When I think of death, I’m filled with a permeating fear that, like birth, death is something I have to process through and experience alone; it is something that I can’t turn back from–and that is terrifying. With birth, we are struck with amnesia or lack of awareness; however, consciousness may accompany death, and nobody likes the unknown.

What Is a Death Doula?

Similar to birth doulas, death doulas are trained volunteers or professionals who provide physical, emotional, psychological, and even spiritual guidance for individuals and their families as they navigate through the dying process. Doulas typically have more time to spend with patients than healthcare or hospice workers and are not bound by insurance regulations. Death doulas complement care given in hospitals, senior care facilities, and hospice. They fill in necessary gaps and help people start talking about death as a very natural process.

Anyone can choose to become a death doula. These individuals may include hospice nurses, grief counselors, social workers, or members of the clergy. Often doulas are people who feel called to help the dying and their families. 

Currently, there are several organizations that offer certification: International End of Life Doula Association (INELDA), International Doulagivers Institute, and Lifespan Doula Association (LDA).

How Much Does a Death Doula Charge?

Some doulas work as volunteers while others charge for their services. Doulas set their own rates which could be a flat fee, daily, or hourly cost. It is important that the family and dying individual express their needs and work to build a trusting relationship with the doula.

3 Ways Doulas Help Through End of Life Care

Doulas commit to a relationship with the dying individual that reaches beyond the illness. They may spend weeks or months visiting a patient and providing companionship. They will also move with the dying person as they change locations from a hospital to hospice or the home. Doulas are especially helpful for those who have no family or support.

1. Provide Companionship

A doula can step in and actively listen or converse with the dying. They are there to hold a hand, answer questions, or even help them find peace at life’s end. A doula may sit and watch TV with the patient or read them a book.

2. Advocate End-of-Life and Final Wishes

They are also able to advocate for his or her end-of-life wishes and be a knowledgeable resource for their options. Before they lose the ability to communicate, a doula can help work with a funeral director to assist the dying individual with planning out the details of their funeral. A doula will even offer to sit in vigil during a patient’s death.

Suggested Read: Funeral Insurance: The Why, When, & How To Plan Ahead

3. Help Support the Family

A doula can help guide family members before and during the death process. This provides continuity and comfort for the family, and empowers the family by providing them with tools to emotionally support loved ones as they die. Because doulas can stay with dying loved ones when families can’t, doulas can alleviate stress and guilt for family members who still have to take care of children or go to work. Doulas can facilitate conversations between health care workers, hospice, and family members. They can support loved ones in saying goodbye to one another at the end of life. 

Doulas can explain the signs and symptoms of death – which can look scary. They may teach about the change in breathing pattern or the botching and different shades of skin tone as an individual approaches death. Understanding the dying process can bring calm and peace to loved ones.

A New Way Forward

Death is a topic we don’t like to talk about until it is staring back at us. Doulas can help families and the dying release their fears and guide them through the accompanying suffering that follows death. 

We rely on others to help us through the birthing process, so why not seek guidance with death? 

Doulas have the potential to offer a sense of peace and acceptance and ease our greatest fears surrounding death. In fact, these new professionals may aid in changing the way we view and interact with death in our culture.