How do you prepare someone to die? Death doula Denise Love explains the process, and why she finds the job so rewarding.
“It’s just sitting with somebody. Tell me about your life - have you thought about dying?”
Most families come to me when they're overwhelmed or exhausted. They're the two words I hear the most. As a death doula, I support. I fill the gaps.
I have been working with people who are actively dying for many years. Both in highly medicalised situations, dying at home - even in remote villages in Australia and Asian countries where there is no medical help.
No matter what the location, there are constants: the steps a doula takes to help prepare a person - and their loved ones - for death.
TOUGH CONVERSATIONS - TAKING CENTRE STAGE
The first thing I like to ask people is "are we living or dying?". Most people tell me they are dying.
I encourage people to speak their truth. When we explore what dying truly means to them, we often open the door to a more exciting and freer way of living.
It's like a theatre, everybody has a role to play. But we put the person, who we known is dying, centre stage.
As a doula, I'm the stage manager. For this time, I will deliver support in the most ideal way the person wishes to be served.
Most families respond to this well as, once everybody has a place or a responsibility, there are fewer eyes and less focus on the actively dying person.
Clarifying what is happening, and just listening to all their fears and needs, is the most powerful thing anybody can do.
FULFILLING DREAMS, OVERCOMING FEARS
The next thing we do is dream. These dreams could be anything - big dreams, short term needs/wants and those out of the ordinary.
l have creative ways of filling these needs at some level, even if it is just with a visualisation using all the senses.
Then come the fears: what is the scariest thing about dying? What is the hardest, scariest thing about living? What can we do right here and now to alleviate those fears?
Sometimes just acknowledging the fears is enough. People, when they are close to death, are really clear about who they do and don't want near them. Most don't want to be fussed over. They certainly need quiet. After many many years of doing this, you start to notice a pattern.
THE BUSINESS SIDE OF DEATH
Getting our 'affairs in order' can add another layer of stress to the process of death. Beyond the emotional support, death doulas play an important role in the business side of death.
I have a document I supply to families that takes care of most of the logistical side of things. These are forms I take with me everywhere, and I suggest everybody in the family does their own.
They sign it and within an hour it is all done: will, funeral planning and advance directive. This is basically what needs to be done following the death: who to reach out to, any bills to pay and when.
Death is not the enemy. It is almost magical. This person who was present one minute, no matter how sick they were, is now completely gone from earth.
Profound is the only word I have. Every last breath I witness encourages me to choose happiness and really live life – every minute of every day. This work is amazing!