End of Life Doulas
What is an End of Life Doula?
An End of Life Doula is not a new concept. Many cultures for thousands of years have supported the practice of people staying in their homes to die, looked after by family and community. However, in the modern Western world there has been a trend towards nursing homes and hospitalization which can lead to isolation, lack of choice and opportunity for all concerned. Death, which is inevitable, often can become a lonely and somber ‘medicalised’ experience.
An End-of-Life Doula is a non-medical role that provides support, options and education assisting the dying and those around them have their end of life unfold in alignment with their 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, compassion, and assist a person and their family in feeling safe and supported during this important transition.
“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
What does an End of Life Doula do and why would I want to hire one?
As with all big events in our lives it helps to make a plan, to sort through options and choices and to move in your forward in your preferred direction. A Doula can guide the dying person and/or their family members and people close to them through the process. A Doula can let them know what to expect and act as an advocate for their vision and choices with medical and nursing staff, the hospital or other care providers, funeral homes, and other personnel involved.
Having an end of life Doula gives you support, assists you to walk through any choices, looking at all the pro’s and con’s thereby allowing you to make informed decisions. A Doula provides a shoulder to cry on, an empathetic ear and is resourceful and understanding of your journey as it unfolds. An End of Life Doula will assist in making the road ahead an intimate, sacred and rich experience for everyone involved, whether medical support is required or not, whether at home, in a hospice or hospital – creating ‘home’ wherever you are.
A doula sits alongside the dying person as they take their last breath, knowing that the moment is cherished and awe inspiring just as the first breath is with birth.
Even before the pandemic put the threat of death at the centre of our lives, death literacy has grown rapidly in the collective consciousness. But what are death doulas? And who are the people that choose to be them? Sasha Gattermayr speaks to two end-of-life doulas (including ADC Founding Director Renee Adair) about what it means to bridge the gap between life and death.
The project was created as a collaboration between the Centre for Advancing Journalism at the University of Melbourne, and the Science Gallery Melbourne. Their upcoming exhibition is called Breaking the Binary.