#WATWB: Comforting the Dying

Posted: 2018/07/27 in Blogging
Tags: , , , , , ,

There is a concept from ancient Greek called “Doula.” According to Wikipedia,  “a doula is a non-medical person who stays with and assists a woman before, during, or after childbirth, to provide emotional support and physical help if needed. They also may provide support to the mother’s partner and family. A doula is also known as a birth companion, birth coach or post-birth supporter.”

In the US, a man named Henry Fersko-Weiss is practising doula for the dying. Henry does the same things as the birth companion, providing emotional, physical and psychological support, except his patients are facing the end of their lives. He calls it “the end of life doula”.

Henry worked at a hospice as a social worker, and it was there that he witnessed events that would change his life.

It was then working as a hospice social worker that I began to see there were gaps in the kinds of service and care . . . I felt that too many people that I was seeing dying were dying in the ways that they hadn’t wanted to. For example, going into the hospital when they had always wanted to die at home.

One particular incident upset Henry so much that he began to contemplate other ways of approaching death. An 86-year old WWII veteran named Sam who had been under the care of his 88-year old sister died alone and unattended in a hospital room.

To die in a hospital room like that, unattended, unnoticed . . . to me it is just a tragedy.

With the help of a friend, Henry first went for training as a birth doula. Later on, he began to adapt the same skills he had acquired to comforting the dying.

In the conversations we have before somebody is actively dying . . . or the labouring process of death, we try to talk about not only how the atmosphere would be in the last days and how we can make it more meaningful or more comfortable for the dying person and family, but focus also on talking on the meaning of the person’s life . . . and then talking about doing some kind of a legacy project that would allow them to leave behind something that would help their family and friends reconnect with them in some kind of a deep way, not in a casual way . . . and perhaps even inspire future generations in the family.

We are not judging the mistakes they may have made. We are there to really listen to what they have to say about their own lives, and perhaps help them to see it with a little bit different perspective or to see pieces that still seem to be hanging unfinished . . . how they might still address that.

Henry now trains people in the United States and he has helped thousands of people in their last moments.

Henry’s wonderful story can be found here.

Henry Fersko-Weiss


This is the 16th celebration of the WE ARE THE WORLD BLOGFEST #WATWB which is carried out every last Friday of the month, and which aims to spread love and positiveness in this vulnerable world. A celebration of heroes who can still restore our faith in humanity, especially in this period when our world seems to be full of endless series of horrible happenings.

Our generous co-hosts for this month are: Shilpa Garg, Belind Witzenhausen, Inderpreet UppalSylvia McGrathRoshan Radhakrishnan, and myself.


To sign up for We Are The World Blogfest, please see the guidelines below.


  1. Keep your post to below 500 words, as much as possible.
  2. All we ask is you link to a human news story on your blog on the last Friday of each month, one that shows love, humanity, and brotherhood. Something like this news  about a man who only fosters terminally ill children.
  3. Join us on the last Friday of each month in sharing news that warms the cockles of our heart. No story is too big or small, as long as it goes beyond religion and politics, into the core of humanity.
  4. Place the WE ARE THE WORLD Badge on your sidebar, and help us spread the word on social media. Tweets, Facebook shares, G+ shares using the #WATWB hashtag through the month most welcome. More Blogfest signups mean more friends, love and light for all of us.
  5. We’ll read and comment on each others’ posts, get to know each other better, and hopefully, make or renew some friendships with everyone who signs on as participants in the coming months.
  6. To signup, add your link in WE ARE THE WORLD Linky List
  1. Shilpa Garg says:

    This story touched my heart. To be there for someone who is all alone in the last hours of his life and letting him/her go in peace is so noble, thoughtful and meaningful. I think these final hours matter the most and Henry is doing a commendable thing by helping the person and the families, as life ebbs away! Thank you for sharing this beautiful and uplifting story, Peter!

    • Peter Nena says:

      Thank you too, Shilpa. The last hours indeed do matter the most and spending time with a person in those moments can make immeasurable difference in their lives and in the lives of those left behind. Thanks.

  2. Julia Lund says:

    Wonderful …

  3. I love this concept. I have worked in social services with geriatric and palliative care patients and it was heartbreaking to see how alone many of these patients were. I applaud Henry for finding a way to support those who need it the most. Thanks so much for sharing this and for being a part of #WATWB.

  4. John Maberry says:

    A wonderful story. As the world’s population ages, there will be an increasing need not only for geriatric medical practitioners, assisted living facilities and alternatives–there will be a need for this kind of care for those who lack healthy friends and relatives to help them during this transition.

  5. For an 88-year old to die alone and unattended in a hospital…really sad… and almost impossible to comprehend.
    This is a wonderful initiative that Henry is spearheading. God bless his soul.

    • Peter Nena says:

      That part of the story shook me. Dying alone and unattended, unknown. Henry’s idea is extraordinary. May his days be multiplied. Thank you, Michelle.

  6. This is an issue very close to my heart, and it’s inspiring to hear Henry’s story and the impact he’s having. Thank you for sharing this, and for co-hosting this month.

  7. dgkaye says:

    Wow, what an inspirational share. The world needs more like this, to die with dignity and comfort knowing they are not alone.

  8. The act of comforting the dying is rare nowadays. And reading this story made me happy. More strength and power to Henry.

  9. simonfalk28 says:

    It is an especial experience to be with those who are dying. Henry is doing a very noble thing. May he be supported. Thank you for sharing this, Peter.

  10. Peter, this is incredibly beautiful. As hard as it is to think about death and dying it will come to us all and the beginning of a new journey. How important it is to tie up the loose ends of our poor lives and to acknowledge the connections we have not only to those we have loved but to everything, to know what a privilege we have been given to live this life. Reading something like this also makes us appreciate the time we have. Thank you for sharing your spiritual journey Peter. and God bless all the Henry’s of this world.

    • Peter Nena says:

      What you say is true, my friend. Tying the loose ends, getting to accept what is happening, and knowing that the people we are living behind understand and have some hope. It is a great thing. Thank you, Cybele.

      • I always loved what Teilhard De Chardin said ( paleontologist, Jesuit priest) I am not a human being having a spiritual experience, I am a spiritual being having a human experience!!!

      • Peter Nena says:

        I love it. And it is true. We are spiritual beings torn between the earth and the spirit world, longing to be freed from the earthly bounds, from the physical, into the spiritual. I have been watching and reading the stories of near-death experiences. I have to admit to you, my friend, some of them will move you. Will make you question existence itself. Thanks again.

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