End-Of-Life Doula Training – A Post-Mortem

Well, I’ve had almost 24 hours to settle my mind a bit about the training I just completed. I’m going to reflect on it here, but first I think some explanation of what the EOL Doula perspective is and why it is of interest to me. This is just a quick elevator speech and I highly recommend people check out the International End-Of-Life Doula Association website for more information.

The basic goal of the doula is to help a dying person have a good death. It is a push away from the industrialized death industry that is so pervasive in our culture and a recognition that death is natural and shouldn’t be hidden away. We live in a very unique time in history where we try and hide death, and that is a mistake.

In general, a doula works with the dying person and their family over a number of months both before and after death. They work with the dying person to reflect on their life, recognize their legacy, and resolve any issues that may still exist. They work to establish rituals and set up the location for death in a way that is as pleasing as possible to the dying person. When you close your eyes and think about the moment of your death, what do you want the area to look like? Smell like? Sound like?

Do you want to have open windows, natural light, and the sounds of nature? Or do you want to be surrounded by laughing loved ones, Frank Sinatra on the radio, in a cozy, dark room? Every person is different and the doula’s goal is to work to make these things happen. The first step in any action like this is to acknowledge death and explicitly talk about it (which is why I will be posting my current death plan stuff soon). Unfortunately, very few people want to discuss death and what their loved one would like in their final moments, even when the dying person is clearly close to death.

The doula is also a source of information about what the dying process can look like. There are a lot of things the body can do once the body starts actively dying and those things can be scary if you are unprepared for them. The doula eases this fear by being someone who is experienced and educated on death.

After death occurs, the doula helps implement whatever plan was developed for the moments after the last breath. They help facilitate so that family can express their emotions freely and not worry about details like who will call the funeral home, who will light candles, etc. Some people who die don’t want a fuss after their last breath and others want a celebration. A doula facilitates that.

Lastly, a doula works with the family for weeks or months after the death to help them process their grief and the death experience. They are a source of comfort and reflection when all the hustle-bustle dies down. When someone dies they often have family and friends in town to lean on for a few days or weeks, but eventually, people move on with their lives and the deceased spouse, children, or other close family members can feel isolated and alone. The doula checks in and helps during this vital period.

So, that is a quick down-and-dirty run of what I spent the last 3 days training to do. I am definitely still a noob and have a lot of learning ahead of me but I feel passionate about this and I am looking forward to exploring exactly how I will help people have a good death. The next step for me is to get a business legally started, start volunteering at hospices/hospitals/VA/prisons/etc, and go to massage therapy school to specialize in massage for the dying and those with terminal disease.

While that is my path, it isn’t necessarily the path of everyone who attended the training. There were 19 of us that ventured to Toronto to train and we have very diverse backgrounds and motivations. Take, for example, the other four members of my Table Tribe (or “Lee’s Tribe”) – Oh, and names changed because I did not receive explicit consent to share too much:

  • Allison – Retired pastor who is in her 60’s. Now lives in a rural community and loves horses.
  • Bethany – Somewhat hippy mother of two and former American. Loves Burning Man and cheese.
  • Carol – A French-Canadian mother in her 40’s.
  • Debby – A younger (late 20’s?) musician and business owner.

We spanned all ages (from early 20’s to 80’s), political view points, and geographic regions. To be honest, the only thing that most people had in common is that it was a very female-dominated training event. Out of the 20 people involved (19 students and 1 trainer), there were only two men. Is this because men aren’t as interested in death or compassionate enough for this role or people don’t want a male doula? I don’t know, but the fact is that being a male EOL doula, much like being a male massage therapist, is rare.

Oh well, I don’t mind.

Wait, there was something else that stood out to me. The EOL training had a relatively large number of LGBT members. I’d guess at least 25% of the participants were LGBT, and maybe as high as 50%. My estimate is based on explicit conversations with people, as well as the general terminology people used like “partner” instead of boyfriend/girlfriend/wife/husband.

Post-Script: This is to the person who sent me a message on SurveyMonkey. I’m really glad you reached out and that we met and I’m thankful for whatever it was that brought our group together. Much love your way and I can’t wait to get the letters started so that we can all learn a little bit more about each other. Writing is definitely something that I love, even if my blog has been kind of angsty lately…

Wanna stay in touch? Got a question for me? Want to tell me why I’m wrong and are curious how I got everything so backward? Have an idea for a blog post? Drunk and wanna send me a Snapchat? Wanna become penpals and send each other letters in the mail?

Feel free to reach out at any of the ways below while I take a Facebook break!

Email address: pjneiger@gmail.com
Instagram: @peterneiger
Questions:  pneiger.sarahah.com or www.surveymonkey.com/r/XYRDXHH
Snapchat: @pneiger
Also, I wrote a book about a cross-country bicycle ride I did!
“Wandering Oak: A Rite of Passage”


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