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'Never fear death': Northeast Ohio mom assists, supports terminally ill as 'death doula,' end-of-life coach

Kacie Gikonyo is helping patients feel comfortable and supported before they pass away, working as a death doula in Cleveland.
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Posted at 7:27 AM, Jan 19, 2023
and last updated 2023-01-19 07:27:57-05

CLEVELAND — We've all heard of a doula.

It's someone who helps a mother feel comfortable through the process of birthing their child and starting a new life.

Over the last several years, though, end-of-life doulas or "death doulas" have grown in popularity nationwide.

The profession is now gaining steam in Northeast Ohio, assisting the terminally ill to feel a sense of comfort in their final moments of life.

Death doulas help complete a person's final desires and wishes.

Whatever they need, they are there to support.

They stick by a patient and the patient's loved ones as the ill person prepares to pass away.

“I find the beauty in death, instead of it being scary," said Kacie Gikonyo, End of Life Coach.

For as long as she can remember, Gikonyo, a Cleveland native, has found joy in caring for others.

The mother of three worked hand-in-hand with patients as a registered nurse for more than a decade.

As a caretaker in a number of long-term facilities, she’s seen people at their best and worst.

The COVID-19 pandemic and a terminally ill patient’s final words, though, made her reshape her outlook and opened her eyes to how fragile life can be.

“I saw in a matter of a month and a half well over 100 patients die from COVID," Gikonyo said.

She began her own research, got certified and started a career as a death doula.

She started her own business, “End of Life Coaching with Kacie.”

“A birth doula helps bring a person into the world, and a death doula helps you leave the world," Gikonyo said.

Gikonyo acts as a soothing voice for her patients.

She checks their vitals and utilizes her nursing skill set.

However, she now adds an additional layer of support in their final weeks, days and hours of life.

Her goal is to offer constant support emotionally, physically and spiritually.

“I find that I’m able to not only bring comfort to my patients but also their family members by explaining here’s what they might see," Gikonyo said.

What they might see is different for everyone. Gikonyo is there to help patients and families feel comfortable when they are overcome with emotion or help everyone feel safe when that person crosses over to the other side.

“I touched his hand, and I said, 'I want you to know she’s gonna be OK. She has a wonderful husband and a great group of friends,'" Gikonyo said.

Each patient is different.

Sometimes she spends one hour a week with them; in other instances, she takes their calls and text messages 24/7.

She focuses on mindful meditation, breathing and memory.

If a patient wants music, she makes it happen.

“It’s a hard topic so they don’t say a lot of things and I’m kind of a buffer between that," Gikonyo said.

She says in a time of darkness she hopes to be a beacon of light. She admits she gets attached too.

“When they’re gone, ya know, there’s a little bit missing in my life too," Gikonyo said.

She also helps create legacy projects for patients.

This includes jotting down memories, documenting messages to loved ones and creating a memory book of sorts for the family.

The demand for death doulas has grown so much that in some cases she and other doulas are taking on virtual clients.

To check out her services, click here.