Jennifer Eaton doesn’t think anyone should die alone.
She’s so passionate about it she decided to become a death doula – a non-medical professional trained to care for a terminally ill person’s physical, emotional, and spiritual needs during the death process.
“I hope one day I have somebody to help me with that,” Eaton, 47, said, noting she became a doula “so somebody is not dying alone.
“That’s huge, especially with COVID. My grandmother was on her own, we couldn’t go in there. My biggest thing is that you’re not alone because you don’t have to be alone.”
Eaton was inspired to become an end-of-life doula two years ago following the death of a family friend who had cancer and wanted to stay home to die.
“I had never heard of an end-of-life doula until then,” Eaton said. “It just opened up a whole other world for me. We all prepare and so much stuff goes into the arrival of a baby – a birthing doula – but nobody thinks or talks about passing and what goes into that.
“It’s been out there but people don’t talk about it until it comes across your path. It intrigued me so I thought I’d look into it.”
Eaton, who has always considered herself a caregiver, enrolled at the End of Life Doula program at Douglas College. When she graduated last spring, she decided to leave Vancouver Island – where she spent the past 12 years – and move back to her hometown of 100 Mile House to set up Holding Space Home Care, offering end-of-life doula support as well as home care.
She came up with the business name because of what it means to “hold space.”
“It just resonated with me, wow, that’s the most beautiful little saying and just the meaning around it,” she said. “If you have stuff going on, I’m going to hold space for you so when you’re ready you are going to talk to me and express what you’re feeling. I’m kind of like that little bubble that’s protecting you until you’re ready.”
Her business, which she runs out of her home, sparked a lot of interest last weekend at the South Cariboo Women’s Fair, she said.
“The support and encouragement and feedback have been phenomenal. I’ve been getting hugs and people saying this is so needed in our community. It’s more about home care right now because people are like ‘what the heck is the end-of-life doula?’”
She describes a death doula as being an advocate for people before they die. She initiates pre-planning, such as reaching out to the funeral home, and identifying specific priorities and wishes. This ranges from a person’s preference to die at home or in hospital or being cremated or buried to what smells they want in their room, or how they would like to be remembered.
Some may have a legacy project, she noted, while others may want a certain song played at their service.
“I’m an advocate for you, how you want things to go,” Eaton said. “The job is to educate, advocate and empower client’s needs.”
It’s never too early to start planning for death, she said, although she acknowledged it’s often hard for people to talk about it. She can help people have those conversations with family members or coach them to do it themselves.
“People were like ‘I’m not dying yet.’ You don’t have to be, it’s just something to pre-plan,” she said. “You can do it whenever. I started doing it with my parents and the first calls I made were to my kids.
“You don’t ever want to talk to your kids about this,” she added, but “we had such a good conversation.”
Eaton said she decided to start her business in 100 Mile, in part to be closer to her parents, and partly because of the growing demand for such services. Her daughter is a care aide and finds it frustrating because she can go into homes but can’t do certain things.
Eaton has been booking up fast and expects she will need to hire someone to help, especially for home care. For that, she does housekeeping, meal prep, picks up groceries and prescriptions, and “just hangs out and listens to the stories.”
“It makes me feel good and almost emotional that I can be that person who is there,” she said. “One day my parents are going to go and I want to be that person that’s there with them. I want to be prepared and know what the heck I’m supposed to do and how to manage that.”