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Death Doula Support at the End of Life

Death Doula Support at the End of Life

Joan is 50 years old and has been living with a terminal illness for several years. She is aware that the end of her life is near, and she has talked to her family about her final wishes. Her adult children are not in the same city and her loving partner is overwhelmed by the impending loss. The family have heard that Death Doula support at the end of life is now available in Ontario and have engaged Glenda, who is an accredited Death Doula.

End-of-life Doulas empower, educate, and encourage people and their families to be involved in making decisions. The word "doula" is Greek for servant or helper. Like a birth doula supports women during the labor process, a death doula supports a person during the dying process. This support is specific to that person's needs, beliefs, and values for their end-of-life care as well helping with the grief process for those who are mourning the loss of a loved one.  Doulas are often still present after the death to support the family with emotional support or to assist with paperwork and procedures for memorials or burial.

The Doula is there as a comforting presence. When the end comes the Doula is there to guide the family through the plans they had discussed. Having established a list of immediate family to call, the number of the physician, what funeral preparations the individual has decided on, obituary and what the memorial or wake should look like, can all be facilitated through the Doula while the family is mourning.

Upon meeting with the family, Glenda explained her role as a mediator with the medical team, a co-ordinator for services and a counsellor, advocate, and guide for Joan herself during the active dying process. A Doula does not prescribe medications but will work with the medical team, including the palliative care therapists.

Sometimes the family cannot be available or need some respite and that is when the Doulas’ role is most beneficial. When the family cannot be present but wishes for someone to be with Joan by her bedside and keep vigil. For Joan’s family, Glenda was there to make the calls to the immediate family so they could be present for the final hours. She was there to help organize the memorial service, including some of Joan’s wishes expressed in her Legacy Plan. Glenda worked with Joan’s faith community to incorporate the rituals which would bring meaning to Joan’s life and closure to those who mourned her.

If you would like to know more about the services which a Death Doula there are several local practices posted on Ottawa web sites. In March 2022, The Funeral Co-operative will host Ottawa Death Doula, Tom Birkhan DSW, for a Zoom presentation for members on the training and skill set of a death doula and how an accredited death doula can provide support to the dying and to their loved ones.

About the Author: Tom Birkhan is a Developmental Services Worker and a certified Death Doula, having completed his accreditation through The Institute of Traditional Medicine. He also has extensive experience with senior support and Alzheimer’s and Dementia care. He can be contacted through his web site:

Tagged in: Funeral Co-operative of Ottawa Published by: Funeral Co-operative of Ottawa Inc.