Getting a terminal diagnosis can be scary, but you don't have to go through it alone. An end-of-life doula can help to make the end-of-life transition a less lonely time for patients and their families.
Cindy McAuley is an end-of-life doula who specializes in palliative care. She hails from Kenosee Lake but will visit other areas to attend to those who need support.
“Once someone gets a terminal diagnosis, I mean, there is so much on their mind. They don’t think clearly,” said McAuley. “If I can help answer any questions, go through their advance care directive with them and then this is where my end-of-life planning comes in.”
Finding a doula that clicks with the person or the family is key to deciding if this is the correct route to take, and not all doulas offer the same services. McCauley's process is to meet with the client and the family. They lay out what the expectations are for the doula. Then they discuss how the individual would like their end of life to play out.
“I know that sounds really harsh. I know that sounds really cold, but it’s not cold. It’s a real honour,” said McAuley.
For the most part, her clients wish to stay in their homes for as long as possible. She said it is best if they are still able to be visited by friends and family, be in their own bed, and be surrounded by their own things.
“We will give the extra support not only to the client but also to their loved ones that are sitting there if they need to run some errands and they don’t want to leave their loved ones alone,” said McAuley.
She has been working as an end-of-life doula for about five years after working in healthcare for 30 years. Her focus was on long-term care, but she also worked at the Allan Blair Cancer Centre in Regina. She completed an international course in 2019 to become an end-of-life doula.
McAuley is a member of the end-of-life doula registry across Canada as well as the Canadian Hospice and Palliative Care Association.
“It’s a real honour to be able to hold the hand of someone who’s passing, and they don’t have any family to be with them,” said McAuley.
She is well-equipped to educate families on what to expect as their loved one goes through the end-of-life transition. She also advocates for the families if they have questions or concerns about the medical care the patient is receiving.
“We also work alongside doctors or home care if the patient is at home. And we come up with a plan together to try and keep the patient at home for as long as we can,” said McAuley.
In larger city centers end-of-life doulas are a common service used to provide extra support when palliative care staff are at capacity. In the southeast, these services are not readily available.
“With home care, they don’t have the staffing to accommodate the gaps,” said McAuley. “That’s another reason I would come into the home and be that extra support.”
She has taken additional courses to go into facilities to train staff on what the end of life looks like and how to support the patients.
“My goal is to be able to go into our local facilities and just help them with knowledge of end-of-life compassion empathy and what these stages will look like as the patient transitions,” said McAuley.
Love's Final Journey is a 12-page workbook created by McAuley that helps people organize their thoughts and go through their end-of-life plans. She runs workshops where she goes through the workbooks with the individuals and answers any questions they may have.
From these workshops, she has also inspired others to pursue their end-of-life doula journey.
An additional service she offers is the creation of legacies. She explained if the person has a special story or recipe they want to share she will come in, video record the session, put it on a USB, and give it to the families.