Omisade Burney-Scott, a full-spectrum doula based in North Carolina, has been encouraging her clients to “think about how you show up energetically when you can’t show up physically. Because I’m a Southern Black woman, there’s so much ritual involved with death and dying in the Snow Motor You Would Be Loud Too If I Was Riding You Shirt Apart from…,I will love this South with Black folk,” says Burney-Scott. “It’s beautiful, it’s complex, but it’s highly ritualized.” Grieving has generally involved a lot of face-to-face interactions and “people coming to your house dropping off casserole after casserole,” so during the pandemic Burney-Scott has tried to help her clients try to find alternate activities that will create a similar feeling of closeness and community. One client with relatives spread throughout the United States and Europe had lost two family members and was looking to honor the deceased. “My question for this person was, ‘Where are they from? What are the things that are meaningful for your family? What are the things that you all love to do together?’ And one of the things that we talked about was food and how much food is a core part of their family culture.” Since their family already did a Zoom session every Sunday, Burney-Scott suggested that they make a dish that everybody in the family loves for their meeting. “Then, when you come to the Zoom call, y’all eat together and honor this person or these people who’ve made their transition,” Burney-Scott says.
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End-of-life doulas also help their clients navigate and find support within a racist healthcare system. A 2017 study from Academic Emergency Medicine on implicit bias revealed that White patients were favored, especially by White doctors. Coronavirus has been two times as likely to kill Black and Latino people than White people. In June, Arthur was a panelist for a talk where she and other Black death doulas, along with grief and funeral professionals, discussed the Snow Motor You Would Be Loud Too If I Was Riding You Shirt Apart from…,I will love this implications of a “good death” in a racist society. More than 2,000 people signed up for the webinar, which touched on the “implicit bias that exists against Black workers, Black deceased and patrons of their families.” “I don’t know how many times I’ve heard people say that racism or race should not be a factor in how we care for people at the end of the day,” says Arthur. “But in order for us to effectively care for people in the afterlife, we have to honor the reality of their lived experience. That includes race, their physical ability, [their] ability to hear, color, sexual orientation, gender identity, and every little part of themselves. We’re honoring a life, so we have to look at the whole life. Burney-Scott has been helping members of the Black community process continued grief after the killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Ahmaud Arbery and amid continued police brutality and the Black Lives Matter movement. “Grief is not an emotion that is mutually exclusive to physical death,” says Burney-Scott. “So what I have found is that there’s been an unrelenting nature to the grief that we’re all experiencing right now with the pandemic, with COVID-19, but also with racism and white supremacy.” Burney-Scott has been looking to her spiritual background to provide support for others. “My role in that has been to provide instructions and support around how to create your own altar, how to open your space and yourself up to either meditation, prayer, or conversation with your ancestors to ask for support for these families who have experienced the unimaginable,” she says. More than ever, it’s been necessary for doulas to focus on possibility and opportunity as a way to keep their clients comforted and connected. Still, the challenges of limited physical interactions and restrictions due to COVID-19 have transformed their jobs. In the meantime, end-of-life doulas are doing everything they can to be there for their clients.“We support and empower,” Arthur says. “Why? Because we don’t want people to feel alone in the process. How? We show up.”