As End Of Life Doulas we accompany people who are nearing the end of their life and their loved ones. Our role can take many forms: We can be like a bridge between our clients, professionals, thoughts and emotions. We can be a hand that helps and supports. We can help our clients and their families explore, communicate and write down their final wishes. We can be a voice when one feels unheard. We can be an ear for anyone who needs to be listened to as they speak their heart and mind. We can also be like furniture – silent, still, but here anyway, serving a purpose, a presence in the room that brings strength and calm. And even when one is not at the end of life, We may be called in to explore what one might want nearing the end of life, when death occurs and afterwards, which includes stating the level of care one would like to receive in the final days, who should be present as the end approaches, and funeral arrangements.
How I see my role as End Of Life Doula
I see myself as a friend in the end. As this friend I will be accepting, refrain from judging, and I (already) sincerely care. I will be a compassionate companion, deeply caring, accepting what is coming up for my clients and their loved ones. I will be whatever my clients need and want me to be: the bridge, the helping hand, the advocating voice, the listening ear, the silent presence in the room. I see this being the friend in the end as a great honour – perhaps the greatest – and I will always consider the dying person’s voice as the most important in the room.
How I became an End Of Life Doula
I guess I have always been fascinated by death and the dying process. Rather than being afraid of it, I have always seen death as an intrinsic part of this life, and just as birth is beautiful and very sacred, death is beautiful and sacred to me. I have always believed that our spirit lives on, mainly in the hearts and minds of those we leave behind, but also in some magical other way which I have never been able to explain but am sure exists.
I was so fortunate to be with my husband when he died, something I describe in detail in my book
When to love Means To Let Go link
And something that was both the most heart-breaking experience and the most beautiful experience I have ever had in my life. Most heart-breaking it was because as much as I knew that it was time for Paul to go because his life had become too painful for him on so many levels, I wanted him of course to be with me for all eternity. And it was beautiful to be with him – with my hand on his heart – as he died because it was a very intimate, very sacred moment, and I witnessed how spirit, now free from suffering and the shell of the body, was released and free, and the peace and calm that I suddenly felt in the hospital room were overwhelming.
After Paul’s death and after a short while on my journey with my grief, I felt called to work with cancer patients before, during and after their illness, to support people who are the caregiver for a loved one with a terminal illness, and people who are going through grief and bereavement following the loss of their loved one. I knew that others would be able to benefit from my experience as Paul’s sole caregiver and as young widow. I so much wanted to offer my service as a holistic therapist at the cancer hospital in Dublin but, unfortunately, despite my many attempts to get the people in charge on my side with this or at least to listen to my ideas, I was met with scepticism and silence. I eventually approached Dr. Cathryn Mannix, retired palliative care physician in the UK and author of the wonderful book “With The End In Mind”, and while she couldn’t give me much hope where working in a hospital setting was concerned, she directed me to Living Well Dying Well in the UK and to the training to become an End Of Life Doula.
A Good Death
While one could argue that a good death may mean different things to different people, I do believe that for most it means a pain free, comfortable, dignified death where the wishes of the dying person are respected and honoured.
Paul’s death was what I would call “a good death” because he didn’t have to suffer for long and most of the final days of his life were spent unconscious. It was also a good death because there was dignity: he was under the loving care of the staff at the hospital, before that he had been under my loving care at home, I was with him all along giving him my love and advocating for him wherever necessary, he was as comfortable as possible with access to medication that could ease his physical pain as well as his anxiety and fear, he was never alone.
As End Of Life Doula I want to support people who are dying to experience a good death and also offer the much needed support around such a difficult time to the family of the dying person.
We Need To Talk About Death
We need to talk about death because dying is everybody’s business. We can’t shy away from it, avoid conversations about it, avoid making our will or think about what level of care we want in the final months, weeks and days of our life because one day – and we don’t know when – death will knock on our door or on a loved one’s door and we need to be prepared for when that happens. Part of my work I see in getting people to befriend death and to have the conversation about dying.