In the quiet corner of a dimly lit hospice room, I stood beside my friend Diane and her son Hans, also one of my dearest friends, who was journeying home. I told Diane to rest as she moved over, and I continued holding Hans’ hand, as I watched Diane rest.
The room was filled with a sense of peace and acceptance. At this moment, I realized I was no longer a hospice volunteer. I was living my purpose as a death doula, accompanying souls as they gracefully depart this world.
My death doula journey began several years ago when I started as a hospice volunteer. I had no experience in end-of-life care, but I did possess a strong desire to become a better human being.
I recognized that there were people in the world facing much greater challenges than I was. I was young, healthy, educated, and had a decent income.
It was in this moment of reflection that I realized how grateful I was for my life and how I could contribute to making the world a better place while shifting the focus away from myself.
I had always been deeply moved by the stories of individuals who had found solace, love, and support in their final moments, often thanks to the presence of volunteers.
Intrigued and inspired, I embarked on a journey to become a volunteer. I believed that the divine had plans for me. These plans included a journey of self-discovery, guiding me to discover myself as a death doula.
Death doulas, often referred to as end-of-life doulas or soul midwives, provide holistic support to individuals and their families as they navigate the profound transition of death.
Our role encompasses emotional, spiritual, and practical assistance, ensuring that the dying process is as peaceful and dignified as possible. Our mission is to guide souls through this sacred journey, offering a comforting presence and empowering those we serve to face this natural part of life with dignity, support, love, and grace.
One of my early experiences as a hospice volunteer introduced me to Bob, a retired veteran in his late seventies facing kidney failure. My volunteer coordinator reached out to me to provide support to Bob.
When I arrived at his home, he was alone, and I sensed both apprehension and curiosity.
Bob was a man of few words, but his eyes revealed a world of stories and emotions. As we began our journey together, it became evident that building trust was essential before delving into the work he needed done.
Soon, I discovered Bob’s passion for ties; he had a remarkable collection of them. What was especially significant to him was the idea of passing these ties on to the local youth center for young boys. In his eyes, it was crucial for young boys to learn how to wear ties and have a few of their own at an early age.
With this newfound knowledge about Bob’s love for ties, I offered to help him clean out his closet and sort through his collection of them. I promised to deliver the ties to the local youth center for boys. Bob’s face lit up with joy at the idea.
In that moment, I felt his guard come down, and the bond between us began to take shape.
We spent an afternoon cleaning out Bob’s closet, organizing ties, and sharing stories about some of the so-called “ugly ties” in his collection. Laughter echoed through the room as we reminisced about the quirkiest ties he owned. It was an unexpected bond that had formed, and we cherished every moment spent together that day.
In my time as a death doula, I have come to realize that our primary role is to be present for those in their final moments. We listen, we hold hands, we offer a shoulder to cry on, and we create a safe space for our clients and their loved ones to explore their emotions, fears, and hopes.
It’s about validating their experiences and providing the support they need to transition with dignity, grace, and comfort.
One of the most profound experiences I’ve encountered was with a gentleman named Jim. As he neared the end of his life, his greatest wish was to mend the rift with his estranged son, with whom he had not spoken in many years. He expressed his desire for one last conversation and wanted my assistance.
I dialed the number, yet I was met with immediate resistance from his son. Despite being aware of his father’s terminal condition, his son was unwilling to forgive over unresolved financial disputes. When Jim’s son abruptly hung up, my heart sank.
It was at that moment I realized that I needed to become that powerful presence, offering support to Jim and encouraging him to convey his feelings to his son through me.
Jim, despite his frailty, poured his heart and soul into a heartfelt letter, one he hoped would eventually find its way into his son’s hands. I remained by Jim’s side, and as he read the letter aloud, we both imagined his son’s presence in the room.
This process allowed Jim to find the closure he sought and provided him with the means to leave behind a tangible piece of his legacy for his son.
Being a death doula has given me the gift of reflection. Each person I’ve had the privilege to serve has left an impact on my life. I’ve learned that death is not just an end but also a beginning, an opportunity for growth, healing, and connection.
It has taught me to appreciate life and each precious moment.
A journey filled with touching moments, heart-wrenching goodbyes, and transformative experiences. It is a calling that requires compassion, empathy, and a commitment to holding space for others during their most vulnerable moments.
While the work is emotionally demanding, it is also incredibly rewarding, It provides individuals and their families with the opportunity to find support, comfort, and even beauty in the midst of life’s most challenging moments, and, sometimes, it offers the gift of closure.
As I reflect on the many souls, I’ve had the privilege to guide home, I am reminded of the words of Rumi: “Goodbyes are only for those who love with their eyes. Because for those who love with heart and soul, there is no such thing as separation.”
I have witnessed the truth in these words as a death doula, and I am grateful for the opportunity to help others navigate the end-of-life journey of transition with love, compassion, and grace.
I love the work I do. It’s more than a job, it’s a calling, a passion, and a privilege. Through this passion, I wanted to duplicate my efforts, to extend the reach of compassion and support that I could offer by teaching others.
At End of Life Consultants and Death Doulas, my mission is to help reimagine the end-of-life journey through consulting, services, grief support, and education.
The courses are for everyone, to empower and equip us with the knowledge, skills, and compassion needed to make a difference in the lives of others.
I believe that there’s a ‘doula heart’ within each of us, a source of empathy and care. We all possess the capacity to offer support and care to someone on their end-of-life journey.
Charon Collier is a Death Doula. You can pre-order her book The Good Death Experience: Journey From Hospice Volunteer to Death Doula.