Death doulas or end-of-life doulas, if you don’t know them, are trained professionals who help dying people and their loved ones. These doulas provide emotional and practical support, such as wakefulness, help with planning funeral and memorial services, communicating with the medical support team, and helping families deal with bereavement. Making sure the dying person is comfortable is another important part of the job. While every death and every situation is different, there are many practices and rituals that death doulas do — and teach and encourage those close to the person to do — to bring comfort to the dying.
Below, Ashley Johnson, the founder of Faithful hands, a team of millennial death doulas, shares five rituals, including the best way most people prefer to be comforted at the end of their life. Interestingly, many of these practices are universally comforting, even to those who are not actively dying, and can be incorporated now to help cultivate comfort in your daily life.
Create a comforting atmosphere
It is important to set the mood and create a comfortable mood. Many people prefer to die at home, Johnson says, but wherever they are, there are things you can do to make the environment as comfortable, familiar and calming as possible for them. To do this, she suggests asking the person what their ideal last day would be. Some of the ideas she recommends include playing their favorite music, having soft lighting, filling the room with soothing scents, and having their pets nearby.
Rubbing hands or feet
Rubbing a person’s hands and feet can also provide comfort. “The last senses to go are usually touch, followed by hearing,” says Johnson. “Gently rubbing the hands and feet will help the family and the dying to do the work of death. The comfort of the massage helps to relax moments of tension. This sense of touch reminds the dying that they are loved and not alone .”
Sitting vigil with someone nearing the end of their life also provides great comfort. Johnson says that involves sitting next to them, actively listening to them and making sure they are as comfortable as possible during their final hours. The sitting vigil also includes reporting any signs of pain to the hospice team.
Perform Deathbed Rituals
Deathbed rituals are a way to honor the dying person and their loved ones, Johnson says. Rituals can be done before, during or after death and can be religious, cultural or simply personal things that the person finds comforting. For example, Johnson recalls a client asking his family to wash their bodies with warm water and lavender.
Change their outlook on death
Death doulas also help the dying and their loved ones develop a positive mindset for death. They do this by having conversations about death, dying, and grief and encouraging them to see death as a normal part of the life everyone lives. It can help reduce fears and anxiety related to death.
Share and keep memories
Death doulas also help grieving families by encouraging them to share memories and stories about their loved one. “It can help give the family a sense of purpose and also significantly help with coping and healing,” she says. You can get as creative as you want with this. Ideas shared by Johnson include capturing voice memos and videos, creating a family cookbook, planting trees in their honor, assembling a keepsake blanket, donating to an organization charities they support and curating trinkets and keepsakes that remind you of them.
Help put your affairs in order
According to Johnson, the number one thing that comforts people at the end of life the most is making sure their affairs are in order before they die. Not only will this cause less stress for their loved ones, but it will also help them achieve a sense of completion and peace before they pass away.
“While legal paperwork is important, comprehensive end-of-life care also includes helping the dying person align spiritually, mentally, and emotionally,” Johnson said. “People would ideally like to transition with a sense of completion, a sense of fulfilling their purpose here. [in] this kingdom. Examples of things that can provide this sense of accomplishment include extending forgiveness or asking others for forgiveness, releasing things beyond their control, and resolving any fears or concerns about death.