A traditional doula is there to provide support and guidance to expectant mothers in the final stages of pregnancy, offering a much-needed emotional backbone for many women right across the world.
But the idea is now being turned on its head, with some professionals instead choosing to help those nearing the end of their lives – working as official ‘death doulas’.
Mother-of-two Lizzie Neville, from Salisbury, UK, has embraced the trend and now runs a successful business of her own, charging clients £20 (AU$35) an hour for her services. In fact she’s so successful, she left one wife feeling “euphoric” about her husband’s death from cancer.
“The role is very similar to a birth doula,” she explained to the Sun Online. “Only, they help you come into the world and we help you go out of it.”
On her official website, Lizzie shares an inspiring message with family members searching for support ahead of the death of a loved one, insisting while it’s a “scary and unsettling time”, she’s there to help them – and can even encourage them to look forward to the end.
The 44-year-old, who is also chair of larger organisation End of Life Doula UK, attempts to clear up any confusion surrounding the practical and emotional aspects of death, from acting as a mentor during hospital appointments, to discussing end of life planning or simply walking the dog. Essentially, she describes her job as “anything that isn’t medical”.
She began her career working in a hospice, before branching out into the relatively unheard of profession.
“People are realising that hospitals are not going to be able to give you the death that you want,” she told the publication. “More people want to die at home, and more people want choice now.”
There’s no set plan to each of her sessions, and they can vary from household chores to more pressing issues such as family plans and hospital treatments.
One of her previous clients, Lowri Rylance, welcomed Lizzie’s service before the death of her husband Richard, who was diagnosed with terminal cancer in 2016. He was initially terrified of death, but she managed to change his perspective drastically – so much so, Lowri felt euphoric when he finally passed away.
“We both believe that it was the conversation she had with him which enabled him to let go,” Lowri told the BBC previously. “That day, my overriding emotion was euphoria. I was absolutely thrilled that he had gone, and that was the greatest thing I got from having a death doula.”
Lizzie has managed to separate her own emotions enough to manage saying goodbye to her clients when the time comes, but admitted her own mother’s death still came as a blow to her when it happened. In order to give her full attention to each family, she only usually takes on two or less at once – ensuring she’s always available to them when they need her.
“I am specially trained in ‘End of Life’ matters to help with coming to terms and be able to cope with the thought of dying and loss. You really don’t need to do this alone, help and support is just a phone call away,” she says on her website.