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Death by Design

Death. The gloom, the heaviness, and the fear that surrounds this word are felt by many of us.


When giving birth, one is worried about pthe baby out safely and successfully. They are not necessarily considering the millions of micro-details involved in the process. That is a job for someone else to concern themselves with on their behalf. The same is true when individuals plan a wedding and bring on a wedding planner to implement their wishes and advocate for them. Through compassionate support and guidance, death doulas empower and give courage to those dealing with the unfamiliar and unforeseen details that come with the dying process.

If death is a natural part of life, then why are we so fearful of it? Why do we know so little about it? Is there any way to make this inevitable process less painful and uncomfortable for ourselves and loved ones?


The bridge between fear and a beautiful acceptance as you stare death in its eyes is that of a death doula. Doula is Greek for “servant” or “helper.” Just as a birthing doula assists in the needs of a pregnant mother, a death doula assists in the needs of dying individuals and/or their families.


Information and support is the mantra. It’s simple, yet thorough.


Death doulas are non-medical professionals trained to care for the physical, emotional, and spiritual needs of those who are terminally ill as well as their family and friends.


When giving birth, one is worried about delivering the baby safely and successfully. They are not necessarily considering the millions of micro-details involved in the process. That is a job for someone else to concern themselves with on their behalf. The same is true when individuals plan a wedding and bring on a wedding planner to implement their wishes and advocate for them. Through compassionate support and guidance, death doulas empower and give courage to those dealing with the unfamiliar and unforeseen details that come with the dying process.


The duties of a death doula could include, but are not limited to:

  • Death planning

  • Spiritual, psychological, social, and grief support before, during, and after death

  • Creating legacy projects

  • Holding vigils

  • Explaining the various rights, responsibilities, and services available at the end of life

Death is something no one can completely prepare for. It comes with questions, uncertainty, and the feeling of being overwhelmed. As the death doula movement spreads, new questions and answers have surfaced with regards to death and how our society, our institutions, and our governing bodies deal with it.


To say that a death doula’s goal is to normalize death may seem strange or just plain impossible, but the fact of the matter is that death is as “normal” and “real” as birth, and the pain and grief we feel as human beings when we lose someone will still remain. However, allowing that emotion to flow through you, rather than holding on to it, can make a world of difference for those walking an end-of-life journey for themselves or with someone else.


As death doulas, we can help create a safe space to learn about grief and feel all of its emotions freely. Death doulas help to shine a light on some of our darkest moments and make them bearable, if not beautiful. If I can give someone what I had needed in my experiences, such as the love and peace and human connection that assists in the dying and grieving processes, then I have accomplished my purpose as a death doula. This is my intangible gift to and from the world.


Anyone interested in becoming death doula can register for HHA's death doula certificate program here. The next available training weekend is January 26-28, 2024.


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Nichole Myers is a graduate of HHA's death doula certificate program.

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