Bay of Plenty duo Gaylene Delaney and Robyn Wilson are gearing up to provide “assistance and comfort” to those who are nearing their final days of life.
The pair first met when taking a course on becoming qualified ‘end of life doulas’ hoping to aid those who are in need to navigate the country’s complicated health system, and plan to die peacefully.
“Birth doulas are more commonly known in New Zealand than end of life doulas,” says Robyn.
An ‘end of life doula’ can help a person with ‘end of life’ planning but will not give medical or clinical advice.
The pair say they are hoping to raise awareness about the importance of end of life doulas – coinciding with Australia’s Dying to know Day on August 8, which is an annual event to spread the word about how to prepare for the end of life.
“I think this type of work calls people and not the other way around. I have a background as a registered social worker, and Gaylene is a registered nurse and has experience in palliative care.”
“Our job is to make sure people are prepared for what is coming ahead surrounding death. We help the transition be as easy and as comfortable as it can possibly be.
“If somebody is prepared for their death along with their family, they can grieve in the way that they need to – instead of how they are told or what the ‘norm’ is.”
Robyn says an example of this is with Māori tangi (funerals).
“They grieve really well and do it together as a whanau. In our society, that is not really happening,” says Gaylene.
“It impacts the family on a long term if they aren’t able to grieve well, and that’s what we are trying to prevent.”
Gaylene says the end of life doula practice is well-known overseas, despite being relatively new to New Zealand.
“It has really taken off in Australia the last few years. We are both keen to get people more familiar with it here – we are the only ones providing this service in the Bay of Plenty,” says Gaylene.
When working as a community nurse, she noticed the practice was mostly physical and “unfortunately wasn’t so focused on a holistic experience”.
“The hospice does cover some of it, but they don’t have the time or the resources to do all of it, so what we do is fill in the gaps.
“It’s not about just looking after the body. It’s also the mind, emotional and spiritual needs.”
Gaylene believes that people’s experience of dying in New Zealand is “not as good as it could be”.
“We can do way better. If people don’t die well, that can be quite traumatic. A lot of families are experiencing some severe trauma and post-traumatic stress disorder after seeing their loved ones not die well, and that also complicates the grief process.”
Gaylene says most people want to die at home, but can’t due to a lack of support. She adds this is where the end of life doula service can help to ensure people have the experience they want.
The pair both say it does not matter what religion or cultural traditions people may have, they are there to ensure those wishes are fulfilled.
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