Compassionate. Respectful. Engaged. These are just some of the words that describe death doulas. Yet, no matter how they are described, one thing is clear: Death doulas have a significant impact on the funeral profession. As families explore ways to support their loved ones, funeral directors may want to consider collaborating with death doulas, whose mission it is to provide aid, offer comfort and, ultimately, change the face of dying. 

Background on Death Doulas
The word “doula” derives from Greek, but it initially meant a woman of service, or a handmaiden. But in the 1980s, the term was more narrowly applied to a woman who helped with the birthing process—a type of midwife without medical training. 

The term “death doula,” similarly, provides help through one’s end journey, using compassionate listening and learning. It is a growing profession, and while death doulas may enter a person’s end-of-life journey earlier than a funeral director, there is a lot of opportunity for collaboration. In fact, one of the main tenets of the National End-of-Life Alliance (NEDA)  includes building “partnerships and collaborative alliances and programming with other EOL-care-focused organizations.” 

While death doulas are not always a fit for families, those facing hospice care or terminal or extended illness may benefit from someone who can guide them through what can be a frightening and uncertain moment in time. 

For centuries, Western society has had a somewhat fraught view of death. By using finely honed listening skills, death doulas work to normalize death and, in the words of the International End-of-Life Doula Association, help people “find a way to live their dying in the best way possible.” 

The Benefits of Working with Death Doulas
Since many families do not contact funeral directors, or even make their final plans, before a person dies, working with death doulas can provide several benefits to those dying, those grieving and, also, to funeral directors. 

“You'd be surprised to learn how many people don't know what a death doula is, but once I start explaining to them what we do, they begin to truly see how beneficial we are, not just with the grieving process, but actually in the funeral planning process itself,” says death doula Taja Kenney. 

Here are some of those benefits:

  • Collaboration on Programming. Funeral directors and death doulas both have the same goal: to provide compassionate care to families. Hosting an event together—perhaps at an assisted living home or senior center—is a great way to achieve that goal. Examples of events include an ice cream social, a picnic or even a storytelling event. The event is a way to gather families and loved ones in one place to discuss end-of-life in a positive way, and demonstrate how funeral directors and doulas can work in tandem to support those in need.

  • Changing Minds. Witnessing how death doulas can help funeral directors, and vice versa, may go a long way toward changing society’s oft-held perception of death as anxiety ridden, sad or uncomfortable. Both camps can provide their point of view and insights to help normalize death.

  • More Compassionate Preparation. Many families who face the death of a loved one are not prepared for what comes next, such as the logistical concerns, and certainly not the grief. Death doulas can help pave the way not only for the dying person but for the family as well—using listening, spiritual visualizations and other mind-calming techniques to prepare families for what comes next. These practices complement what funeral directors offer as well—especially through aftercare services. 

  • An Easier Transition. Families who have been working with a death doula prior to the death may be more mentally and emotionally prepared to handle the logistics and preparation that comes with funeral and memorial planning. Consider providing families with death doula recommendations ahead of time, or even consider having a death doula on staff to make the process that much more seamless. 

In an age when shifting wants and needs are affecting every profession, death doulas can serve as a partner to funeral professionals by emotionally supporting the dying and their families – and ultimately helping to change perceptions about the death care industry. 

If you look at caregivers as providing services from cradle to grave, these two professionals should meet in the middle to transform the death experience into a more positive one.  


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