Local nonprofit speaks about their roles as death doulas

Training program shows community members how to provide hands-on help.

SAN ANTONIO — Many people have heard of birth doulas.  They are people who help moms welcome new babies into the world, but there’s a local non-profit that has a one-of-a-kind program to help people who are at the end of their lives.

In a peaceful setting in north east San Antonio at the Abode Contemplative Care For The Dying home, they are offering a death doula certification program.

Natalie Buster is the end of life doula director.

“Being a death doula is one of the most important roles that people can serve. It calls for a unique person to be with someone as they are dying.”

Buster said the process benefits both the person receiving care and those who give it.

“It’s a really great gift that you can give yourself.  What we find with our training is that as people are learning how to be with people who are actively dying, they are also coming to terms with their own mortality and they are coming to terms with what they need to do regarding their own death, even if it’s 30 or 50 years away,” Buster said. 

Abode CEO Mary Thorsby said “Here at Abode you don’t die alone. Here you are cared for, people take an interest in you.” 

The care at Abode, which is free to anyone who needs it, is a loving joint venture by a small paid staff and an even bigger number of dedicated supporters.

“We run completely on donations and grants, so if you are terminally ill and let’s say you are so sick that you can no longer live by yourself, or your loved one simply cannot provide you with the 24/7 care that you need, or you have no home, you can come here to Abode and we will provide that 24/7 care right here in our home.” Thorsby said, adding “We partner with every hospice agency in town and we will love you up until you are ready to go.” 

Sarah and Rachel are currently helping a guest named Patricia as she nears the end of her life.

Rachel is a recent graduate of the doula program, which they say is the only class in the country with hands on training. 

Thorsby said “As Abode doula students you can be here and put what you are learning into actual practice.” 

“We are all going to die whether we want to or not and there’s no reason that those last few months, weeks or days should be miserable,” Thorsby said.  

Buster adds “As our population continues to age there’s more of a need for that support of people who are dying.  For some people that means being surrounded by loved ones, having their favorite music playing, or being with the dying person as they are dying, educating them on the different stages of death and what to expect at each stage.”

Buster said removing the fear of the unknown is a great comfort for everyone.

“A lot of times I think we as family members and friends, we see our loved ones dying and we want to save them.  We want to help them at all costs!  But death is such a personal experience and it is a completely natural experience, so being able to just know that and support this natural process?  I think it’s so important in this day and age,” Buster said. 

Doulas, Buster said, can help with some of the mundane tasks of every day care..

“A death doula can also provide that respite for the family and that way we can allow family members to just love on their person and they can be a brother or a sister.  They can be a child and they don’t also have to be the caregiver. A death doula can step in and help with some of the nitty gritty stuff and allow the family members to just be and celebrate the person who is dying,” Buster said.

Thorsby said “We’re here to help celebrate your life so that when you take your last breath, you go on a good note. It’s a great honor to help walk people home.”  

The next class starts Saturday and there are a limited number of spaces left.  Their website offers more information about this important work.

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