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What is a Death Doula? The Complete Guide to Non-Medical End of Life Carers

When someone is diagnosed with a terminal illness, going through the end of life experience for both the dying and family is unique and challenging to handle alone. A death doula provides the dying and their family with support, guidance and companionship as they move from diagnosis and end of life care through to death.

Like a birthing doula who helps with the beginning of life, a death doula helps a dying person and their family navigate the end-of-life process. The following guide to non-medical end of life carers will help you understand the role of a death doula, if they are a medical professional and what sort of care and support they provide.

How does a death doula help?

As the world goes in and out of lockdown, families continue to be separated, and we feel more isolated than ever before. Because we’re socially isolated, our communities are small, and we tend to live far away from loved ones. While it may seem manageable, it has considerable implications in how we process those dying and death.

A death doula is a companion, advocate and educator for the dying and their family through the process of death. They nurture and support the dying and their family in a practical and empathetic way with the ability to tailor their approach to each person’s needs.

What is the role of a death doula?

The role of a death doula depends on the dying and their family, but they can fill various needs. They help plan your death, walk you through what the experience leading up to death may be like for you and your family, support you with funeral arrangements and can stay overnight to help comfort, care and keep the dying company.

When someone is terminally ill and approaching the end of their life, their family is processing their own complex emotions. Unfortunately, these emotions can keep them unable to engage with death in a way that helps their dying loved one. A death doula is someone experienced in the process who provides comfort and security that enables open conversations about dying, death and grief.

Are death doulas medical professionals?

Death doulas are not licensed medical professionals, but those who wish to be a death doula can undertake formal training across Australia. They are not doctors, nurses, counsellors or therapists. In addition to death doulas, there are also birth doulas. They specialise in supporting families during pregnancy and birth.

Unlike a nurse or doctor, death doulas are hired by the dying or their family members when given a terminal diagnosis. It’s a relatively new movement for those dying but continues to see a rise in popularity. Because the industry is unregulated, certification is only recommended but not mandatory.

How does a death doula provide end of life care?

Death doulas are intimately acquainted with death which allows them to better understand the needs of the dying and their families. Death is a difficult conversation to have. However, death doulas can help the patient and their grieving loved ones get through the process in several ways.

They can help anticipate the family’s needs, can explain signs of death, discuss burial options and advance directives and most importantly, work with the dying to understand every detail of what they would consider their ideal end. But, more importantly, the role of a death doula provides emotional support that aged care, hospice or hospitals can overlook.

Find what feels right

The experience of facing death and managing complex emotions is a complicated process. While death doulas are not for everyone, they can help families come to peace with the journey and make room for moments they won’t forget. Dealing with the end of life is as unique as we are, and death doulas honour the uniqueness and give the dying the opportunity to make decisions that suit, comfort and give them peace.

More helpful reading:

What do when someone dies

Online Will kit: what is it and what do they include?

Disclaimer: The content of this blog is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. This blog should not be relied upon as legal, financial, accounting or tax advice.

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