Maybe you have heard of a birth doula, but have you heard of a death doula? Just as a birth doula advocates for and cares for mothers in their pregnancy and birth journey, death doulas advocate for and care for the dying in their final days and death journey. A doula’s ultimate purpose is to be present, to listen, and to attend to non-medicinal needs. While the health care team attends to needs of the body, a death doula attends to the needs of the spirit and mind, and to the practical needs of both the client and their loved ones. Find out more about death doulas in this week's podcast.
About Hospice Quinte
Hospice Quinte provides individuals, their families, and caregivers with compassionate end of life care, by attending to their physical, psychosocial, and practical needs, and offering empathetic care to those who are grieving through visiting hospice services and support groups. All Hospice Quinte programs and services are provided by compassionate, well-trained volunteers and staff at no charge to the individual or their family.
Hospice Quinte serves a population of over 102,000 in Quinte West, Belleville, Deseronto, Tyendinaga Township and the Tyendinaga Mohawk Territory. To find out more visit HospiceQuinte.ca.
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Maybe you have heard of a birth doula, but have you heard of a death doula? Just as a birth doula advocates for and cares for mothers in their pregnancy and birth journey, death doulas advocate for and care for the dying in their final days and death journey. A doula’s ultimate purpose is to be present, to listen, and to attend to non-medicinal needs. While the health care team attends to needs of the body, a death doula attends to the needs of the spirit and mind, and to the practical needs of both the client and their loved ones.
Death doulas are important because they seek to establish and maintain a certain type of care for their clients which may be outside of the capabilities of the health care providers and the client’s loved ones. For example, just as in a mother’s birth journey, a death doula will ask a client prior to their last days what makes them most comfortable, how they feel appreciated and loved, what is soothing for them, what practical needs they need filled, and how they can make this experience the least uncomfortable for them. Examples of this are playing music the client requested, diffusing the client’s favourite essential oils, helping the family plan the funeral, comforting loved ones, and normalizing the dying experience by educating those present about the signs of death. Basically, death doulas want the death journey to be as comfortable as possible for everyone involved.
Death doulas also take the pressure off of caregivers and clients to remember those kinds of details, whether mentioned casually by the client or mentioned in their care plan; for example, that the client would like her bed raised and propped up 25 degrees so that no one has to look down on her. It may seem like an insignificant detail, but if it is meaningful for the client, it is meaningful for the doula and they will make sure it happens. Doulas remember and take on responsibilities like this so loved ones can do what they need to do – grieve and spend time with their loved one – and clients can do what they need to do – grieve and die well.
Not just anyone can decide to offer death doula services; death doulas are trained to provide the services that they do. In Canada, people interested in becoming a death doula must undergo training through a certificate program. Some can be found online and are recommended by the End of Life Doula Association of Canada, while others are offered by private organizations, found with a quick Google search. Due to this necessary training, death doulas are equipped to care for you and your loved ones well and are a great resource for learning about death, both in preparation for it and as it is happening. Though doulas cannot give medical advice, they are also trained how to best relate to your health care team and can take the responsibility of asking clarifying questions to health care professionals on behalf of loved ones.
Another great benefit that comes from having a death doula is their constancy; the death doula that is hired is the death doula the client will have until the end. This can bring great relief, as the dying and their loved ones see many different faces in their death journey. This can provide continuity of care as clients are transferred, whether from home to hospital, from hospital to care institution, or from hospital to in-home nursing. Since the same doula is always present, they can advocate for their client and their loved ones in all of these settings to ensure smooth and easy transitions for everyone.
According to the End of Life Doula Association of Canada, what a death doula ultimately seeks to do is honour their clients’ beliefs, values, and desires for their death journey, and raise the standards for end-of-life care. To ensure this, following their training, death doulas return for on-going training every two years and keep up to date with the current health care and agency policies to ensure they are serving their clients to the best of their abilities. If you are interested in hiring a death doula, visit the End of Life Doula Association of Canada website or do a Google search for death doula services available in your area. Since it is a growing field, more and more people are becoming trained to help you and your loved ones in the death journey.
If you are unable to find a death doula available in your area or cannot afford one, consider contacting Hospice Quinte to access our visiting volunteer service for support, available at no cost to you. We offer supportive and compassionate care wherever you and your loved ones are at in your death journey. Give us a call at 613-966-6610 to get connected with a volunteer who will offer companionship and assistance with every day tasks that have become overwhelming.
Since 1985, Hospice Quinte has been changing the lives of the terminally ill, their families, and the bereaved for the better by offering support and companionship through visiting hospice services and support groups. All Hospice Quinte services are provided at no charge by compassionate and well-trained volunteers and staff. Our service area includes Belleville, Quinte West, Deseronto, Tyendinaga Township and the Tyendinaga Mohawk Territory. As a charitable not-for-profit organization, Hospice Quinte relies on its relationships with individuals, business, and charitable foundations in the community. Without the generosity of our donors, Hospice Quinte’s work could not be possible.