To doula or not to doula?
I first became aware of the end of life doula movement about four years ago and was delighted to subsequently read an article in Time Magazine which claimed that death doulas were one of the top emerging markets of 2017.
At the time I was deeply involved in the fight to legalise living wills and assisted dying in South Africa and didn’t have the time to delve deeper, other than to keep abreast of the movement in the news. And what a lot of news there was… more with every passing year. I devoured it and secretly wished that I could change my focus entirely. Running a non-profit organisation meant that the cost of training was out of my reach at more than twice my monthly salary, so I just kept reading and sharing online instead.
In 2018 I took my step-father in after his terminal diagnosis (idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis), and started putting some of what I had learned about doula work into practice.
That, together with loving care, gentle bed exercises and excellent nutrition, had him able to walk to the toilet and around the room whereas, when he arrived, he could barely even roll over in bed on his own. Within just two months he was in better health than he had been in for a long, long time.
It was a joy to witness his improvement but, sadly, due to work commitments, I could no longer care for him 24/7 so he moved in with his sister before being transferred to an old age home. He died a few months later.
Fast forward one year and my own father, who was also terminally ill, become ever frailer and died on the first day of the COVID-19 lockdown. I live alone and must say that grieving on ones own is a whole ‘nother ballgame – it was like grieving on steroids.
Like most people my age, 57 if you must know (the cheek!), I have lost quite a few people I deeply cared for – my Mom, my brother, my nephew, my stepfather, a few close friends and, due to the nature of my work, a lot of clients and supporters, some of whom I became close with… but losing my father and being unable to have a funeral or be with my siblings was like nothing I had ever experienced. It was utterly devastating. I didn’t know how to grieve alone, or how to cope with the lack of closure. It was dreadful.
To top it all, before lockdown I was in the process of organising a national awareness campaign and a new legal challenge but everything ground to a sudden halt. For the first time since 2013, when I started with DignitySA, I didn’t have anything to do. And even if I did have, I’m not sure I could have done it effectively.
In the depths of my grief I recognised that I needed to keep myself occupied. Even the dog was getting tired of my crying. I decided that this was as good a time as any to get some formal training under my belt. Not only was I fortunate enough to receive a small inheritance from my stepfather on the day my father died, but I was also lucky enough to be accepted into INELDA’s first online training course – one of the best EOL doula organisations in the world. Paid for, cash in advance, beg your pardon! In US dollars, no less!
And. Oh. My. Goodness! What an incredible experience. I fell in love. I knew that I had finally found what I wanted to do with the rest of my life.
And here I am, talking to you. How marvelous is that?