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Like life itself, our experience of dying and death is unique and that uniqueness should be acknowledged and celebrated. A death doula provides the dying and their family with support, guidance and companionship as they move from diagnosis and end of life care, through to death and bereavement.

In an era where death has become increasingly medicalised and occurring most in hospitals and nursing homes rather than in the family home, a death doula fills the gap that has more traditionally been filled by the community.

This article will help you understand the role of a death doula and how they can provide support to a person entering their end of life.


Death is still tough for healthcare workers
A death doula provides the dying and their family with support, guidance and companionship.

1. How can a death doula help?

Death doulas act as companions, advocates and educators for the dying and their families – commonly giving the dying the opportunity to die at home, if that is their wish.

Despite the leaps of technological advancement, studies indicate that we’re more socially isolated than we’ve ever been before. We tend not to know our neighbours the way that we once did and it’s common for family members to live too far apart to physically support each other. This has huge implications across the lifespan and particularly in how we die and grieve.

Death doulas nurture and support the dying and their family in a way that is practical, empathetic and can be tailored to the needs of each individual family.

2. What is the role of a death doula?

A death doula can help you plan your death – they can step you through what the experiencing leading up to death may be like for you and your family. They can support you with funeral arrangements; with contingency plans if you become too unwell to stay at home. A death doula can potentially stay overnight – helping to comfort, care and keep the dying company.

Often, the family of someone who is terminally ill or approaching the end of their life may be processing their own complex emotions – they may be unable or unwilling to engage with death and dying in a way that helps their dying loved one. There is a great comfort in having open conversations with people who are experienced and confident discussing issues related to end of life, death and grief.

3. Are doulas medical professionals?

People who wish to be doulas can undertake formal training across Australia, however, doulas are not nurses or doctors. They are not counsellors or therapists. In fact, doulas are not only involved in death, but may also choose to specialise in other big transitions in life – such as supporting families during pregnancy and birth. Birth and death have so much in common, yet we are much more comfortable with the beginning of life than we are with the end of it.

4. How does a death doula provide end of life care?

What does it mean to die? What legacy do you want to leave? Who will fill the gap between the doctors, nurses and other healthcare workers and your family? How do you deal with fear? With pain and tedium and the unexpected moments of joy and of yearning? A death doula may be able to help guide you through these difficult and overwhelming subjects from diagnosis to death and to the grief and bereavement following death.

Death doulas are intimately acquainted with death and with meeting the needs of the dying and their families. However, the death doula industry is not regulated and there is therefore not the same industry oversight compared with nurses, community workers and doctors. There is still a growing recognition of the increasingly important role death doulas play in end of life care.

5. Final thoughts on death doulas.

Of course, death doulas aren’t for everyone. What is a natural fit for one family may be unhelpful for another. Ultimately, the end of our life is as unique as we are and we deserve the opportunity to make decisions that suit us, comfort us and give us agency.

We hope this article about death doulas has provided you a better understanding of the service these carers can provide to people at the end of their lives.

Further reading and grief support:

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