How 'Death Doulas' Are Changing the Way We Think About Dying

Photo Credit: Andrew Angelov/Shutterstock

We usually think of doulas as offering support during the birthing process. But Loyal Hands End of Life Doulas is an organization of doulas that is there for individuals and their families for end-of-life care. The Florida-based company was founded by Amanda Johnson, a Girl Scout alumni who specializes in training professionals (especially millennials) to provide support and guidance during this emotional time. 

“We provide a wide range of holistic services including emotional, physical, spiritual, mental, and practical support,” it says on the Loyal Hands website. “We are alongside the families from the initial diagnosis through bereavement.” 

6 Ways to Aid

The Company follows six guiding principles:

  • Non-medical support. Doulas refrain from performing any clinical or medicalized tasks.

  • Non-judgmental support. The doula does not impose her/his values on the client, such as acting on biases in favor of one method.

  • Family-centered approach. The individual and their family form the unit of care. Doulas do not take the place of partners, family members, or other care providers.

  • Holistic care. Doulas recognize the biopsychosocial and spiritual aspects of the whole person and provide services in the context of this understanding.

  • Empowerment. Doulas promote informed decision-making and foster maximum self-determination for the individual and family.

  • Team members. Doulas are team players with a special role.

Johnson saw the need for end-of-life doulas after supporting a childhood friend with stage-4 colon cancer. “I was doing the task of an end-of-life doula without knowing it,” she tells CircleAround. “Once my friend transitioned, I saw a need to provide others with end-of-life education, holistic services, companionship, and continue this journey, as everyone deserves ‘good death’ and families need proper closure.”

Death Doulas Provide Emotional Support

Also known as "death doulas," employees of Johnson’s company provide services such as advance healthcare planning, creating a plan for support at the patient's time of death, and help with planning funeral and memorial services. Outside of the more formal duties, doulas can also provide companionship to patients and much-needed relief for family caregivers. They can provide therapeutic music and animal-assisted social visits, transportation to appointments, help with household errands, and can even help create legacy projects to keep the memory of the deceased alive.

“A huge part of being an end-of-life doula is to establish trust and build a relationship with medical teams, patients, and their families,” Johnson tells CircleAround. “End-of-life doulas complement the care patients and their families receive from hospitals, senior-care facilities, and hospices.”

While some people think death doulas are actually “obsessed with death," Johnson says, in reality, end-of-life doulas are so in love with life that they hope to bring comfort and peace to the very last seconds of every person's time. For that reason, Loyal Hands is a big proponent of the Death Positive Movement, which “aims to bring awareness of rethinking the death experience while bringing awareness to dying well as a fundamental part of living well.”

Bringing awareness to dying well as a fundamental part of living well.

Johnson hopes to create a legacy that will celebrate life through death and to inspire generations of families to embrace dying and death as a transformational process.

“End-of-life doulas help clients and families be impartial of the pain and fear of the unknown,” Johnson explains. “The comforting presence of a doula enables opportunities for the dying to connect more deeply with loved ones, and to enjoy the time that remains.”

CircleAround is operated by a wholly owned subsidiary of Girl Scouts of the USA. The site serves adult women nationwide by providing content that is uplifting, thought-provoking, and useful. We make revenue distributions back to GSUSA so they can further their mission of building girls of courage, confidence, and character who make the world a better place.


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