I’d heard of a doula to support people coming into the world but I’d never heard of one helping those about to leave the world!
Vic is an end of life or death doula, we had a conversation so that I could learn more about this role and how it can support families and individuals around the process of dying.
Emma – Vic can you describe what an End of Life Doula is?
Vic – An End of Life or Death Doula or a ‘friend in death’ is a non-medical role to preserve the well-being, sense of identity and self-worth of the person in our care and to support those around them to fulfil their wishes. It’s really an additional resource for people away from the often all consuming, medical model to be able to focus on what’s important in the end; to allow people to end their stories on their own terms.
Emma – is this something new?
Vic – Historically, this role was the remit of someone in the family or wider community. Over the last 100 years the conversations around death and dying have moved over to the medical profession to the point that there is very little lay experience of death and dying or even talking about it within our families and communities.
Emma – what practical stuff can an End of Life Doula support with?
Vic – An End of Life Doula is a consistent, flexible presence taking on various roles to support – practically, emotionally, spiritually –people living with a life-limiting illness, their families and those who are important to them. This can be anything from coordinating medical or family visits, walking the dog or simply sitting with someone in companionship. It can also involve something called Advanced Planning which centres around discussions like how and where you’d like to be looked after in the future.
Emma – when would you typically start to work with a family?
Vic – We begin our relationships with people at different stages of their journeys, providing guidance, companionship and space for whatever comes up.
Emma – how much does this cost?
Vic – Some Doulas do it as a volunteering role but others as paid work. When I do referrals, I basically set people’s expectations at between £15-£25 per hour plus travel expenses. Online support is becoming more popular via Zoom etc.
Emma – Why did you decide that this was the right role for you?
Vic – I’ve experienced a few deaths in my own family and within some volunteer and training roles and I had the realisation that I was at ease with facilitating the ‘dying role’ without the need to fix. It is so important for people to have the space to share their memories, settle relationships, pass on pieces of wisdom and make sure that everyone they are leaving behind is going to be alright all within the context of the physical act of dying.
To experience the extraordinary interconnectedness and vulnerability of life and, to explore how we live and how we’d like that to be reflected at our end of life is the Doula’s calling.