My journey to becoming a Death Doula.

Amanda
6 min readOct 27, 2023

“The Doula walks alongside the family, opening their heart in service and compassion. Doulas do not judge feelings, responses or behaviour. Instead, by their actions and words, doulas convey their support, normalise feelings, model behaviour, or gently guide family into a deeper exploration of something they are struggling with. As a result, and in ways that are often mysterious, the Doula opens the door to moments of understanding, appreciation, healing and even transformation”

— Henry Fersko-Weiss

A photograph of many tealight candles, all lit, in a darkened space.
Image by: https://unsplash.com/photos/photo-of-lighted-tealight-candles-5FOfresB1G4

Earlier this year, I felt the pull to become a Death Doula. I’ve now completed my five-day foundation course, and next year I’ll start my diploma.

I’ve been reading, listening and watching different resources to understand the work of Death Doulas, as well as experiences of dying, death and grief. I’m grateful for the generosity of others in sharing their experiences and journeys through a topic that still feels taboo where I come from. I am even more grateful for those who have passed and the gifts their life and death have given us.

I started writing a reading/watching list in this blog post, and then realised I could be more helpful by creating a document that’s open to all. I’ll continue to add to this as I find new resources.

But wait, let’s go back a step.. what’s a Death Doula?

I’ve been describing the concept of a Death Doula to my friends as “you know when you have a birth doula to welcome babies and new beginnings? Well, a death doula walks beside you during the end — it’s about celebrating life, helping people to navigate the process of dying, honouring wishes and rituals, being there in those final moments and what follows, and supporting where needed”.

And that doesn’t do justice to the incredible, vital work that Death Doulas do, but it's a start.

A Death Doula works by invitation. They support the dying person — and their loved ones — through the experience. This includes physical, emotional and spiritual support, such as:

  • planning for the last months, weeks, and days of life (perhaps through creating a legacy project, or reflective practice on the person’s life and purpose)
  • understanding, advocating for, and honoring their needs, wishes and rituals (for example, do they want certain sounds, scents, visuals to accompany them? Do they want visitors to touch or speak to them? Where do they want their bed placed?)
  • supporting them through the dying process
  • supporting their loved ones to understand the dying process, particularly in observing when death may be near, providing reassurance that some of the things they witness are ‘normal’, and gathering those who should be there in the final moment
  • supporting their loved ones after the death of the person (this could be with paperwork, making calls to family/friends, providing emotional support, helping them to navigate their grief, holding the space for spiritual practices, and so on)

Because this work needs to be handled carefully, having the right training, guided practice and a supportive network of peers is essential. I’ve chosen to do my course with Living Well and Dying Well. They are truly a fantastic organisation and I am so grateful to Ninon, Deborah & Jane for their training, support and advice; and to Lisa and the team for all the behind-the-scenes work to make these courses happen. And of course, I am so grateful for my fellow participants.

My experiences so far…

Being a participant in this training is deeply profound. It’s beautiful, sad, humbling, heartening. I feel as though I have joined a collective of like-minded souls. People I have somehow journeyed with before. These strangers — now friends — have become some of my greatest teachers. I have shared things about my own experiences with death that I’ve never told a soul. I guess that says it all really — that we can bury these experiences, we can hide away from death, we can apologise for our grief. I don’t want to do that anymore.

I want to celebrate life and death. I want to walk alongside and support people in those final moments, which are a great privilege to be witness to and part of. I want to provide support to the loved ones who are ‘left behind’ after. I want to be better prepared and show up for the ones I love.

When my grandmother died last year, I regretted not being there for that moment. I take comfort that she was with her children, and she had her version of a good death (and a great funeral!) As I spent time with her at her viewing, and as I read Fran Hall’s poetry to a packed chapel for her funeral (less said about the fact I nearly fell into her grave later that day), I had this sense that dots were connecting but I couldn’t figure out how. I just had this feeling that I was meant to serve others through the experience of dying, rather than shy away from it.

For years I have put the fear of my loved ones dying into a little box and packed it away somewhere. But now, through this course, particularly in having the privilege of listening to the experiences of others, I am confronting the inevitable. I am embracing the catharsis of grief. I want to talk about those I’ve lost and the fear I have for those I’ll lose, and not feel worry or shame about the tears and reactions that may come — because they are love in another form.

I won’t share trusted moments of the course itself but will be reflecting on my own experience journeying through. If you have any questions, or there’s any area you’re curious about, do let me know.

I dedicate my experience to those I have loved and lost.

In memorium.

To my grandfather John, for passing when he was 67 and I was 6, for showing me not to wait until retirement to enjoy life.

To my friend’s young and vibrant brother, lost in his teens to leukemia, for showing me the power of faith and belief through times of unfairness.

To my mum’s best friend Shirley, the life and soul of the party, for teaching me to be unapologetically myself — even though I’m still learning now.

To the three sisters of the five siblings, whose tragic deaths shocked our local community, I think of you all often and what might have been.

To my friend Lucy who struggled to be, who tried and tried until she finally found her peace — thank you for trying to live for all of us, but ultimately showing that we need to put our own needs first.

To my grandfather Patrick, who started to forget us all, thank you for teaching me that sometimes you start to grieve whilst the person is still here — and ultimately you have to respect what the dying need, not what the left behind want.

To my almost mother-in-law Lyn, who I tried so hard to save so many times. Thank you for teaching me resilience and strength. I hope you are at peace. I carry you with me always.

To my friend Nick, thank you for being a wonderful mentor and for the positive impact you had on my life.

To my incredible Duchess, my Nan Eileen, thank you for everything. You inspired me to go on this journey, the money you left me funded my course and I honour you through this work.

To my uncle Steve who we lost far, far too soon this year. I miss your childlike energy and the way you made us all laugh. I find something joyful in every day in your memory.

And to my grandmothers and other ancestors I never knew, I know you guide me from beyond the veil, thank you.

Image credit; https://unsplash.com/photos/silhouette-photography-of-person-oMpAz-DN-9I

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Amanda

All things data, digital, design, communities, leadership & open culture. With relentless optimism and plenty of magic.