Dumping out my doula-bag: How to be family instead of an End of Life Doula

Recently, I have begun to learn the fine balance of what it means to be of an end of life doula to a family member who really doesn’t want me to serve as her end of life doula.

So, I am holding space for my family member exactly where she is, without trying to offer solutions to problems she hasn’t yet identified. To be present with an open heart and open mind, without opening my (metaphorical) doula-bag. To stay in the moment, without thinking through the logistics of what most likely comes next.

And it’s hard.

When I work with strangers I am a compassionately neutral. Although I come to care deeply for everyone I work with, my investment is completely in them. I am present without an agenda, without solutions, without prognostics. When asked, I offer my metaphorical tools and knowledge only in order to allow them to make the best decision for themselves. This is my service to them.

What I find working with my family member is that she doesn’t want that service AND I have so much invested in my relationship with her that I am not neutral. In fact, there is a best for me in addition to what is best for her.

Learning to center someone I love deeply is challenging because it means finding different ways to make space for myself and my needs within our relationship to each other.

Just as Susan Silk describes in her “Ring Theory” my best for me in the situation needs to be dumped out.
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Why? Because it is what is best for me. All my experiences working in end of life mean I see and am aware of things that the family and friends in my circle of support aren’t asking for yet. This awareness is where I am, but unless I dump it out I can’t meet them where they are, I can’t be present, I can’t stay in the moment- I can’t allow my family member to discover what is best for her.

Never before have I been so grateful to my end of life doula colleagues who have been so present for me as this situation unfolds. In allowing me to “dump out” my doula bag, and my heart, they have created a space where I can take care of my own needs around my best for me so that I can turn back to my family member with an open heart. I can be completely present as myself, just like she wants.


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