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  • Writer's picture Gabrielle Elise Jimenez

What is a death doula? (Also known as an end-of-life doula)

Updated: May 21

An end-of-life doula is traditionally a non-clinical companion and guide for someone who is navigating a terminal illness. I like to think of my role as being a choreographer of someone's last dance, helping them design their last few months, weeks, days, and hours... sometimes even years, as there is no specific start date to bring a doula in.

 

You do not have to be given a terminal diagnosis to have a doula assist you. Some people utilize the skills of a doula to specifically help prepare an end-of-life plan for them, which is designed according to their wishes, but a doula can assist you with many other areas of life, death, and grief as well. People are questioning their mortality more now than ever before, which leaves many people wondering what they will want when it is their time to die. A doula can help with this.

 

The doula is not currently a part of the hospice team, however some hospices are training their volunteers to be doulas and offering that service. One of the differences between a doula and a member of the hospice team, is that a doula has the luxury of time. The doula can support the person navigating the end of their life, at whatever stage that might be, and can also be there for those preparing to say goodbye. The doula is a companion, a guide, a mentor, a co-pilot, an usher, a driver, and a reliable, dependable friend. 

 

One of the misconceptions about the role of a doula is that there is no certifying board, so a doula is not “certified,” they receive a certificate of completion after taking a doula training course, which means they are certified on that particular program. Doulas are not licensed, or state mandated, and they cannot provide medical advice or act as a clinician, even if they have a nursing license. A doula must honor the boundaries and stay in their lane, which has been hard for me to do as a hospice nurse, and something I must be mindful of at all times.

Please note that you DO NOT need medical training to become an end-of-life doula. What you need is bedside experience and a compassionate heart. Anyone can do this work if they are coming fromm a heart centered place.

 

One of the reasons I co-wrote “The Doula Tool Kit” with my friends and end-of-life doulas Diane Button and Angela Shook, is because we want to make sure ALL doulas receive the necessary skills, advice, and guidance to be able to do this work well. In many cases, doulas are paying a lot of money for a doula training program, but still come out of it uncertain of what to do next. Please do not mis-understand, I think these training programs are necessary, helpful, and a great first step. BUT you should also have bedside experience, and the tools to feel confident when present for someone who is dying, and those preparing to say goodbye.

You can find this book here:


I offer my “At the Bedside” class for those who have already graduated a doula program and need a little more personal direction or are curious and interested about being a doula but don’t know where or how to start. I hand over tips and tools to make things a little easier for you, I share a list of doula training programs I recommend, and I offer a realistic explanation of what you can expect when you start this journey. One of my favorite things to do in this class is to help you to define what gifts you can bring to this work, making your offering unique and beautifully yours. If finances are an issue, I often have scholarships available, so please do not hesitate to ask for one.

You can learn more about my class here: https://www.thehospiceheart.net/at-the-bedside

 

As a doula, I think it is important that we lift one another up, extend a hand and offer support to those starting out and struggling, and share our tools generously. Caring for someone who is dying is an honor, and death is a sacred and intimate moment that should never be entered into casually, or without the proper training, tools, and experience. It is very important that everyone understands that a piece of paper stating that you have completed a doula training program is not enough to be able to do this work effectively.

 

We should all be on the same page, making sure that anyone who requests the support of a doula receives beautiful, compassionate, and heart-centered care and that collaboratively we help improve the way human beings are cared for when they die, and when they grieve.

 

Doulas are a community and should never be in competition with one another.

We are not a solo act; we do not do this work alone.

You absolutely must take the time to gain experience before sitting at the bedside of someone who is dying, and I would very much love to help you get started.

 

xo

Gabby




 

 

 

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