“Lighting your way on your last breath”
Couples expecting a baby often use a birth doula for practical and emotional support during pregnancy. A growing number of people are turning to another type of doula for similar support at the end of life.
“We try to take care of the soul of the person,” says Deborah Brennan, a private personal support worker for 19 years, specializing in palliative and dementia care. Deborah underwent additional training to become an end-of-life doula, or “death doula” to add to her present practice.
“As an end-of-life doula you really take care of the person inside − what their needs really are.”
Doula is a Greek word that means servant or helper. Deborah is one of about five people in the Kingston community who are trained as end-of-life doulas, though only two were actively working as of March 2020, according to Deborah.
Doulas are trained through The End of Life Doula Association of Canada, which follows recommendations from government ministries, health authorities and agencies such as the Canadian Hospice and Palliative Care Association. After their training is complete, death doulas must perform 40 hours of volunteer work with at least three non-family members.
The mission of the End of Life Doula Association is to raise the standard of end-of-life care, according to its website.
The doula’s role can vary from providing non-medical support to families and patients to one-on-one assistance to dying patients. Doulas work closely with families and also in long-term care and retirement homes.
“Some people desire to die in a specific manner,” says Deborah. “Some clients wish to die in a room with flowers and champagne. Some want to die in a small blue room. Some of them wish to have their favourite food items and others need to visit specific places [from their past].
“Some of them also have responsibilities they can’t achieve because of their health. Doulas can help them and fulfill their needs.”
She adds: “Usually everything is possible. We can change things in the room, even the smell.”
Deborah attended an end-of-life doula course offered by Douglas College from Vancouver, B.C. .The course, which took place over two weekends in Ontario, covered topics ranging from bereavement to compassionate care for patients and their families. End-of-life doulas are committed to helping people from all cultures in a non-judgmental, non-prejudicial way, Deborah says.
“My passion is to keep people comfortable and make them happy,” she says.
“Our society is really just learning to address how beautiful death can be. It’s all about educating and trying to remove fear.”
– Merlin George and Nobin Chakkalayil Joy
For more information, visit the End of Life Doula Association of Canada website: