Doulas Assist At the End of Life and the Beginning

I've written often about the value of doulas, caregivers who assist midwives and new mothers during and after the birth of children. This awesome story in last weekend's New York Times, my favorite newspaper in the world, describes a new and equally vital purpose for doulas: To assist with end of life care.

Just as it's the doula's job to be an advocate for a new mother to ensure health professionals follow her wishes during the birthing process as best and safely as they can, so it is also their responsibility to protect the "sacred space" of the dying to ease their passing as well as the emotions of the living who remain.

A portion of the article describes the vigil of one doula (also a pre-med student and yoga instructor) who aided a woman, while her husband -- terrified of the death process -- sat waiting in another room. The doula sat beside the woman, enclosing her hand between the hands of the ailing woman for some five hours until she died.

Afterward, the doula called the woman's daughter charged with taking care of all the logistical tasks that come with a loved one's passing. After the daughter arrived, the doula would take the husband to kitchen and make tea.

As they do at the beginning of a new life, doulas literally "took the tension out of the room" to smooth the passing of the ailing into the next life and make the event as peaceful and wonderful, as if death could be that, for the living.

New York Times May 20, 2006 Registration Required

The (Lakeland, Fla.) Ledger May 20, 2006

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