End-of-Life Doula Helps Individuals Create a Legacy

End-of-Life Doula Helps Individuals Create a Legacy

End-of-life Doula

Kerri Denell, MSW, always knew she wanted to do work that could help people. What she couldn’t have foreseen early on in her career was an opportunity to help individuals create a legacy at the end of their lives. As an End-of-life Doula and Legacy Navigator, Kerri is able to combine her passion to help others and her ability to companion individuals as they find meaning in their lives.

The role of an end-of-life doula is relatively new and has come about in the last five years. Most of us are familiar with hospice and palliative care and how those services offer comfort to individuals at the end of their lives. Having worked in hospice as a social worker for almost ten years, Kerri sees how the role of the doula can further enhance the dying experience for individuals and their loved ones.

“I often tell people what I do is similar to that of a landscape designer,” Kerri said. “When you get to this ‘season’ in life, we can talk about how you want this tree here and that plant there, and I can help you bring that vision to life.” As an end-of-life doula, she holds space for individuals to talk about what matters most and forms a trusting relationship with each person she encounters. This allows them to be comfortable discussing their wishes when they are dying, what ceremonies best reflect themselves, and how they wish the end of their life will look. Some people are able to do this on their own or with family, or they work with Kerri to help navigate the process. A lot depends on a person’s physical and mental abilities at the time.

Services Provided by an End-of-life Doula

Kerri said there are three main areas that she focuses on when working with individuals.

  1. Legacy

Reflecting on your life. It is important to reflect what has brought meaning to you and why it matters to your children, family members, or coworkers. Kerri inspires individuals to consider how they want to be remembered and to turn that vision into something tangible that can be revisited.

Many people have said to Kerri that they wake up thinking about how they can create something meaningful to leave for future generations. Often, they don’t know where to start. She encourages them to think of it like planning for a birth – what do you need as you get ready for the birth and who do you want for support. Together, she and her clients formulate a realistic plan, and she offers needed support along the way.

  1. Ceremony

How do you envision your final moments? The people around, the place you rest, sounds,
smells, rituals, readings, feelings that are evoked? This is a conversation to have with your
family about your final wishes and how you want them to honor you. Kerri assists in creating ceremonies that are reflective of those wishes. She also explores ways that your life can be honored for years to come. She reminisced about a family she met who gather in their garden every year to plant watermelon seeds in remembrance of their young son who died. Family, friends, and neighbors annually gather in their yard under a sign dedicated to him and share memories of him to honor his life.

  1. After Death

Connecting people with the right resources in the community to help them as they grieve the loss of their loved one is important. Grieving is about retelling stories. Kerri will arrange to meet with individuals or families on specific dates to help them work through this. She said it is very individualized and never looks the same from one person or family to the next.

Where to Start

When it comes to planning, it can be hard to know where to start. Kerri offers a free consultation that allows her to learn what that person would like to do. From there, she can estimate how many hours it might take to complete their legacy plans. Many times a plan is all that’s needed to have their family help them complete the projects. If they need more help, she can outline the fee for her services.

Kerri believes that going through this process empowers people to tell their story because once they have been given a diagnosis and told their time is short, their life from that point on is controlled by appointments or procedures. She finds that when they have the opportunity to be reflective, i.e. they want to make amends with someone, or make last wishes known to family, they have some control and can do these things for themselves, which is important.

“I believe that when we’re told that our time is short, we want to believe that we’ve made a difference and have lived our life with intention,” Kerri noted. “Knowing yourself can bring you greater comfort and peace in dying and help connect your life to future generations.”

Kerri also works with individuals who are not terminally ill or near their end-of-life and want to start creating their legacy now. If you would like more information about working with an end-of-life doula, contact Kerri Denell at kerri@beremembered.biz.

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