Last November, I met a Death Doula. His name is Gerald Fournier.
Yes, I said “Death Doula”… so what is a Death Doula?
You may have heard about a Birth Doula; a Birth Coach: someone that works with the expectant mother and supports her and the family before birth, during birth, and after birth.
A Death Doula provides similar support to the family: works with the dying individual and their family, before death, during death, and after death.
This new but important professional supports end of life care. They work in concert with the health care professionals that provide the physical care to the dying person.
The Death Doula helps more on the spiritual side, the emotional side, the mental side, the holistic family side.
They provide support in many ways depending on the needs of the dying person and their family: help create legacy projects, help with reconciliation, plan vigils for the dying, advocate for the dying person and their family, ensure documents are in place such as Wills, Power of Attorney, and Health Care Directives; help clarify roles before and after death.
A Death Doula walks along-side the family; providing support; helping them access resources they may not be aware of; and provide services that may not be available from our current health care professionals including palliative care.
They spend a lot of time with the dying person and their family getting to know them, creating relationships, and helping them to prepare for the death; ensuring they know what to expect and ensuring the surviving family members have as much closure as they need before, during, and after the death.
They assist with the transition from life to death, for the entire family.
Why do we need a Death Doula?
Our culture has changed over the years, over the past 100+ years. Death has been removed from the family home and has been institutionalized and sanitized. We have removed the preparation of death. We no longer experience what someone goes through when they die. We no longer witness an older family member dying at home.
I think it’s time we brought dying back to the living. We need to experience someone else’s dying so we know what to expect when it is our turn. Or when someone close to us dies.
I wish I had a Death Doula in my life when my father was dying. It may have opened up some communication and helped me create my parents’ legacy while my father was still alive instead of me trying to do it on my own now for the past few years. I think my father had a good death, but if I had a Death Doula involved I would have the comfort of knowing that yes, he did have a good death.
(As my father was dying in a personal care home in Winnipeg, I was called in one Saturday because “he had become unresponsive”. When I arrived, I was told they wanted to call an ambulance… I was completely against it. He doesn’t need to go to a hospital. He needs to be made as comfortable as possible while he dies naturally. They administered morphine for comfort care. These health care professionals didn’t seem to know how to help my father or his family experience a peaceful, natural death. He died the next morning. This was November 2014. He was 94. Unfortunately, I don’t think my experience would have been much different today.)
We don’t see to have time for dying. No time to look after the dying. We are not comfortable around those who are dying. We don’t know what to say or what to ask. A Death Doula helps us with that.
I’m not implying our current health professionals are not competent. I believe they have been trained to focus on treating the illness and keeping alive as long as possible. And they don’t have the time to spend with families to answer questions they haven’t even thought of; about what to expect in the upcoming months, weeks, or just days.
Coaches and Financial Advisors like myself are trained to give you answers to questions you don’t even know you have.
Same for Death Doulas: they are death coaches: they help answer questions you don’t even know you have.
A Death Doula helps us experience a comfortable death; a quality death. One that everyone can be comfortable with. Have peace with. And be happy with. And have no regrets.
Mr Fournier explained: We live in a death phobic culture, which creates poverty; a poverty of literacy around dying and grieving. In the North American culture, we find ourselves well protected from being obliged to know all there is to know about dying, about dying well. Most often we are afraid of the dying experience; we don’t want to know what the dying go through, what we as survivors will go through.
We don’t need grief counsellors, says Gerald, we need grief educators. We need to be taught alternative way of grieving and mourning our dying and dead loved ones.
A Death Doula provides support to move the dying and their family to experience a peaceful and enhanced dying experience, to “die well”. We need to relearn about death and dying, that death is a part of living.
I encourage you to find out more about what a Death Doula does; if you think you need one in your lives right now, please contact Gerald Fournier now by email: firstname.lastname@example.org or phone at 204.803.0182
Our Death Cafes will be starting up again in July. If you would like to be on our contact list, please call our office!
Anni Markmann is a Personal Income Tax Professional and Certified Financial Planner; living, working, and volunteering in our community. Contact her at 204.422.6631 or 36 Dawson Road in Ste Anne (near Co-op) or Info@SteAnneTaxService.ca