A death doula, or an end-of-life doula, has a reciprocal role to that of a birth doula: offering support through a life transition. As the birth doula provides a mother with the support she needs going through the labor of childbirth, the death doula helps a dying person move though their final moments of life. The tools that a death doula keeps in their bag and the training they receive are essential for their vocation.
End-of-life doulas traditionally help keep a dying patient comfortable and dignified during this painful transition. However, their role may expand beyond just the dying: they may also take on the role of providing comfort and guidance for those anticipating bereavement or newly bereaved.
What belongs in a death doula bag? In this blog, we examine the three sets of tools every doula should keep with them as they care for the dying and their families.
What is the Role of a Death Doula?
Death doulas enter their field out of an understanding of grief and mourning. They understand that death is a part of life, and though many try to avert their gaze from its inescapability, it transfigures us and is inevitable. The transition from life to death is a process of grieving and unpredictability – an end-of-life doula’s mission is to provide a stable bridge for those who are dying as well as their families and other loved ones.
Training to become a death doula is an ongoing process – while classes exist to teach the basics, a death doula will be practicing throughout their entire career.
What Belongs in a Death Doula Bag?
Every doula will want to personalize their bag for the people they serve and in keeping with their own style of delivering care. There is no “complete kit for death doulas.” People leave the world differently and require alternative means of care as they move on. Generally speaking, however, a death doula’s bag should contain tools of comfort, tools of care, and tools of legacy.
Tools of Comfort
An end-of-life doula is more than just a giver of care, but a provider of comfort. A death doula should carry things that help ease the dying person’s transition and keep the dying person and the family grounded.
Tools of comfort such as a candy bar, a portable speaker, or even a favorite movie may provide short-term pleasure or joy. A hair brush or lipstick can offer dignity to the frail. Religious texts or books of poems can provide a sense of purpose. Flowers can provide the elevation of beauty and remind the dying person of the love in which they are held.
Tools of Care
A death doula’s bag should contain practical items. such as first-aid supplies, pillows, lotions and creams, towels, and washcloths, provide supplementary care to the dying. Epsom salts, a footbath, and topical pain relief can ease minor aches and swelling. Tools of care are most critical during the transition phase, especially if the dying person is uncomfortable or in pain. You can’t take on the pain of another person, but you can help them bear it.
Tools of Legacy
One of the most important things you can offer the dying and the bereaved is a sense of closure. Our lives are not just a series of random occurrences without meaning – we develop important relationships that are worth sharing and preserving. Tools of legacy offer touchpoints for both the dying and the bereaved as they process this difficult life transition.
Many death doulas work with their clients to develop legacy items for family members using crafts like quilting, scrapbooking, or painting. Some will even write letters expressing their love and memories to the people they care for. These can provide powerful tethers, particularly when quality of life is at its highest.
THE HUMAN JOURNEY® was designed as a means to spark conversation amidst despair, even among those reluctant to share their feelings. It takes the form of a board game, encouraging play as a means to discuss grief, letting go, and shared decision-making. While it isn’t required to fulfill your duties as a death doula, it offers a structured methodology for providing meaning in a person’s final days.
As an end-of-life doula, you understand how transformational death can be for families, friends, and loved ones. Your death doula bag should contain objects that help you transform mourning into meaning.