Like a birth doula, an end of life doula provides non-medical physical, emotional and spiritual support. Also called death doulas, these trained professionals work with dying people, their families, caregivers and hospice staff.
Jane Whitlock is an end of life doula. Known as “Doula Jane,” she works with families, listening, calming, answering questions, and providing support. She says, “We’re not duplicating hospice services, we’re an additional person who can spend unlimited time with a dying person, like an experienced friend.”
Aside from working as a doula, Jane serves as a volunteer at Our Lady of Peace Hospice, bringing her expertise to our organization. We are grateful for the time she spends comforting people who don’t have a loved one to call.
Jane became a death doula after caring for her husband during his 4-year battle with kidney cancer. She says, “My husband spent the last two weeks of his life at another hospice house. He was fully supported medically for his physical ailments, but we both felt alone spiritually.” Based on her experience, she supports our staff at Our Lady of Peace. She sits with patients, creating space for them to talk freely about their fears, and offering families gentle reassurance that they have prepared and can handle what is coming.
There’s been a growing trend of death doulas over the past two years. Jane says 50% of the doulas she mentors have come from an experience with a loved one. She says, “Once you have an appreciation of what you needed, but didn’t get, you are compelled to educate and help others.”
In the past, death and dying was viewed as a natural part of life, but now, it’s more common for people not to be exposed to death, so it can be uncomfortable. People often lack confidence and competence with the dying process and family and friends don’t know what to say or do to offer support to their loved one, and each other. They also carry the extra burden of hosting visitors who come to pay their respects. Doula’s help families navigate that process, answer questions, and reinforce hospice practices. They spend unlimited time helping families understand and work through the discomfort of seeing their person get closer to death, with every change that occurs.
Inevitably, people want to be at peace and be confident in knowing what will happen. Jane says, “ Understanding a person’s beliefs, allows me to be respectful and connect people with the wisdom that is already inside them. And, if they have no idea of what lies ahead, I keep talking until they can get to a place of comfort with it.”
Jane encourages you to think about dying, and talk about it with your kids, so they know what you want when the time comes, making the death experience easier for everyone. And, don’t be afraid to share your death stories, including what went right and what went wrong because we can learn from each other.