By Last Updated: October 18th, 2022

What is a Death Doula?

The word “doula” is often associated with the birth of a child, with a new person entering the world. But what about a death doula? Death doulas do what birthing doulas do. . .only for leaving this world.

While this might seem like a new concept, death doulas have been around throughout history. A death doula is someone who helps someone else in their transition of death. Not only can the doula assist the person who is dying, but they can also help families and friends as they deal with the loss.

What Do Death Doulas Do?

So, what exactly does that involve, helping someone with the transition to death? Death doulas actually go by many names, including End of Life Doulas (EOLDs) and Death Midwives (again, with these terms, they are likened to doulas who bring people into this world). There are a lot of people who might be involved during the death process, including doctors, medical professionals, family members, funeral professionals, and more. The death doula acts as the mediator that makes sense of all of this for the individual who is dying and provides comfort and transparency throughout the situation.

Some of the death doulas duties might include planning before, during, and after death; they may also look into rituals and practices that might bring the individual comfort and let caregivers know what’s happening to the body as it breaks down. The death doula might also help the person reflect on their life as they usher them toward death.

You may be familiar with death doulas as they are part of a growing trend known as the Death Positive Movement, which aims to encourage people to speak more openly and freely about death and dying.

death doula holding hand of elderly person in wheelchair, close up view of hands

How to Become a Death Doula

While there is no federally mandated training for death doulas, there are some private organizations that provide training in this area. Prospective death doulas are encouraged to take classes in end-of-life programs, seek experience with hospice care, and become practiced with training with the National End of Life Alliance. They should also be expected to pass an exam in the core competencies of training, which includes communication and interpersonal skills, professionalism, technical knowledge, and values and ethics. While they are not expected to have funeral director training, they might have that as part of their resume.

What’s the Difference Between a Death Doula and a Funeral Director?

The best way to view death doulas is that they are not a substitute for a funeral director but that they play a complementary role. While the person who passes away doesn’t typically get to know the funeral director, in this case, the individual will develop a close relationship with the death doula, who will be a part of their life before, during, and after death.

There is also a misconception that death doulas are like hospice workers. In fact, unlike hospice workers, these doulas do not provide medical care, but they might work with the hospice workers to make death a comfortable transition for the individual. Some of their duties might be:

  • Implement training for family caregivers
  • Provide companionship to the individuals
  • Relief for family caregivers
  • Grief support
  • Be there for the patients as they are dying and create a peaceful atmosphere for them
  • Create a support plan for when the patient passes away
  • Provide help planning funeral and memorial services
  • Writing an obituary
  • Helping with legal paperwork
  • Helping with wills

Are Death Doulas in Demand?

Yes, there is a demand for death doulas who serve everyone from the healthy to the young to the elderly. They can even help with the transition of death for pets. There are many gaps and questions that come up during the dying process, and death doulas are there to fill in those gaps. Each doula will have their own specialty, so when you consider hiring one, you will want to ask them what they have expertise in.

“Everyone deserves “good death” and families need proper closure.” -Ashley Johnson, End of Life Doula (EOLD), Member of Cremation Association of North America (CANA)

More and more people in the United States are making death doulas a part of their end-of-life services, as people start to think differently about death and seek compassionate professionals to ease their transition or the transition of a loved one.

If you are interested in making a doula a part of your end-of-life process, there are death doulas in California who are trained in many areas. Opal Cremation is happy to help answer any questions that might come up about death doulas or put you in contact with someone who might be able to help. In addition, if you are looking to seek pre-planning cremation services, caring Opal Cremation professionals are available for you 24/7 and can provide you with the information you’re looking for.

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