While most people would agree that conversations about the end of life are essential, they are also inclined to approach the topic with dread. While our society celebrates all aspects of the beginning of life, we tend to shy away from details surrounding the end of it, and it’s uncommon to think of that time as a happy one. Ashleigh Skaggs is not only comfortable helping others navigate the end of their time on Earth, but also strives to make it a peaceful and meaningful experience. Ashleigh is an end-of-life navigator (aka a certified death doula) and owner of Morning Star End of Life Care. Why does she do the work? “The primary purpose of my job is to bring joy to the end of life,” Ashleigh says.
Ashleigh found her purpose through a painful family tragedy when her father took his own life. She says she needed “someone who could advise me and offer kindness and support.” Then came the reality of COVID-19. Ashleigh had previously served as director of sales and marketing in senior living. She watched residents suffer through their isolation and after some research and conversation with others in the field, Ashleigh found her way to becoming a certified death doula.
For many, the term “death doula” is a new one. Midwives and doulas support the baby and mother at the beginning of life; a death doula, most simply, supports a dying individual and the family at the end of life. Ashleigh answered some basic questions about her work and how a doula can meet client needs in a special way.
How is the care you provide different from hospice care?
A death doula is a partner to hospice care, working side by side and filling any gaps that there may be. As an example, if a hospice chaplain visiting with my client must leave due to time limitations, and I sense the client needs more, I can continue the conversation they were having. My goal, like that of hospice, is to provide quality of life.
Is a death doula a medical professional?
If what the person needs would require a nurse, that is medical and not within my purview. I can, however, provide services that a certified nursing assistant can do. I work in partnership with medical staff.
What services do you offer?
I offer three different categories from which a client can choose as best fits their needs. A Joy Companion helps with feelings of isolation and builds community, and a Care Companion helps with practical tasks of daily living. A Death Companion tries to create a peaceful space that is warm and inviting, honoring the rituals and ceremonies that will bring meaning to their experience. I can serve as a liaison between nursing home staff and family. I also help the family with respite care, letting them feel comfortable with stepping away for a while and knowing I am here with their loved one. We’ve had “living funerals” where the client and family take time to say a goodbye that’s special to them. My focus is to honor my client’s wishes and to share those plans with their family and support system.
When is the right time to call a death doula?
We don’t begin our time together until the terminal diagnosis has been established, but I meet with people at any time during their planning process.
By Megan S. Willman
Leave a Reply