“Doula” was a new word to me only a year or so ago. In translation from Greek, it means a woman of service. Today, in our culture, it refers to a pregnancy and birth coach-companion. What a wonderful idea.

Lately I’ve been involved in a series of meetings called “Conversations about Aging” and one of my takeaways was a new concept — the death doula. At first encounter, it doesn’t sound very appealing. Thana (Greek) sounds slightly better. But yet, how comforting and helpful to have someone trained and experienced in compassionately helping a person and their family navigate the final stages of life. I have met exactly one thana doula, and she prefers to be called an end-of-life consultant.

In her presentation, this speaker commented on how our sanitized society is no longer is familiar or comfortable with death. We have so little experience because everything has been handed over to experts. The shadow side is that the experts can take over and, almost without intention, impose standardization over a very individual and personal journey. Instead of unwittingly leaving it all to the experts, what can we learn, understand and implement for our ourselves and those we love?

Well, there is plenty to think about and explore. Fortunately, the books are out there. Here are two that have been recommended to me by several different people, and one I just read that is an inspiring story of thinking outside the box to craft a very different “cancer patient” experience for a beloved family member in the last year of life.

  • Gasande, Atul. Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matter in the End
  • Kalanithi, Paul. When Breath Becomes Air
  • Tim Bauerschmidt, Ramie Liddle. Driving Miss Norma: One Family’s Journey Saying “Yes” to Living 

There are many more titles in the bibliography that I brought home from the workshop. If you’ve read a book that you particularly recommend on the topic of ending life well, I’d be glad if you mention it in the comments.