This article is for those people called to be a doula for the dying.
After someone has died, I encourage the family to take as long as they need to be with their loved one. I encourage them to wait before they call hospice and have as much private time as they can now because once you call hospice, action begins to remove the body.
There often comes a time after the death where people start wondering what to do next. Remember to have the death plan and funeral plan completed before hand so you, as the doula, can guide them during this time.
If they look to you for guidance, ask them if they would like to gather together and speak a few words of love and gratitude for the departed or maybe a simple ritual they can do together that will mark this time together.
Ask them if they would like to bathe the body and dress them in a piece of favorite clothing. Maybe they don’t want to participate but would like you to do it. Usually at least one person wants to be a part of it if they want the body bathed.
Remember to turn off the oxygen concentrator if it is on and get rid of as many hospital and medical looking supplies and devices as possible after death. You’ve already done this to an extent during vigil but there may have been some things that you needed to keep. Now is the time to get rid of all it within eyesight.
If they don’t want to bathe the body fully, check the peri area of the body and make sure it is clean and no stool or urine has released. If it has then clean the area and take out the soiled briefs to the outside trash immediately and/or put the towels to launder.
Encourage anyone to lay with the body if they want to and give them the privacy for this. There are people who want to, but need the ‘permission’ to do so or think others would think they were odd if they do it. Let them know it is normal to want to be close to our loved one, especially since they will not be seeing them physically again.
There are some faith traditions that do not believe in touching the body after death. Find out beforehand what your family believes in. If it is a matter of discomfort with a dead body rather than belief in holding down the person’s spirit, then help them move pass that discomfort. So many people have thanked me afterwards for helping them to touch their loved one’s body.
Flow with what is going on and what they want. They truly may not feel equipped to make any decisions and in that case, you lead the way. You will know when you are there how to proceed. Trust your discernment; follow your gut.
When you have called hospice to come and pronounce the death, know that you can also ask them if you can spend as much time with the body as possible. The best time to arrange this is before death. It is best to know how long the state laws and how long the funeral home will allow before they pick up the body.
If the family is doing a home funeral, then all this will have been arranged, but if the body is going to go to a funeral home or crematory then this information is necessary so the family can prepare themselves for how much time they have to spend with the body.
Most people I have been with only want to be with the body not longer than 2 – 4 hours. There have been some that have wanted it for several hours and I had to make arrangements with the funeral home or call to various ones who would accommodate the family. Most people have no idea they can be with their loved one longer than a couple of hours.
These are just some of the things for you to be prepared for as a doula.