Honoring a Good Death: The Role of the End-of-Life Doula

Jennifer Foley, a trained end-of-life doula, explains what the job entails and the value a “death doula” can provide at a critical time of need.
Woman holding hand with elderly person end-of-life doula

The end of our life is a topic that is seldom discussed, yet it is one of the universal truths we will all experience. Since few people take the time to talk about this natural phenomenon of life, it leaves terminally ill individuals and their families filled with unresolved questions and a lack of understanding about what to expect in the last chapter of life: death.

There is uncertainty as to how best to support loved ones during their final days. It is common to shy away from thinking or talking about death, but there is a growing conversation around the Death Wellness movement. The movement shifts the feelings of avoidance in talking about death to the embracing of the inevitable by creating a plan for death. Once a death plan is completed, it is given to caretakers to follow, ensuring a person’s wishes for their desired end-of-life experience. An end-of-life plan typically involves the reduction of suffering and helps the patient to maintain control and autonomy over their death. A dignified death is an extension of the concept of a dignified life; one in which people retain their dignity and freedom until the end of their existence.

What is an End-of-Life Doula?

a photo of Jennifer Foley wearing a black sweater and smiling with teeth
Jennifer Foley

Doulas are compassionate people who help navigate life transitions. Some doulas provide support and care during the birth process, while others help ease individuals through the end-of-life process. An end-of-life doula is a non-medical professional trained to care for a terminally ill person’s physical, emotional, and spiritual needs during the death process.

Recently, the granddaughter of Elvis and Priscilla Presley, Riley Keough, announced on her Instagram that she had completed The Art of Death Midwifery training. In the post, she said, “I think it’s so important to be educated on conscious dying and death the way we educate ourselves on birth and conscious birthing. We prepare ourselves so rigorously for the entrance and have no preparation for our exit.”

What is the role of an End-of-Life Doula?

An end-of-life doula places the focus of their service around what their client states they wish and desire to experience in their impending death. These are some of the services an end-of-life doula offers:

  • Facilitates an end-of-life plan for the dying client to help clients and their family through the active dying phase.
  • Provides mediation and advocacy so that the dying person’s wishes are honored.
  • Co-creates with the dying client a plan for the death experience, including music choice, poetry or religious readings, fragrance, who will be present for death, lighting in the room, clothing, and more.
  • Encourages clients to have difficult conversations with their loved ones so that they can say goodbye gracefully.
  • Helps create a legacy project and assists with its completion.
  • Sits with and is present for the dying in a busy hospice environment.
  • Provides support to the family during the death transition.
  • Provides respite for caregivers.

End-of-life doulas provide a valuable service that helps comfort not only the dying but their families as well. If you or a family member is in need, please reach out to see how I can be a source of comfort.

Balanced Soul logo end-of-life doula death doulaJennifer Foley has worked in the health and wellness field for more than 30 years, meeting the needs of adolescents, preteens, and adults in the Indianapolis area. Her love of knowledge relating to healing led her to obtain a bachelor’s degree in Health Communication and a master’s degree in health promotion-disease prevention, and she has advanced training as a Holistic Practitioner, a Certified Wellness Program Coordinator, a Mayo Clinic Tobacco Treatment Specialist, and is also trained as an end-of-life Doula and Usui Reiki Master. She enjoys helping people find their balance as an integrative well-being coach at Balanced Soul. Learn more at balancedsoulindy.com.

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