END OF LIFE DOULA: WHO ARE THEY AND WHAT DO THEY DO?Category:
Birth doulas work with pregnant mothers and have been in our health care system a long time. Recently, we have begun to look at the other end of the life cycle, one that is hard to think about and hard to talk about - death.
End of life doulas work with people who have a terminal illness or just want to better prepare for the final phase of this life’s journey. Loved ones are included in this process.
End of life doulas (ELDs) bring a deeper, more meaningful, and spiritual experience to the end of life period. We open the option to experience the dying process as a deeply profound and sacred period. In death we recognize and celebrate humanity in all its complexity rather than just an ending. We want to transform the approach away from a medical undertaking to a period of connection, family, love, and humanism.
ELDs have in-depth discussions surrounding the meaning of the individual’s life and how that life will be remembered. We call this developing a legacy. This in-depth discussion may look at things such as making and receiving amends, forgiveness and being forgiven, as well as finding the deeper meaning of your life. It also includes rituals the family may want to carry out as ways to remember their loved one. During these discussions ELDs may also work with guided visualization, mindfulness, and meditation.
Rituals are a mainstay in our society and are a bridge from one part of our journey to another. Transitions bring changes and changes arouse emotions. Rituals help keep these emotions in perspective and free people up to experience and focus on other things, in this case, the dying process. ELDs discuss whether there are any rituals the dying person or family want performed, both pre and post death. These rituals may be culturally based, religiously based, or just something the dying person and family want to do. They may be as simple as holding hands, singing, or saying a prayer, to more complex rituals of washing the hands, feet or face post-death.
A major part of the ELD’s work is planning the vigil. This encompasses the last days of life when the person is actively dying and transitioning to the next part of their journey. What does the person want in their surroundings? Do they want music playing, and, if so, what music? Would they prefer it to be quiet? Who do they want there with them in their final hours? What do they want others to do during that time with them? Do they want a lighted candle? Do they want to be touched, and if so, where, how and by whom? The plan assures that during this last part of the journey there is always someone with the dying person. There will be someone there to hold their hand as this part of the journey comes to an end.
The dying person’s input is crucial, and ideally, they participate in the discussions. All plans are put in writing to assure the dying person’s wishes will be carried out as they wanted.
When this work is completed early enough it can be given to your attorney to be incorporated into Trusts, Wills and obituaries. The process is certain to help in life and financial planning.
The intensity of this work brings the ELD close to the dying person and their loved ones. The ELD can meet with the family for two to three months post-death to assist in the grieving process, make referrals if necessary, and plan a final ritual for the ELD and family to say good-bye to each other.
Glendon Muir Geikie Sr. is an End of Life Doula in Palm Springs and a member of the International End of Life Doula Association (INELDA). He is a member of the Wellness Village since June 2020 and can be found at ParkinsonsResource.org/the-wellness-village/directory/end-of-life-doula-palm-springs/