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End of Life Transition: FCM's Death Doula Program

04 Feb 2019 3:27 AM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

FCM offers a Death And Dying Program, including end of life transition support. Under our Dharma teacher Fred Eppsteiner's oversight, a team of FCM members, who have previous experience in the area of death and dying, recently completed training to become death doulas.

FCM’s death doulas assist members who are dying or who are caring for a loved one who is dying. Through their mindful presence and experience with the process of dying, they offer support and helpful information through home visits, and upon request, guided meditations to calm and stabilize the mind of the dying person.

Thanks to Fran Reilly of the Naples sangha, a member who recently completed the program and now shares her experience of FCM’s death doula training.

When the idea of learning to become a death doula was first discussed with me, I had two reactions – excitement and intimidation. Yikes, what does that mean exactly and what would be expected of me?

I was both excited to have this opportunity to work with Fred and other team members to learn more and at the same time intimidated at the prospect of becoming a death doula. Trusting in my Buddhist practice and knowing that life is impermanent – that we all die at some point, never knowing when -- I decided to make the commitment.

Over the course of the past five months I have been part of a core team of 10 FCM members enrolled in death doula training. I knew from the outset we would be called upon to look closely at our capacity to face our own deaths and that of our loved ones. Of course that makes sense: If we haven’t faced our own fears, how could we have the stability and clarity and the ability to bring benefit, guidance and support to others? So, we have been sharing reading materials and other resources, discussing, learning from Fred and each other as we follow through with our commitments.

Early on we learned that our focus as a death doula would be to act as personal coach, a support and guide to help the dying person with their aspirations. We would learn to offer practices to reduce worry and fear and help the person stay grounded and as present as possible. We would not act as social workers or hospice personnel because there are many other services available in the community. Our core job would be to benefit the other person and family in their time of need. Clarifying our role helped me to have more focus and encouraged me to keep learning about the many practices that are offered in our tradition and avail myself of the wisdom teachings that are here for all of us.

The Buddhist perspective on death is one of transition. Fred helped us understand it is a journey. I appreciated the transition analogy because it is easy to understand from this perspective. There is a continuity of consciousness so our mind state at the moment of death and leading up to death is important. The body is dying and the mind, as a stream of consciousness, is entering the world beyond birth and death. We discussed and shared many of the sutras, chants and practices that can help create a wholesome mind state during the dying process.

Through these past five months I’ve come to appreciate all the resources we have through our community and each other. I am not the only one who is going to die, I am not the only one who is going to lose a love one — this is the reality of life! As I open my heart, willing to let go of self-centered fears and to become open to the spaciousness beyond, an ease permeates my being. I have also been inspired to focus on taking care of my own advanced directive, getting my mind clear regarding my own transition, and having the family discussions that are important for all of us. I realize it is an ongoing process, a lifetime journey, and I continue to learn each and every day.

We are fortunate to have so many heart-centered practices, meditations, chants, and books to support our learning. And most of all, I am grateful for my Sangha brothers and sisters who inspire me with their efforts and open hearts, and our teacher who inspires and guides us along the way.

I’d like to end with the words of Thich Nhat Hanh from his book No death, No Fear: “If we know how to practice and penetrate the reality of no birth and no death, if we realize that coming and going are just ideas, and if our presence is solid and peaceful, we can help the dying person. We can help the person not be scared and not to suffer much. We can help the person die peacefully. We can help ourselves live without fear and die peacefully. We can help ourselves to understand that there is no dying. To see that there is no death and there is no fear. There is only continuation.”


  • 18 Feb 2019 9:55 AM | Anonymous member
    Thank you for this thoughtful summation of the death doula program as well as your participation in it. Bravely facing this monumental transition is the ultimate practice and i am inspired by your actions and words. This is such valuable work. Great job!
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