Death is natural. We all must face it and experience it (in some form or another) during our lives, yet many Americans are terrified of the process; they choose ignorance and denial instead because the finality of death and all the unknowns attached to it are simply too overwhelming to think about. The emerging popularity of death doulas in U.S. society is changing that perception.
The word “doula” had previous associations with birth: the word itself loosely translates to a woman who helps another woman. Doulas were employed most commonly as midwives, helping mothers with the emotional, physical, and informational aspects of childbirth — before, during, and after it occurred. They were there to assist in any way the mother needed throughout the entire process. Death doulas do the same thing, only for those at the end of their lives rather than the beginning.
Death doulas tend to be employed by those who have been diagnosed with a terminal illness and have accepted the situation. They can provide a range of support, from running errands and cooking meals to talking about the things loved ones aren’t ready to hear — like the reality that this life will end, and soon. As one article described it, “Death doulas are more like traveling companions, there to walk with clients and families toward something wholly unknown.”
The National Funeral Directors Association found that 62.5% of consumers felt communicating their funeral plans and wishes to their families before their deaths was very important; death doulas provide an opportunity to do so. They can help arrange funerals and all the complicated necessities that go into them, as well as emotionally stand by all members involved.
“Death… is not a medical event,” says Tarron Estes, founder of the Conscious Dying Institute in Colorado.
She’s right; death doulas bridge the gap between doctors, families, and attitudes about dying. By offering continuous support to the dying and their families, doulas can make the journey to death much more peaceful.