“The main facts in human life are five: birth, food, sleep, love and death.” ~ E. M. Forster
Everyone loves to see and hear about a successful birth. It’s an anticipation that everyone looks forward to celebrating. Death on the other hand, can be so hard to discuss. It’s scary and energy absorbing. But it’s a journey no one can escape. And my cultural history says that it is a event that too should be celebrated. For me it make sense to extend my current doula practice from birth to the grave as an end of life doula.
In 2016, I lost my first doula baby. I was not prepared for that at all. I know I didn’t provide that family with the full support they needed. I was hurt too. I did workouts with the mom, food prep, slumber parties with the couple, runs to the er, – everything. But when we found out the heart beat wasn’t there, I as a mother of nine, could not relate. I didn’t think to begin planning for the baby’s final moments, memory keeping, and offering to call their specific loved ones. I could only offer prayer of endurance, restorative meals and light house work.
A more formal name is given for this work. It’s called “end-of-life, or death, doula” — a professional who provides non-medical care-giving services to people who are dying and to their families. Some doulas have private practices, and others work in connection with hospices, hospitals and community organizations.
In 2018, I did my first hospice job. It happened by chance. I was helping out one of my sons teammates mom. She had a family business of private care. That particular weekend her entire staff was unavailable. I offered to help her if she would help me with the boys busy game weekend. Mannnnnnn, it was an experience. What I provided was called ‘active dying care’. It’s the time-frame of three days before the last breath. (typically) . The German husband was in his 90’s. His wife was micro managing and the adult son wanted very little hands on responsibilities. So for 36 hours straight, I swabbed, sung, fed, and monitored this man. For 36 hours, I answered the stressed out wives question about near death signals and observations. For thirty-six hours, I stayed awake and prayed that my presence brought him comfort and peace, and to his wife a glimpse of assurance, rest and a sense of control. The husband had already outlined his final wishes so I didn’t need to go over that part. But if needed, I would have took out my resource bank.
Hospice- “They figure out with the family where they are at, what do they need, what’s causing them to become overwhelmed, what kind of services are they looking for,” says registered nurse Merilynne Rush, a practicing doula for 10 years and co-owner of the Lifespan Doula Association. “Different doulas offer different kinds of services.”
Many people don’t know that in 2005, I lost my 11 year old daughter. She transitioned on my birthday after a very long and overwhelming illness. Then less than two years later, my mom followed. Her process was much different from my daughters. That was my best friend I had to say goodbye to. It was tough. Yet nothing in comparison to January 2020 when my dad passed. I was named after him. My sisters and I made sure he didn’t suffer needlessly. To this day, nursing homes, rehab centers, and even the funeral home speaks well of how we took great care of our dad and his business. It wasn’t easy, but it was what we had to do. I want to make this process easy for others like my dad and their families.
As an instructor, I’ve been supporting families to become their own best advocates and successfully navigate various social and basic human rights systems for the past 17 years as a full service doula, home-school educator, nonprofit associate, author and entrepreneur. I’ve trained over 300 people to become doulas and has been training end-of-life doulas since 2019.
My goal is to make death better for the dying and their family. To make it less overwhelming and more prepared for like birth.
Hospice is reserved for when curative treatments have been exhausted and patients have less than six months to live. Palliative care, on the other hand, is a team-based medical specialty focused on providing relief from the symptoms and stress of a serious illness — care that you can get at any age and at any stage of your illness.