What does an End of Life Doula do?

unconditional love

We are so often asked what working as an End of Life doula might look like; and our first response is always to say that this depends entirely on an individual doula; their circumstances of birth and belonging, their community, their existing work, the level of their engagement with End of Life work. This is not to deflect the question at all but to remind each and every person who comes to us that we are not prescriptive in how you end up doing “the Work”, it will come to you as soon as you open to it. So we focus very much in the training intensive weekend on our own personal relationship with death and dying and attending to our presence, our capacity to “be” in the field of death and dying and retain your centre, to be grounded. It is that loving centredness, groundedness and presence combined with a deep desire to be of service that defines a doula, whatever it is you “do”.

And we also realise we need to set out some concrete examples so you can decide for yourself if any of them suit you “off the peg” or whether some tailoring might be required (or indeed if you need to get something bespoke just for you).

The inevitable question also comes up about how to make a living from being an End of Life doula; and there are layers and nuances to the answer. As you read the list of various ways an End of Life doula can serve you will see some options are more likely to bring in an income than others. And not everyone who feels the call to be an End of Life doula is making a career move; their interests might be other than financial. It is more than possible to make a living from being an End of Life doula and we would also invite you to perhaps hold “making a living” lightly in one hand and “surrendering into service” lightly in the other and trust that the balance of the two will certainly always get your needs met (although maybe not make you a billionaire).

Be led by your faith, your heart and your integrity; know what you are called do and what you are worth. Stand in your power. When you do that… finances become the fruits of much deeper and more sacred roots.

The list below is not exhaustive and is drawn on Alexandra and Awen’s experiences. I would call anyone who has served in a doula capacity with dying or bereaved people to add their particular roles in the comments at the bottom.

  • Sit with people who are dying, just listening to them and finding out their needs
  • Use song and sound to bring relaxation and catharsis
  • Use silence to deepen a sense of peace and safety to let go
  • Be a “friend along side” to people you know and love in your sphere who are dying or bereaved
  • Advance planning, advocacy and pre-death funeral planning
  • Attend to families experiencing baby loss
  • Accompany women who are having abortions
  • Working with a family to create a healing space in which their loved one will die
  • Listening to family stories and gently guiding them towards “letting go”, be a loving witness to their catharsis
  • Be the presence of Love (centred, grounded) in a family or community field where someone is dying
  • Facilitate Living Wakes – pre-death parties
  • Facilitate dying at home and keeping the body at home if this is the wish
  • Assist the family to tend to the body after death
  • Facilitate a wake
  • Support the family in preparation for a funeral
  • Join someone on skype or by phone if they are isolated to give them space to talk through their death
  • Identify and visit people who are dying alone and isolated in your community
  • Be visible on social media (and the real world too) as someone emotionally intelligent and death literate to further the normalising of a good death culturally
  • Blog
  • Give talks in your local community about death and dying
  • Speak with professionals who accompany the dying; maybe offer talks to their organisation as CPD
  • Hold Grief Circles and facilitate shared catharsis
  • Hold ceremonies and rituals according to your beliefs and traditions
  • Organise death cafes
  • Get political; challenge society’s norms and the over-culture around death and dying
  • Maintain your own ever ongoing work of deepening into death consciousness and doing your inner work

Here at Red Tent “End of Life” Doulas we really wish to emphasise the following qualities as defining our Doula Community: Story, Presence, Stillness, Calm, Acceptance, Forgiveness, Release and Flow.

At the centre of our work is the core belief that death is a sacred threshold and we are remembering, reclaiming and, in some cases, re-imagining the Old Ways for modern times. The role of ritual and ceremony; and song, sound and silence; continue to be our signature features.

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