What Is A Death Doula

A conversation with Jenny Kress.

Jay Hoppe


The term doula is becoming a more common part of our vernacular with the rise of home births. A doula is a trained companion to assist in health related experiences, such as childbirth, miscarriage, abortion, stillbirth and death. In an interview with Jenny Kress, a death doula, she explains her personal experiences with death and what lead her to embark on this new path.

Can you explain what a death doula is and what being a death doula means to you?

A death doula provides advice, information, emotional support, and physical comfort to the dying at end-of-life. Every death doula’s story, background, and expertise is different but the passion for service and death education is an underlying theme. I embrace the role by helping the family and the dying navigating what we know while still embracing the unknown. I want to alleviate as much fear as possible, provide comfort and support, and to help them be seen as a dying person.

What inspired this new venture and how does your practice differ from what many might consider to be the role of a doula?

In February of 2019, I watched an Academy Award nominated short documentary called “End Game” which took you inside the world of palliative care and also introduced the viewer to the case of a woman who was dying of cancer inside a hospital. It highlighted the hard decisions that families have to make for their loved ones as well as the decisions you have to face yourself as a dying person. I finished that documentary and felt the overwhelming calling to help people at end-of-life. To help them be seen, to advocate for them, and to make them comfortable. I’ve dealt with a lot of death in my personal life and have developed a personal relationship with it. My spiritual practice allows me to embrace it with much less fear than what our culture tries to force upon us. As an emerging field, I believe that all doulas shape their practice to incorporate their strengths into compassionate care. After a decade long career in hospitality (sharing the Latin root word “hospes” with hospital & hospice, meaning “host”) and coinciding life & death events, I merge the two to create space for the dying & their loved ones to be intentional in their final days. To sit in peace and have time to reflect on a life well-lived. To fill the space with love, lightness, and hopefully a bit of laughter.

“I want alleviate as much fear as possible, provide comfort and support, and to help them be seen as a dying person.”

What is the educational process of becoming a doula?

Death doulas come to this work in different ways. There are a few programs that could help with guidance but I cannot speak to that as it wasn’t my process. I worked one-on-one with my mentor, Jill Schock of Death Doula LA, for 6 months. Her guidance and expertise helped foster a growing skillset so that I may serve the dying efficiently and with ultimate care. I’ve also worked closely with funeral director Amber Carvaly to understand the ways in which doulas can concierge with the funeral homes for families, as well.

What and who is the demand of your practice for?

The demand is growing worldwide as the desire for more economical and environmentally conscious options becomes more prevalent. We can act as guides and educators to ensure that your final days and your disposition are as personal as the life that was lived. Clients range from folks who are interested in pre-planning in order to be prepared for unexpected circumstances, to folks who just received a terminal diagnosis and would like someone to advocate for their decisions to refuse potentially traumatic treatment. Whoever needs our support, that is where we go.

Is there a strong sense of community amongst doulas, i.e. networking, and the relationships you have forged as a death doula?

I’ve discovered that the sense of community amongst doulas is absolutely crucial. This work is sacred and speaks to a particular group of human beings and the more we are able to work together, the stronger our ideas and our practice become. I have developed relationships with people all over the country and while the practical knowledge of my mentorship was of utmost importance, the opportunity to work with other amazing deathcare workers has been the real gift.


To learn more about Jenny and her services, you can find information on her website or Instagram:

www.deathdoulaok.com

@deathdoulaok

about the author

Jay Hoppe / 31

Backstory

I’m a left handed Okie residing in Denver. I’ve been a student in the Communication Design Program at MSU Denver since 2017. I like bicycles, beards and bocce ball.