Death doulas provide emotional support, education during the process of dying

Published: Jan. 17, 2020 at 1:18 AM EST
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CHARLOTTE, N.C. (WBTV) - Expecting mothers often enlist the help of birth doula to provide emotional support and education throughout their pregnancy. Now, end of life doulas are becoming popular for people whose loved ones are nearing death.

Sara Kuzma is studying to become a certified end of life or death doula. She first learned about the profession when she was caring for her grandmother in 2012.

“I approached one of my friends and said ‘I’m overwhelmed’,” Kuzma said. “I was my grandmother’s legal guardian and I was stretched so thin.”

Kuzma praised chaplains, nurses, and social workers who worked with her while her grandmother was in Hospice care. However, she says there were still gaps in services.

“We were really struggling to meet the needs of our own care and my grandparents,” Kuzma said. “I needed someone to just be with me. Tell me what was normal, what was to be expected. I needed that interpersonal connection and not just a check in once a week.”

Six years after her grandmother died, Kuzma is becoming what she needed then: a death doula. Kuzma has completed training programs through the Conscious Dying Institute and the International End of Life Doula Association (INELDA). She is now completing certification requirements for INELDA’s program.

She says doulas can help with a variety of needs for those who are dying or their loved ones. Services can range from educating a person on what happens to the body after death, going over a person’s options for services, caring for a patient at their bedside, planning the vigil, even helping someone who is dying finish any legacy work.

“We all are going to die at some point and having someone who can really walk you through every step of that process, whatever you need, it’s pretty life changing,” Kuzma said.

Janie Rankow is the president of the International End of Life Doula Association (INELDA). INELDA is a nonprofit that formed about five years ago. The organization trains and certifies end of life doulas around the world.

“People have probably been doing this work for hundreds of years, working with people who are dying and helping them, but this End of Life Doula movement is maybe 10 years old. It’s really in its infancy,” Rankow said. “It’s looking at the holistic person and not just treating a disease, but also treating the emotional, physical, spiritual part of a person. I think the doulas play a big role in all of that and it’s really exploded in the last two years.”

Rankow says doulas fill in gaps within Hospice. She says doulas can work hand in hand with Hospice, and her organization even helps Hospice incorporate doula programs into their practice.

“Hospice is amazing and the services that they provide are fabulous, but the way Hospice is structured they just don’t have the time to spend with the patients that the doulas would have,” Rankow said.

Much like birth doulas, there is no governing agency for end of life doulas. Rankow says it is important to do your research prior to hiring a death doula or going through a death doula program.

“Make sure you vet. If you’re doing a training, there’s lot of great trainers out there. So look at them all and see what appeals to you. And in terms of hiring a doula, it should be no different than hiring anyone else to do work for you,” Rankow said.

Rankow says the consultation should be free. She says there should be a contract laying out what services the doula will provide. Some death doulas offer packages, while others charge hourly. She says the hourly rate typically ranges anywhere from $35 to $100 or more, depending on where you live.

To find an end of life doula near you or to learn more about end of life doulas, click here:

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