Cheri Rigby always knew she wanted to work with the dying.
As a registered nurse, she was exposed to death frequently, but she believed that more support was needed for those who were facing it. Through an unfortunate circumstance, she was given the opportunity to make a difference.
“There was a tragedy — one of my very best friends,” Rigby says. “Her daughter was a special-needs child. She choked on a Fruit Roll-Up and died.
“This was a little girl who was at my house all the time; we spent a lot of time together. When Sophia died, I was sort of the closest person to that, because my friend didn’t have any immediate family,” Rigby says.
“It was a life-changing experience for me. I saw that raw emotion firsthand with my friend, and quite honestly, instead of it scaring me away, it drew me in.”
How death doulas assist
End-of-life doulas can provide several services to your loved ones and family:
- Accompanying clients to medical appointments
- Facilitating advance care planning
- Calming the terminally ill through guided visualization
- Providing comfort for the dying through massage
- Coordinating care
- Helping with legacy projects to memorialize the life of the soon-to-be deceased
- Offering respite care for family members
- Vigil planning and sitting
For Alua Arthur, it was meeting a stranger on a bus in Cuba, a young lady who was dying of cancer. Arthur says she engaged the woman in conversation about her inevitable death, and it sparked a fire that she says could not be contained.
“I thought, Wow. We’re all going to do this at some point. Why aren’t we all talking about it now? Who are the people to support people through this? On that bus I got super clear this was going to be my work, yet I didn’t really know how.”
Arthur and Rigby eventually found their way to becoming what is called an end-of-life, or death, doula — a professional who provides nonmedical caregiving services to people who are dying and to their families.
Death doulas complement hospice
Many end-of-life doulas, also known as death midwives, say they complement the care from hospitals, senior-care facilities and hospices, as well as fill in the gaps that occur during the dying process.
“There’s a lot of medical support in dying, and there’s some emotional support, as well, but I find that death doulas do a great job of tying it all together and having knowledge about a vast array of subjects,” says Arthur, who has been a death doula for more than a decade.
“Hospice care is wonderful. They provide a lot for the amount that they get paid by the insurance benefit,” says Merilynne Rush, end-of-life doula trainer, natural death care educator and owner of The Dying Year, an end-of-life training company. “But it’s not everything. The family still has to do most of the care.”
End-of-life doulas bring their skills and expertise to various environments.