What’s a Death Doula Bag?

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A “death doula bag” might sound like something found in a horror movie, but the reality is far less intimidating. In essence, these are bags carried and used by death doulas when they suspect a client might be nearing the end of their life. They contain things the individual specifically requested, as well as other specialty items that bring comfort in one’s final moments. 

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After speaking with Alua Arthur of Going with Grace, a leading educator in modern death doula training, we asked to take a glimpse into her own death doula bag. She graciously shared many of the key things she keeps with her, as well as her experience educating other death doulas about the importance of preparedness.  

What Is a Death Doula?

To begin, let’s define what a death doula is and what this type of professional does. The term isn’t all that different from the definition of a birth doula who assists with childbirth. You might also hear a death doula go by other terms such as death midwife, end-of-life coach, or end-of-life guide.

A death doula holistically supports a dying person and their family. They assist with creating an end-of-life plan, work through death anxiety, and help with all the challenges along the way. 

In other words, death doulas help dying individuals and their families through this transition. Many are requested to be present in the moments leading up to death, and they assist with practical components of aftercare. 

The death doula bag is one of their many tools of the trade. It’s intended for those final moments of someone’s life. The death doula bag is one of the many ways doulas are prepared for anything life (or death) throws their way. 

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What Is a Death Doula Bag?

A death doula bag or end-of-life bag is quite literally a bag of resources and supplies for the final moments of someone’s life. Like an emergency responder carries around medicine and first aid gear, a death doula carries the most important things close by for when the time does come. 

Those final weeks or days of someone’s life are unpredictable. When you’re terminally ill or approaching the last days, there is no guarantee of when those last moments will come. 

A death doula bag is a literal bag prepared in advance. Arthur encourages her death doula trainees to store their own bags in the trunk of their car or somewhere that’s easy to grab-and-go. Like a hospital bag or an emergency “go bag,” this is used when the time comes. It’s always packed and ready for that important phone call.

What’s In a Death Doula Bag?

What exactly do death doulas store in this bag? This is something that’s taken with them when they attend to someone’s deathbed, so there’s no room for nonessentials. 

These are the last things someone experiences. It’s important for them and their families to have exactly what they need to find the most comfort and support. This is no simple task. 

While Arthur explains that each death doula might pack their bag differently, there needs to be a mixture of practical end-of-life necessities and emotional support items. 

Practical items in a death doula bag

First, end-of-life doula bags have practical items that make the transition to death a little easier. These are related to the key things to do when someone dies, but can also be a source of comfort in themselves. 

  • First-aid supplies
  • Cotton balls
  • Pillow
  • Lotions and creams
  • Underpads
  • Towels
  • Hairbrush
  • Bowl and washcloth
  • Local resource list

Comfort items in a death doula bag

In addition to these practical things above, there are also comfort items. While practical things can also offer comfort, such as rubbing lotion into the skin, these items below are specifically for the individual and family’s emotional support. 

  • Epsom salts
  • Candles
  • Essential oils
  • Incense
  • Religious texts
  • Footbath
  • Sewing kit and fabric
  • Scissors and paper

Special requests in a death doula bag

Last but not least, many people have special requests for what they’d like at their deathbed. For those with terminal illnesses and chronic conditions, they may have been prohibited from enjoying certain things leading up to their death. These things are often requested for these final moments. 

When reaching the end-of-life moments in one’s life, these times call for openness, inclusivity, and support. While each person and their family are different, here are some of the most common things that are requested at the bedside: 

  • Rose petals
  • Flowers
  • Lipstick
  • Beer, wine, or liquor
  • Chocolate or candy
  • CDs and tapes
  • Crystals
  • Lighting
  • Prayer or poem books
  • Instruments

While this might sound like a long list, remember that most death doulas personalize their death doula bag to the things that resonate most to them and their families. There is no “right” or “wrong” toolkit. With experience, they know how to create the most secure, sacred spaces for the family and individuals in these sacred moments. 

As part of her service, Arthur and other death doulas work with individuals and family members to create their ideal end-of-life scenario. What would the ideal death bed look like? What does that person want near them in their final moments?

Who Should Make a Death Doula Bag?

Death doula bags aren’t only for death doulas. While they’re one of the many tools death doulas use in their practices, that doesn’t mean they’re limited to these professionals alone. Like an emergency “go bag” or hospital bag, these are things that anyone could use to be prepared. 

If you or a loved one is reaching the end of life after a battle with illness or old age, a death doula bag is a way to feel greater control. Not everyone gets to craft what’s known as a “good death” or a planned death. Death, just like life, is unpredictable. 

Creating a death doula bag lessens the anxiety around death while also giving a lot of control in those final moments. A death doula bag ensures you and the family are ready for anything, even when time is of the essence. 

There is so much uncertainty around death. Taking some time to consider the things that are important to you is a rewarding exercise. What would you like to happen at your bedside? Are there any special items you’d like with you? How can you design a comfortable experience? These are questions not everyone has the luxury to ask.

Learn More About the Role of Death Doulas

Death doulas or death midwives play an important role in the transition to end-of-life. While much of this work takes place behind closed doors, it’s important to understand how these trained individuals use their tools to better help families when they need it most. 

Doulas can change the final moments of one’s life from an anxious experience to something soothing and rewarding. Whether you’re working with a death doula or not, knowing how death doula bags are used can give you some useful information to help you confront your own mortality. 

There is no one-size-fits-all death doula bag or end-of-life bag. Yet, this is an important question of what things and materials matter the most to you and your loved ones in the 11th hour. The answer might surprise you.

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