End-of-Life Doula 101

The word DOULA has been used for decades in the US to mean “one who serves”. Just as a birth doula supports the labor that culminates in a baby’s first breath, End-of-Life Doulas support the labor involved when dying people, and their loved ones, prepare for the final breath.

The role of End-of-Life Doula is experiencing a revival in our culture, even as it is, in reality, a most ancient contribution to many world societies. Historically, families and communities took care of their dead. In the US, the introduction of embalming during the Civil War led to death and dying becoming medicalized and moved out of the community and into the hands of professionals. EOL Doulas place choice and empowerment back into the hands of families and community.

End-of-Life Doulas are being trained around the world by various training organizations. Each has its own criteria for meeting certification requirements. Trainings range from 3-6 month online programs to 3-8 day in-person trainings. In the US, NEDA (The National End-of-Life Doula Alliance) is consolidating standards of knowledge into one competency test.

End-of-Life Doulas provide non-medical, holistic support, and comfort to the dying person and their family, which may include education and guidance as well as emotional, spiritual or practical care. End-of-Life Doulas provide valuable complementary services to patients and their families during life-limiting illness, and the dying process, in partnership with hospice personnel and other medical teams.

When we are afraid to talk about death, we deny death. Death denial can lead to trauma and chaos in the final days if a dying person’s wishes have not been expressed. Through education, preparation, and coaching, EOL Doulas help answer questions, lower anxiety, and foster healing.

“I am pleased to be involved in this new movement. From my many years of working with end of life, I have come to see that families, as well as patients, still bring fear and lack of knowledge to the end of life experience. It is education, support, and tender guidance during that time that brings comfort. It is the presence of someone who understands that what is happening is not pathological, is not bad, that turns an otherwise frightening experience into a sacred time and creates a sacred memory for the family. That is the goal, the mission of an End-of-Life Doula.”

Article Provided by:
Evening Star End-of-Life Doula Services