This blog is inspired by the 2018 NFDA Convention workshop titled How End-of-Life Doulas are Changing the Face of Dying presented by Henry Fersko-Weiss, Executive Director of the International End of Life Doula Association.
Typically, doulas are considered “childbirth coaches” or “birth companions.” However, doulas are no longer solely tied to the beginning of life. End-of-life doulas guide people through another important stage of life: the process of dying. They serve the person who is dying and make sure they are as comfortable as possible during this process.
Henry Fersko-Weiss explained that most end-of-life doulas provide their services for free, out of the goodness of their hearts. They know how important their services are to help a person have a comfortable death. Having a doula by your loved one’s side is beneficial in helping them come to terms with death and to feel at ease.
Henry explained that doulas follow a three-phase model:
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I. Summing up & Planning
This phase focuses on helping the person who is dying reflect on the meaning of their life. Who were they? What did they accomplish? What is their lasting impact? This also is a time to plan how the person wants their last days to unfold.
II. Conducting Vigil
This phase begins when the person’s body begins to break down in their last few days of life. The doula eases them through the process of dying and makes their last moments as comfortable as possible. They take some of the burdens of the family by providing company and doing some physical care.
III. Reprocessing & Early Grief
After the person passes, the doula is present to help the family process and understand what happened. This includes talking about things that were or were not discussed before the family’s loved one passed. This typically occurs three to six weeks after the death.
During the doula’s time with the dying person, they help the person decide what their last wishes are. For example, Henry told us one woman wanted her loved ones to write memories of her on a scroll. Some of her other wishes included spraying lavender oil on her bedding, playing special music, and toasting to her with the wine she picked out upon her passing.
Oftentimes, doulas work with funeral directors to make sure the person who is dying is receiving the end-of-life care they wanted. Doulas are the liaison between the last few days of life and the care funeral directors provide. They do not want to get in the way of funeral services, but rather make them more personalized for the person who passed and their family.
Do you have an experience with an end-of-life doula? Share your story in the comments below!