What is an End-of-Life Doula?

A new frontier … the End-of-Life Doula Role

Doulas provide holistic, personalized care to individuals and families as they experience life’s major transitions … birth, the early weeks of new parenthood, and death. While the services of birth and postpartum doulas are becoming more mainstream, the End-of-Life Doula role is relatively new and evolving. Merilynne and Patty each share their perspectives.

Thoughts from Merilynne …

The End-of-Life Doula role is to accompany the dying person and their loved ones through the final months, weeks and days of life. The doula provides support, resources, education and friendship for those who accept and embrace dying as a period of life, not just an abrupt ending. This period of life may last a year or a day. It brings challenges and joys, sorrows and opportunity. The end-of-life doula adds a layer of support for both the dying person and their family to help them live life to the fullest.

In our training, participants learn about the end-of-life doula role and how to support the dying and their loved ones through education, accompaniment, referrals to resources in the community and companionship. End-of-Life Doulas learn to enhance and empower, rather than usurp the role of friends, family, the medical team and spiritual care providers. They learn how to set guidelines, define their reach, maintain good boundaries and practice self-care.

As more and more of us live longer and face chronic and life-limiting illness, the period of dying has extended from a few days or weeks to months or years. Medical care focuses solely on cure and treatment. Patients often feel adrift among medical choices while grasping for ways to live with illness in full awareness that death will come. Life choices include acceptance, growth and sharing gifts of love and preparation. There is much meaning to be found during the “dying year” that is profound and life affirming. It is a time of opportunity and growth to be embraced, not shunned. The end-of-life doula guides and accompanies the dying person and their family as they explore this territory and live to the fullest during this transition time.

end-of-life doula role


Thoughts from Patty …

end-of-life doula role

The End-of-Life Doulas provide compassionate, practical assistance to individuals and their families as they face death. Doula support services are multi-faceted, encompassing emotional, physical, logistical and informational needs of the family. Services are provided in the home, in assisted living and hospice facilities, nursing homes and hospitals.

End-of-Life Doula role is to provide comfort and support to individuals who lack extended family support, who may feel lonely or afraid, or whose primary caregivers are exhausted and in need of respite. The role of the end-of-life doula does not duplicate the work of other professionals such as hospice nurses or home health aides. Rather, the doula works alongside these professionals, employing a holistic, non-medical skill set. At a time when families are stretched thin and feeling overwhelmed, doulas fill gaps in care, completing a circle of support for the person who is dying and their loved ones. The doula’s goal is to provide thoughtful, proactive support to ensure the best quality of life possible, right through the end.

Each end-of-life doula will create his/her own service package. The range of services provided can include:

  • Facilitate end-of-life planning
  • Mediation and advocacy so that the dying person’s wishes are honored
  • Comfort measures for the dying
  • Emotional support
  • Life review and legacy project support
  • Education, information and resources
  • Respite for the caregiver(s)
  • Logistical and household support
  • After death care