End of life is one of the least talked about subjects, but should it be? Until recently, this has been one of my most feared topics of conversation and probably yours, too. Throughout my career I have always felt a draw towards palliative care, and I have been honoured to be at the bedside of and to care for people who are at the end of their life. It wasn’t until I reflected on these moments and on the passing of my father, that I realized just how difficult it is to start the conversation about one’s end of life journey. What I have come to realize is; we can do this better! We need to feel comfortable having conversations on death and dying so we can ensure we get the care we need, and our final wishes are known and carried through until the end.
Earlier this year I was fortunate to see a news clip on one of the local channels about End of Life Doula’s and their increasing role in palliative care. I was excited to learn there is an opportunity to be able to navigate a person through their end of life planning and ensure they leave this world according to their wishes. My interest was immediately piqued, and I tucked it away knowing this may be something I would like to pursue. Moving forward to August, I successfully completed a course to become an End of Life Doula. I now find end of life navigation one of my most favorite topics to research and to talk about.
There are common patterns in the way people die. The majority of people who are diagnosed with a life-threatening illness may have just months to live, they may have a chronic disease where they experience periods of decline and recovery over time due to these health conditions, or may have a diagnosis of dementia where they lose both physical abilities and mental capacity over a longer period of time. No matter the diagnosis, we need to address the white elephant and seize the opportunity to discuss one’s end of life wishes while they are relatively healthy, and this is where the role of the End of Life Doula may be considered.
According to the End of Life Doula Association of Canada (www.endoflifedoulaassociation.org) the role of the End of Life Doula “empowers, educates and encourages people and their families to be a part of decision making” when it comes to navigating end of life. This may include but not be limited to: advance care planning, companionship, respite care, and bedside vigil when the journey here comes to an end. The Association’s hope is to increase awareness of the role of the End of Life Doula and the importance this role has in palliative care. Whichever journey one finds themselves on, an End of Life Doula can provide resources to work with the individual and their family to facilitate and navigate those final days in accordance with their wishes.