Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Death Doula

It's often said that those who work in the birthing field usually wander over to end-of-life care and/or hospice work at some point. 

I found that rather odd at first until I stepped into that role myself.

My work as an in-home caregiver to an elderly quadriplegic gentleman opened my eyes to the fact that the dying need just as much compassionate care and support as women in labor do.  Both are dealing with incredibly powerful transitions that can make one feel terribly and desperately alone.  Just having another person present at such a time who isn't directly involved in the situation can help immensely, even if all they're doing is sitting there offering the laboring woman or the dying person their undivided attention.

This is the role I've been taking lately with my ailing father-in-law (Dick).

Dick has been dealing with prostate cancer for a few years now and it's finally looking like the end is near.  He's maintained his independence and mobility right up to about a month ago.

From that point on I've taken a much more active role in his care, from helping him get into and out of bed, to assisting him with his medical care and hygiene, to things as simple as offering various foods that may entice his waning appetite.

I'm not a trained nurse, but with the caregiver background I've been able to handle his care with far more knowledge than the average person; allowing him to stay at home far longer than normal circumstances would have permitted.  It's also enabled me to remain calm through the minor emergencies that had cropped up while he was home; this I feel has been incredibly important to his overall well being.

Just an honest smile; undivided attention and lack of pity, fear or disgust goes a long way.

He needed to transfer to the hospital two weeks ago and he moved up to the hospice ward late last week.  Since his move out of the house, I've made it a point to visit every few days, bringing him his mail, chatting with him and reading books of a spiritual nature aloud to him.

It's not my job to make medical decisions for him or try to persuade or dissuade any choices on his part.  My role has been purely emotional support, to be an anchor of calm normalcy in a tumultuous sea of unknown.

It's been an absolute honor to perform this function for him; to assure him he's not going to die alone.  To me, this is the greatest gift I can give him.

I've had the opportunity of being a birth doula four times and each experience has been wonderful!  Universe willing, I hope to attend more births in the future.  However I'm finding that being a "death doula" can be just as empowering and satisfying as well.


  1. This is a good thing you are doing, Gwen. Just being emotional support for someone (never mind physically helping them take care of bodily functions) can be a huge energy drain on a person. Having the emotional stamina to bear up under that is fantastic. Keep battling!

    1. Thanks much! I'll most certainly keep on keeping on :)