Soul Calisthenics

Maybe this is all just a long way of saying that when my friend texted me with his momentous question—death doula or hospice volunteer?—I wasn’t ready with a snappy reply. If anything, it got me thinking about how working as a hospice volunteer is kind of like the new AA. It draws in people who are seeking to find themselves or, as my friend put it, “attempting self-love.” I don’t mean this as a knock on my friend. After all, there aren’t enough hospice volunteers to go around and he’s a good person. But the transactional ethos that infects all forms of volunteering starts to sound a bit facetious when you apply it to death-watching: It won’t be fun but it will get you into spiritual shape.

Need someone to “be present” for your final hours? Need music, aromatherapy, reiki? A death doula will, for a fee, swoop into your home and help.

As for the death doulas, the promise of self-actualization they extend to others tends to rebound on them in an even trickier way—one that hints at how circular and Sisyphean our market-approved quests for self-improvement really are.

The International End of Life Doula Association (INELDA) will host twelve trainings this year for hopeful trainees. “BE A PART OF THE MOVEMENT,” the ad copy urges. Over two and a half days in a Hilton or Embassy Suites conference room, attendees will take the first steps toward becoming Certified End-of-Life Doulas (CD) or Certified Advanced Doulas (CAD). Don’t forget your check for $600, plus $100 for the annual membership fee.