Understanding the Role of a Death Doula in End-of-Life Care

Death Doula DefinitionDeath Doula Definition

Key Takeaways

  • Death doulas provide supportive care and help families navigate end-of-life transitions for a loved one. They ensure the final wishes and needs of the person are met.
  • Doulas can provide bedside vigils, have conversations, assist with legacy projects like writing letters, and more. They offer support but not medical care.
  • Doulas undergo training and certification from organizations like the International End of Life Doula Association and the National End-of-Life Doula Alliance.
  • Doulas can help manage logistics like distributing documents, advance care plans, funeral arrangements, and coordinating services.
  • Doulas act as an empathetic liaison during grief, taking on tasks so families don't have to handle everything themselves. They help make the end-of-life process peaceful.

We often think of doulas in the context of giving birth, but a doula can be an invaluable resource for end-of-life transitions as well. They can help to make a loved one comfortable at the end of their life and help ensure they pass on with dignity.

The use of death doulas is becoming another option for supportive care, as more families find out about the services they provide and how they can help families during one of the most difficult life experiences.

What Is a Death Doula?

While you may be familiar with hospice services, a death doula provides a different set of services.

A death doula helps families navigate the entire end-of-life process. Though services range depending on the provider, doulas typically make sure the final wishes and needs of your loved one are met. If they are bedridden, a doula will sit vigil by their bedside, talk with them or even help them with legacy projects, such as writing farewell letters or creating video messages for surviving family members and close friends to treasure long after they're gone. Death doulas provide supportive care, but not the same as medical professionals.

Doulas do undergo training and receive certification, though. Certification can come from either the International End of Life Doula Association (INELDA) or the National End-of-Life Doula Alliance (NEDA).1 NEDA training covers topics such as communication and interpersonal skills, professionalism, technical knowledge about end-of-life care, values and ethics.2 To get INELDA certification, a doula must attend the organization's training class, participate in at least five cases, have a minimum of 36 hours of direct work as a doula, receive seven evaluations of their doula work, and meet other requirements.3

You can think of a death doula as an extension of a caring family member or close friend, but with a level of training, communication skills and empathy that makes them an invaluable part of managing end-of-life transitions for your loved one and your family.

A Death Doula Can Help to Manage End-of-Life Matters

A doula can be beneficial for giving caregivers a break and time to rest during the end-of-life process. They can also help your family navigate logistics and finances surrounding death.

A doula can organize and distribute critical documents, such as wills and life insurance information, and make sure relevant family members have copies. They can also help with advanced care plans and directives, working with your loved one to sort out to whom they'll assign a durable power of attorney for health care purposes, along with helping them finalize end-of-life care wishes like organ donations.

In addition, a doula can assist with funeral plans and execute the wishes of your loved one and your family as a whole. This can include handling tasks such as choosing flowers, presenting burial or cremation options (if this isn't outlined in a will), talking to the funeral home and cemetery, and coordinating with a house of worship or other organization to secure a location for a memorial service. The inherent value of a doula is that he or she can serve as your liaison when you may be too overwhelmed by grief to handle certain parts of the end-of-life process.

Both NEDA and INELDA offer directories on their websites to help your family find a doula. However, it's important to know that a death doula isn't always a complete stranger. In some cases, a family member or friend may already have an interest in serving in this role, or they may even be certified or know someone who they trust to provide this service.

The Bottom Line

End-of-life transitions are so hard for so many families, but a death doula can ease some of this stress — in important ways both big and small. If your family is facing this situation, you'll need as much support as possible. Whether you're relying on hospice or palliative care services or handling your loved one's end-of-life needs on your own, a death doula could help to support your family throughout this process.

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  1. International End of Life Doula Association. https://inelda.org/.
  2. National End-Of-Life Doula Alliance. https://www.nedalliance.org/.
  3. INELDA End-Of-Life Doula Certification. https://inelda.org/learn/certification/.

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