How Covid Created a New Career Path for Kacie Gikonyo
In response to the challenges brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic, Kacie Gikonyo, a former nurse with 13 years of experience in end-of-life care and a Kent State Uniersity graduate, has become a pioneering figure in the field of death doulas. Similar to birthing doulas who assist expectant mothers, death doulas support individuals nearing the end of their lives, aiming to ensure a more comfortable and empowering transition.
Gikonyo's journey into this unique emerging field began during the pandemic, where she witnessed the sudden and often lonely deaths of individuals at a long-term care facility in Philadelphia. Motivated by a desire to help people die with dignity, she embraced the role of a death doula, focusing on providing comfort and reducing the fear surrounding death.
"Everyone was so focused on COVID and so afraid of COVID, and all I could think about was like, these people are humans that live these long, beautiful lives and they're dying in this terrible way, and I hated it," Gikonyo told Ideastream Public Media. "And I became almost hyper-focused with trying to help them die better."
Death doulas, though certified, do not necessarily have a medical background and cannot accept health insurance. Gikonyo emphasizes the importance of training, highlighting various certification programs available. Gikonyo worked as a nurse for more than a decade before she received her death doula training from the International End of Life Doula Association.
The number of death doulas has grown significantly, with the National End-of-Life Doula Alliance expanding to more than 1,000 members in 2021 from 200 in 2019, according to a report from Time magazine.
Gikonyo has founded the Death Doula Collective, a nationwide group for death doulas, and plans to establish her own death doula school in the Cleveland-Akron area to provide clinical hands-on training.
As a death doula, Gikonyo builds trust with clients and their families, offering education on hospice options and addressing the emotional aspects of facing the end of life. Her goal is to demystify the unknowns and anxieties associated with death, providing support that goes beyond traditional medical care. A lot of times, she says, it’s providing emotional support.
"This is where I come in, right? Because we can talk about it. I'm not going to get emotional. It's not going to be like a big production, having this conversation. I'm just going to be able to kind of hold space and educate and help walk you through it," Gikonyo told Ideastream.
Top image credit: Kacie Gikonyo via Ideastream