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  • Writer's pictureShanen Baures

Learning to Serve the Dying

Updated: Jan 8, 2019


End-of-life doula Merilynne Rush of the Lifespan Doula Association provides training on comfort care. 

En español | Cheri Rigby always knew she wanted to work with the dying. As a registered nurse, she was exposed to death frequently, but she believed that more support was needed for those who were facing it. Through an unfortunate circumstance, she was given the opportunity to make a difference.

“There was a tragedy — one of my very best friends,” Rigby recalls. “Her daughter was a special needs child. She choked on a Fruit Roll-Up and died. This was a little girl who was at my house all of the time; we spent a lot of time together. When Sophia died, I was sort of the closest person to that, because my friend didn’t have any immediate family. It was a life-changing experience for me. I saw that raw emotion firsthand with my friend, and quite honestly, instead of it scaring me away, it drew me in.”

For Alua Arthur, it was meeting a stranger on a bus in Cuba, a young lady who was dying of cancer. Arthur says she engaged the woman in conversation about her inevitable death, and it sparked a fire that she says could not be contained. “I thought, Wow. We’re all going to do this at some point. Why aren’t we all talking about it now? Who are the people to support people through this? On that bus I got super clear this was going to be my work, yet I didn’t really know how.”

Learning to Serve the Dying

Many end-of-life doulas find similarities between their role and that of the more commonly known role of a doula, aiding with childbirth. “Waiting for a baby to be born and waiting for a person to die are very similar in terms of the skill set required,” says Patty Brennan, an end-of-life doula with a background in birth and postpartum midwifery, and co-owner of the Lifespan Doula Association. Brennan says both circumstances require the ability to be fearless, patient and calm.

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