excerpt from "When Breath Becomes Air" by Paul Kalanithi
I believe it's important to give space for celebrating the life that is still being lived even while dying is lingering in the room.
I have stepped into my role as a Life Care/Death Doula to provide emotional and practical support to individuals and their families who are facing terminal illness or end-of-life transitions. This involves many different aspects of support. It may be providing information, understanding and resources to ease the stress of the unknown; in navigating the many difficult choices and practicalities that have to be managed on a day to day basis. It may mean providing guidance and support to family members, friends and caregivers, helping them to navigate the grieving process. The goal of a Death Doula is to help create a peaceful, meaningful and supportive end-of-life experience for all involved in a manner that is alignment with their values and beliefs so that the dying journey is lived with dignity and grace.
Advanced care planning is a process of discussing and documenting your desires and wishes for your care in the event of an illness or injury that may prevent you from making decisions for yourself. Advanced care planning can also include discussions about medical directives and legal documents such as a living will or power of attorney. Through this process, individuals can ensure that their wishes are known and respected, even if they can no longer communicate them.
Legacy work at end of life is the process of creating a lasting legacy for of the person who is nearing end of life. This work can be done with the individual who is dying as a process of helping them come to terms with what they are facing or it can be done with loved ones after death has occurred as a way of helping them with their grief. This can include a range of activities, from creating a memorial service or writing a eulogy, to making arrangements for the care of dependents and organizing the distribution of assets. Legacy work can also encompass less tangible items like preparing a photo album or writing a letter of appreciation to those who were important in the life of the deceased. Legacy work at end of life is a way to honor and remember the life of a loved one and ensure their wishes are met.
In most cases when someone who is dying is asked, they will say they would very much like to die at home in the comfort of their own bed and familiar surroundings. Loved ones will often manage at home and do whatever it takes to give them the kind of lived experience they desire until they die. The choice itself to do this is an easy one because of the love they feel. The practicalities of the day to day walk through dying is not so easy, especially as time wears on and there are so many smaller details of things that have to be changed, managed, adapted or set aside in order to fully show up for the dying journey. It can be exhausting physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually. Inviting the support of a Life Care Doula who can walk beside all of you throughout the day to day practical tasks as well as providing knowledge, comfort and support as you engage in those difficult bet much valued conversations will go a long way towards making the dying experience one that can be remembered as loving and meaningful rather than a blur of stress and exhaustion.
Not everyone is comfortable with the moment of death. A Life Care Doula's presence in keeping vigil can help to ensure that the right balance of comfort and support is available for all involved so that the death itself is experienced as a dignified one. Keeping vigil is about being present for the dying person and their loved ones so that there is always a calming and reassuring presence, helping to maintain a comfortable and peaceful atmosphere, and assisting the dying person in a manner that ensures they are made as comfortable as possible. Some loved ones feel very ill-at-ease with the idea of being with someone at the moment of death but do not wish their loved one to be alone. In this case, it can be a huge comfort to know someone is there to provide a caring presence and will continue to be there to offer support as loved ones say their goodbyes.
However you choose to honor your loved one, whether it is by holding a Celebration of Life service or a more traditional funeral or memorial service, I can assist you in creating a service that will help you honor your loved ones life. You choose the location and style of service and I will help guide you through the details.
This type of support helps individuals to process their emotions and feelings related to the loss, cope with their grief, and move forward in a healthy and meaningful way. While most people do receive support and understanding from others around them, grieving can feel lonely because there are thoughts and feelings that you may not feel comfortable admitting to and you may have difficulty understanding what is happening to you. Intense emotions can be very difficult to navigate especially when you are afraid of upsetting others around you.
When you are grieving, there is a need for safe space and practical guidance to help you see your way through to being able to live your normal life. It is not uncommon that long-term effects of grief can continue to impact an individual for months or even years after the loss. Receiving support during this time can help individuals develop healthy coping mechanisms and reduce the risk of having their life seemingly fall apart.