and end of life care
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What is a Death Doula?

Many of us will be aware of doulas serving as birth attendant: someone who acts in support of a birthing mother, but a doula– the name comes from the ancient Greek and could be translated as “woman who serves” – can also be of assistance to those leaving the world.

Sometimes called an End of Life Companion or Soul Midwife, a Death Doula sits vigil with dying individuals, providing a continuous and compassionate presence through the final hours. A death doula or soul midwife honours the sacred nature of the dying process as a natural part of the cycle of life and helps individuals achieve a “good death”.

Few of us plan for the moment of our death. For terminally ill patients and their families, this important step can help to ease anxiety as the end draws near.

Too often when a person is actively dying they and the people taking care of them are mostly, if not entirely, alone. The doula meets a need at the most crucial moment. The dying process can take days to unfold, and that can be incredibly difficult and stressful.

Doulas meet with the individual and their families approximately three times beforehand to develop an individualised vigil plan that specifies their wishes for the time of death. It is different for everyone, some people want their hand held while others may want to be left alone. Do they want music, or silence or something read to them? Are there objects they want near, such as a collection of photos? Do they want specific items such as bedding or blankets? These are just a few of the things doulas can take into consideration when writing the plan.

The vigil plan also includes specific relaxation techniques to support both the dying and their caregivers, including guided visualisation and complementary therapies, and rituals to be performed after the individual has passed on. In the planning stages, the doulas also work with the family to help them through the process.

During the vigil, which can last anywhere from a few hours to a few days, doulas help to ensure the individual’s wishes are met. Doulas sit with the individual and the family, helping to ease anxieties and fears, and allow the individual to let go. Immediately following the passing, the doula helps caregivers perform rituals designed in advance to help the passing onwards and grieving process.

Marisa Picardo has trained with Kris Hughes, William Bloom and with Felicity Warner on a Soul Midwifwery course. “A Soul Midwife works with individuals to enable them to regain some control over their situation and to ensure that their independence is maintained and choices and preferences are heard and worked towards being achieved”.

Here are some of the things a Soul Midwife or Death Doula does:

  • Helps individuals to plan and prepare a death plan
  • Provides comfort and support through the dying process
  • Supports individuality, choice and independence
  • Creates and holds a sacred and healing space for the dying person
  • Keeps a loving vigil
  • Visits the individual at home, in hospital or in a hospice
  • Provides a listening ear to the individual and their family
  • Provides gentle therapeutic techniques and compassionate care
  • Provides practical support such as essential shopping or housework
  • Supports the individual in enjoying their remaining time as much as possible
  • Offers complementary therapies for the individual, to aid relaxation and symptom control
  • Offers complementary therapies to the individual’s loved ones
  • Uses sound, touch, smell and other gentle techniques to help alleviate pain and anxiety
  • Works with sound therapeutically, including using singing bowls, voice and drum
  • Provides hands-on personal care for the individual
  • Is present at hospital appointments if required
  • Provides support for the individual in carrying out preferred spiritual and religious practices prior to and after death
  • Provides respite for family members to enable them to have a rest
  • Provides support in carrying out the individual’s plans prior to and after death
  • Cares for the person after death, in accordance with their wishes
  • Offers to visit the loved ones of the individual after death, to share experiences and to talk about and reflect upon the experience
  • Makes a good cup of tea
  • Supports families and loved ones.

Please don’t hesitate to contact us if you would like more information