What’s a Death Doula?

By Nicola Finch –

Most of us are familiar with the role and function of a birth doula, but you may be hearing another term that is not so familiar. Death doulas are people who serve the dying and their families.

It is a relatively new title, and some practitioners prefer to soften the description by calling themselves end of life doulas. In a few words, a death doula or end of life doula provides non-medical care and support to the dying person and the people who love them throughout the dying process and often beyond, guiding the family through a home funeral or assisting with the complexities of ‘what’s next’ when someone we love has died.

Death doulas often work with dying people on their advance care plans and their legacy projects and can facilitate difficult conversations with family and loved ones. A death doula is there to empower the dying person to achieve the best death possible. Doulas also work to empower our communities with knowledge and the understanding that we as the family (whoever we call family) have the right and the skills to care for our own at the end.

In the last century, death in the dominant North American culture has become removed from our lives. Many of us have never seen a dead body or witnessed a loved one dying. Or, if we have been at the bedside of a dying person, often the body is whisked away to be tended to by hospital personnel and funeral industry professionals. Most of these professionals are lovely, caring people or they wouldn’t be in this line of work, but they are ‘professionals,’ and they are strangers to our dead.

Death doulas want to return the natural and inevitable process of dying and death into our everyday lives and into the hands those who have always loved us.

There are different schools of thought on how we move forward with this work. Wherever possible, death doulas are working with, not against, the long-established businesses and organizations who currently serve the dying such as funeral directors and hospice organizations.

As yet, there are no accrediting bodies for death doulas in Canada or the US. Some groups are working hard to change that. Other doula organizations feel that it is the right and responsibility of people to care for their loved ones within their own family and community without adding yet another layer of ‘professionalism.’

There are trained doulas who choose to offer their services only to family and friends. Others will volunteer in their communities, and some prefer to set up private practice where they will charge for their services to the dying and their families. There are hundreds of reputable resources available online, including individuals, organizations, schools, and training.

Cariboo Community Deathcaring Network in Williams Lake is working to increase death literacy in the region and to encourage each other as we build an holistic community deathcaring network in the Cariboo. Angela Gutzer and I, the two founding members, are trained as death doulas.

Angela is transitioning from her 11-year career as a veterinarian to pursue her passion for holistic deathcaring of people and pets. Angela has a particular interest in guiding families through the home funeral process. She completed ITM’s extensive Contemplative End of Life Care Program. (http://itmworld.org/ceolc).

I bring my online expertise to the Network along with decades of involvement with deathcaring, personally and professionally, with a particular interest in death literacy through education. I took my death doula training at Douglas College taught by the co-founder of the End of Life Doula Association of Canada. (https://www.douglascollege.ca/programs-courses/continuing-education/health/end-of-life-doula)

Angela and I would be happy to answer your questions about all things dying and death related. What we don’t know, we will find out or direct you to local resources.

Our Cariboo Community Deathcaring Network is hosting regular Death Cafés in Williams Lake as well as planning workshops, festivals, and a Death Symposium for the coming year. We are a new group and reaching out to connect with others who are interested in rekindling a culture that recognizes and responds to death and dying in natural and meaningful ways.

We invite you to join the conversation.

Death Café, Wednesday, November 21 at the Hobbit House in Williams Lake 5:30 to 7:30 p.m.

Advance Care Planning Workshop, Saturday, November 24 from 1 to 4 p.m. in Williams Lake, Open Studio at the Central Cariboo Arts Centre. Advance care planning is a process that supports you and your family in preparing to make decisions about your future health care. Join us for this workshop and learn how to make your own advance care plan.

Follow us on Facebook at www.facebook.com/CCDCNetwork/ for updates.
Visit our website at deathtalk.strikingly.com
Contact nicola@deathtalk.ca or angela.gutzer77@gmail.com

Nicola Finch lives off-grid in a remote area west of Williams Lake. She and her husband are co-owners of Touch Wood Rings. They offer custom handcrafted wooden rings including wooden memorial rings inlaid with the ashes of a loved one. Nicola’s passion is holistic end-of-life care, from the work of death doulas to Green burials. She is a founding member of the Cariboo Community Deathcaring Network. Contact nicola@deathtalk.ca or find her on Facebook @greenburialbc @touchwoodringsand @CCDCNetwork.

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