End of life doula course teaches students new outlook on death

Preparing to die is not something many people think about, but there is a growing demand for end of life doulas, also known as death doulas, to help people prepare for death, according to an instructor offering end of life doula courses in Winnipeg.

'These are conversations we should be having': End of life course in Winnipeg has growing wait list

Maggie Boyko is a registered nurse who is taking an end of life doula course in Winnipeg because she wants to help others who need support preparing for death. (Fernand Detillieux/CBC)

Death is a subject many people try to avoid, but that's the not the case for those attending a popular new course in Winnipeg that helps students learn how to support people in the final days of their lives.

A five-day end-of-life doula course just wrapped in the city and the instructor says there's already a waiting list for the next class being offered in January.

"We offer a presence that's not always there just from palliative care," said Denise Seguin Horth.

"The way we approach it is a holistic approach, so we like to be there for emotional, spiritual and physical support."

The course is being taught at the University of Manitoba, but is run by Douglas College in B.C. Seguin Horth said it's aimed at people who want to work as an end of life doula — also known as a death doula — similar to a birth doula but instead helping to support those in their final days of life.

The end of life doula also provides resources to people who want to prepare for death with funeral arrangements and support for their loved ones after death.

Denise Seguin Horth teaches an end of life doula course at the University of Manitoba. The course is full and has a wait list for the next course in January 2020. The course is run through Douglas College in British Columbia. (Fernand Detillieux)

"So the difference is we are non-medical, we're compassionate, and we offer support and comfort," Seguin Horth said.

"So it might be someone asking for support before they are deemed palliative, so someone might want to look into their funeral options."

Seguin Horth has worked as an end of life doula in Regina, Sask., for three years and said it's not a job for everybody.

"It does get difficult, absolutely, it does get emotional. I'm human, but I also know my role." 

The classes aren't just for people who are ill or know someone with a life-limiting condition. 

"It might be someone who just wants to get planning done early," she said.

'Deep connection'

Maggie Boyko is a registered nurse in Manitoba who decided take the course because she wants to apply some of what she learns at work. 

"My special moments with dying patients have always been my favourite moments, because I believe there's a deep connection between humans in those moments," Boyko said.

She said she doesn't expect the job to be easy on an emotional level.

"Yeah, it's hard, especially when you connect with people, but that's part of it. You grow through discomforts so I kind of embraced that."

Boyko said the passing of her father also helped her look at death in a new light.

"He very gracefully taught me how to communicate about death in the last couple of weeks of his life. I recognize how much of a gift that was and what he gave me," she said.

"The fact that I could possibly provide comfort to a family and guide them through that … it just feels like such an honour."

'These are conversations we should be having'

 Boyko wants to work as a death doula part-time, in addition to her work as a nurse.

"I'm also going to bring this into my practice as a nurse. We have a hard time connecting sometimes with our patients because we're so busy," Boyko said. 

"We all feel uncomfortable talking about death — that's just the way humans generally operate."

She also said people are often surprised when they hear she wants to be an end of life doula.

"People are usually into knitting and windsurfing, and poetry and then, I'm into death," she said.

"It's a bit of a shock but then it doesn't take long for most of it to settle in," she said, adding that she has a lot of support from friends.

"These are conversations we should be having."

Denise Seguin Horth is an end of life doula and instructor teaching an end of life doula course through Douglas College in B.C. The course is being taught in Winnipeg this year. (Fernand Detillieux)

The course offers workshops on how to communicate with strangers who are dying, and how to help family members cope before and after the death of a loved one.

There's also a cultural component that teaches students how to recognize different religions in death.

'We're their person'

Seguin Horth believes the course is needed because there are gaps in the health-care system when dealing with patients who need more emotional support.

"In the health-care system there is a lot of great support, but they're also busy with many people, so families that bring us in, we are solely dedicated to that family, we're their person."

Corrie Blom has no professional experience in the health-care system but she knows what it's like to watch someone close to her die.

She lost both her parents in a span of one year and cared for them in their dying days.

"It helps you see how different you can approach your loved ones at end of life, and even help your family members grieving. There's so many things I've learned," she said.

"I think this a course for everybody. Everybody needs this."

Seguin Horth said the course is open to anybody who wants to learn about the grieving process and death.

The End of Life Doula Association of Canada website has more information on workshops and how to become a member.

Learning how to prepare for death

2 years ago
Death is a subject many people try to avoid, but that's the not the case for those attending a popular new course in Winnipeg that helps students learn how to support people in the final days of their lives. 2:30


To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.

Become a CBC Member

Join the conversation  Create account

Already have an account?