One of the themes of this year’s Dying Matters week (8-14 May) is what can you do for your friends and for your community. Obviously being there as a support – emotionally and practically – is a big yes. But what if your wish to help ran deeper, what else can you do? Have you ever heard of Doulas?
When did you first find out about the role of Doulas?
I saw an article in the Guardian about an End of Life Doula called Rebecca Green. It may sound like an epiphany but a flashbulb went off and I said to myself ‘that’s what I’m meant to do’. At that time I was an HR Director having worked for major Corporates but along the way I had been alongside my two brothers and my parents to support them at end of life. I had a conviction that people should have choice and control over their dying. So having seen the article I set about researching the training available; found Living Well Dying Well; questioned the Director Hermione Elliott about what was involved and my suitability, then registered to do the training.
Can you tell us a little about what Doulas actually do?
We are Supporters or Companions who walk alongside people with a life limiting illness, their families and those who are important to them. It is a non-medicalised role where we are a consistent and flexible presence to fill the gaps and take on various roles – practically, emotionally and spiritually if desired. There are many things we can do:
- Guide people though all the decisions and choices that need to be made at end of life
- Be a point of contact for others services and support and navigate through these
- Be an advocate when people and those they love need their wishes upheld
- ‘Be’ with the dying to hold the space. Have conversations so death is approached without fear and loneliness
- Be practical – walk the dog, prepare a meal, housework and many of us undertake personal care
What made you want to get involved?
I have seen how death and dying can be a frightening and medicalised event – not person centred. I wanted to work with people so they could face the inevitable with peace of mind, knowing that their physical and emotional needs and desires were paramount and that they had someone with them who saw the whole person and held their wishes and choices at the centre of everything. I wanted to work with people that were close to the dying person they loved so that they felt confident and able to be with the person at home, to be supported do what they wanted to do or not to do, to create an atmosphere for all involved of loving support, kindness, respect, dignity and normality.
What do you enjoy most about being a Doula?
It is the unique personal relationship and heart connection which doing this work brings about; the unconditional love and respect for the dying person. In this work you get to know the essence of the person and that is a privilege.
What do you find most difficult?
When a person you have been close to as a Doula dies. There is an initial sense of a void because of the close relationship and there is the reflection on what could I have done better or differently. As a Doula network we support each other at this time. Often I need to be available to and continue to support those that are bereaved and so I have to be emotionally in the right place to do this
Would you recommend the role to other people?
Yes, but I think it is really important to establish whether you are right sized to do this work and this work is right for you. This includes having come to terms with your own mortality; your own ability for empathy and compassion. In saying that there’s no judgement here at all. The 5-day Foundation training with Living Well Dying Well is a ‘stand alone course. I tried to go into it with a completely open mind – thinking I hope this confirms I am cut out for this work but if I’m not then I have acquired some good learning and development which is a ‘life skill’ which I believe we all should have to be at one with our own Death and the Dying of Others. For me, I decided to go on and do the further advanced training with Living Well Dying Well and complete the accredited training which also includes ‘on the job’ experience’.
Thank you for giving me the opportunity to talk about the work of a Living Well Dying Well End of Life Doula using my personal thoughts and views.
Thank you for giving us this insight into such an amazing job.
What does Living Well Dying Well mean?
Why, do we prepare so well for birth, yet give so little attention to preparing for death?
Living Well Dying Well encourages reflection on how to live life fully, while planning and preparing for the end of life. Our courses, training, conversations and services help people think about it, talk about it and plan for it, in a safe and supportive way.
Many people feel they could play a role in supporting people at the end of life. Until now there has been no established training programme in the UK. The full training course is certified by Crossfields Institute and has been awarded the Crossfields Institute Quality Mark Programme.
For more information about Leeds Bereavement Forum, their events including free talks, death cafes and conferences, please visit their website.
Dying Matters in Leeds Event
Dying Matters in Leeds 2017 event will be held on Tuesday 9 May at Leeds City Museum from 10.45am – 3pm. The day will include talks, films, information stands and two death cafes. With free admission and open to all, please feel free to drop by and say hello.
Book your free ticket
To book your free ticket please visit Eventbrite