A Story From an End-of-Life Doula

“I give them what God gives me”.

Doulas are most often associated with childbirth, an assistant who helps usher in new life. An end-of-life doula is similar, an assistant who helps in the transition at the end of life. The purpose of an end-of-life doula is to protect the sacred space of dying through the gift of intentional presence. To accomplish this, the end-of-life doula may provide companionship to the patient and loved one, offer a listening ear, provide comfort measures, sit vigil, be a calming presence, provide respite for caregivers, and encourage reminiscing and family rituals such as prayer, singing and reading. The goal of an end-of-life doula is “to be like water and flow to the place where there’s a need.”

Jenet Robertson became a volunteer for Good Samaritan Hospice in 2003. During those thirteen years, she has been a great support to Good Samaritan hospice families by making meals, baking birthday desserts and serving as an end-of-life doula. Recently, Jenet went to a home as a doula to help a Good Samaritan Hospice patient who was actively dying and his family. The patient was a Viet Nam veteran and there were many family members present to provide comfort for his wife. Jenet was there to be a calm presence and to determine the greatest need for the family and patient. She quickly learned that the patient’s wife had not had anything to eat or drink in quite a while despite the family asking her to do so. Jenet spoke with her about the importance of keeping up her strength and that she would stay with her and her husband for as long as she needed. This provided her with comfort knowing that a trained hospice volunteer would sit with her husband so that she could take time to eat. Jenet sat vigil while family members present to talk about the patient, reminisce about his life and share stories. This became a sacred time for everyone to remember and reflect. When family and friends left, Jenet remained with the patient’s wife late into the night until her sister was able to be with her. Her husband passed away peacefully an hour later.

Jenet also served as an end-of-life doula for a veteran and widower at the VA Hospital. When they first met, Jenet noticed many photos of places he and his late wife traveled and asked him about these adventures. He lit up with joy and began to tell her about how he met his wife and their shared love of travel. He told her about each trip in such detail that Jenet could image the adventure in her mind’s eye. When this gentleman began to actively die, Jenet was by his side, holding his hand and reliving all of those vacations he so lovingly told her about as she looked at all of the photos surrounding his hospital bed. And, she was with him as he took his last breath.

When I started as a volunteer at Good Samaritan Hospice I could not have imagined what a powerful, meaningful, rewarding and life-changing experience it would be for me and the Good Samaritan Hospice patients, families and caregivers. Being a Good Samaritan Hospice end-of-life doula has been both a blessing and a calling.

For more information about becoming a Good Samaritan Hospice end-of-life Doula please call Rayelle Williamson, Volunteer Coordinator, at rwilliamson@goodsamhospice.org

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