Riley Keough, actress and granddaughter of the late, great Elvis Presley, has revealed that she has finished her training as a death doula. Riley, who has starred in films like Mad Max: Fury Road, has taken to Instagram to explain that the process is vital, as there is a lack of understanding around dying. 'I think it’s so important to be educated on conscious dying and death the way we educate ourselves on birth and conscious birthing,' Riley, whose brother Benjamin passed away last year, wrote. 'We prepare ourselves so rigorously for the entrance and have no preparation for our exit. So I’m so grateful for this community and to be able to contribute what I can.'
What is a death doula?
But what does it all mean? Well, doulas are commonplace. The origins of the word are a little dodgy - it comes from the Greek 'doulē', which means a female servant or slave - but in modern times it is essentially a person who is hired to provide help and support. These days, it's mostly all about birth. A doula is similar to a midwife, and is enlisted to support women through labour.
As Riley has explained, though, doulas can also be of service at the end of someone's life. They are also known as soul midwives, death midwives, or end of life doulas.
'It's not a medical role, but a death doula will usually work alongside someone's medical team to help make their death as comfortable as possible,' explains Marie Curie Cancer Care. And no, you don't have to be a woman to become a death doula: the name is just a name.
According to The International End of Life Doula Association, a death doula can 'help restore sacredness to dying, provide respite to exhausted caregivers, bring deep meaning to the dying experience, and prepare people for the last breaths of their loved one.' That can be spiritual and emotional, but there are also practical benefits of having a death doula: they can fulfil errands and tasks when you are too sick, or need time to be with family and friends. In short, it seems to be something that ill or dying people can turn to at a traumatic and stressful time, and while some might think that it sounds excessive, death doulas have clearly helped a lot of people come to terms with the fact that their life is coming to an end.
Riley is based in the US, but death doulas have become common enough to be part of a UK-wide membership organisation called End of Life Doula UK. This ensures that your death doula has been trained.
Doesn't sound like it's for everyone, of course. But as Riley says, maybe it is time that we look at death in the way we look at birth, and actively seek those with expertise in the field.
Need to know more about how to get a death doula? Marie Curie has more.