End of Life Doula… What do they actually do?

End of life Doula – What are they and do you need one? You may associate the role of a Doula with pregnancy and birth but, there is now a new type of Doula emerging. The end-of-life Doula.

Death is something that every single person faces but it always seems so far off – even for the elderly. But, there is no doubt that there has started to be a shift in our attitudes to death and dying. Once virtually a taboo topic we are now being far more open in our discussions around death, dying and our own mortality. People are now candidly sharing their end of life care and funeral wishes with their families, which is a definitely a step towards destigmatising the topic. Funerals too are slowly morphing from a sad, mournful event that follows a routine prescribed by the Christian church to, in some cases, a riotous celebration of life. I know which I would prefer.

What can we attribute this changing attitude to?

Well, to be fair you probably need to ask cleverer people than me for an answer that is based on actual evidenced fact. But, I have my theories…

Social media
I know, some may consider the root of all evil but I think that it has made us more comfortable with sharing our lives and our thoughts – some a little TOO comfortable maybe! But, you cannot deny that social media provides a platform for us to find like-minded people with which to engage. It also provides an open channel for those affected by death, dying, terminal diseases to come together to share their experiences, thoughts and fears – bringing the conversation into the every day, normalising it if you will.

Cultural changes
We live in a beautiful swirling pot of cultures – not without its challenges but, which has brought different religions, each with their own attitudes to death, dying and celebrating life into the mainstream. We are also, becoming less religious and as such looking for more fitting ways to send ourselves off.

Living longer
Although this does not mean that we have a better quality of life in our later years. Death is now no longer the dramatic climax to life – the family gathered around the deathbed awaiting that final gasp of life – or, something like that. But, with more people than ever dying in nursing homes or hospitals death has become a sanitised, medical matter. Is this prompting more people to think about how they would like to be cared for should they find themselves in this situation and unable to communicate their wishes?

Changing family relationships
My mum often says to me that she would never have had the conversations with her Mother that we do. Are we just now more open and honest (see above) or, have we become a nation of oversharers  (we can probably blame this on social media too)? Who knows, but I love the close relationship that we have. I also have comfort in that I know exactly how she would like to be cared for as she, sadly, approaches the end of her life. I also know that she wants her ashes fired off in a firework. Some people…. such attention seekers!

I’m sure there are many many other reasons but, I’m getting sidetracked…

So, what is an end of life Doula and do you need one?

A birthing Doula provides support as a new life begins an end of life Doula provides support to those who’s lives are ending. In fact

Living Well, Dying Well gives the definition as: “The end of life Doula is a non-medical role End of Life Doulas, individuals who help those who are dying, and their families, to feel safe and supported, as they make the transition from this life to what’s next. Many people feel they could play a role in supporting people at the end of life.”

Death, although one of life’s inescapable events, like taxes (thank you Benjamin Franklin) it almost seems like something that’s never going to happen to us. Here the end of life Doula can step in to provide the support we need to enable us to effectively ‘face up to’ the inevitable. As difficult as that may be.

In fact, the role is a varied one and very much depends on what the person in question wants from them. It could be that they provide practical support to the family. Or, as elderly loneliness reaches epidemic levels, an end of life Doula can provide the compassion and companionship – a comforting hand to hold where maybe there wouldn’t have been one.

All in all, I think that it sounds like a wonderful thing to do.

Becoming an end of life Doula

The demand for their services is certainly growing so, if this sounds like something that you would like to do Living Well Dying Well hold End of Life Doula training courses throughout the year. You can find all the information on their website.


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