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Lauren is a 39-year-old mum-of-two dying of terminal cancer. She's hired a death doula.

“We met up at a café local to me, it was very casual, a bit like a first date; just the two of us. We had coffee and just chatted. She asked me my initial thoughts about the process of death and how I imagined the end.”

This was the day Lauren met her death doula.

Lauren is 39 years old, she has two young daughters under the age of five and has terminal triple-negative breast cancer.

Lauren was diagnosed with the disease in late 2017 and has been frank about her prognosis and the eventual outcome from the beginning. For her, her priority is being as prepared and organised as she can be for herself, her husband Josh and her two children, as well as utilising all the time she has remaining.

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Some of that preparation means seeking the help of professionals who are experts in different areas, including death.

“I started Googling things related to my condition in early 2018, then things start infiltrating my Facebook feed, including articles about death and one day one came up about a doula, a death doula,” Lauren tells Mamamia.

“After lots of admissions to hospital this year that were unexpected, I realised that sometimes it is hard to be prepared. You need to make sure your medication is always ready to go, people are informed and also managed,” she says

Despite having what she describes as a ‘big, loving family’ who all want to help and visit, Lauren says that they often don’t know how to and don’t know what to do.

“It is hard for Josh and I to manage everyone and the kids, at such a stressful time. Death doulas do this for you when the time is near,” she says.

A death doula or an end of life doula is not a new concept. According to the Australian Doula College, doulas have been a part of many cultures for thousands of years.  “Doulas have supported the practice of people staying in their homes to die, looked after by family and [their] community,” reads their website.

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“The non-medical role provides support, options and education assisting the dying and those around them… in alignment with their wishes, to preserve the quality of life, well-being and self-worth up to and beyond the end of life as we know it. They are the ‘informed companion’ bringing comfort, support, compassion, and assist a person and their family in feeling safe and supported during this important transition.”

 

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Lauren began her journey to find a death doula months ago after joining a Facebook group for death doulas in Australia and eventually emailing the Doula Association about her situation.

“They passed on the details of one doula. I messaged her, and we set up a time to meet,” she said.

“Going in I was a little nervous. What if we didn’t click? Would it be awkward? Once we got chatting, I knew straight away that I was very comfortable with her and had no hesitations in talking about some pretty personal things. Maybe she is really good at her job, or maybe we just connected? Connection was always going to be important.

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“First we spoke about some basics to introduce ourselves and then I filled her in on my situation and why I wanted to meet with her. She outlined some experiences she has had and what services she offers. She asked me my initial thoughts about the process of death and how I imagined the end. She shared some really lovely ideas. We spoke a lot about the children and options of supporting them when the time comes.”

Lauren describes her doula as a very calm, friendly person.

“She was happy to listen and share ideas when she thought it was appropriate. She came prepared with some resources (pictures, ideas), she made me feel comfortable and not judged,” she says.

“I think that there is no set way to die. It is very individual. I have lots of options and don’t have to follow any rules or community expectations. There are no real ‘laws’ around dying, so the world is my oyster. Death is not something to be scared about or to avoid talking about. It is normal and natural, and I am lucky that I get to have input into how we would like it to happen – not everyone has this opportunity.”

Already Lauren said that she has relieved a lot of stress and that she will for her and her family closer to the end. The next step moving forward is to introduce her doula to Josh and her daughters and to make sure that they connect.

“If they click and connect, then we start planning. We will just schedule some meetings (I’m not sure how many it will take) and start putting some plans into action,” she says.

“Basically she becomes the bridge. So if relatives have to travel, she would talk with them and us and negotiate the best time. She would do the bookings if necessary. She stays close by and helps us control who visits and when,” Lauren explains.

“She can communicate with whoever needs contact. Basically, relieving Josh of having to do any of that, so he can focus on me and the girls. She can stay after I have died, and help with anything that needs doing, phone calls and things like that. Basically, she will do whatever we require.

“It has been on my mind for so long, it will be nice to have everything in place, so that I can worry about one less thing.”

Shona Hendley, Mother of cats, goats and humans is a freelance writer from Victoria. An ex secondary school teacher, Shona has a strong interest in education. She is an animal lover and advocate, with a morbid fascination for true crime and horror movies. You can follow her on Instagram

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