Doulas for the dying

Posted: 07/03/2018

You may have heard of people hiring a doula when they are expecting a child, but have you heard about the emerging trend in recent years of end of life doulas? Here at Perfect Funeral Plans, we’ve decided to take a look at this new non-medical role that is becoming increasingly prominent when it comes to peoples end of life decision making.

What are doulas?

First of all, let’s clarify exactly what doulas are, before looking at the role they play for those who are dying. As previously mentioned, doulas are commonly associated with working alongside midwives during pregnancy. More specifically, doulas are present at the birth of a child and provide support (whether this is practical, emotional or even spiritual) to the mother.

However, did you know that in fact, doulas have been around for thousands of years? It is far from a new idea, and indigenous cultures around the world have focused on the idea of making death a spiritual and peaceful experience for the dying and their families, whether or not medical support is needed.

What are death doulas?

In terms of the supportive role doulas play, death doulas are not much different from ordinary ones, however, in terms of the importance of their role, it is just as, (if not more) significant as it is when they help gently bring new life into the world.  Death doulas share similarities with Soul Midwives, who are trained in a holistic manner with both the spirit and soul of the dying.

Death doulas are focused on trying to help those who are nearing the end of their life have a more peaceful, comfortable experience in their final days and helping to maintain their quality of life. They are at peace with the idea of death being a very natural part of the life cycle, and help individuals come to terms with it too.

In addition, death doulas can help dying individuals to have an element of control. With so many people in the UK still struggling to talk about any aspect of death (whether this is with friends or loved ones), this can leave people approaching with the reality of death feeling very alone. Having a person who is specifically prepared to help those who are dying can provide individuals looking at end-of-life options with a certain amount of relief, and without feeling as if they may potentially be burdening loved ones. They help to preserve those dealing with death to maintain both their sense of self and their identity during an incredibly difficult time.

How do death doulas help?

As mentioned earlier in the article, death doulas help to provide emotional, spiritual or practical care to the dying. They start their work with individuals at any stage during the process – this could be from the diagnosis of an illness, the onset of an illness taking its toll, right through to the very end. Death doulas sometimes work with people for just a few weeks and with others, they may end up working with a person over the course of a number of years.  Their aim is to empower those and those close to the dying, whatever the timeframe.

Death doulas can help in the following ways:

  • Work with people to help make the decisions that are necessary when it comes to end-of-life care
  • They can help the dying to prepare both the Advance Plan and their advanced decision
  • They can be a point of contact, helping when it comes to dealing with social care and health systems
  • It is also possible that doulas can help with respite care if needed too
  • To give the dying, and close relatives the opportunity to talk and listen, and if needed to, to help facilitate difficult conversations about death with others in a calm, relaxed way
  • Help to provide support within the home, whether that be the family or the person dying
  • Help family members caring for the dying have time off. They may help provide hands-on practical care, such as helping walk the dog, making meals for family members, helping with the weekly shopping or helping with cleaning duties

How are death doulas trained?

It is important to note that death doulas certainly do not replace medical experts – because they aren’t, but they also aren’t trying to be. Death doulas provide a supportive, non-medical role alongside the expertise of medical professionals. This is often at hospices, or providing help within the community by providing help to both the dying and their families.

Across the UK, there is thought to be around 100 end-of-life trained doulas. This is according to the organisation that helps to train them Living Well Dying Well (LWDW). The organisation implements a three-stage doula training programme, providing both professional and practical training, in order to expand on the knowledge and skills of the trainee doulas so that they are fully equipped for their end-of-life care position. They provide the only training for end of life doulas in the UK, with the course externally certified, and the only educational centre that provides this course to a quality standard, with the course certified the Crossfields Institue Quality Mark Programme.

All people training to become death doulas have a mentor too. This is a person who has already been fully trained and acts as a point of references for trainees doulas, who will refer to them for their knowledge and expertise. The mentors’ main role is to oversee their work, and make sure that the care being received by the dying is of the highest possible standard, and so that the dying and loved ones are being fully supported during this painful and sad time of their lives.

Training is provided across the country, with networks and training courses available in London, the South West, the North and Scotland.  You can find more about how to become an end of life doula, as well as further details as to the process of becoming one through the Living Well Dying Well website and through their online brochure.