More About EOL / Death Doulas from a UK expert

You can listen to Professor Allan Kellehear from the UK talk about the role EOL Doulas can play in individual lives, as well as our role in death literacy.

If you are wondering if an End Of Life Doula is a good fit for your compassionate community then please do not hesitate to get in touch. I am an EOL Doula who specialises in information transfer, client advocacy, consumer rights, vigilling, and after-death support.
Let’s talk.

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Soooo – What Kind of Person Uses an EOL Doula Anyway?? (And other very ordinary, very common questions people ask about what I do.)

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about all of the different aspects of my knowledge set that clients are interested in, and it seems to me to be a good time to write about who comes to an End Of Life Doula – or Death Doula… You know what, I don’t care what you call me, as long as you do call me, and just don’t call me late for the glitter cannon at your funeral (but I digress). So here is a potted overview of what sorts of questions I hear from the Doula-curious amongst us, what my client demographic includes, and how normal our ideas for final wishes and funerals really are.

After the #D2KD events that I ran last Wednesday (there’s one on the 25th as well, August is by no means over, People!) I had a lot of interest from people concerning the death/End Of Life Doula side of things. This interest was quite distinct from although in tandem with the consumer advocacy and information transfer that I offer, and I realised that there is a general sense amongst the community that either A) people plan EOL just before death, and/or B) we only engage the services of a Doula when we are just about to die. The response to both of these notions is, ideally, no, it is much better/easier to plan in advance – but you can do a lot with your last minute if required – and an EOL Doula is great to have in your life long before your last moments. It is just honestly more sensible to do what medical practitioners, nurses, and health support staff do, and to plan well in advance in order to live life to the full.

Therefore, in no particular order, is some information about the kinds of people who come to an EOL Doula, and some of the sorts of things that I get asked.

Firstly, arguably most importantly, clients want to know what kind of cake will I bring to our planning session? In a nutshell the cake types vary, and I can take orders, but today was a nice Nigella Lawson fruit cake which always goes well with tea. Fair warning: all cakes are GF, because I like to eat cake too.
Who uses an End Of Life Doula? In all honesty, business owners, retirees, young parents, entrepreneurs, casual workers, CEOs, middle-aged people, single people, married couples, de facto couples, individuals, families, LBGTIQA+ people, heterosexual people, pet owners, new home owners, renters, migrants, ‘Australian Royalty’, parents, grandparents, godparents, and almost anyone else you can think of has talked to me about death, dying, and final wishes. Anyone can engage the services of an EOL Doula, so if this post helps to normalise and take away some of the shyness around talking to me about death then I’ve done what I set out to do.

A question I’m often asked, frequently by young people who are beginning to think about death in a more ‘normal’ fashion around me, is how old is your average client? This is a piece-of-string question, because I can work with people of all ages. Yes, I do have ‘older’ clients, but young people need to think about advance planning, younger people get sick and die young, and young people also have unexpected deaths which family and friends need to grieve and mourn over… The real question underlying the how old layer is generally something like: I’m thinking of coming to talk to you, is that ‘normal’?? My answer to that is an unequivocal: Yup. Very normal. Yes.

Another area that people want to ask about, and often do so but obliquely, is about how soon is too soon to plan? This is a really easy one, because it is NEVER TOO SOON to plan, to talk, to make your wishes known. Shouty caps may seem excessive in a chatty blog post like this one Gentle Reader, however the biggest mistake in planning, the one that causes the most heartache and regret, is to think that we have more time. One thing I have learned over my years of study, working with people, and observing the world is that we always think we have more time than we do. Life is incredibly, breathtakingly brief and precious… do your planning now, because we don’t know when we will need to have documents, wishes, and arrangements in order. You can, by the way, engage my services for planning without making arrangements for me as an EOL Doula, but you can ask a LOT of additional questions whilst we walk through your paperwork and that sounds like a true bargain to me.

Do I have to be dying to start working with you? I’m not dying yet, can I start to plan??Good question, and no – actually a lot of people work with an EOL Doula well before active dying. And for your second question here you really should start to plan as early as possible, so yes you can!

“Um, this may sound odd, but…” (or a variation on this theme) is something that often comes up in funeral planning – and this phrase alerts me that I have a client in front of me who is prepared to be very honest, and therefore vulnerable with me, telling me important information about what they value in the world. I am always careful to listen attentively and take good notes at this stage, because although we may try and brush our ideas off as ‘nothing much’, these ideas frequently speak to the true heart of who we are, and what kind of messages of love we would like to leave the people closest to us.

Clients often think that their wishes or ideas may be ‘weird’ or strange, but the only thing I’ve really noticed about the planning ideas of my clients is how beautifully they reflect the personality of the clients I see – in all honesty death and dying is like sex. If you like it and want it, and everyone who needs to consent has consented, then there is nothing weird or strange about what you want for your final wishes, funeral arrangements, or Advance Health Directive. Truly. I can promise you that most of us would like to be remembered for what we loved most in the world, and our passions and interests will be just right for our EOL planning. For instance: a memorial service in a community garden for the person who loved to grow food, a book-shaped cake at a funeral for the avid reader, a disco playlist and mirror ball in your room during your final hours because you loved the nightlife? Perfect! And perfectly appropriate for you – and there is nothing weird here, despite many clients feeling some shyness about expressing what they would most like for their advance planning and last wishes.

Why use a death/End Of Life Doula? Because it can be incredibly useful to have a well-informed, calm, objective voice and presence at times when emotions run high, when we are not dealing well with stress, when we feel overwhelmed by circumstances, and because at one of the most awful and difficult times in our lives it is essential to have someone who supports you, laughs with you, or sits in silence with you. EOL Doulas can help you retain some perspective on death, be better informed, and be less isolated (death can be lonely, so it is good to know you are not alone). An EOL Doula can help you delegate tasks, focus on taking one step at a time, and remind you when you need to be reminded that healthy self-care can be modelled and practiced even at the worst of times.

Have more questions? Please do not hesitate to get in touch – I am an End Of Life Doula who specialises in helping you better understand your choices and options.

Let’s talk.

A not-to-be missed opportunity to hear me speak in Sydney as part of the panel for Co-designing the Funeral of the Future.

Picaluna funeral disruption model offers consumers a genuine alternative to the corporate (generally rushed, frequently impersonal, consistently overpriced) after-death funeral business model in Australia. Much of the focus for Picaluna is working with clients to genuinely serve and service their needs, and this is much more effectively achieved when people have planned in advance.
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This panel event, with six specialist individuals who all have particular areas of expertise within the death, End Of Life, and funeral fields, will sit on a panel and answer your questions on Wednesday 29th August at UTS Aerial Function Centre, Sydney. Participants are able to email their questions for the panel in advance, offering everyone a chance to listen, explore, and consider what ‘funeral’ and the personal are for each of us, and how this might be expressed in a funeral designed by, and for, you.

See the link below for tickets – and in the meantime, if you have questions do not hesitate to get in touch. There is an email link on the landing page for the event information and tickets here:

https://www.stickytickets.com.au/73938/codesigning_the_funeral_of_the_future__the_picaluna_panel.aspx

Let’s talk.

Why Knowing Your Consumer Rights Around Funerals, After-Death Bodycare, and Body Ownership Can Save You Money (as well as time, heartache, and energy…)

There has been a flurry of financial information doing the rounds of Australian news outlets in the last few days – see HERE and HERE from finder.com.au for details.

The average cost of a funeral now in Sydney is more than $8K, a startling figure in light of how inexpensive a funeral and cremation can be if you know your consumer rights and plan in advance. Of course, ‘planning’ refers to honest, open considerations of personal wishes and ideas, and open, honest conversations and a willingness to listen to the person whose End Of Life you are planning. The open-mindedness particularly pertains to Advance Health Care Directive (AHCD) planning.

This is one area of death, dying, and End Of life documentation for which I strongly recommend you engage a suitably-informed End Of Life Doula; as there are sometimes state-by-state variations it is always a sensible idea to double-check that the EOL Doula you wish to retain for this purpose is an expert in the state you live in. This is a consideration for people who live close to state/territory borders, or who may know someone who is a highly-skilled EOL Doula, but they practice in a different state.

I am a staunch advocate of transparency in costing, as well as in consumer rights – however the corporate funeral industry in Australia is quite resistant to having informed consumers as this means the profit margins will be lowered – see Ibisworld for further information. One of the locked figures is the profit margin, estimated by the 2017 Ibisworld Report at 1.2 billion AUD per annum and growing.

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As a way of increasing death literacy and awareness in my area I am hosting an information evening: Plan Your End Of Life & Live Better! an official #D2KD event on August 8th with consumer education as the focus. Many events are being held around Australia throughout August, so have a look at the #D2KD site to see if there is one near you. Alternatively, if you prefer one-to-one interactions feel free to contact me to talk about your rights and choices at End Of Life – but remember I am based in NSW. For other Australian states, or to find an EOL Doula closer to your home, try The End Of Life Doula Directory.

Curious about your rights and consumer options? I specialise in information transfer and am extraordinarily good at explaining things from different perspectives so we can be sure you are fully informed and have all your questions answered.

Let’s talk.

An Evening With Me on Dying To Know Day

I will be hosting a local event on the evening of D2KD, August 8th.

Details are available on my Facebook page, tickets available through Eventbrite: https://www.facebook.com/events/194998904462520

 

Why I Am an End Of Life Doula for Human and Non-Human Animals Alike

I came across a rather interesting project by Aubrey Wade, who is a British photographer working out of Berlin. The non-belief project is in the early stages, and I contacted Aubrey about participating in the project at some level – even though as I am based in Australia it may not be possible for me to be included. Aubrey wrote back to me, and asked a few questions that prompted and elicited a much deeper response than I had realised I had in me, and I am most grateful to Aubrey for the consideration of my own perspective that his questions gave rise to.

I do not generally publically share details of communication from a personal perspective, but as I myself attained a richer self-understanding from Aubrey’s mission statement and parameters for the project, I am sharing my response here in this post.

Aubrey wrote (in part) to me: The project will take shape in two primary ways:

  • A series of portraits combined with short interviews that reflects the variety of non-religious beliefs held by individuals across different countries.
  • An in-depth photo essay. I am interested in ritual behaviours connected with people’s non-religious beliefs, in particular when experiencing significant life moments, either positive or challenging (from celebrating to grieving), as well as transitions from one stage of life to another. I anticipate that at these times people’s beliefs, perspectives and worldviews come clearly into focus, are often embodied, and allow for a strong visual representation. I am also interested in exploring the role of ‘sacred’ or ‘spiritual’ objects, places and relationships in people’s non-religious beliefs and lives.

My response, which encapsulates my underlying world-views in ways even I had not fully realised is as follows (I have edited out specific details of my geographic location, and the email content is in blue to denote where the communication ends and the blog post proper recommences):

Good morning Aubrey,

I am happy to be a part of either spoken or visual aspects of your project, thank you! As a hard 7 atheist on the Dawkins scale I am intrigued by your project’s parameters.

My motivations: I am a rationalist and atheist, and one of the most satisfying aspects of my academic work is that I am able to model critical thinking to students in lectures and in tutorials – however the absence of critical capacity as an inherent part of religious and faith-based ‘belief’ is one of the most frustrating aspects of my teaching practice. As a former somatic psychotherapist and life-long storykeeper I am also always interested in people’s stories, because story/ies tells me about how people relate to the world, and who or what they value most. Relationships are therefore more significant to me than objects or even cultural frameworks – although the relationship/s a person may have with the frameworks themselves is often very interesting too…

The relationships that are most important for me, and that give me the most solace at challenging times in life, are those with animals; this is in both my academic and End Of Life arenas of work. I love my spouse and my good friends (who constitute my family), but I have a particular affinity with animals of the non-human kind: dogs in particular. The love, interactions, and relationship with my own dog* spurred on my decision to offer services as an EOL Doula for both people and their pets. Dogs and humans have co-evolved for at least 100 thousand years, and the bonds between human and canine are often the net that catches me best when I am dispirited, overwhelmed, or need to process strong emotion. I am able to write about this powerful and personally profound connection, but have no idea how – or indeed if – this might translate to the lens.

I understand the laws of physics and the universe – we come from the stuff of stars, as Carl Sagan put it, and we return to the stuff of stars when we die. I am not a believer in any kind of afterlife or reincarnation, and I am comfortable in the knowledge that our life is finite, bounded by the two transitions of birth and death. The relationships I have with those close to me whom I esteem and value, including my dog, do provide me with proof of compassion, genuine love and caring, communication (Cully is a Malamute X German Shepherd, so he talks a lot and is a very good communicator), community, and place in the world. As I re-read this paragraph I am aware that my position may seem detached and dry here on the page, but I am often moved to tears by the power of the emotion and connection that these relationships bring to my life. Spending time with a mix of animals – human and non-human – also reminds me to be humble. There are far too many cultural assumptions, generally rooted in religious standpoints, that position humans ‘above’ or in a place of purported ‘superiority’ to other forms of life, all of which are immediately thrown out the window when human actions are considered from a dispassionate perspective. Humans, by and large, treat other humans appallingly. Companion animals and pets, conversely, anchor me to, and in, generosity, kindness, and love.

Our pets also tend to live much shorter life spans that that of humans – with notable examples including tortoises and some bird species, for example – and therefore relationships with companion animals keeps me honest and focused on the present and immediate future. I don’t have the luxury of time within which to experience all I would like to with Cully as he is eight years old now and will probably only live another two to four years if we are fortunate. I have to be present every day, and I constantly check my priorities in terms of Cully’s routine and changing needs as he moves into becoming a ‘senior’ dog. In turn, I am more attuned and responsive to changing needs in the humans around me, and I am (I hope) a better EOL Doula, support person, colleague, spouse, and friend thanks to all that Cully and my other companion animals throughout the years have brought into my life. In essence, I think I am a better person because of my relationships with pets and animals.

I don’t know if my contribution will be useful or needed for your project, but I want to thank you for the opportunity here on the page to express my perspective – writing this email has helped me to clarify and better understand some of my own mechanisms and ideas which were reasonably unformed up until today. That is a gift, thank you.

Have a wonderful day and whether or not I hear from you in the future I wish you every success with your non-belief project,

Annetta

*I have attached an image of my dog Cully, who I credited in the acknowledgements section of my PhD thesis as my Research Assistant (specialist in water droplets, sand, and seaweed) – and I know of other academics who refer to their companion animals as RAs on a regular basis, for example.

I sincerely mean every word of what I wrote to Aubrey, and encourage you to do some deep reflection on your own perspectives of life, and what is important for you – your insights may well help you plan for a more fulfilling End Of Life for yourself and your pet. If you are interested in learning more about having support for either your own, or your companion animal’s End Of Life, please do not hesitate to contact me.

Let’s talk.

The Only Person In The Room Talking About Death…

I have finally surfaced from the jet-lag from my trip to Europe, where I was given the opportunity to present twice – once about the funeral disruption industry in Australia, once about End Of Life Doulas in Australia. Both presentations were in the same afternoon, so my tiredness at the end of the trip is understandable.

What I found fascinating is that the funeral disruption talk was slated for the panel “Birth and Death” – however I was the only person in the room who was talking about death. Weirdly, I was in a room full of midwives, nurses and researchers who were firmly fixated on the medicalisation of birth and the ramifications of this for practice. Which is good, and certainly food for good thought and future research pathways, however both mothers and infants/foetueses do die – so I was fascinated by the way I was actually sidelined by the room. Many people took enthusiastic photos of my presentation, but zero questions afterwards.

I do invite all of you to have conversations about death and dying. Please. Don’t be afraid of being the one person in the room who will begin the talks.

If you would like some pointers about how to begin a End Of Life conversation please don’t hesitate to get in touch.

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