Friday, April 4, 2014

Doulas for Death

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? 


  1. Why yes, I have indeed thought about this: that birth and death were similar and the needs of people in birth and death were similar, so the care could be similar also. Have been present in the death processes of some beloved folks, and many birth processes too. This idea was always riding "shotgun" throughout. Glad you gave voice to this. Thank you.

  2. It's not something I've ever thought about before, but I like the idea. Of course, I have a million practical questions.

  3. @yetanotherbitterinfertile - what would be your practical questions?

  4. I think the link is clear..if we take a moment to think about it! It seems strange to me that we can accept death to be a spiritual event, however, thinking the same about birth is for the "hippies" and "new agers". An end of life doula sounds to me like a wonderful thing, although it would take someone incredibly special to dedicate their life to doing it.

  5. Hi! I run a 6-in-1 training and certification program where successful graduates meeting our certification requirements receive all of the following certifications:
    ~ End-of-Life Doula
    ~ Death Doula
    ~ Mourning Doula
    ~ Death Midwife
    ~ Re-organizer
    ~ Life Coach

    Each of these roles are different and prepare people to work with different individuals in different settings. You can learn more by visiting our website at

    Thanks for spreading the word about such things. Increasingly I see more individuals seeking both this certification and to retain individuals doing this work.

  6. OH, actually, here is a link to an article on this too:

  7. Hi everyone,
    First of all I want to thank YOU all for what you do. I had my second baby at home with a lay midwife 22 years ago because of a horrible birth experience with my first child that ended with a c-section. I had no idea what I was getting into at the time, I just knew that I couldn't walk into another situation like I did previously. I met so many wonderful people, birth midwives and doulas. It changed my life. Fast forward many years and I became a nurse with a passion to serve the dying. When my own mother died in 2005 I knew I wanted to serve families privately and give them what I was able to give my mom. I decided to call myself a death midwife at that time and it was totally because of the beautiful women that tended to me during such a scary but empowering time in my own life. I've sinced morphed into calling myself a doula for the dying or end of life guide, it seems the people who do home funerals call themselves death midwives mostly. I love to read and hear people talk about when they first discover this concept, about us 'doulaing' people through death as we do through birth. I remember when it dawned on me and I thought I was the only one. I was so excited to see there were others, not many, but there were some on the internet back in 2005. I wonder how many of us there have been all along? Anyway, I saw this post and I wanted to add my gratitude to the birth doulas out there ♥ peace, Deanna.


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