A new way of thinking about dying

Going the extra mile to support families and individuals dealing with terminal illness prompted Funeral Director Becky Perry to start training as an End of Life Doula.

While the concept of a doula is more commonly associated with preparing for a birth, doulas can also be trained to support people at the end of life.

The organisation Living Well Dying Well promotes more open discussion about death and has established a training programme to equip people to take on a supporting role – providing practical, emotional and spiritual support.

Becky, who works at Chris White Funeral Directors in Salisbury, explains: “The role is very much that of a co-ordinator – they may be co-ordinating friends and family to help with the cooking, washing and ironing and co-ordinating medical equipment needed in the house to enable a death at home.

“A lot of people want to die at home but they don’t always have someone to help co-ordinate the arrangements and support their family leading up to death and the death itself. The End of Life Doula offers a holistic approach, providing clear thinking, information about what to expect and emotional support to the person who is terminally ill and their family.”

Becky has completed the Foundation stage of doula training and is quick to stress that she is not yet a fully qualified doula. But her training has already enabled her to have more informed conversations with doctors, community nurses and other palliative care providers.

“It’s opened up my eyes to how I can bring people together and get the community working better together to give people a good death. The skills I’ve gained will help me to support families and individuals to create the best death possible and help them to cope better.”

Becky explained that when she first started working in the funeral industry 15 years ago, funeral directors were rarely involved in discussions and providing support prior to a death. But with the increasing popularity of pre-paid funeral plans, families are seeking support earlier when faced with a terminal illness.

She said: “I felt I needed more knowledge to provide families with that support – that’s why I asked Funeral Partners if I could do the doula course – it helps to put the focus on death back in the hands of the community and to make it less frightening by looking beyond the medical side.”