A Friend in Our Time of Need - Sam's Story

A few months ago, I had never heard of a death Doula. The concept was completely foreign to me, I hadn’t the slightest idea what it was. My sister was overseas on a long-planned wedding trip. Worried about our parents, she took the time before her departure to set out a few things to make sure we would be ok if anything was to happen in her absence. My sister prepared a reflection of their life story and read it out to our parents before she left.

In her preparations, my sister had come across an end-of-life Doula and provided a name and phone number for me to call if anything was to happen while she was away. I was naturally curious and found out a little bit about her, understanding that the Doula was someone to help us out if the time came to say goodbye.

Our Doula came over to our home, introducing herself to Mum and Dad and getting to know the rest of the family. With my parents being unwell, and other family members needing my attention, I felt there was an immense pressure to organise things with such little time. The Doula spoke to us about the end-of-life process. She had many decades’ experience as a nurse and had such a soft demeanour and easy rapport that you could be forgiven for thinking she had known us forever. I was struck by the calmness that she gave us.

We had lost my sister 18 months prior to younger onset dementia. The process could not have been more different. When we lost my sister, it was so rushed. We had no time to spend with her and we were all left with a sense of shock and regret. Being supported our Doula it was very different. She spoke with us before Mum died and then was in the room with us after her final breath. She gave us space to stay in the room with Mum for 11 or 12 hours. We lit a candle, sat around her, shared life experiences and felt united in our grief. That night, with our Doula’s assistance, the grandchildren dressed her in her favourite nightie. It was beautiful, like it was meant to be. Not forced, no sense of panic. Just calm. We felt prepared for it.

Our Doula worked with the Funeral Home and Celebrant to coordinate her funeral. It took an immense amount of pressure off me and the family. She spoke with me and made the process so easy. She shared personal stories and allowed me to feel a sense of mutual trust. It was like a shared experience. You know what they say, “a problem shared is a problem halved”. She allowed us to share our grief and I found it nowhere near as confronting as when we lost my sister.

When Dad became ill a short time later, it was natural to have our Doula involved again. I am not sad about it because of how it all evolved. It was not a pleasant experience, but it was gratifying to say goodbye in such a calm and dignified way.

The doctors and nurses were amazing, but at the end of the day there was only ever one person on the ward and they had so much to do. Our Doula was there for our family throughout it all. She took care of organising things which gave us time to be with Mum and Dad and the headspace to really be present with them. She gave us the gift of time. I walked into my first meeting with her feeling a sense of dread, but I walked out feeling like I was walking on air. I felt like there was someone in my corner. It made all the difference in the world.