By Jennifer Mallmes BGS, Death Doula, Educator
Why do people not talk about death? We will all die someday, but no one wants to talk about it. I always find it strange that people will sign a waiver and jump out of plane without thinking about their mortality. We listen to music, watch movies and read books about death, so why don’t we talk about it? I think it’s fear. People are afraid that they may get upset, bring back memories, or sound morbid. One of the biggest regrets dying people say they have is that they never got to have all the conversations that they wanted. They say that they lived as if they were wearing a mask, and only acting how they thought they should. Why are we so afraid?
Our society for years has created this unnatural separation from death. When someone dies, they go to a funeral home, only to be visited when the person has been made “ready” for viewing. When someone is sick, the atmosphere in the room changes. People tend to stay away, talk quietly, laughter is out of the question, and sometimes it’s as if the dying person isn’t even there. If an immediate family member dies you can get 3 days off work, when a young boy (or man for that matter) cries, they are told to “suck it up”, or “be strong”. Our society doesn’t give us opportunities to deal with death well. But we can reclaim it.
A new emerging profession, End-of-Life Care Doulas, are filling these gaps. We are not there to replace family in conversations, but we can be there to help start them. We are not there to replace people working in hospice, palliative, or spiritual care, but we can support the work they do. End-of-Life Doulas are trained to encourage, empower and advocate for a person after a terminal diagnosis. They can help a family process information and have difficult conversations. The goal of an End-of-Life Doula is to help a person keep living without fears or regrets. We protect the dignity of the dying person, while preserving the memories of those still living.
We also help the dying person check off items on their bucket list. I watched a 93-year-old skydive because she could still do it. If you have grandparents, parents, friends, teammates who have received a terminal diagnosis, ask them “What brings you joy?” or “What’s on your bucket list?” – and then help them achieve it. Simply talking to someone at the end of their life reduces pain and suffering, provides companionship, and creates memories. Waiting until tomorrow to visit someone is not always an option, so take time and don’t be scared to remove your own mask and think about how you are living your life right now.
Jennifer Mallmes is an instructor with the End-of-Life Doula program at Douglas College.
Registration for the 2018 courses is now open. Learn more about the End-of-Life Doula program at https://www.douglascollege.ca/eold.