The question I most often get asked when I tell people that I am an End of Life Doula (aka Death Doula) is… how did you decide to do that, isn't it depressing? You must be a special person to be able to be around those dying people. Well I don't think I'm special because I don't consider "dying people" to be any different to any other "people". We are humans first - our illness, race, gender etc are secondary considerations, well to me anyway.
Isn't it depressing to work with people whose lives are ending or with recently bereaved families? No, in fact I find it life affirming. I love to hear peoples stories and the lessons they have learned during their lives and am truly honoured to be a part of their story. All humans crave connection and often when someone has a life limiting illness or is recently bereaved their friends seem to disappear. I like being able to sit in that murky space with people so they don't have to go it alone.
I was that whacky 7 year old...
I've always had an affinity with death and dying, I was that whacky 7 year old who used to keep tabs on the Christmas road toll, even after my brothers told me I was a morbid weirdo. When I was 13, my grandmother and uncle died within 6 weeks of each other and a few months later one of the older students at my school died in a car accident. These occurrences cemented my curiosity and interest in understanding grief and death - especially the rituals we as a society participate in around death.
When I was 24 my boyfriend was killed in a motorcycle accident, this was devastating and the grief was incredibly intense. As I moved through the haze towards my new normal, I did a lot of reading and research on how we manage grief as a community. It is so isolating - and it shouldn't be because we all go through grief and loss during our lives.
This experience lead me to volunteering in community Palliative Care for 7 years - meeting many wonderful people and just being the person they needed me to be on the day - whether it was to watch over them as their primary carer took a break, teaching them how to use an iPad for the first time or just having a chat.
I've always been the one friends came to...
I have always been the one that friends came to for support and advice - a 'natural' counsellor from an early age, which influenced by decision to become a Grief Counsellor. As our lives have gone on, my friends started coming to me when their parents and other loved ones lives came to an end, the one you want to have next to you at your Dad's funeral - a calming presence who just makes things run smoothly - or at least feel like they are running smoothly.
I had heard many times about Birthing Doula's and was excited to find that there was such a thing as an End of Life Doula - perhaps there was a place in the world for me and my interest in death, dying and grief! My training as an End of Life Doula solidified years of personal research and other trainings. At last I found my life calling - to assist people to navigate the end of life.
That navigation shouldn't just start when you receive a diagnoses, it should begin today while you are fighting fit - we never know what is around the corner - thinking about, planning and writing down your wishes, discussing them with your family or loved ones is the greatest gift you can give to them, and yourself. And once you've made your plans, lets get on with living a most marvellous life.
-- Estella, first written 2017, updated 2023.