Certified death doula Janet Willie of Bethel addresses a group Jan. 18 at the West Parish Congregational Church in Bethel about the services she and fellow certified death doulas D. Lee Berry of Sumner, left, and Darlene Beck of Bethel, second from left, provide to the dying. Willie said one of her hopes for western Maine is to have a web of people to support the dying. Rose Lincoln/The Bethel Citizen

BETHEL — Three certified death doulas recently asked a group researching green burial sites in the area what words come to mind when they think of their death or that of a loved one.

Their answers?

Peace. Uncertainty. Salvation. Relief. Rest. New life.

Janet Willie and Darlene Beck, both of Bethel, and Lee Berry of Sumner all became certified death doulas in 2023. They were invited to speak to the group Jan. 18 at the West Parish Congregational Church in conjunction with Western Mountains Senior College and Maine School Administrative District 44 Adult and Continuing Education.

“We are seeing a surge in the rise in people being trained in death doula work,” Willie, a licensed massage therapist and practical nurse, told the group. “There is something that comes inside you that cultivates that calling,” she said.

In an email Willie added, “Hospice is a long-standing and well recognized service. All hospice staff and volunteers provide very personalized, compassionate, skilled care, as other home health care services do.


End of Life Death Doulas are a continuum to end of life care,” she wrote. “We as EOLDs can partner with hospice, home health care, funeral directors, and families, to help fill gaps in care and services. Our country’s aging population is growing rapidly. End of Life Death Doula care is an emerging field which will be critical as 72 million people will be over the age of 65 by year 2030.”

Willie, a licensed massage therapist and licensed practical nurse, Berry, a registered nurse, and Beck spoke about their emerging field.

Berry said her definition of a death doula is “someone who is compassionate, nonjudgmental, a nonmedical person who provides comfort and guidance to the dying either during the death, during the illness or after.”

“Not too many people are comfortable talking about death and dying,” Berry said, who came to her role after her nursing career. “It tends to scare people or make people really uncomfortable. But we all need our opportunity. It’s really hard to find someone you can do that with.”

Berry said in the hospital she would ask a dying patient if they wanted to talk and would sit with them after her shift ended because she’d heard other nurses and doctors say, “‘You don’t want to talk about that.'”

The three presenters agreed that the death doula’s role can be quite varied.


“It gives us a different reach, where we can fill in the gaps, where hospice is not able to attend to a person in a certain way,” Willie said.

“In the hospital, a lot of the care is life-saving, life-prolonging, life-promoting,” Berry said.

“Doulas sometimes help support dying consciously” with little or no medication, Willie said. “Doulas often help relieve fear through conversation and will help create an atmosphere of calm.” They help with spiritual beliefs. They help the dying “negotiate their optimism and their despair,” she said.

When someone comes home to die, she said, “You sweep in, you clean them up, you give them a bath, you tidy them up … you turn off the blaring TV, you get the environment into a place of solace for the death and dying process.”

“As a doula you don’t provide medication,” Beck said.

Doulas can also help people get their paperwork and their home in order ahead of time. They may help with funeral arrangements, legacy wishes, talking to family and more, they said.

Some doulas charge a fee, others suggest a donation, while others do not charge, they said.

Willie said one of her hopes for western Maine is to have a web of people to support the dying, including someone to help fill out advance directives and other paperwork. Maybe a group will build wooden coffins and another will perhaps dig ditches, she said to laughter.

Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or login first for digital access. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.