“Everybody knows I’m dying. We don’t hide the fact:” Death doulas from Hospice of the Piedmont provide comfort and compassion

Published: Oct. 14, 2022 at 5:17 PM EDT
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CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (WVIR) - You may have heard of birth doulas, professionals that provide holistic care during the birthing process. Now death doulas are becoming popular as well, providing the same care at the end of life.

Hospice of the Piedmont launched a new program that provides death doulas to those who need them.

“Everybody knows I’m dying. We don’t hide the fact,” John Ashley said.

John Ashley was given a terminal diagnosis. The doctors gave him three to five years to live, but he’s here seven years later.

“I’ve been anticipating going downhill for quite a long time. Didn’t go as fast as they kind of led me to believe, but they told me that hospice may be a great way to the end of my life to make it a little easier,” Ashley said.

Through Hospice of the Piedmont, Ashley learned about death doulas like Beth Eck.

“We are with them while they are dying and with their families as well, so offering them support in terms of life review, life closure, thinking about values that they might want to pass on to their family memories, holding life stories,” Eck said.

Eck has spent months working with Ashley and his family.

“I like to say I’m slip sliding away, and my family doesn’t always like it. I use that kind of term, but I am, and it’s been good for me and my family to talk about how we’re- I’m doing that. And they’re doing it with me, and they’ve been wonderful,” Ashley said.

A death doula can help with both the practical and psychological aspects of dying.

“It’s difficult to talk about this without getting emotional to tell you the truth,” Eck said. “To be present for people and to be with them during this time in their lives.”

One of the goals is to remove some of the stigma that surrounds talks about death.

“You don’t have to be alone. You don’t have to be even with people, you don’t have to be alone in your feelings,” Ashley said.

Ashley says he was already comfortable with death, but still having a doula has made him even more comfortable with the unknown.

“Some of my older friends, I now find that I tell them I love them. Well, five years ago, I didn’t ever tell those guys I loved them, you know, and they tell me they love me back, and they didn’t never told me they love me back, and my family, and same sort of thing,” Ashley said.

A reminder to be present, because dying is inevitable.

“Death is a natural part of life, everybody’s got this coming. Some people just get to see it coming a little more clearly, and I’m one of those lucky ones who’s doing it, I think, the right way,” Ashley said.

If you are interested in learning more or training to become a death doula, more information is available here.

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