After 30 years in teaching and the onset of a pandemic, I decided it was time to re-evaluate my priorities. Since the death of my husband 10 years ago, I had always been drawn to the idea of helping families cope with the loss of a loved one. However, I carried on with my career because I was on a familiar and predictable trajectory at a prestigious school where I loved my students and felt appreciated. I also had two young children of my own, and it was not the right time to make another transition.
It was not until 2020, when I started volunteering at our local residential hospice, that I realized I needed to make a change and follow my heart. While hospice is an incredible place staffed by wonderful human beings, I strongly felt that I had more to offer based on my personal experiences and my professional experience as an educator. I plan to continue supporting hospice through volunteering, but I have now retrained to become an End of Life Doula. This is still a little-known service in Ontario, but we essentially provide a similar service to that of a Birth Doula, except that we are involved at the other end of life.
My job is to facilitate difficult conversations around death and dying with patients facing a life-limiting illness. I help them to explore their fears, their goals and wishes, and ensure that they have time and space to explain these to their family members. I provide peace of mind in the knowledge that they will be seen and heard, even if they are no longer able to communicate with their loved ones. At the same time, this relieves the stress on surviving family members since they know and understand what decisions are the right ones to make. They will be feeling overwhelmed at the prospect of their impending loss, and often struggle to make crucial decisions, which they will have to live with for the rest of their lives.
My work is always guided by the client’s wants and needs as every family’s journey is unique. Sometimes I will help them to create a lasting memory project of something which is special to them, sometimes I will help to navigate community resources to make sure that they are getting enough support in the home. If they are interested in finding out about the MAiD (Medical Assistance in Dying) program, I will explain the steps involved and suggest they discuss it with their healthcare team. I am their buffer, their sounding-board, and the non-family member of their team, who is committed to their well-being.
My goal is also to help my families understand the dying process, offer comfort, reassurance, and, above all, non-judgemental listening support. If a client would like to die at home, I can explain the EDITH (Expected Death in the Home) protocol and hold vigil with the family if they wish my support. Planning a death in the home can be stressful for families, but I am there to support and guide them.
The most challenging part of this work is actually getting people to talk about death and dying, and to accept that their time will come. Dying is actually a normal process, but it is often a taboo subject in our culture. I firmly believe that there IS such a thing as a “good death”, and once we have figured out what that might look like for us, then we can get busy living!
If you would like to learn more about the services I offer, please feel free to contact me for information.