• Dr Annetta Mallon

Soooo – what kind of person uses an end of life doula anyway??

(And other very ordinary, very common questions people ask about what I do.)

You may be familiar with a doula who is present at the time of birth. But end of life doulas are becoming better-known, and sought-after, as we, as a society, have become better educated about our options when it comes to death, end of life, and advance planning.

After I have run or spoken at events and conferences I have a lot of interest and questions from people about the death doula / end of life doula role in end of life work. This interest was quite distinct from although in tandem with the consumer advocacy and information transfer that I offer, and I realised that there is a general sense amongst the community that either A) people plan end of life just before death, and/or B) we only engage the services of an end of life doula when we are just about to die. The response to both of these notions is, ideally, no, it is much better/easier to plan in advance – but you can do a lot with your last minute if required – and an end of life doula is great to have in your life long before your last moments. It is just honestly more sensible to do what medical practitioners, nurses, and health support staff do, and to plan well in advance in order to live life to the full.

Therefore, in no particular order, is some information about the kinds of people who come to an end of life doula, and some of the sorts of things that I get asked.


"Would you believe it, clients want to know what kind of cake I will bring to our planning session!"

Well, in a nutshell the cake types vary, and I can take orders, but today was a nice Nigella Lawson fruit cake which always goes well with tea. So rest assured that all of my planning sessions with come with free cake.


"Who uses an End of Life Doula?"

In all honesty, business owners, retirees, young parents, entrepreneurs, casual workers, CEOs, middle-aged people, single people, married couples, de facto couples, individuals, families, LBGTIQA+ people, heterosexual people, pet owners, new home owners, renters, migrants, ‘Australian Royalty’, parents, grandparents, godparents, and almost anyone else you can think of has talked to me about death, dying, and final wishes. Anyone can engage the services of an end of life doula, so if this post helps to normalise and take away some of the shyness around talking to me about death then I’ve done what I set out to do.

Ok well then:

"How old is your average client?"

A question I’m often asked, frequently by young people who are beginning to think about death in a more ‘normal’ fashion around me. This is a piece-of-string question, because I can work with people of all ages. Yes, I do have ‘older’ clients, but young people need to think about advance planning. Young and 'younger' people have accidents, get sick, and die young too, and young people also have unexpected deaths which family and friends need to grieve and mourn over. The real question underlying the how old layer is generally something like: I’m thinking of coming to talk to you, is that ‘normal’? My answer to that is an unequivocal: Yup. Very normal. Yes.

What about

"How soon is too soon to start planning?"

This is a really easy one, because it is NEVER TOO SOON to plan, to talk, to make your wishes known. Shouty caps may seem excessive in a chatty blog post like this one Gentle Reader, however the biggest mistake in planning, the one that causes the most heartache and regret, is to think that we have more time. One thing I have learned over my years of study, working with people, and observing the world is that we always think we have more time than we do. Life is incredibly, breathtakingly brief and precious… do your planning now, because we don’t know when we will need to have documents, wishes, and arrangements in order. You can, by the way, engage my services for planning without making arrangements for me as an end of life doula, but you can ask a LOT of additional questions whilst we walk through your paperwork and that sounds like a true bargain to me.

On the dying part..

"Do I have to be dying to start working with you?"

Good question, and no – actually a lot of people work with an end of life doula well before active dying. I certainly recommend to start to plan as early as possible, whether you're dying or perfectly healthy.

My favourite variation

"Um. This may sound odd, but..."

This (or a version of this statement) is something that often comes up in funeral planning – and this phrase alerts me that I have a client in front of me who is prepared to be very honest, and therefore vulnerable with me, telling me important information about what they value in the world. I am always careful to listen attentively and take good notes at this stage, because although we may try and brush our ideas off as ‘nothing much’, these ideas frequently speak to the true heart of who we are, and what kind of messages of love we would like to leave the people closest to us.

Clients often think that their wishes or ideas may be ‘weird’ or strange, but the only thing I’ve really noticed about the planning ideas of my clients is how beautifully they reflect the personality of the clients I see – in all honesty death and dying is like sex. If you like it and want it, and everyone who needs to consent has consented, then there is nothing weird or strange about what you want for your final wishes, funeral arrangements, or advance health care plan or directive. Truly.

I can promise you that most of us would like to be remembered for what we loved most in the world, and our passions and interests will be just right for our end of life planning. For instance: a memorial service in a community garden for the person who loved to grow food, a book-shaped cake at a funeral for the avid reader, a disco playlist and mirror ball in your room during your final hours because you loved the nightlife? Perfect! And perfectly appropriate for you – and there is nothing weird here, despite many clients feeling some shyness about expressing what they would most like for their advance planning and last wishes.

With all that being said

"Why should I use an end of life doula?"

Because it can be incredibly useful to have a well-informed, calm, objective voice and presence at times when emotions run high, when we are not dealing well with stress, when we feel overwhelmed by circumstances, and because at one of the most awful and difficult times in our lives it is essential to have someone who supports you, laughs with you, or sits in silence with you. end of life doulas can help you retain some perspective on death, be better informed, and be less isolated (death can be lonely, so it is good to know you are not alone). An end of life doula can help you delegate tasks, focus on taking one step at a time, and remind you when you need to be reminded that healthy self-care can be modelled and practiced even at the worst of times.

Have more questions? Please do not hesitate to get in touch – I am an end of life doula who specialises in helping you better understand your choices and options.

Let’s talk -