The Friend Doula

My good friend died recently. During her illness, I realized early on that I would have to try really hard not to try to be her doula because I was her friend first. Looking back, I did a lot of doula things, but it was always on the fly, spontaneous, and mixed in with friend things. She never asked for a sit-down doula consultation, but we did talk about end-of-life issues and decisions. One of the ways we did that was as she asked about my work and teaching. She quietly took it all in. Occasionally, in the midst of talking about our children or current events, she asked for information. I tried to be available to her when she needed me.

 

My friend was sick for a very long time. She went in and out of remission, was relatively well for years, and then months, and then declined slowly. About three to four weeks before she died she mentioned that the hospice nurse came the day before. This was how I found out that she was in hospice. She wanted hospice because she wanted to die at home and knew that, if/when a crisis occurred, her family would need support to be able to care for her at home and not call 911. She knew what she wanted and how to make it happen. Despite many crises in the last few weeks, she did not go to the hospital. Her family rallied to care for her, and she died peacefully, surrounding by their loving support, at home.

 

Her family cared for her after death as well. Over the years, I had shared several times about helping families to have a home funeral. I don’t know if she did Internet research, or even talked with her partner about the things we had talked about. But about two weeks before she died, she called me and told me that her partner wanted to keep her body at home for a day after death and have a home visitation. She asked if that was possible. I said it certainly was, and proceeded to tell her the story of my uncle’s death and home visitation last year, when the hospice nurse had helped my cousins wash and dress his body. I never talked to her partner directly about this. He did not call me after her death; he texted me when she was getting close and again when she had passed. I was informed about the visiting time at the home and attended. As I was saying good-bye to my good friend, he remarked, “The hospice nurse offered to help us wash her, but we said, ‘no, we got this.’ We did it all by ourselves.” They did it, as they needed to, as was right for them. My prayer is that knowing they did everything themselves will help them in their grief journey.

 

-Merilynne

 


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