LARAMIE, Wyo. (AP) — End-of-life doulas — or death doulas — help those in their final stages of life find ease, comfort and acceptance before they die.
One might easily think a death doula would be hard at work during this time; however, the pandemic has altered the ways doulas perform what is called death work, and Laramie native Kathie Beasley spoke to the Laramie Boomerang about the challenges she has encountered.
Restrictions on gatherings and social distancing have made it difficult for Beasley to offer her end-of-life services to Laramie residents. In addition, Beasley believes within the context of Laramie being a small city with mostly conservative residents, her services go unnoticed.
Because of this, much of her death work in Laramie involves community outreach through platforms like Death Café — an international movement that originated in the U.K. — and in recent past, a book club called Death and Dying. She also co-founded the nonprofit Higher Plains Death Collective in 2018.
Beasley prefers in-person interactions to perform what is referred to as the three meditations: death plan, legacy project and her favorite — and most intimate — last breath rituals. She alluded the hardest part for her about death work during a pandemic is the inability to be present during the last breath rituals.
“Last year was a lot … people were scared,” she said, adding it was difficult for her to remain objective and talk about death in a positive and informative way especially during the last two Death Café meetings in March and April.
The participants in the Zoom meetings were from all over the state and included a scarce few from Connecticut and California. This was out of the norm compared to past gatherings and intensified the conversations negatively.
“It was overwhelming,” said Beasley, adding there were so much fear about having a COVID-related death.
Beasley’s job and personal goal as an end-of-life doula is to ensure the person who is dying is comfortable and at peace. It involves close interaction with them and the family as well as advocating on behalf of the dying.
“It sets the tone for how the rest of their death goes,” said Beasley, who added during COVID this is nearly impossible.
“I just feel so bad because an end-of-life doula can’t do their work because you’re not permitted in the room,” said Beasley.
“I feel like I’ve been on hold, honestly.”
Beasley said talking about death as a natural part of life helps lay the groundwork and mentally prepares individuals about the realities of dying. Community discussions benefit the living and the dying, Beasley added, and helps them accept and fears about mortality.
“I don’t want people to be afraid,” Beasley said, adding this is the basis for all her community outreach projects.
IN PERSON? OR ZOOM?
Liz Lightner is also a trained end-of-life doula in Lander but is approaching the obstacle with a different strategy. Although visitation and physical interaction is limited, she said it doesn’t stop her from meeting over a video chat.
“I have spoken with people over Zoom about their loved ones and given advice and to do lists for the (families) to proceed on,” Lightner said. She added it’s different, especially since her hospice work was put on hold, but she is still able to do some work for those who need it.
Lightner and Beasley approach their death work differently but emphasized the importance of community outreach and education awareness.
ABOUT DEATH CAFÉ AND THE COLLECTIVE
Death Café is a group-directed discussion designed to increase awareness and acceptance of death while encouraging people to the make the most of their ‘finite’ lives. Generally, the meetings occur once a month and are led by volunteers like Beasley. The meetings, however, are not a substitute for grief counseling or grief support.
The Higher Plains Death Collective was founded by Beasley, KC Vernon (a former coroner) and Amanda Pittman in 2018. The nonprofit is very active and house the Death Café community meetings. In addition, they provide information on death and dying through community engagement workshops as well as allocate small grants for those who cannot not afford funeral expenses through donations and fundraising.
If you or a loved one are experiencing death or would like to speak with either Kathie Beasley or Liz Lightner about death or dying, contact information can be found below:
Kathie Beasley at Quartz Hollow: https://quartzhollow.com/contact.
Liz Lightner at Lander End of Life Doula With Love: http://www.ledbyliz.com/.