Death Doula

Member of NDAN(Natural Death Care Advocacy Network)

Melissa is a trained death midwife or death doula and a member of NDAN: a companion to guide the dying and their families through the end of life. This includes helping families deal with the details at end of life- a guide to help you navigate this difficult time of decisions and choices and ensure the family member is comfortable in many areas- a non-medical role that works alongside to help the family and the dying. 

Services include helping clarify the wishes of the dying, having the difficult conversations in a safe space that allows the dying person to be heard. This may include conversations about tidying up affairs, documents such as wills and powers of attorney or advanced care plans that need to be addressed, discussing and implementing a plan for the funeral or an end-of-life vigil that allows any family members interstate or overseas, the time to come and be with them and say goodbye after death. In NSW, a body can be kept at home on a cooling plate or bed (really a simple refrigeration plate that cools the body) for up to 5 days, and there is the option to hire a cooling bed to enable this.

An end of life vigil can be a tremendous comfort to a family who needs some time to arrange the funeral and wants to conduct their own vigil with the deceased or await family members who may take several days to travel home and wish to say their goodbyes before the business of the funeral. It allows people time to adjust on their home turf in a safe space to the changes that have occurred.

NDAN describes the role and functions of a death doula thus:

“An End of Life Doula – aka Death Doula, to distinguish this role from a birth doula – is someone who provides non-medical support and advocacy services to the dying person, their families, and those close to them. An end of life doula can provide a broad range of services depending on individual needs, including, but not limited to, the provision of practical and emotional support, resources, assistance, advocacy, and education to a person with a diagnosis or who is aging and their family, friends and those around them. Doulas are engaged prior to the death of a person, sometimes from the point of receiving a terminal or life-limiting diagnosis, and their role and function are as personal and individual as the dying person, their family, and their circumstances. 

As a rule, end of life doulas can be engaged by the person with the diagnosis, someone who is aging, or the family and/or network of that person – and the terms and range of what services are provided are openly discussed and agreed upon in advance. An End of Life Doula can assist a person or those supporting them by: 

• Knowing what is required so a person can have their choices known and wishes followed. 

• Providing guidance in relation to the legal documents required in the State in which a person is living. Depending on which Australian state a person resides, there are different legal and statutory requirements. 

• Providing a person with information about the many end of life choices a person has, both for living and for after death. 

• Providing support in the fulfilment of a person’s right to choose an end-of-life that is meaningful to them and consistent with their belief system and values (ethnic, cultural, religious, spiritual, or personal). 

• Assist a person to put into place all their plans for the future as they wish. 

• Advocate for and guide a person through what is involved in navigating the medical/hospital/nursing world, ensuring that as much knowledge and understanding as possible is available to all people involved. 

• Be a liaison or ‘interpreter’ with a person’s medical and other support teams. 

• Assist with access to and coordination of the support services and other resources a person may need or prefer. 

• Provide emotional support to all involved, before, during and after death and into bereavement. 

• Coordinate services and all aspects of care provision as needs change. 

• Assists in the maintenance of an intimate, peaceful ‘space’ and experience for everyone involved, whether medical support is required or not and irrespective of location. 

• Provide unique and tailored support around a person’s place of dying, whether in the home, hospital, palliative care unit, hospice, or residential facility. 

• Provide emotional and spiritual support or facilitate access to specialists who can do so. 

• Encourage Advance Care Directive planning, Enduring Power of Attorney, Enduring Guardian and Will Preparation. 

• Help with the planning and holding of Vigils – pre and post-death if Elected. 

• Assist in the creation of Emotional Wills and other legacy documents.”

• Act as a scribe for Biographies and journaling. 

• Offer needs assessment and practical management. 

• Coordinate team management – rostering and briefing. 

• Implement reporting and communication systems. 

• Offer companionship and good listening. 

• Provide respite and in-home care and other practical support. 

• Bereavement support – helping pack things, sell things etc.”

Some info on other aspects of end of life.


The best time to talk about our death is whilst we are well – a long time before we need to; however, the moment a life-limiting or terminal diagnosis is received can often be the first time many consider their own mortality. When this happens, there is often a series of conversations about end-of-life options, including palliative care. Palliative care is not the end of treatment but the introduction of considering the most helpful, appropriate and beneficial treatments available for a person and their circumstances; it is not about giving up and nor is it just for the dying. Palliative Care is a system of support and coordination of services designed to help people live as best they can with their life-limiting or terminal illness. Palliative care can be part of a person’s care plan years before they reach the end of their life.