Have you ever thought about how birth, the beginning of life, and death, the end of life, are similar? I've philosophized about this a few times with friends and fellow doulas, and found that these important transitions have a lot in common. The need to have someone near, for emotional reassurance, information (what is going to happen? is this normal?), and a loving touch.
This thought occurred to one of my blog readers, who contacted me with this e-mail:
Last night as I midwifed my cat through her dying hours I thought about how comforting the touch, soft voice, and warm breath would be for people who were dying and wondered if there was a niche for doulas for dying. Of course it’s important to have loved ones with you when you are dying but sometimes those loved ones have all passed on or are too far away to be there during the dying hours. And most of us know from seeing fathers and other family members at births that they often need as much doula care as the woman giving birth. The same is likely to be true for dying – their presence is important, but they may not be able to provide the gentle caressing and soft voice that a trained doula can provide.
My husband and I don’t have children and we often discuss our concerns that the second one to die won’t have someone with them for their dying hours. I know I would feel better if I knew there were people trained to comfort the dying in a hands-on way who could be hired at the time of death to provide needed emotional care. Certainly hospice provides wonderful and necessary comfort to the dying, but I’m talking here about someone who works along side a hospice team and who serves at the end of life the same function as a doula at the beginning of life. It would be someone who was paid for his or her services, just like a birth doula usually is. Maybe it seems a heresy to suggest that birth and death could both be supported by a doula, but don’t we need as much love and help at the end of life as we do at the beginning?
Though not too common, there do exist "End-of-Life Doulas" or "Death Doulas," if you will. Actually, googling will turn up a couple of programs that include doulas in their care for the dying.It seems the role of the doula can have an impact in many areas of life. More and more popular these days are doulas for the full spectrum of birth experiences, for example, stillbirth or abortion.
What do you think about the concept of "doulas for dying"? Have you encountered an End-of-Life Doula before?