Want to Become a Death Doula? 5 Questions to Ask
Have you been considering a career in end-of-life care as a death doula? Perhaps you’ve sat with a loved one while they’ve crossed over or cared for someone as they were in their final days. For some people, being a part of these transitions can spark a desire to learn more about death and dying, and to train to become an end-of-life doula. Working as a death doula can be an incredibly meaningful career. Before you sign up for a doula training course, consider these questions.
1. Is End-of-Life Care for You?
There are many facets to end-of-life care, and death doulas are a part of a larger web of death care professionals that may include palliative care physicians, hospice nurses, therapists, and social workers. International DoulaGivers defines a death doula as a non-medical person trained to care for someone holistically (physically, emotionally, and spiritually) at the end of life.
What does that sort of care look like?
It may look like holding space, listening to the wishes of a patient, and providing them with your comforting presence. A death doula may help facilitate difficult conversations surrounding wills and estate planning, to health care proxies and advanced care directives. A doula might help a patient plan their funeral or even plan their death. A death doula can ensure that special requests, like hearing the voice of a loved one telling a story, happen. They can become like an extension of a family by helping facilitate these moments for the dying person.
2. How Prepared Are You for Your End of Life?
Death may be a topic we in the living space like to avoid, but if we prepare in advance, we can ease the burden of our loved ones when making hard choices, while also fostering peace around such a transition. The best way to help someone prepare for the end of their life is to be prepared for your own. A large part of end-of-life doula work is facilitating end-of-life plans for a patient. Preparation is key for both the patient and their family. Do you have a healthcare proxy assigned? Is your will completed? Have you talked with your loved ones about your wishes? By doing this work and becoming familiar with the key elements that go into end-of-life planning, you will be better equipped to understand the needs of and support patients and their families.
3. Are You Comfortable Advocating for Others?
A death doula will be that person’s celebration-of-life cheerleader, advocating and fighting for their needs; even if it’s up against the patient’s family members or even other medical providers.
If you can handle hard conversations, and be an empathetic source of comfort to others, perhaps your superpower is being a death doula. It’s important to be aware of not only the technical skills that will be expected of you but also the soft skills that will gain trust and comfort from the patients and families you’ll be servicing in this role.
4. Can You Provide Emotional and Logistical Support?
Emotional support for the patient and family is a huge part of this career. A death doula must be compassionate and present physically, emotionally, and spiritually, while simultaneously comforting patients and their families as they navigate through resources and paperwork at the end-of-life stage.
Some examples of offering ideal emotional support is being someone to confide in, without judgment. Sometimes support is in the form of answering questions so they can better understand their experiences. At the end of the day, if you’re capable and willing to truly hear and see your patients and their families, you’re already offering them great emotional support.
End-of-life doulas also offer logistical support for families, be it scheduling, working with others involved in death care (like a funeral home or crematorium), coordinating appointments, and keeping track of patients’ records. Staying on top of your agenda while being the keeper of your patients’ schedule is integral to a death doula’s supporting role in the lives of their patients.
5. Are You Good with Boundaries?
Emotions can be high at this time for both patients and families and working with different personalities who may be experiencing grief, anger, sadness, etc. can be tricky to navigate. While you continue to comfort and care for your patients and their families, remember that it’s about your needs as well. You count.
Your boundaries (physical, energetic, and emotional) are the rules for how others learn to behave around you, how you want to be treated, what you will accept and what you will not — they are based on your own needs and wants. Respecting boundaries is about understanding your value, knowing your priorities, and making sure that others do as well. It is about you creating a safe container for yourself, where you can hold space for witnessing and listening, without getting drawn into the suffering. This is helpful for all first responders, to avoid burnout or vicarious trauma. Boundaries help you remain strong, so you may best serve others.
A death doula can help soften the uncertainty and grief that comes with death, while also carrying out end-of-life requests and wishes. You can be of service to others if you’re willing to provide support, can advocate for the patient, and set boundaries for yourself. To dive deeper, watch EoL 101: End of Life Doula with Oceana Sawyer and learn firsthand what it means to be a death doula.