One of the most common ways to describe the role of a death doula to people who are not familiar with this type of work is to compare our role to that of being a guide. For our clients, the end of life journey is unfamiliar territory. That’s why they ask us to come in and support them—we know what to expect and they don’t. 

Even though no two clients will die in exactly the same way, there are common patterns that emerge, so while it’s always a good idea to expect the unexpected, that doesn’t mean you have to let it catch you off guard. This is where your doula bag comes in.

As a good doula, you should be thinking like a good boy or girl scout. Be prepared! 

We all have that one friend who seems to be able to solve any problem that comes up with something in their purse. Snacks, aspirin, band-aids, water—whatever comes up, this person has it handled. It is very possible that you are already this person in your friend group, but if you are not, it is time to start following their example. Whenever you visit with clients in your capacity as a doula, you should have your whole bag of tricks with you.

Some of the things you have will be very obvious requirements for working with clients. For example, any paperwork you might need them to fill out, as well as pens and probably a clipboard for writing. There are basic sanitary items you probably won’t need every time you go out, but will come up fairly often: tissues, hand sanitizer, cough drops. Little snacks like bags of fruit snacks or granola bars, or even little candy bars, can come in handy when you find yourself working long hours without a meal break, or if someone you are working with needs to raise their blood sugar—people often forget to eat when they are grieving or stressed out in other ways. A small boost like that can make all the difference.

Obviously, you’re a professional, so you’re going to have all the basics covered. Once you’ve stocked your bag with all the stuff we’ve mentioned so far (and of course, the first thing you did was make sure you have a bag that’s more than big enough to hold everything you need), then it becomes time to add in the second level items. This is the stuff you won’t need as often, but when you do, you and your clients will be exceptionally grateful it’s there. Things that might pass the time while everyone is just sitting around waiting, like a deck of cards or a book of short stories, or coloring books and crayons for any children who might be present (although a lot of adults also like coloring books). Comfort items, like lotion to rub on a patient’s hands or feet, wet wipes to clean up messes, or a neck pillow for the patient or the caregiver who has been sitting up on an uncomfortable chair all night keeping vigil.

There are all kinds of things that are good to have in your doula kit, many that haven’t even been mentioned here. As you work and figure out what you use most often and what you find most helpful, your tool bag will grow. No matter what you have in your bag, carrying it will also give you the confidence of being prepared for anything, and that’s the most important tool you can have.

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