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Natural Awakenings South Jersey

Ascend Hospice by Jennifer Lesser

When most people think of doulas, they think of childbirth and those that support women as they bring new life into the world—but at Ascend Hospice, end-of-life doulas are available to accompany the dying and their families during the final stages of life. 

For Kelly Roman, Ascend Hospice volunteer supervisor and end-of-life doula mentor, it was a personal loss that inspired the development of a program to better support patients who are nearing the end of their lives, as well as guide their loved ones through the process of saying good-bye. “Anyone who does this work will tell you it’s a calling… and my brother’s death was my catalyst either years ago,” she recalls. “During his last ninemonths, I kept thinking there must be a better way to provide care to thedying.”

In 2016, Roman pitched the idea of creating an end-of-life doula program within Ascend’s volunteer department to offer an additional support system to patients and families. Ascend Hospice partnered with Quality of Life Care and their end-of-life doula training, and in January of 2018, the AscEnd of Life Doula Program was officially launched. Ascend Hospice currently operates in seven states and has more than 70 doulas supporting patients across the country—the organization is striving to become part of a movement that’s providing a whole new level of caregiving, Roman says. 

The program providescomprehensive holistic training to volunteers that are taught how to provide support and guidance to both patients in their final stages of life as well as their families.According to Roman, the doula training provides mindful caregiving tools to both professionals and caregivers alike; participants are often pre-medical students seeking volunteer opportunities.Doulas are trained to provide support and companionship as well as education and resources to those who are nearing the end of their lives, and taught how to best support the dying and their families.

“While they do not perform clinical tasks or personal care, doulas focus solely on supporting the patient mind, body and spirit,” she explains. “The majority of our families tell us how grateful they were for the doula and how supported they felt through the most difficult time in their lives.”

A majority of the program’s doulas come from various holistic backgrounds; some will offer reiki or techniques such as gentle hand massages. Doulas are often able to advocate for patients, such as by requesting pain medication, while at the same time emotionally supporting family members. 

“Healthy boundaries are set and respected for everyone. Preparing for a vigil and grounding yourself is so valuable to doulas and the families they share that space with,” Roman says. “The energy in the room immediately shifts and by the time our doulas leave, everyone is in a good place… the patient is comfortable and the family can focus on saying their good-byes.”

A doula’s tasks might also include coordinating longer and more frequent visits with loved ones and assisting with end-of-life planning or legacy projects. They can also encourage respite for the family, whether it’s allowing them to get some rest or go out and run some errands. “We talk about the importance of having a self-care practice when doing this work. In doing so, doulas can gently guide caregivers of the dying in caring for themselves,” she adds. “Above all, they can empower the dying to take control of how they want to die.”

Ascend Hospice’s end-of-life doulas are serving as a crucial layer to a patient’s caregiving team and earlier interventions are being made as doulas establish rapport with patients and their families. “While grief can be enormous in a room filled with family and friends, the doula can be the ‘eye of the storm’… that quiet presence through it all,” Roman concludes. 

Ascend Hospice is located at 65 Jackson Dr., Ste. 103, in Cranford. For more information, call 866-821-1212 or visit AscendHospice.com

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