“To live in this world, you must be able to do three things: to love what is mortal, to hold it against your bones knowing that your own life depends on it, and when the time comes to let it go, to let it go.”
~ Mary Oliver
What is a Thanadoula?
Thanatos (Greek meaning “Death“) was the personification of death in Greek mythology; and Doula is one who serves - a “Thanadoula“ is one who serves the dying.
A Thanadoula is someone who has been introduced to a variety of teaching methods focused on whole-person care. In our training we are required to create relevant and personalized family care plans for the dying and those planning ahead, and offer a quality of presence and engagement that can transforms the experience of dying to one filled with meaning and grace (Institute of Traditional Medicine).
The Thanadoula is an ancient tradition, one that exists today in every society on every
continent. A person who is there to help families prepare and grieve. An advocate for the dying
and the family, a Thanadoula returns the choice and personalization of the grieving process to
"Barb was a wonderful addition to the team of people involved in my mother's end of living care and planning. She has a warm personality, very empathetic and is highly sensitive to individual wishes and concerns." ~ Leslie Watson
Why a Thanadoula?
In my role as Thanadoula, I’m really hoping to affect a shift in the way society views end of living, death and dying, from something to be avoided, to something which is to be welcomed as a life-enhancing experience. I strongly believe that it’s about families and individuals taking back control of how they grieve, mourn and heal.
The Thanadoula role has been introduced in response to families’ and individuals’ increasing need for information, knowledge and skills; and the decrease in the number of educators and counsellors who are trained in end of living care. Traditionally, funding has been directed towards science-based disciplines such as nursing and medicine. These resources have been extremely helpful in treating persons who are dying, but there is an increasing gap in family-centered and community care. Thanadoulas are relationally based educators who offer counsel based on families’ values, beliefs and practices.
"Your role as a Thanadoula and coach helped simplify the often complicated process of death. You created such great clarity for me and my family about our present situation, the future steps to come and helped frame what the future could look like for us. I know our emotional ups and downs were minimized as a result of having some sense of the entire death process. You were comfort to my Mom, making yourself available to speak to her with kind, patient words and wisdom. In your role of Thanadoula, my mother felt very comfortable creating limits and boundaries whereby she could express certain things to you that she felt she couldn't with our family. I know my Mother gained comfort from such a process of communication."
~ Michael Crane
Thanadoula services are designed to be flexible and customised to suit the needs of each individual client. Services include, but are not limited to:
Companionship and Support
Support services are offered along a continuum of care in the days, months, or even years before the end of one's living. In my role as Thanadoula, I can provide patient and/or family support in ways and at times when medical professionals and other support personnel may be unavailable. My services include assisting with developing and implementing advance care directives; consulting and collaborating with the healthcare team; offering non-pharmaceutical strategies for pain and symptom management; and contemplative end of living care which can often involve creating sacred space, heart-centred mindful listening or just sitting quietly, music, respite for caregivers and providing physical, emotional and spiritual support for both the patient and their loved ones/caregivers.
Education and Resourcing
When a loved one has been diagnosed with a terminal illness, negotiating the health care system can be a stressful and overwhelming process. As a Thanadoula, I can provide reassurance and educate the dying person and their family about the process and experience of dying, based on current and traditional knowledge and practices. I am able to speak about the inner and outer transitions and signs of the dying process from both the patient’s and the family’s perspective:
- Living/coping with a serious illness
- Things to consider for dying at home
- Understanding Life-Sustaining Treatments
- Preparing for the death of a loved one – Preparing to say Goodbye
- Palliative Care/Hospice
- Grief and Bereavement.
I offer workshops and presentations to community and special-interest groups on:
- Preparing to say goodbye – End of Living Planning and preparation
- Education and support for after-death care and home funerals
- Home funeral and green burial options.
Advocate for the Dying and Family
Dealing with debilitating illness and death is often a very emotional and stressful time. I can act as a mediator or advocate in complex situations relating to end of living care.
Peace of Mind
Often family members live far away and may not be in a position to visit or care for their loved one who is ill or dying. I can provide peace of mind by fulfilling this role and acting as a vital link between absent family members and their loved one.
I believe my key role as a Thanadoula is to always maintain flexibility in providing compassionate care and services that best suit the needs or wishes of the client.
Additional Canadian Resources