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Music, Joy…and Death Work

This post is re-published with permission from -

Most people know me as a somewhat goofy and playful songwriter (with such titles as Elvis in Witness Protection, Weirdo and Jesus Christ, It’s Christmas Again), or more recently as the author of Core Joy: Cultivating Sustainable Deep Happiness. I have a penchant for Dad jokes, bad puns and changing up the lyrics in songs à la Weird Al. My primary mission in life is to find joy in the everyday, and to pass it on as much as I can.

And so, it may come to a surprise to some that I am currently training to become a death doula. However, let me explain how this absolutely fits!

Photo from Wix.

Death doulas help individuals and their families to navigate the admittedly delicate, challenging and yet profound end-of-life journey, usually after the diagnosis of a life-limiting (aka terminal) illness. A formal description of what we do might sound like: we provide practical and emotional support by creating a death plan, facilitating legacy work, organizing the vigil and offering grief and bereavement support. But at the heart level, what we are aiming for is helping people to live their best possible life right up until the moment of death.

Let’s face it. We live in a death-phobic culture. We are often afraid to even talk about it. However, the philosophers and mystics would remind us that it is death that gives meaning to life. For me, knowing that I will one day vanish from this life makes me all the more joyful and grateful that I am here, ready to squeeze every bit of living that I can out of the time that I have left.

Just as a birth doula plays a spiritually significant and honorable role in helping a new life transition into the outside world, I believe I will derive tremendous fulfilment from helping a person to transition from this life into whatever might be on the other side. There will be much grief. Even for me as a helper, there will be grief. But there will be joy. And hopefully some music too.

Moving into this work, I am reflecting on what gaps there are in my community in the caring for those whose death is imminent. It is estimated that approximately 75% of Canadians would prefer to die at home. Yet, with many of our loved ones unsure of what to do in our final hours, 911 is often called in a panic.

With some preparation, a peaceful and even beautiful death outside of a hospital setting is possible. Many of us have never even considered what our ideal death would look like. Rather than being a “morbid” exercise, this imagining of our best possible way to go is a deeply enriching thought experiment which reinforces and clarifies what (and who) is meaningful to us. Even if we are not currently ill, picturing the environment, the people we want with us, the smells, sounds and sights we want to experience at our vigil is a way of remembering and clarifying what is important to us in life.

We can examine all the gaps in the care “system” — real challenges of limited resources, overworked caregivers, bureaucratic nightmares and politics. But perhaps the most fundamental gap lies in our culture’s apprehension and overmedicalization of death — the inability to talk about it, to deeply accept it, to plan for it and to recognize its sacredness.

As a death doula in training, who is also a musician, a storyteller, a joy coach, a father, a brother, a son and a human being who will die one day…that is the real gap that I aim to help bridge, joyfully, humbly and solemnly, one person, one family at a time.


Mike Aubé is an HHA death doula candidate and the author of Core Joy: Cultivating Sustainable Deep Happiness. You can learn more about him at

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