Q&A with an End of Life Doula

As we approach our senior years, life admin tasks become important for many of us, to help our loved ones transition smoothly after our passing – this could involve preparing a will, working with a financial planner, organising funeral insurance or wrapping up key personal matters. However, there is much more to end-of-life planning than just the financial aspects. That’s where a Death Doula can provide much-needed support.

What is a Death Doula?

The practice of people staying in their homes to pass away has been common for thousands of years. End of Life Doulas (also known as Death Doulas) are non-medical professionals who provide care to those who are dying – as well as their friends and family – to preserve their quality of life and ensure their wishes are fulfilled as best as possible during this difficult but inevitable period.

Q&A with Death Doula Patsy Bingham

To help give you greater insight into what might need attention before and after someone passes away, we spoke with Patsy Bingham, an experienced Doula who runs End of Life Angels.

Choosi: Why do people choose to have a Doula during their end-of-life preparations?

Patsy Bingham: A Doula helps to make the death of a loved one less frightening. We can enable those close to the person at the end of their life to focus their time and energy on making sure the final weeks, days and hours of their life are filled with as much love and joy as possible.

Ideally, this will involve a few consultation sessions as plans are considered. A Doula will enable loved ones to realise they have the skills to do what is needed, with the Doula taking on-call support as required during the final stages of life.

Choosi: What does your work entail as an End of Life Doula?

Patsy Bingham: My role is to provide support to individuals, as well as their families and loved ones, as they plan and prepare for their end of life. I usually become involved following a medical incident, a life-limiting diagnosis or just general old age and declining health. My support may include:

  • Providing an overview of options available in terms of care, place of death and preferred post-death arrangements.
  • Helping to consider where support may be drawn from (e.g. friends, community services, etc).
  • Liaising with medical and care teams.
  • Providing assistance with the creation of legacy projects.

Most importantly, I provide in-person support in the form of a calm, non-judgemental presence during a time that is normally extremely challenging and emotionally charged.

Choosi: How easy is it to access the right support and education around end-of-life planning?

Patsy Bingham: There is a lot of information available, but the challenge can be that if someone all of a sudden needs to find that information, it is spread across a vast variety of resources. There are some very helpful planning services available at:

Choosi: What does post-care death look like?

Patsy Bingham: When someone close to us dies – even when it is expected or following a long illness – the finality of their final breath can take time to settle in. During this important stage, Doulas can help support you to take care of your loved one after death, to bathe and dress them, paying them respect in the final tasks which are done largely with love, before they leave for their final time. There is something incredibly cathartic about this process which I believe shouldn’t be handed over to someone who doesn’t know and love your family member or close friend.

It is often a knee-jerk reaction to call a funeral director. However, this will likely result in your loved one being collected and removed within a very short time, which can have a negative impact on those close to start the grieving process.

In New South Wales, you can keep your person at home for up to five days, provided cooling capacity for the deceased can be maintained. If your loved one has died suddenly or unexpectedly, there are specific channels that will need to be followed.

Choosi: What does an end-of-life plan involve and what are the benefits of preparing well?

Patsy Bingham: An end-of-life plan is a document that enables an individual to provide an overview of how they would like their end-of-life process and care to unfold, in the event that they cannot speak for themselves. This is often the case in the event of a stroke or serious accident, so in these situations it is left to those closest to make decisions about their care and potential end of life – without the benefit of knowing what they actually want, and under what conditions they would still find life meaningful.

An end-of-life plan will generally include information about:

  • The location of important documents (e.g. wills, house deeds or other legal documents).
  • Whether powers of attorney and enduring guardians have been appointed and how they can be contacted
  • Whether there are religious or cultural rituals the person would like followed
  • Family or friends who should be notified and invited to visit, if appropriate.

Making these decisions as individuals takes the pressure off those who will step in to care for us should something unexpected happen. It also provides those carers with peace of mind that the decisions made about a loved one’s care are in line with their wishes, including what sort of funeral they would like.

Ultimately, the end of life you will have is the one that you have discussed with those you love. Having a document is great because it ensures that differing opinions among family members are trumped by a document written by you, but a conversation with those closest and most likely to be consulted is a great way to get started.

Support when you need it

Whether you are planning for the end of your own life or supporting a loved one in the final stages of theirs, it’s important to consider the financial safety net of having funeral insurance. Compare quotes online with Choosi to find the best policy to suit your needs.