their family.  In the same way in birth the Doula can assist to navigate the health care system thus giving people the power of choice; helping them create their way forward in line with their own values, needs and choices.

The role of a Doula is different from that of a carer.  An EOL Doula can provide a broad range of services depending on individual needs. We work along side palliative care and other primary health care providers while supporting at end of life, death in the home, hospital, aged care facility or hospice. 

An end-of-life doula works with clients and their families (sometimes both, sometimes just the client, or just the family) to help them navigate the uncharted waters of the process of dying. 

Services are tailored made to suit each client so that their end-of-life journey is met with all possible dignity and respect at every step, from early diagnosis to follow-up support for loved ones post death. 

Each end-of-life doula may offer slightly different services depending on their experience and qualifications but most typically offer all or some of the following:

  • Listening to best understand needs and preferences
  • Exploring fears 
  • Emotional support
  • Be there, throughout all stages of end of life from diagnosis to beyond the point of death, including bereavement support
  • Assisting with end-of-life planning, including preparation of Advance Care Directives
  • Vigil planning and support
  • Offer Funeral options and help planning
  • Offering ideas and assistance with creating legacy documents such as birthday cards or the sourcing of gifts to be given now or in the future to loved ones. 
  • Co-ordination of informal support systems and practical domestic assistance (for example: helping arrange pet care, garden care, cleaning etc)
  • Recommendation and access to complementary services 
  • Bereavement support and resources 
  • Offering referrals to appropriate services 

What is a Death Doula?: Their role at the end of life.

In today’s episode, I speak with Annie Whitlocke a Death Doula from Melbourne, Australia. Annie explains her role as a death doula and how the privilege of caring for those coming to the end of their life has reinforced the importance and value of talking openly about death, during life.

This episode of What About Death is hosted by Tsultrim and this episode was edited by Kiara Fauzi. Special thanks to Verena Coombs, Joshua Byrd, Adair Sheppard, and Shannon Callender, and the whole Karuna team.

“Engaging the services of a professional doula seemed like the most natural thing to do when my father unexpectedly died late last year. Having Renee support me through honouring my father’s death in the most dignified and intimate space was a truly cathartic and uplifting experience. Renee’s experience is a gift that enabled me to freely express my feelings and create a pathway to ensure my fathers memory will live in my heart forever”.

Marianne Keevers

Article Source – Australian Doula College. I thought a lot about how to answer this question and decided that the ADC had already answered it so perfectly.

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