A doula has traditionally been associated with aiding the birthing process by supporting the mother and newborn baby. But, did you know there are end-of-life doulas as well? These doulas support and guide the dying in much the same way a maternity doula supports mother and baby. We spoke recently with Mert Brubaker who offers end-of-life doula services in the Harrisonburg area.
What is an End-of-Life Doula?
Doula support services are multi-faceted, encompassing emotional support, non-medical care, and logistical and informational needs of the family. They provide companionship and guidance to individuals and their loved ones throughout the dying process and immediately afterward.
Who should consider using an end-of-life doula and how far in advance would one employ their services?
Anyone can benefit from working with an end-of-life Doula! Dying is a raw and emotionally laden time for both the dying and their loved ones. A doula is always available and can help provide information, reassurance and companionship during the entire process. Planning can start at any time. Advance planning allows for more relaxed consideration of options, life review and getting one’s affairs in order so that when death is more imminent, the logistics have been taken care of. This allows for more attention and energy to be available to the dying process and to those one loves. Two to three months in advance would be enough. I have started the process for myself now! But even if a doula is not called in early, there are still things that can be done with a shorter amount of time.
What are the benefits one might experience utilizing a doula? And consequently, what are the benefits an end-of-life doula might experience?
Utilizing a doula can help lower anxiety, increase satisfaction, give better continuity of care, provide increased support for families and loved ones, support deeper engagement with the process, and provide earlier emotional support. Because a doula has more time to be present, they can offer more information to the medical team. And a doula can help make sure that the wishes of the dying are honored. Doulas provide services for many reasons, but I often hear it as a call, for many, it is a sacred call regardless of one’s religion or lack thereof. For me, there is something immensely rewarding in assisting someone to live as fully as possible right up to the end, with as much control and clarity as possible. I find the most satisfaction in my life when I am deeply involved in relationships at any stage, and the end of life is a particularly vulnerable stage that I think warrants extra time and attention.
What drew you to this field?
Good question! It is something that evolved. I kept finding myself in the presence of the dying: a friend’s husband, a neighbor’s baby, a close personal friend. Nine years ago when my own parents were dying, I felt an inner and inexplicable need to be there with them. I spent the last week of each of their lives with them round-the-clock. All I knew was that I didn’t want them to die alone. To my surprise, I found it incredibly meaningful and very healing. But it wasn’t until a year ago that I found out that there was actually a profession that does that kind of work. It was a natural choice from there.
Mert comes to this work from a variety of life interests and experiences. Her initial career was in Physical Therapy, which she practiced for 23 years, retiring 15 years ago. Since then she has explored Depth Psychology and Dreamwork, art in relation to personal/spiritual growth, and elder care. She has a Master's in interdisciplinary studies with a concentration in counseling. All of these interests contribute to and strengthen her work as an end-of-life doula. In other areas, Mert likes to travel, prepare meals for friends and family, tend her garden, play with her grandson, have coffee and deep conversations with friends and, whenever possible, revel in the natural beauty of this world.
Mert will be a featured presenter at VMRC’s End-of-Life Planning Course beginning February 5. To learn more, click here .