What is an end-of-life doula?

In this article, we'll look at the work of end-of-life doulas and how they support people in preparing for an anticipated death.

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Freeman Brothers Funeral Directors staff member Jen

End-of-life doulas provide support and companionship for people living with a terminal diagnosis. In addition to providing emotional and psychological comfort, doulas can help you to communicate any end-of-life wishes, which may include helping you to talk to funeral directors about any funeral plans in the UK or helping your family to plan memorial or funeral services.

In this article, we’ll look at the work of end-of-life doulas and how they support people in preparing for an anticipated death.

What is an end-of-life doula?

You may be familiar with birth doulas: non-medical companions who help bring life into the world. End-of-life doulas perform a similar function, offering emotional, psychological and practical support for a dying person and their friends and family. Death doulas are sometimes also known as ‘soul midwives’ as they guide people through the dying process.

The word ‘doula’ is derived from a Greek word meaning ‘woman of service’ and anyone can become an end-of-life doula. Although it’s not a medical role, doulas will often work alongside a medical team to ensure that death is as comfortable as possible. They’re also sympathetic to various religious and spiritual beliefs and can liaise with faith leaders so a dying person’s wishes are respected.

What does an end-of-life doula do?

An end-of-life doula works in private homes, care homes, hospices or hospitals – anywhere their services are required. Although doulas most commonly support people with a terminal diagnosis, they also work with the elderly or people living with dementia.

According to End of Life Doula UK, the role of the doula is to preserve a person’s well-being and self-worth from the moment they receive their diagnosis to death and beyond. For example, an end-of-life doula will support the bereaved and assist with planning memorial and funeral services.

This model of end-of-life care is entirely person-focused, giving a dying person and their friends and family the space to talk openly and honestly about dying. A doula will listen to the dying person’s hopes and fears, helping them to explore the meaning of their life and its legacy, and bringing peace and compassion to their death.

A doula may help a dying person develop rituals incorporating meaningful traditions. And they can help to ensure the correct cultural or spiritual observances are undertaken after death. These wishes can then be incorporated into your funeral plans.

But an end-of-life doula offers more than emotional support. They can also be a practical ‘friend in death’, delivering respite care or organising additional help for exhausted caregivers. And they can help with anything from housework to dog walking or making a cup of tea.

What support does an end-of-life doula offer?

A death doula can guide a dying person through their end-of-life decisions. For example, they might:

  • Act as an advocate to ensure that your wishes are respected
  • Take time to talk, listen or be with you
  • Help you to live the life that’s left to you to the full
  • Support you to approach death without fear, anger, loneliness or anxiety
  • Explain the dying process
  • Help to process emotions and experiences
  • Create rites and rituals for the end of life
  • Support and respect spiritual beliefs  

Why people choose an end-of-life doula

The end-of-life doula aims to support people to have a better death. For some, working with a death doula is a means to create a more positive end-of-life experience as a doula can be a compassionate and empathetic companion, helping you to continue to enjoy life while bringing peace to the dying process.

Some people choose to work with a doula from the moment of their diagnosis, while others require support through their final weeks or days. A doula can also work with family and friends for weeks or months afterwards, guiding them through bereavement and helping to organise any memorials or funeral services.

By ensuring that a person’s death is as pain-free and peaceful as possible, doulas can provide comfort for friends and family and valuable support through the grieving process.

How can you contact an end-of-life doula?

If you’re interested in knowing more about working with a death doula, End of Life Doula UK works with people to achieve the end of life and death they choose. You could also contact your local hospital or hospice for recommendations.

If you’re making decisions about end-of-life care and funeral plans in the UK, our first decisions advice may help to answer your questions.  

Freeman Brothers bespoke funeral services

At Freeman Brothers, we’ve been offering independent, bespoke funeral services in Surrey and Sussex since 1855.

We can organise religious or secular services that treat your needs with respect, care and understanding. To make an appointment, contact us today.

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Written by Jennifer Bolt

Funeral Support Assistant

April 5, 2023

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