As part of this community’s ongoing conversations about death, four islanders will speak about serving as death doulas from 1 to 2:30 p.m. Sunday at the Land Trust Building.
Death doulas are people who are trained to assist dying individuals and their families by providing physical, emotional, psychological and spiritual support. Four island women who were recently trained as death doulas in Hawaii will share their perspectives: Ava Apple, Nancy Eister, Susan Pitiger and Sarah St. Germaine.
The women volunteer their time and serve in a variety of ways, depending on the needs in each situation. For the dying person, they might provide companionship, such as taking part in conversation, reading a book and discussing end-of-life wishes. For family members — whether at the family’s home, hospice facility or hospital — they can sit with the dying person while other family members are away, facilitate communication and help with final goodbyes.
Organizers of Sunday’s event say having someone such as a death doula present at the end can make the dying process less frightening for both the person who is dying and the people around them.
Apple, known to many islanders as the former director of the Vashon Senior Center, said the work the women have been trained to do is “an extra support and fills in the gaps” that hospice offers.
“It can be as simple as being still and listening, creating a sacred space for the last journey,” she said.
Apple said she was inspired to do the work when she attended a presentation on the island last year by Sufi death expert Bodhi Be. He came to Vashon through his connection with Pitiger, who has studied with him for more than 25 years. Through a connection with St. Germaine, she was able to attend the four-day training with the other women from Vashon, and now they all hope to offer their services on the island.
The Vashon Conversation for the Living About Dying will host Sunday’s talk. Carol Spangler, one of the organizers of that effort, which is intended to help people across the age spectrum prepare for their deaths and plan for them, said she is pleased the group’s work is flourishing, sometimes in unexpected ways.
“We planted seeds and people are sprouting up who are passionate about this whole area and doing their own thing,” she said.
Islanders who would like to connect with the speakers may contact them directly: Ava Apple at 206-276-7407, Nancy Eister at email@example.com, Susan Pitiger at 206-818-4232 and Sarah St. Germain at 206-455-5284.