The death doulas

Annique Lee nursed her husband of 47 years until his death in 2020 from motor neurone disease.

She says she wishes she could have had someone there to help in supporting and organising herself and her husband throughout those years.

Not long after Mrs Lee’s husband passed, her friend sent her an article about death doulas.

In the chair her husband died in, Annique Lee speaks about how she became a death doula. Video: Lainey Smith.

Not many people have heard of the work of death doulas in Western Australia.

Annique Lee says she often gets a blank look when she describes the voluntary profession.

“People look at me as to say what on earth is that,” she says.

‘Doula’ derives from the ancient Greek word for “a person of service.” A death doula is someone who provides emotional, spiritual and practical support for an individual who is going through end-of-life treatment, as well as their loved ones.

“We make sure all their paperwork is in order, advanced health directives, wills and so on as well as connecting them with services they may need,” she says.

“We virtually do anything they need.

“If they want us to cook a nice meal for them, we cook a nice meal for them.”

Infographic: Lainey Smith.

The Australian Doula College is the nation’s largest doula educator.

Here, doulas are trained and supported to provide services for families going through any of life’s transitions.

The Australian Doula College Website helps connect people with trained doulas. Photo: Lainey Smith.

Renee Adair is the founder and director of The Australian Doula College in New South Wales.

Renee Adair. Photo: Supplied.

She says they seek to provide doula services ‘from the womb to the tomb’.

“It came naturally to me, I feel like I have been a doula my whole life,” she says.

Hear more from Renee Adair.

Mrs Adair launched the End of Life Doula training in the college in 2021, with the hope of expanding how people see the role a doula can play.

She says the demand for people training to become a death doula has grown significantly since COVID.

There are about 250 students currently training at the academy and 120 fully trained doulas are listed in the end-of-life doula directory.

Renee Adair says Westernised culture has lost the ability to speak openly about grief and death and has become dissociated from what is actually important.

“We are all going to die,” she says.

“Nobody gets out of this shitshow alive, so why aren’t we talking about it?”

Renee Adair
Renee Adair speaking about why conversations about death are important.

“We are robbing people of the grieving processes we use to have as humans,” she says.

Mrs Adair says there are historical examples of how it was common for loved ones to wash and dress the bodies of the deceased as part of the grieving process.

“We have lost this energy in our community to grieve how humans once did,” she says.

“People used to celebrate the deceased at the wake whilst the deceased was present in the room, wakes have now become completely separate from that who is deceased.”

Margaret Rice from ‘GoodGrief!’. Photo: Supplied.

Journalist, editor and medical reporter, Margaret Rice launched her own website, Good Grief!

The website is aimed at people wanting to learn how to better discuss the components of death, as well as have access to information they may require.

“Being open to conversations surrounding death is so important because it keeps us grounded in reality and the truth of experiences around us,” she says.

“More knowledge means we are less frightened, so we can be more constructive. This lowers our level of confusing emotions such as guilt, which in turn makes our grief easier to bear.”

WA death doula Shane Bailey cared for many family members before becoming a part-time death doula.

Shane Bailey. Photo: Supplied.

She says we need to accept that dying and death is a part of life’s journey, and death deserves the attention of planning.

“Death is a transformative part of life, it is something we should talk about and plan to make processes easier for our families,” she says.

Annique Lee describes the options people have when someone has died. Video: Lainey Smith.

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