JILL EXNER – END-OF-LIFE DOULA

During my days of working in the ICU at Harborview Medical Center, I took care of many critically ill people. I found I was drawn to the ones who were going to die. I saw many people die alone where either I was the only one present, or they were surrounded by medical personnel. This never felt right to me. Then my own father was diagnosed with a terminal illness, ended up on hospice, and died at home with his family surrounding him on his favorite couch. This was just how he wanted to die and I knew then that I wanted to work in the field of death and dying, but didn’t quite know in what way. Later on, I was talking with some people and someone said there should be death doulas like there are birth doulas and I knew right then in that moment that being an end-of-life doula was what I wanted to do. I googled it and saw it was an actual thing, so I got in contact with someone who would mentor me.

I found that I had some of my own work to do around death and so I spent some time reading, doing meditations and talking about my own fears. I knew that this was an area I wanted to work in but didn’t know how and then just trusted that the opportunity would appear when it was time. In January 2018 I had the opportunity to interview for a pediatric hospice RN position with Providence Stepping Stones and knew that was the direction I needed to go. I got hired and I am now in the arena I want to be in and learning all I can.

There are many different ways a doula can be helpful. They can be an educator and guide, helping families and friends know how to be there for their loved one and to keep them comfortable. They can vigil at a dying person’s bedside, reading, singing, playing music or just holding their hand. They can help the family with after death rituals. They can cook and clean so the family can be there for their dying loved one. Some even help with funeral planning.

What I want to impart to people is that they can have control over how they die. That they don’t have to be alone. I want to empower families to be able to be there for their loved ones who are dying. As a society we fear death and don’t like to talk about it. It can be scary but it is a beautiful thing to be with a loved one as they pass from this life and into the arms of those who have gone before them. Death is as pure as birth to me. No BS, nothing fake just the absolute of the moment.

People have amazing strengths they may not realize they have, and I feel called to help them realize those strengths during the death process.

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