12 Jul My mom is dying. What do I do now? : End-of-Life Doulas, Part 3
In this third and final installment, we chat with Maureen Kures, CEO and Founder of Radiant Mourning, about the steps she recommends that you take when faced with the impending death of a loved one, the importance of legacy work, and how her work changed the lives of one family.
WALH: Are there any other questions or topics you think that I haven’t covered that might be interesting for people to know?
Maureen Kures: One of the things with death doulas is that it gives people a chance to work through many life issues, much like hospice. I’m a big advocate of life review, and that is something that end-of-life doulas do with their clients. They help them make sense and purpose in their life. They help with forgiveness work because that’s a big part of end-of-life is to be able to forgive and ask for forgiveness for a peaceful end-of-life journey. But I think the one thing is that they help the families cope with the anticipatory grief of their loved one dying during the dying process and even pre-death. Because the drying process actually takes place over a short period of time when active dying takes place.
But in that anticipatory time, knowing that their family member or their loved one is not recovering and they’ve gone more from curative to comfort during the transition to death. That’s when the doula can be so helpful and interactive to allow people just to grieve. And I think people don’t realize that no matter what, we are going to grieve and that having experienced work with a doula or even hospice is a great one for this too. But the doulas take it deeper to work through that anticipatory grief so that when death comes, one can just fully grieve and that healing grief that will be with them forever.
Grief will be with us forever once we lose someone we love. But it comes instead of the raging grief; it becomes a gentle grief. Like 12 years later, I’m still grieving my father. It will never go away, but it’s not that ragged, raging grief that I had in the beginning. But do not have to deal with a minutia of life because it’s already been addressed and t’s already been dealt with through all of the activities, or the influence of the doula is, is powerful.
WALH: So, if someone came to you right now and said, “My mom is dying. I have absolutely no idea what to do. I’m not prepared.” What would you say are the top three things they need to do immediately?
Maureen Kures: I would say the top thing is making sure that the health care directives are in order and that they have someone that can legally speak on her behalf if she becomes unable to do so, to talk about her wishes, what she would want and how she would like to be at the end of her life. Would she want to be hospitalized or not?
And the next thing is, what legacy does she want to leave and help work through. So, the three things are to make sure that the advanced directives and power of attorney documents are signed, get their wishes known, and then legacy work because I think that legacy work helps us all know that we made a difference. It helps those less left behind to know that, “Wow, I got this letter from my mother.” or “This is what I meant to my mother.” or “This is what she did in her life that I didn’t know.”
WALH: What is legacy work?
Maureen Kures: Legacy work is about writing legacy letters. It’s so powerful writing letters to those that matter most to you as you’re dying. Legacy work is telling your stories of your life and sharing that with your family members. It’s creating your life celebration. There’s so much to legacy work.
It’s shocking to me that, really, we’re forgotten in two generations. Like when you really think, okay, my great grandparents’ names, I might know them, but great-great-grandparents, most people have no idea. And so to get those stories captured and shared is so powerful. It can be done through a video. It can be done through writing. But it’s a gift that we leave our families and those that are left behind. So really, it’s just sharing the stories and saying what needs to be said or what you want to be said to those that matter most to you.
WALH: Can you share a specific moment or memory, maybe even from one of the death doulas that you work with, where they came to you and said, “Oh my gosh, I had this story to share about something that really made a difference in the work that I do.”
Maureen Kures: There are so many, but I think that one of the things I’ll share is from my own experience through the work that I did with this one family. Their father was going downhill, and he ended up in the emergency room. Their father could still communicate a bit, but he did not want to go into the hospital. And they would have been so fearful of bringing him home and letting him die at home. Still, because of conversations that they had, which they would never have done, and because of work that we had done together, not with their family, but with all the siblings and their mom, when their dad was getting sick, they were able to talk to the doctors and bring him home. And they were able to all be with him and love on him and create a safe, familiar, comfortable environment.
They didn’t have a death doula with them, but because of the work we did was like working with the death doula because they said they would never have been able to do this if he would’ve been in the hospital. He would have died in the hospital because they would have been too afraid, but they had learned how to face it and learned how to care for him. And they all sat around with him and told stories and laughed and cried in the hours before his death. And he was surrounded with love and comfort instead of being in a hospital with machines and tubes, and they were able to get hospice in, so he was comfortable because he had proper medication. They went for comfort care instead of medical treatment.
And it ended up being just a beautiful experience instead of the alternative, which is my mission. We even taught them how to rub his hands and feet because not everyone likes touch at the end of life, sometimes it’s too stimulating. We taught them how to ask him and how to work that in and work the touch in. But the fact that this family, this boisterous family of seven kids, had all drawn together, and instead of being in conflict of what was happening, they were all there and present with him, even when the present was hard. It ended up being a treasure to them instead of, “Oh my gosh, he died in the ICU on a ventilator!” which is the route he was taking.
All I can say about end-of-life doulas is that they bring peace and support to those at the end of life.
It’s hard to know what to do. You might have been told certain things by hospice, you might have been told certain things by caregivers, but to be able to know that everything’s taken care of and they can get everything done that needs to be done brings peace. The life celebration plan is in place, the funeral plans have been made, they know what kind of burial they want, all of those things that doulas can help with.
And in that way, I do consider myself a doula. The (Gentle Passage) Doula Collective is always saying, “Maureen, you are a doula!” because I’ve been at the bedside with so many people that have died in my nursing career. But the good doulas go through committed training.
Thank you again, Maureen, for taking the time to share your insight and expertise with us. Your dedication to your work is truly a gift and we wish you all the very best as you continue to make a difference in the lives of so many.
Maureen Kures is the CEO and Founder of Radiant Mourning. She’s on a mission to guide one million families to decide, document, and discuss their final chapter plans to bring peace for those who live on. As an oncology, hospice, and ICU nurse for 35 years, she was privileged to provide end-of-life care for many. She saw the devastation that occurred when families hadn’t had candid conversations with their family members. Now she facilitates those conversations with families around the world and leads virtual group workshops to replace drama, trauma, and chaos with calm, ease, and peace.