Death Doulas: A Bridge Between Worlds
Death Doulas, or those who mid-wife the dying, may be a new term to some, but they have been as present as death itself. Many cultures throughout history provided mental, spiritual, physical and emotional support as a fundamental part of the transition to death. Though each culture has its own special relationship with death. In some death is not feared, and taken as a matter of fact. In others death is avoided, not spoken of and split off from daily life.
What is a Death Doula?
A Death Doula is a non-medical person trained to care for someone holistically (physically, emotionally and spiritually) at the end of life. Death Doulas are also known around the world as: end of life coaches, transition guides, death coaches, end of life doulas, and many other titles.
This support often focuses on the emotional, psychological and spiritual side of dying, as well as the more practical things.
What do Death Doulas do?
Death Doulas are people who support people during the end of life process. It is “non-medical profession” that recognizes death as a natural, accepted, and honored part of life.
Death Doulas can:
- Help create positive, empowering end of life plans
- Provide spiritual care, psychological and social support
- Suggest ideas for optimal physical comfort
- Help plan home vigils
- Educate patients and families on the new and progressive options of home wakes and natural burials.
What types of holistic support do Death Doulas offer?
A Death Doula cares for the whole person, taking into account the dying individual’s emotional, mental, spiritual, and physical factors. They provide invaluable assistance in three notable areas of holistic support:
Legacy: Sharing one’s story, giving wisdom, advice, love, to give the future a glimpse of your essence – who you were, how you saw the world, and what gave meaning to your life. Death Doulas can help with the powerful process of developing a legacy plan.
Presence: Having someone present with the experience and training in such a time can bring a sense of comfort and familiarity to the otherwise unfamiliar. Death Doulas provide holistic support as they accompany individuals and their families before, during, and after death.
Dignity: Creating an environment that brings dignity and comfort.
Bridge Between Worlds
Having the experience of knowing the spirit world and the world of the living brings a unique perspective to a Death Doula. They have a better grasp of one’s purpose, what comes after this phase and the experiences that occur at the moment of death. They have the unique vision of witnessing death change perceptions of life.
How to become a Death Doula
Becoming a Death Doula can be an immensely fulfilling and enlightening experience. If you wish to offer end-of-life support and care, you can join an institution that provides courses and certifications. But because no national accredited body or centralized organization oversees doula training, you won’t need to take any standardized state board or license exams to get certified.
Each private Death Doula program may differ slightly in training requirements and coursework, but they all provide an education grounded in helping you become the most compassionate and supportive end-of-life doula.
Who can become a Death Doula?
Anyone can become a Death Doula. Before committing to the training, familiarize yourself with the mental and emotional demands of this path. Providing this kind of care can be extremely rewarding, but it can also take a toll on those who are not fully prepared for the intensity of experiencing death so closely. Consider educating yourself more on this position, interviewing other doulas, and exploring death studies before joining a program.
Death Doulas and Death Walking
Death Doulas often have consciously chosen and sought out training for such a role. The training tends to focus more on the pragmatic aspects of preparing for death as well as holding space for the dying and their family.
Death Walking, on the other hand, does include aspects of being a Death Doula, but incorporates more spiritual elements such as energy healing and shamanic practices. Some Death Walkers come to this role naturally in that they are often present when loved ones transition to death. They might not understand at first the role they are in, but they provide support through the transition to death. Gay and Queer men in particular are often called to being a Death Walker in that being a liminal people we traverse the line between worlds. In the Unnamed Path we directly acknowledge death as a natural process and we work with spirit to better understand our place in the Worlds. Communicating with the spirit world assists us in understanding the transition of moving from one world to the other, granting us the compassion to help those in transition.