A Mindful Death Doula: An Interview with Jules Jones on Caring for a Loved One During and After Death

With the advent of what is now the modern-day funeral home industry, people from all walks of life throughout North America have turned the tasks of caring for a deceased loved one over to so-called professionals. Jules Jones, serving the community as A Mindful Death Doula, is providing people with a heartfelt alternative to strangers caring for dying and deceased loved ones. Jules works with families to bring “the caring of your dying or deceased loved one back in to your hands, where it belongs.”

A Bit About Jules Jones

A Mindful Death Doula services is the brainchild of Jules Jones. Jules describes herself as being “a heart-led trained death doula and death educator who brings the tradition of caring for our own dying and dead loved ones back to our communities and to modern times.”

Jules began her work as a death doula at the beginning of 2018. She had previously been trained as a birth doula and a combination of factors led her to transition to work with people at the other end of the journey of life. She noted that death has fascinated her for an extended period of time, “but not in a morbid way.” Jules has long been interested in death rituals and practices surrounding dying.

Jules obtained certification from Beyond Yonder Virtual School of Community Deathcaring. She is also involved with a number of organizations, including:

  • Hospice Greater Moncton
  • Community Deathcare Canada
  • Dying with Dignity Canada
  • Pays de Cocagne Green Burial Project

Services Available from A Mindful Death Doula

Advance Planning

Statistics show that a considerable number of people in North America fail to properly prepare for the possibility that they will not be able to make medical decisions on their own. For example, a person may become ill and not have the capacity to make necessary decisions pertaining to his or her care and treatment.

An enduring or durable power of attorney for healthcare and living will are the legal instruments necessary to make sure that an individual’s desires are carried out when that person is incapable of making decisions on his or her own. Jules assists with the preparation of these documents. “I can help complete these essential documents so that a person can have peace of mind if something happens and that person can’t speak for themselves,” Jules explained.

Jules explained further than some people are under the misperception that only an attorney can provide a person with advance planning documents. In both Canada and the United States, this is not the case. These documents can be accessed lawfully through other means as well, including through services like A Mindful Death Doula.

Bedside Vigils

One way in which a death doula assists a family through the dying process is being present as needed during a bedside vigil. Jules notes that the dying process “can take quite a toll on your physical, emotional, and mental well-being.” Family members and other loved ones sometimes need a break to take care of themselves. It is at these times that Jules is available to sit with the loved on in the dying process. “Bedside vigils are designed around what a specific family wants and needs,” Jules said.

Jules also noted that there are times that a person in the dying process wants to talk about what they are experiencing. Sometimes, family members and other loved ones are uncomfortable having such a conversation. Jules explained that she can “hold a safe place for them to talk about their thoughts and feelings on death and dying” in instances when family members are not comfortable with that type of exchange. Jules made clear that her role is to listen to a person in the process of dying.

“My role is to try to validate what a person is saying” at the end of life, Jules noted. Her work as a death doula provides support and understanding for the rest of the family as well, recognizing the unique dynamics of an individual family.

Post Death Body Care

Another service provided by Jules at Mindful Death is post death body care. This includes the process of washing and dressing the body. She explained that the act of washing and dressing the body is an intimate expression of love and respect.

Jules noted that caring for a loved one’s body after death is not easy. The process can stir up powerful emotions. Jules reassures and guides people through this process of caring for and honoring a loved one after death. A family member need only do what is comfortable when it comes to washing and dressing the body of a loved one.

Jules shared that there are times when a family is first approached with the idea of post death body care, people have responded “you want me to do what?”

She explained that the post death washing process really is more ceremonial than hygienic. She noted that oftentimes the post death washing includes the face and hands, sometimes followed by an anointing ceremony. “My job is to guide them through the process of washing the body, based on their comfort level. This is the last act of love and kindness.”

Home Vigils and Funerals

Jules explained that a home vigil provides a family and friend the opportunity to honor and say farewell to a loved one in a safe, comfortable environment. There are no hard and fast rules for how a home vigil is to occur. A vigil might last for a day or even longer, depending on the desires of the family (and of the deceased loved one, if any were expressed).

When the vigil ends, a funeral service can be held at home. In the alternative, a funeral service can be held at another location, depending on the wishes of the loved one who has died and the family.

Funeral Celebrant

Jules is laying plans to begin offering services as a funeral celebrant as well. She has her sites on being able to provide clients with a broad, comprehensive selection of services associated with death and dying. She anticipates offering funeral celebrant services beginning in the latter part of 2018.

The Roles of Traditional Funeral Homes

“Funeral homes have their place,” according to Jules. This is the case even when people desire to take greater control over their deaths and disposition. As an example, Jules made mention that even if a person desires a green (or greener) burial that will not involve embalming, a funeral home can play a role in transporting the body of a deceased loved one.

She did go on to note that in some jurisdictions, a funeral home does not even need to be called upon for transport. In Canada, a family is permitted to transport the body of a deceased loved one, if that is the desire. The laws are different in the United States and place more restrictions on who is authorized to transport a body.

Jules addressed a considerable amount of confusion that surrounds requirements of embalming. She explained that embalming is not mandatory anywhere in North America, as a general rule. The one exception is if a body is to be transported via a public provider like an airline or train.

There are guidelines which must be followed when a body is not embalmed. This includes ensuring the body remains appropriately cool.

A good many individuals operate under the assumption that embalming is mandatory. Thus, they conclude they have no real option but to ensure that the body of a loved one be placed in the custody of a funeral home forthwith.

In the end, if a family (or the deceased loved one) makes the decision to utilize “traditional” funeral home services, that is their right. However, those decisions need to be made with a full understanding if what is available when it comes to caring for a loved one’s body after death. (As is discussed shortly, educating people about their rights and availabilities during the dying process and after death is a major component of Jules’ work. This educational component comes in the form of working with individual families, in Death Cafes, and in workshops on death and dying issues.)

“How much a funeral home is involved depends on what the loved ones of a deceased are comfortable with,” she added.

Green Burial in the 21st Century

The movement to (actually, back) to green burial practices is picking up in the 21st century. The Green Burial Council defines “green burial” as:

Green, or natural burial is a way of caring for the dead with minimal environmental impact that aids in the conservation of natural resources, reduction of carbon emissions, protection of worker health, and the restoration and/or preservation of habitat. Green burial necessitates the use of non-toxic and biodegradable materials, such as caskets, shrouds, and urns.

There are limitations as to where completely green burials can take place in North America. Many communities do not have cemeteries that offer space for green burial. This is the case even in large metropolitan centers like Los Angeles. There only three cemeteries in the expansive greater LA area that permit green burial, one of which is dedicated exclusively to green burial practices. A completely green burial can be described as one in which embalming is not undertaken and a person is buried in something along the lines of a biodegradable shroud.

Nonetheless, if a person so desires, they can utilize greener burial practices anywhere. This includes foregoing embalming. In addition, rather than burying a person in an environmentally unfriendly casket and vault, a simpler and yet beautiful pine coffin can be utilized. Jules and her Mindful Death Doula service can assist a family in making decisions and taking steps to have a greener burial for a loved one, even a location where cemeteries do not permit a completely green burial.

Death Café

Jules hopes to gather a Death Café once a month. During a Death Café, those assembled “can talk about anything to do with death and dying,” Jules explained. “There is no agenda. This is a safe place to talk about death and dying.” The Death Café concept is being found in different locations at this juncture in time.

LGBT Outreach

A Mindful Death Doula is committed to reaching out to the LGBT community. “I want the community to know these services are friendly’ and can be designed to meet whatever unique needs or challenges a member of the LGBT community may have when it comes to dying and death.

Workshops

At the website for A Mindful Death Doula, Jules writes about one of the foundational aspects of her work: The premise of my work as a Death Educator is to guide and encourage people to take care of their dying and deceased loved ones at home. She will soon be hosting workshops on various aspect of death and dying, including caring for our loved ones during and after the dying process.

Included in the workshops will be discussions on planning for the end of life. This will include the importance of advance health care directives, and related issues.

The Future of Death Doula Services

Jules is convinced that the demand for death doula services will only continue to grow. Jules notes that death doula care is part of the larger Death Positive Movement. “This is a grassroots movement, but it’s growing exponentially,” Jules said.

The Death Positive Movement is defined as:

The Death Positive (or Death Positivity) Movement is represented by the general (and growing) movement toward opening platforms for discussion about the inevitability of death and dying. The movement focuses on the importance of encouraging open discussions on the reality of both our own death, and the death of others. This includes the creation of platforms and spaces where such discussions can transpire in a comfortable, honest, open, and curious environment; where individuals may come together with different perspectives and exchange them with one another. (Definition provided by Talk Death)

Jules predicts that Baby Boomers will be especially drawn to death doula services and the Death Positivity Movement. “Baby Boomers particularly fought hard for their rights, for what they wanted,” she said. Jules is certain that this mindset will carry over when Baby Boomers begin to contemplate how they want to go through the process of dying. 

Contact Information

More information on the work and services of Jules Jones and A Mindful Death Doula can be obtained at:

Jules Jones

Death Doula/Death Educator

Text or call: 506-961-1997

Email: [email protected]