by Mark Berg
I recently met a woman in Gettysburg, Rosalie Moore, who told me she’s a doula. If you’re like me, you probably never heard of – let alone met – a doula. The word doula is Greek for “woman who serves.” A “birth doula” assists a woman and her family before, during, and after childbirth by providing physical assistance and emotional support.
But there is another important time in which a woman can serve. The role of a doula at the end of life – providing physical assistance and emotional support during the time of dying – is not new. Hospices have long had “vigil volunteers” who sit by the bedsides of the dying. Doulas, too, provide this service, and help in many other ways as people leave the world.
Let’s face it: most people don’t know how to prepare for death – of ourselves or our loved ones – or cope with it after it happens. We must make difficult choices while we’re in an emotional state, and too often, we don’t have the time to do the research that could help us make well-informed decisions. The result can be disastrous financially and emotionally.
Based on their training and personal preferences, doulas offer a range of services. “End-of-life doulas” help people prepare in advance. They work with the healthy and the terminally ill, exploring options for care prior to death and thereafter. They explain the full range of alternatives, enabling patients to exercise control over their medical care, as well as the details of what will happen once they’ve passed away. The process of discussing our mortality can put our minds at ease, secure in the knowledge that we’ve taken steps to ensure our wishes will be honored.
“Death doulas” support people who are nearing death, whether they have opted to die at home, in a hospital, or in hospice care. The doula will make two or three visits, and help create a plan to support them in their final hours. She may also walk clients through a life review, check on the status of end-of-life paperwork, or do the things that free loved ones to be present without distractions.
“Mourning doulas” support families after the death of someone who made no final arrangements in advance. They present a range of options while educating about ways to control expenses and create a fitting celebration of a loved one’s life while saying goodbye.
Everyone involved in dealing with death and dying recognizes that there is a role for doulas as an aging population grapples with how to gain some control over this inevitable stage of life.
Rosalie is completing a comprehensive certification program that prepares her to offer these services. She also provides coaching about “green” burials and funerals at home, organizing belongings after death, and planning life changes for those who have experienced a loss. “Being a naturally caring and calm person,” Rosalie told me, “I help people during a tremendously stressful time. And I love filling in with the small touches that make a big difference in having things go smoothly.”
Rosalie’s web address is www.mydowntoearthdoula.com.
Mark Berg is a member of the Pennsylvania Council on Aging, and Chainman of the Adams County Office for Aging’s Citizens Advisory Council. His email address is MABerg175@comcast.net.