How to Benefit from an End of Life Doula

“I now begin the journey that will lead me into the sunset of my life. I know that for America there will always be a bright dawn ahead.” (From Reagan’s letter announcing his Alzheimer’s disease to the American public on November 5, 1994)


Former President, Ronald Reagan

Reagan’s words, announcing his Alzheimer’s disease 25 years ago next month, have always stuck with me.  The beauty of a sunset at the end of life generates warmth and comfort within me and gives me hope for a “bright dawn ahead”.

Nearly everyone has attended to a loved one who is suffering from a terminal illness or declining  health from old age.  Often times a patient is “in hospice” and offered comfort care in an effort to ease the physical pain and suffering that may occur as their bodies deteriorate.  These are tough times, not only for the patient but for the patient’s family members.  Fear, anxiety and apprehension about what to say and how to act can paralyze and add even more stress to the situation.  Recently a new health care profession has been added to help patients and family through the dying process.


What is an End of Life Doula


The word doula has its origins in ancient Greek.  Doula translates to “woman helping another woman or handmaiden and servant”. Child birth doulas and post-partum doulas have risen in popularity over the past 20 years as more and more women choose to give birth within the comfort of their own homes.  Child birth doulas are trained to give advice, suggestions, encouragement, direction and practical and moral support to a woman during the birthing process.

I had never heard of an end of life doula until a friend of mine told me about her mother who was close to death and in hospice in an area nursing home.  Until she met her mother’s doula, she was beside herself as to how to help her mother have a peaceful passing.


“One of the most important things that a doula does is to actively engage the one who is dying in the entire process. It gives them a voice that often is denied to them. Doulas ask a lot of who, what, how, and where questions. Who do you want at your bedside as you are dying? What music would you like to hear? What type of bed would you like to be in, hospital or your own? Where would you like the bed? Doulas ask a lot of questions but more importantly they listen to what the dying want and need and do whatever they can to fulfill their requests. One of the primary goals of a doula is to help the dying create their living legacy. This is a project that helps the dying to review and to explore the meaning of their life. The legacy project can take many forms and is only limited by one’s imagination. Sometimes the legacy can take the form of a scrapbook or a collage. Some have made audio or video interviews. This legacy project is something the family will always have to remember their loved one by and to pass on to other generations.


Doulas help more than just the individual

Doulas are there to assist the family as well as the dying. They serve as a guide through this most difficult of times, providing them with emotional and spiritual support. Doulas give the family time to rest or to do other chores of daily living. They help the family to understand more about the dying process and what some of the issues are that they and their loved one is confronting. Family members can sleep at night knowing that the doula will alert them if significant changes occur to their loved ones’ status. The doula is also available after the death to help the family in the initial stages of grief.”

My friend’s experience with her mother’s doula was very positive and left her with precious memories of the days leading up to her mother’s death.  She knows that her mother’s wishes were fulfilled and is happy with the knowledge that her passing was a blessed one.

I’ve told my children that when I die, to release balloons in the sky to celebrate that I graduated. For me, death is a graduation. (Elisabeth Kubler Ross, author of Death and Dying)




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