Since its inception in 2018, the National End-of-Life Doula Alliance, a professional organization of practitioners and trainers in the end of life, has grown to nearly 800 members; The number of members has almost doubled in the last year, said its President Angela Shook. There has been increased interest in training programs with the International End-of-Life Doula Association, Doulagivers, and the Doula Program to Accompany and Comfort, a nonprofit led by hospice social worker Amy L. Levine.
Much of the growing interest in these programs has come from artists, actors, youth and restaurant workers who were unemployed during the pandemic and realized they could still be of use.
“People of different ages, younger than we would normally see, because they realized that people in their age group were dying, which they usually don’t,” said Diane Button, 62, of San Francisco, a Doula Facilitator at UVM and a member the Bay Area End-of-Life Doula Alliance, a collective of death workers. “It made them more aware of their own mortality and really got them to plan and get their documents and living wills in order.”
Rebecca Ryskalczyk, 32, singer in Vergennes, Vt., Had always felt “pretty comfortable” with death. When she was 12, she lost two cousins in a plane crash and four years later a friend to suicide. When Covid paused her performance schedule, she enrolled with UVM. Its aim is to convey to people that they do not have to be afraid of death; you don’t have to do it alone either. “To be able to stand up for someone and share the last moments of their life with them and help them stick to their plan when they may not be able to express it is an honor,” she said.
Kate Primeau, 35, was also in the music industry before the pandemic. Last June, after her grandfather died of Covid-19, she began researching how to host a Zoom memorial and came across the concept of a death doula. “I felt a huge gap between the amount of grief everyone felt and the resources available,” she said. She was certified as a doula at the end of her life by Alua Arthur’s company Going with Grace and is also involved in a voluntary hospice program. “I can’t believe how much I laugh at all this death education.”
Of course, during the pandemic, doulas had to change the way they work. That was one of the biggest challenges: you couldn’t interact in person. So, like the rest of the world, they used Zoom calls and FaceTime. Families often sought their own healing.