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What is the Role of an End of Life Doula?

Quilt for End of Life Doula post
Quilt and photo by Willa Blank

Families encounter many professionals after a loved one’s passing. Religious leaders, funeral home directors, and probate lawyers often form a new cast of characters, while the familiar medical team steps back.

Who can help you find this new team of professionals and coordinate with them?

What if you want help that complements these professionals? For example:

  • Discussing nontraditional alternatives to burial
  • Designing a legacy project that reflects your loved one’s values
  • Closing social media accounts
  • Preparing a home for sale
  • Obtaining death certificates or insurance proceeds

An End of Life Doula (aka Death Doula) can support you in these tasks – and many more.

End of life doulas may be employed by healthcare facilities or retained privately.

To learn more, I interviewed Marni Blank, Esq., an end of life doula who completed her training through Going with Grace and holds a proficiency badge from the National End of Life Doula Alliance (NEDA).


Bracha: What is an End of Life Doula?

Marni: Just as a birth doula helps usher in life and educates parents to be, an end of life doula supports people at the other end. End of life doulas are non-medical professionals who help you navigate death, dying, grief and loss. We can assist with the emotional, spiritual, practical, and logistical components.

Bracha: Why did you become an end of life doula?

Marni: My family went through a series of health situations that brought death close. I was unprepared, and I realized how lonely it felt to be handling logistics and making decisions quickly in real time.

When dealing with logistics, you can’t be fully present with the dying or sick, or fully experience your feelings. Alternatively, when you’re fully present or in deep grief, focusing on logistics is difficult. I wanted to provide the support I wish I’d had for myself, for both sides of this experience.

Bracha: Why do people hire end of life doulas?

Marni: Common reasons include:

  1. Creating legacy projects with elders to capture histories and life lessons.
  2. Assisting with memorial planning or running errands for the family.
  3. Facilitating pre-planning, like advance healthcare directives and end of life wishes.
  4. Educating the public around death, dying and grief – and how to be a good listener.
  5. Supporting people emotionally at the end of life by sitting vigil, creating warm and loving spaces for the dying, and helping people grapple with fears.

Bracha: Can you give us examples of legacy projects?

Marni: We create heirloom quilts from fabrics important to each person. My sister Willa Blank (an incredible quilter) designs them.

I also created a living legacy project with my 100 year old grandmother recently. I interviewed her for over a month by audio to capture her stories, family history, and life lessons. I learned things I’d never known, and I appreciated her and what she’s overcome in a new way. And future generations can learn about her life in her own voice.

Bracha: Do you ever work with families during times of illness?

Marni: Yes. Families often seek out someone who isn’t afraid to talk about what death will look like, and who will help them feel prepared for the logistics around illness and death.

It’s never easy when a family has been given devastating news. My goal is to be a comfort and resource to ease the experience, even if just by a little.

Bracha: How about people who do not anticipate encountering illness or mortality issues soon?

Marni: Absolutely. Many of my clients are mid 30’s-mid 50’s. Many life events happen during this period which trigger encountering one’s own mortality, such as:

  1. Having a baby
  2. Moving to a new state
  3. Getting married or divorced
  4. Receiving a health diagnosis
  5. Acquiring more assets
  6. Preparing initial Estate Planning Documents
  7. Joining the Sandwich Generation (caregivers of both children and parents)

I also provide these clients with support around their elders’ aging, like ensuring parents have appropriate estate planning documents, organizing/downsizing homes, and insurance or caregiving.

Bracha: What guidance can you offer people engaged in estate planning, and their future estate representatives?

Marni: I’d advise estate planning clients to consider how they want to be remembered, and discuss it with their loved ones. Legacy work can encompass more than financial and tangible assets.

If you’re asked to serve as an executor, you can suggest that the person also:

  • Write legacy letters
  • Share recipes
  • Create autobiographical audio or video recordings

Bracha: You offer end of life and legacy planning services, education around death/dying/grief, complimentary consults, and virtual and in-person (NYC/Brooklyn) sessions.

Is there a reliable roster of end of life doulas too?

Marni: Yes, both Going with Grace and NEDA maintain directories on their websites.

Bracha: Which other supports for the bereaved are available?

Marni: I recommend yoga nidra as a stress reliever and sleep aid, Anderson Cooper’s podcast All There Is, any book by Steve Leder, or trying a death cafe or Dinner Party event for grievers.

Listening to other people on their grief journeys and recognizing the commonalities in the human experience helps too. Grief is love. Many communities have in-person bereavement support groups. Virtual groups further enable people to find one tailored to their type of loss.

Bracha: Thank you, Marni. Your guidance will help me better support my clients.

Marni: You’re so welcome! Grief and loss are such a huge part of our lives, but speaking about them often feels taboo. What we don’t understand can cause fear. I hope that by bringing this topic out of the shadows, our culture will embrace a healthier perspective.

Marni Blank, Esq., is an end of life doula, trained mediator, and a female founded small business owner. She offers holistic end-of-life planning and legacy services. To learn more, visit Begin With the End or schedule a free consultation here.

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