‘Death doulas help the soul leave the body in the most peaceful and comfortable way possible.’
“I worked in a pharmacy for all my life, most recently as a manager, but once I was diagnosed with three cancers in the same year during 2019, I started to wonder if there was something out there that would be more fulfilling. I had raised four kids – my youngest was 12 – and I had more time on my hands. I wanted to make a difference.
“I just stumbled upon the answer while reading a book. The main character was a death doula. I had never heard of one before that. I knew what a doula was, so I kind of put two and two together. I figured out that a death doula is a holistic practitioner who helps the patient and their family and their caregivers with any physical, social, emotional, psychological and spiritual issues during the dying process. Just like a doula helps a mother bring a child into the world in the best way possible, death doulas help the soul leave the body in the most peaceful and comfortable way possible.
“I thought, ‘Wow, that’s a pretty honorable position.’ I thought that it was really cool, but I put it out of my mind. And then, about six months later, same thing. I’m reading a book and the main character meets a death doula. And I said, ‘Wow, there it is again. That’s really strange.’
“I started wondering how you become one. I did research and found that there were schools and institutions that I could learn how to be a death doula, such as the Doulagivers Institute. I reached out, and within two weeks I was enrolled in the session. I took the class, and then afterwards, I had to fill 15 hours of pro bono work to get certified. And now here I am.
“As death doulas, we help the caregivers with coming to reality and coming to grips with their loved one dying. We help the patient carry out their wishes, because a lot of times what they want is not specifically what gets done. Their family doesn’t want to let them go or for numerous reasons. We are there to just make the whole process easier for everybody in the most comfortable and peaceful way possible.”
We are trained to know how the body begins to shut down and how to help the family and the patient be prepared for the last stages with comfort and peace.
“We’re trained in the 10 most common disease processes. So, although I’m a holistic practitioner, we’re trained in the symptoms of tight symptom management for pain and shortness of breath and what medications will help. We’re trained in the medication that’s usually in the hospice care kit. It helps the family be able to say and do the things they want to before their loved one dies and helps to alleviate any fear or anxiety when certain symptoms arise. We are trained to know how the body begins to shut down and how to help the family and the patient be prepared for the last stages with comfort and peace.
“We don’t give the medication, we’re not hands on, but we’re there to offer support and help. I also help the family set up the room for the patient so it’s most comfortable for them. And it’s good to have somebody in there to just remember all these things that they can’t keep on their mind, and to be there for them spiritually and emotionally. We can help with the patient writing their own eulogy or writing something for the family for after they go. We also help with forgiveness if they’re holding on to animosity toward anybody.
“What I really like about being a death doula is that I feel that in other cultures, death is still sacred. There’s sanctity in death. America, in our culture, it’s taboo to talk about it. Nobody ever wants to talk about it, like it’s a bad thing. And I don’t really think that that’s helping anybody because it’s something that every single person will 100 percent experience, and not talking about it can bring more problems than not.
“I get some of my focus for the job from the time right after I got cancer. I was diagnosed with breast cancer first. Then I had a routine colonoscopy before my chemo started, and they found high-grade dysplasia in my colon. And then soon after, I found out that I had skin cancer. It was a really tough time. I had to come to grips with my own mortality. I had to really use all of my tools to remain calm and remain positive.”
Interviewed by KJ Bannan