It's amazing how much we avoid talking about and preparing for the one certainty we have in life - death. As life expectancies have improved and burial practices have changed, we're not faced with death in the same way our ancestors were. This makes dealing with it in real-time so jarring that many of us don't know how to cope. But death doulas are here to help guide you and your loved ones through that final stage of life.
What Are Death Doulas?
Also called end-of-life doulas, death doulas are professionals who've been trained to help individuals facing the end of their life (and their families) as everyone comes to term with the reality ahead of them. Guilu Murphy, a certified death doula, describes a doula's duties as helping to "facilitate less anxiety and stress around the process of leaving this world, to actually make it better, safer." Anyone can go through the training to become a death doula, so long as they have the money to pay for the training and the temperament to handle end-of-life care.
Why Would Someone Hire a Death Doula?
Birthing doulas have become commonplace enough that people are familiar with the role, but they rarely know what that means on the other end of the spectrum. Being a 'guide' isn't exactly specific enough to know if you'd benefit from hiring one. And of course, we don't know what we don't know, so we've got a comprehensive list of the many different things a death doula can do for their clients.
Help With End-of-Life Planning
No one wants to discuss medical options and funeral arrangements with someone who's dying, but death doulas are here to help you navigate those conversations. As an advocate for the person who's nearing the end, a death doula can ensure that their post-life services are performed to their liking by making their wishes known.
Educate a Dying Person on the Dying Process
Death is so scary because it's completely unknown. One way to soothe a person's mental state as they move towards it is to have a death doula discuss what the actual dying process is like. They can go over what parts of the body shut down when, what are the signs of when death is imminent, and so on.
Be a Helper in Carving Out Physical Space for the Dying
Once someone's nearing death, there are so many things to consider that it's helpful to have another physical person around to put together a special space for the dying person to spend their time. Death doulas can lend their time to putting that space together to the dying person and/or family's liking.
Work With the Dying to Accomplish Final Goals
This doesn't necessarily mean a death doula's going to arrange a skydiving expedition for someone terminally ill. Rather, it means that they can work with someone who's dying to see if there are any words or items they'd like passed down, stories they'd like recorded, or people they'd like to see. Those nearing death might not have thought about these requests until their mortality was on the brain, and a death doula can take time to help them accomplish each one.
Helping Loved Ones Cope With Their Emotions
Watching a loved one die is, quite possibly, the worst thing anyone has to experience. Not only can death doulas bring the dying comfort, but also the dying's family members comfort, too.
They can spend time really helping you work through your emotions and teach you how to channel your grief into positivity when you're around the person who's nearing the end. As death doula Guilu Murphy describes, doulas can "help others pass with more love and compassion (than the western tradition can)" which makes "the process better for those transitioning and their loved ones, as well."
Where Can I Find a Death Doula?
If you're interested in hiring a death doula, there are a few different resources you can turn to.
- The National End-Of-Life Doula Alliance has a directory of all of their members.
- The International End-Of-Life Doula Association is a great, global, resource for finding available doulas in your area.
Does Insurance Cover Death Doulas?
Unfortunately, given that death doulas don't provide any medical care for the dying, their services aren't currently covered under most medical insurances. This means you'll have to pay out of pocket, which is usually charged per hour at around $25-$100.
You Don't Have to Face It Alone
While the physical act of dying is done alone, you don't have to face it alone. Death doulas are incredible resources that provide vital emotional, spiritual, and educational care for people who are nearing death. After all, the average person isn't equipped to face death themselves, let alone guide a loved one through it. So, if you or a loved one are facing the final stage of life, consider hiring a death doula to captain the ship.