A better way to ‘do death’

Treza Gallogly is gently challenging the perception that conversations about death and dying are awkward and often avoided.

Treza is an end-of-life doula, a concept still relatively new in New Zealand, though better established in some parts of the world.

A doula – the word is ancient Greek for a female slave – is a woman (usually) who comes alongside a person and family and offers support, practical and otherwise, during a significant life event, such as a birth, miscarriage or end of life.

Western culture has moved away from the idea of “compassionate communities”, she says.

Speaking ahead of a public talk she will be giving at Whangaparāoa library on October 28, Treza says that until around the early 1900s, people tended to die at home, with the body kept at home until the burial.

“About a hundred years ago it all changed. When people died at home, funeral directors started taking care of their bodies away from the home. Kids grew up not knowing anything about death. We all stopped talking about it.”

“This idea of ‘compassionate communities’ is that we take the care of our sick and dying back into our communities.”

Treza says we have much to learn from other cultures, pointing for example to the Māori tangi and Irish wake.

“There can be a lot of healing that happens when somebody dies if you keep their body at home for two or three days, and have lovely ritual and conversation before they go to their final resting place.”

“There’s a lot to be learned by just having that time to grieve and mourn and to touch and sit with our person. I think that helps in the long run.”

A doula’s role is not a medical one. Treza says they can help in practical ways when end of life is approaching – for example, coordinating with family members and health agencies, getting equipment in, or helping to organise meals.

They can also offer support in spiritual, cultural, social and emotional spheres, walking beside a person and their family – supporting them with whatever they need, so they can talk about their fears, or sometimes “just being with them and holding their hand”.

Treza underwent nursing training after leaving school before pursuing a career in television production and international trade, and bringing up a family. She had always wanted to do something “more compassionate”, and during Covid felt that, “if I’m going to do something, now is the time”.

For three months she supported a friend dying from cancer. “Little did I realise but what I was doing was this role of a doula for her, being her advocate, empowering her to make informed decisions about her care.”

She then took a hospice course and doula training.

“I absolutely love it, and feel that I’ve been able to make such a difference already.”

Treza has been living in Whangaparāoa for the last three months, minding a friend’s home and says she’s giving serious thought to “becoming a local”.