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Q&A With Remembering A Life

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What is an end-of-life or death doula?

An end-of-life or death doula is someone who companions the dying and their loved ones. This person provides information, comfort and support around the end-of-life journey.

What are the benefits of working with an end-of-life doula?

Dying is something we all eventually do, but we don’t often discuss it. Having conversations about death and being companioned by someone who is comfortable with and knowledgeable about the process can help bring deep meaning and sacredness for all. 

What kinds of things does an end-of-life doula do?

An end-of-life doula’s work with the dying individual and their loved ones is in three main areas:

  1. Summing Up and Planning – The doula has conversations to help the dying individual look for meaning and what mattered most in their life. One way this can be accomplished is by helping them create a remembrance project. The doula also invites the individual and their loved ones to discuss plans for the final days and from those discussions creates a written plan. The plan includes items such as, where will the vigil occur, who will be there, how will people interact with the dying person, what music, if any, will be playing, etc.
  2. Participating in the Vigil – The doula participates in the final days by providing comfort, support and advocacy. With knowledge of the desired plan, the doula works to see it come to fruition. The doula also provides information about the signs and symptoms of the dying process and helps co-create rituals to bring even greater meaning to that process. In some instances, the doula assists with physical and practical care of the dying person and respite for the caregivers.   
  3. Reprocessing and Early Grief Work – The doula provides opportunities for the loved ones to tell the stories of how they felt and what happened during the dying process and how they are now experiencing their grief.  

Are end-of-life doulas certified? Do they have training?

End-of-life doulas can complete a certification and training process through various organizations and are happy to provide their certifications. There is no universal certification or licensing exam although much of the training is similar among organizations. However, there are also some people who have experience through hospice work, etc. who use the title without completing a specific training program.

When do people start to work with an end-of-life doula? Right before the death? Earlier?

People start to work with an end-of-life doula at different times. Some start when they receive a terminal diagnosis. Others when they’re closer to death and even actively dying. Still others seek doulas after a death as they begin to make their life good again without their loved one’s physical presence.

How can I decide if an end-of-life doula is a good option for me or my loved one?

A good way to determine if an end-of-life doula is a good option for you or your loved one is to have a conversation with one or more. Ask them to explain what they do and see if it feels like a good match. Every family, every dying person and every end-of-life doula is different. And each doula brings a unique set of experiences and expertise. Some might be more versed in providing emotional and spiritual support while others might be more gifted in offering physical and respite care. Find the combination that best meets your needs.  

How much time does an end-of-life doula spend with the person who is dying? With the family?

The amount of time spent with the dying person and their family varies greatly. It depends on when the doula begins the companioning and how much the dying person and their family want the doula to be present. Some families want the doula to empower them to make the journey themselves. Others want the doula beside them every step of the way.  There is no right or wrong way - just what works for each individual and their family.

I am not a religious person. Will the end-of-life doula still work with me?

End-of-life doulas meet people where they are. If you are not religious, the doula will honor that. You can decide what, if any, religion is included on the journey. The end-of-life does not have to be religious but many people say it is extremely spiritual. The doula will help you explore that spirituality if you so desire.  

My faith is an important part of who I am. Will the end-of-life doula be open to incorporating some of my beliefs into the care provided?

Yes, the doula will incorporate your beliefs into the care provided. End-of-life doulas are trained to be openhearted and welcoming to all religions. Their goal is to make the end-of-life journey as personalized as possible. 

Do end-of-life doulas work with funeral directors? If so, how?

End-of-life doulas do work with funeral directors. Funeral directors care for families before and after a death, and will refer families to end-of-life doulas to expand the services they provide. Both funeral directors and doulas want families to honor, remember and heal – their work goes hand-in-hand – and the plans the doula and family create can include things the funeral director will provide. However, not all funeral directors know about or have end-of-life doulas available in their communities so some may be new to the process. 

How do I find an end-of-life doula?

You can find listings of end-of-life doulas on the websites of the training and certification organizations such as INELDA, the International End of Life Doula Association, www.inelda.org.

Can I interview several end-of-life doulas before selecting one?

You should interview your end-of-life doulas before selecting them. The end-of-life journey is a privileged time when you want the right person companioning you. Find the doula that best meets your needs.

How are an end-of-life doula’s fees structured?

End-of-life doulas structure fees in various ways. Some provide services by the hour, some provide them for a lump sum once you’ve determined the scope of the plan, and some break down the services into individual programs you can pick-and-choose to meet your needs.

About the Contributor

Jackie Naginey Hook, MA is a spiritual director, Life-Cycle Celebrant™ and end-of-life doula whose work helps people find hope, healing and wholeness. She coordinates the Helping Grieving Hearts Heal program with Koch Funeral Home in State College, PA, including, creating memorable funeral ceremonies and remembrance services, community outreach and end-of-life support. Jackie also offers individual and group spiritual direction and programs and retreats in loss, grief, spirituality and forgiveness. She has a B.S. in Business from Penn State University and an M.A. in Wellness from the University of Central Florida.  For more information, please call 814-237-2712 or visit www.kochfuneralhome.com.

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