Traditionally, doulas act as a guide through one of the most important times of your life: the birth of a child. But end of life doulas are providing that same care and guidance through another challenging transition: aging and death. We spoke with Janie Rakow, president the International End of Life Doula Association (INELDA), about this fascinating concept and why it’s a helpful option for some families.
First, what is a death doula? Sometimes known as end of life doulas or transition coaches, these doulas provide emotional, spiritual and physical support to a dying person. “They assist people in finding meaning, creating a legacy project, and planning for how the last days will unfold,” Rakow tells us. They also assist loved ones by providing guidance and support during the last days of life and easing the suffering of grief. Having someone experienced and compassionate there at the end can make the process less frightening—both for the person who is dying and for those around them.
OK, what do they cost? Some doulas provide services on a voluntary basis, while others charge hourly or a flat fee. The cost will depend on the services the doula provides, as well as their location (we found one doula in Michigan that charged $35 per hour and another in Florida for $15 per hour). Rakow recommends that a dying person or their family interview the doula about the services they will provide and have a written contract.
And what exactly does a death doula do? For the person dying, a death doula provides companionship (say, by holding their hand, reading out loud or conversing with them) and can create legacy projects (think: memory books, letters and videos) to give to their loved ones and pass on to future generations. A death doula can also create what’s called a vigil plan—a document where the dying person expresses their wishes about their death. For families, the doula can help facilitate conversations between the dying person and their community, perform basic tasks usually done by a home caregiver (like bathing and feeding), and be a resource for funeral planning. “By utilizing the services of an end of life doula, the days can be filled with love, deep meaning and a sense of the sacred,” says Rakow. And who doesn’t want that?