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.