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Tamara Mac
  • Tamara MacIntyre

The 'what' & 'why' of the End of Life Doula (EOLD)

Doula (noun)

ˈdu lə

a woman trained to provide advice, information, emotional support, and physical comfort

The most common use of the term ‘doula’ is in reference to the support provided around birth. Recently, the term doula is also being used for those providing support on the other end of the human experience as well. The end of life doula or ‘EOLD’ is an area of expertise being drawn upon more frequently for those in search of a conscious death.

We live in a culture where death is very removed from our day-to-day human experience. It is removed from the physical reality, in the emotional healing and with little reverence to the spiritual realm. For many of us who have watched someone we love disappear, whether a little every day with illness or suddenly from tragedy, the wound remains deep and unresolved.

In Latin, to wound is 'vulnerare'. To make vulnerable. Too often we often carry the burden of our death wounds – our vulnerabilities - in isolation because we think we have to process it alone. In reality, too few, whether community or family, are prepared to offer the kind of support we need . Enter the End of Life Doula.

When looking at life’s trajectory to death, there are essentially four main areas as we consider:

1) Being human. This is what most of us do until we are reminded that we are mortal. We live, we watch (or experience) aging, illness, dying or death around us. We don’t relate personally as it seems a far reality until we or someone we love moves into the ‘shift’ phase.

2) The ‘shift’ or what is more commonly referred to as the ‘crisis of survival’. This happens the moment someone realizes that the symptoms they were experiencing has a name, has a pathology, has been offered heroic intervention or now has an open-ended life trajectory with a possible ‘end in sight’.

3) The ‘in-between’ or ‘transition’. This is when you or they have settled into a new ‘normal’. This consists of following the recommendations of others (mostly medical interventions) in the hopes of getting on the other side. Some make plans like prepare a will or buy a funeral package…. others don’t talk about it, don’t want to think about it or do all of this alone so as to not upset family and friends with this potential reality in front of them.

4) The other side or commonly referred to as ‘legacy’. This is what is left behind. Ideally everything was said, was planned and organized. The legacy left was one of love. Statistics tell us that more often than not, the reality is a mess of ‘to dos’ for those you love that is unexpected. There are many details of shutting down and closing out a human life left for loved ones to attend to.

For each of these four areas there are choices and decisions to make. If you don’t know your options OR if you wait until you are emotionally consumed in the shift, the in-between or the transition we are never in the best place to make our best decisions. In very practical terms there are legal and medical decisions and paperwork, ethical considerations and necessary communication, education about what to expect when the human body shuts down. There are decisions associated with your funeral or memorial, where do your ‘things’ go as well as decisions associated with what happens to the human vessel that you walked around in during this lifetime. In spiritual terms, we must come to terms with the reality that we will all die. If we have not done the hard ‘heart work’ during our life you will confront yourself in this space on your way out. Ceremony, ritual, understanding and confronting the grief, denial and fear accompanying our ultimate transition requires support, love and community.

Choosing when or where the EOLD comes in is a deeply personal decision and only you can make this decision. I want to make these conversations easier, to provide a greater understanding of options and choice, both conventional and non. I want to educate, support and love on you and those you love as we all celebrate this one precious life we have been given. Feel free to reach out to see how I can best support you.


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