Having worked as a registered nurse in the nursery/NICU (neonatal ICU) for many years, I have become familiar with birthing doulas who are non-medical personnel that undergo special training to help Moms through the labour process. Generally, they are not employed by the hospital but may be found privately or in some birthing centers. Until today though, I had never heard of a death doula.
I was searching Facebook Groups and came across one that mentioned the use of a death doula and so I wanted to find out more.
The word “doula” is actually derived from a Greek word meaning ” woman who serves” but doulas can be male or female. Doulas are specially trained people who assist a dying person and their family. Where they are available, they generally work with hospice organizations.
Like birthing doulas who help expectant mothers, death doulas provide a range of services to the dying patient and their family. They can guide families through the process of death, telling them what to expect and helping them to deal with mortuaries, funeral homes, and other agencies that may be interacting with the patient and family.
They may sit at the dying patient’s bedside, with or without the family, and chat, sing, read or simply be there. Some doulas have nurse’s training and may administer medications or perform other acts of skilled nursing care, but their primary focus is comforting the patient.
They are also usually non-sectarian and generally don’t mind reading from spiritual references or incorporating certain religious ceremonies. If you are considering hiring a doula and these ceremonies are important to you, be sure to ask ahead of time.
Because they work in the private sector or with a hospice organization, they can provide their services both at home or in a hospital or nursing home.
One important consideration is that a physician needs to make the family aware ahead of time that the patient has a limited life expectancy (generally less than one year) and sometimes that doesn’t happen.
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