8/25/2020 | By Seniors Guide Staff

You may have heard of birth doulas. But end-of-life doulas provide comfort and care during a patient’s last days, weeks, and months.

When most people think of a doula, they think of a woman who aides another woman during childbirth. But, just as a woman needs companionship and support during childbirth, so do people need companionship and support when they undertake their final journey.

The first organized end-of-life doula program – the Doula Program to Accompany & Comfort, was founded in New York City 2001 by Amy Levine. In an interview with the Huffington Post in 2017, she pointed out, “There are so many people who are facing the end stage of life alone. In my experience working with people at this stage, the real stress is often that no one wants to talk to them about it. That’s very isolating.”

Despite the name, death doulas don’t necessarily attend a dying person in their last moments. Instead, their aim is to “be present during the final state of a person’s life and to get to know them on a deeper level than just their illness.”

1. End-of-Life Doulas Can Be Volunteers or Professionals

Volunteers typically belong to an organization – such as the Doula Program to Accompany & Comfort – and are sent to homes, hospitals, and nursing homes to be a companion to someone dealing with a life-threatening illness.

Professional doulas are typically employed by the individual or the individual’s family.

2. Training Is Intensive

It’s difficult to sit at the bedside of someone who is dying, knows it, and is afraid of what is to come. What do you say?

Several organizations offer end-of-life doula training and certification programs to ensure that doulas do know what to say, and do, at these difficult times.

Doulas learn the intricacies of elder care (although they are not allowed to provide medical care); how to provide comfort and support to the individual, along with respite care for the individual’s family; the art of ‘deep listening,’ strategies for calming and comforting; and even talking about what happens to a person physically as the time of their death approaches.

3. The Services Provided by an End-of-Life Doula Are …

While sitting at someone’s bedside and providing a comforting and supportive presence is important, end-of-life doulas provide many more services depending on how mobile and mentally aware their client is.


Most seniors love to talk and reminisce, and few will listen to them. A doula provides that welcome “ear.”


Does the patient know anything about advanced care directives? A doula can explain all this in easily understandable terms.

A doula can help facilitate a discussion on the burial and funeral, when needed.

They can help create a ritual or legacy.

A doula informs the patient, and the patient’s family if present, of the gradual changes to the body that indicates that death is near. It’s all about ending any mysteries and doubts and providing information and surety, and helping with questions such as “What happens when the end is near?” “How will I feel?”


A doula can serve his or her client for hours, days, weeks, or even months. Someone who is terminally ill may still have the strength and mental acuity to wish to accomplish many things before they pass.

Creating memorabilia for family and friends

The individual may wish to spend their time creating objects for their loved ones or for their friends. A doula can help put together a physical or virtual photo album or scrapbook.

Many seniors have had long and interesting lives. A doula may suggest videoing (via their smartphone) their reminiscences.

Vigils and Living Funerals

A doula can help plan and conduct vigils at the patient’s bedside, or even conduct a “living funeral” – so that the patient can “hear the eulogies, praises and farewells given,” before their death – much more powerful than holding such a funeral afterward.

Here are the websites of a few organizations that provide support, training, and continuing education for death doulas; these are also directories of the doulas themselves.

Seniors Guide Staff

Seniors Guide has been addressing traditional topics and upcoming trends in the senior living industry since 1999. We strive to educate seniors and their loved ones in an approachable manner, and aim to provide them with the right information to make the best decisions possible.

Seniors Guide Staff