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Before Your Last Breath



What exactly is a death doula?

A death doula (also known as an End of Life Doula) can choose to take on many different tasks. Essentially, we are support for a person and/or family during the dying process, understanding this process can be anywhere from days, weeks or years. Each person’s needs are different so our support/tasks/activities can vary, The objective is always the same: to assist in empowering, educating and encouraging people to make choices. The sooner we become involved in the decision making process, the smoother and less challenging it will become further down the road.

What does a death doula do specifically?

Although support and advocacy can be attributed to the definition of what a doula does, this is very general. Each doula can be very specific in what they do. Not all of us offer identical services. In my case, I assist people in creating Advanced Care Plans. These can be as general or as detailed as you would like. For example, in the event of an at home death: what songs do you want to listen to, what things do you want to look at (pictures, etc.), what aromas do you like... in other words, what would you like your surroundings to be? Other services include: legacy work, assistance in planning services, ceremonies, circles and vigils. We also facilitate family meetings or assist in communications with families who don’t all live within close proximity to each other.

How long have you been a death doula?

I have been a death doula for close to 20 years, although, until recently, I did not recognize this or know what to call it.

What attracted you to this vocation?

I have always been very close to my grandparents and ‘giving back’ and supporting seniors has always been very close to my heart.

My story started years ago when I trained and became a Certified Holistic Health Coach. Part of the reason I did this was to bring me closer to my grandfather. He was very health conscious, in fact, he was a naturopath in the 1940s. Due to life circumstances, I put my training on hold until very recently. I decided to dive a little deeper, knowing I wanted to help people, I took a specialty course on the Psychology of Emotional Eating. A was step closer, but not completely on the mark with my passion.

An opportunity to train and become a Certified Life Coach presented itself and while I was deciding if I should ‘go for it’, a friend of mine had her terminal cancer reappear. That was the catalyst to move me forward.

I was still puzzling over how I could combine my skills, knowledge and passion for service to seniors. As a firm believer in signs, on the anniversary of my grandmother’s death I encountered information about becoming a death doula. I did some research and very quickly decided THIS IS IT! This is the missing link. THIS is truly where the heart of my service and passion is at. The fact that the training started on the anniversary of my grandfather’s death, I felt I had come full circle. My grandparents, in both life and death, had influenced and guided my path in profound ways.

What kind of training do you require?

Although death doulas have been around for many years, maintaining a standard of education and training is quite recent. The mission statement from the EOL Doula Association of Canada is as follows: To promote high-quality End of Life Care (EOLC) by setting the standard for the doula profession through membership and training based on need and recommendations made by the Ministry of Health, Health authorities and outside agencies such as Canadian Hospice and Palliative Care Association.

These associations are working diligently to create/maintain education and training standards.

Why should someone hire a death doula?

Firstly, doulas are not meant to replace anyone on a care team. Needing help or assistance in any of the following areas would be reason to consider hiring a death doula: advocacy; support (no matter what form, i.e. conversations with self and/or family, facilitator, addition to care team, etc.); assistance with creating and completing Advanced Care Plans; Legacy work; support in creating and maintaining a plan for an at home death—basically in any way personal care can be supported and assisted.

How does this compare to hospice?

The biggest difference is that a doula’s services are non-medical in nature, where hospice is more of a clinical setting.

Doula work doesn’t necessarily have the same timeline as hospice. A doula can become involved in the death process, when necessary, years prior to death.

Hospice and doula work are very similar in the goal of providing comfort and dignity to a person near the end stages of their life.

Hospice can be free of charge, where doulas charge for their services.

Doulas can be used in addition to hospice care but are not meant to replace hospice care if that is what is required.

Death doulas offer compassion and hold space. I help people plan for the future, as well as, deal with loss and grief. Above all, I hold space and encourage people to start a conversation, to talk about death and dying, ask questions, be curious.

How do you describe what you do for your clients?

I am a Holistic Life & Health Coach. Specifically, I am a Compassion Coach—empowering my clients to discover themselves and live with purpose. I am also a Death Coach.

I hold space for people, allowing room to express oneself in whatever way is right in that moment.

I allow exploration, whether through words, tears, confusion, reflection or silence. Clients will be made to feel safe, heard and respected in the space we create together.

I encourage people to start a conversation which, typically, results in a better connection with your life and your journey, regardless of where you are currently at.

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