2023 year-end message and exciting plans for 2024

by | 28 Dec 2023 | Reflections

Hi there, Helen here from Preparing the Way, and this little message is sort of like a wrap-up for 2023. Frankly, I can’t even believe we’re here. This year has just been flying. Has it been like that for you, too? It certainly has. We’ve noticed it.

So, we have a lot of people to thank. We have a lot to acknowledge. We’ve had a lot of wins and big achievements this year. We’ve had a lot of challenges and a lot of tests and all of that. And life’s like that, isn’t it?

We’ve also lost close to us. I’ve had a long-term friend of 50 years die very suddenly recently, and it’s never had me more present to the precious, precious work that we do as end of life doulas. And we’ve really had a remarkable time with that. One of our team, her husband died this year, and we were very, five of our team, were involved in doula-ing, that event and there has just been so many real opportunities to do this work.

Government funding for accredited training

And another thing we did this year with our accredited training, we actually got some government funding to fund 16 places in an aged care facility, up in New South Wales, in Newcastle region. And we delivered two units to 16 of their staff. And this was funded by the government, a big win in the first place, and we did the active dying unit from our Certificate IV in End of Life Doula Services and also palliative care. And it was so effective in the aged care facility that they actually came back to our registered training organization–our program is on their scope of programs, they’re called Essential Skills Training and Recruitment. The company came back to them and said, we want to roll those two units out through all of our, aged care facilities throughout New South Wales and the ACT.

So, that’s a really big win there. Now, funding, of course, we know what it’s like; sometimes it’s there, and sometimes it’s not. But even to have that acknowledgement of the difference it made, having their staff feel more comfortable. And these were floor staff, as in the general support staff, but also there were some activities people, and some of them are RNs. And to have them feel more comfortable talking to their residents and to the residents’ families about what was happening in the active dying stage obviously made a huge, impact for them. So that was a really big thing.

The big news about our accredited training is, and we just heard this over a week ago, that our Certificate IV in End of Life Doula Services has been added to the Smart and Skilled list on the New South Wales training skills list. Now, what that means is that they have so validated the training and talked about what a needed qualification it is that they are subsidizing people who live residentially in New South Wales to be able to do that. There’s obviously criteria and different things that have to be met and boxes to tick, but this is huge that this is the government saying, we recognize the need for this qualification, and we want to subsidize people to do it because it can be cost prohibitive for people. So that’s huge. To have that happen so quickly in this qualification being out, there’s a big deal. Now, next year, we go on to working with other states and seeing if we can’t get that out there in other states so other people have access to that subsidy as well.

End of Life Doula Skills Set and the Certificate IV in End of Life Doula Services

The other thing we’ve started this year is our End of Life Doula Skill Set, and that’s actually four of the units from the Certificate IV. So, four, what we call, enterprise units. In other words, units that are absolutely unique to Preparing the Way, but also to Natural Grace, holistic funeral directors, who we work very closely with. So, we’ve led our first one of those. So that’s one unit a month for four months. We’ve finished our first one of those. We’ll be starting our next one in March. The Certificate IV will be continuing from mid-year next year. For people that have done the End of Life Doula Skill Set, we’re starting there.

We’ve had so many learning curves, well, I’m calling them learning spirals around the Certificate IV. It’s been a massive, massive undertaking. And, truthfully, there’ve been times I’ve been like, what on earth was I thinking to take this on? But I tell you, our team and Catherine, my co-owner and bestie–Catherine is the manager of the Certificate IV–and honestly, without her and her loving and holding that course and everyone in it, and all the trainers and working so closely with Essential Skills, I don’t know that we would’ve made it. I really want to pay my respects and thank Catherine enormously for everything she’s done for that.

So next year’s even bigger. And we’re starting, as I said, the Skill Set so people can come along and just do those four units and when they successfully complete them, they get what’s called a Statement of Attainment. So it is an accredited thing. So, we’ve got quite a bit of interest in that, a great way to start. And then people can really work out, do I want to go on and do the Certificate IV, as in the remaining subjects. So that’s sort of it in the world of accredited training. And, as I said, it’s been a huge learning curve.

One of the things that happened in the first round of the Certificate IV was that we had half of the participants leave, and that was a big learning curve. When we interviewed people to find out why they’d left, the majority of people who left all, all bar one, had not done our non-accredited training before they came and did the Certificate IV. So, what that taught us was a few things happened. When people have done our Foundation Workshop and have done our four-day Intensive Course, when they get to the end of those, they really have a strong deep sense of what doula is, and also if it’s their sweet spot, if it’s their happy place, if it is the thing that really inspires them to make the difference they want to make in the world. And as I said all bar one of the people who left the Certificate IV, their comments were things like, well, it wasn’t what I thought, and it didn’t go. So we’ve really switched it up with that, and we are really recommending to people they do our Foundation Workshop and our four-day Intensive, and then look at, do you want to go on into the Skill Set or do you want to go in onto the Certificate IV? And we obviously make a change in the price in honour of having done that four-day Intensive. So that’s been a big learning curve and had a big impact.

The Certificate IV takes a lot of resources, and so, we’ve been really challenged in that area, but what, we’ve made it through. We’ve had some big breakthroughs, and I think one of my personal big learnings this year is just to hang in and to keep going and not give up. And there’s times I’ve wanted to chuck the towel in, let me tell you, but we’ve managed it with a lot of support around us. There’s a lot of people to thank, and I will do that before I finish, but I wanted to share some other bits with you that we’ve been doing this year.
Community engagement

We had a presence, along with several other end of life businesses at the Palliative Care Conference and the doula–sorry, the ELDA, which was End of Life Doulas and Allies, that exhibition booth was the busiest exhibition booth at the conference apparently.
So much interest in doula and so much interest from people wanting to do this who are already in the conventional care setting but are looking to maybe get to do something different in their lives. They want to continue to give, but they’re looking for something else to do. For some people coming to this training, they’re coming from, they want to make a difference to one person special to them, or maybe they want to look at changing careers, or some people already in either the care setting or maybe complimentary therapies or got some other skillset. Counsellors, we’ve had funeral directors come do the training, we’ve had celebrants–all of this range of people who want to add another string to their bow because this doula-ing training is just so needed. We are seeing a real swell and a rise in people starting to look for doulas to be able to support them and their families, which is really great. And we get a lot of people coming to us and we share that work out with our people.

Compassionate Communities

Another thing that’s been great this year is we’ve been really encouraging our doulas that have done the training to create local hubs. We’ve been getting underneath that. One of the things on our slate for 2024 is to really get up under that because we know that you can’t do this work in a silo. It takes everyone takes community. We’re very passionate here about the Compassionate Communities movement, and we talk about that in all of our training.

As Professor Allan Kellehear says, and I’m probably badly paraphrasing, but that there’s this 95%-5% rule, and that is that only 5% of the time a person is aging, dying, grieving are they in front of a doctor or a nurse, 5%. 95% of the time they’re either alone, with their family, friends, community, the dog, with their tv, or their internet.

Doulas are all about that 95%. We’re non-medical, non-clinical. So, that’s where we’re working. And I’m so proud of our training. We put a lot into it.

We’re in the process of revising them all. We’ve got to keep updating everything because there’s so much change. So that’s an exciting thing, as well. And, we’ve been having master classes. I’ve got some interviews and we’re going to do a new series coming up in 2024. We’re going to be talking with Dr Kathryn Mannix. We’re going to be talking with Dr Michael Barbato. I’ve already got those videos done. I want to do a whole big thing about advanced care planning.

End of Life Planning Form

Doula Connections this year, that’s Julie Fletcher, they created this, Cherie working with her, did an amazing, amazing job creating this incredible 38-page end of life planning form. It’s the bomb, I tell you. I’ve seen a lot of end of life planning forms, and this is the most thorough thing I’ve ever seen.

It’s all about from your planning and all of that, but then what about if you were aging and you needed care? What important to you there? What if you’ve got a diagnosis and you’re in hospital? Then there’s the traditional advanced care planning, like the medical aspects of it, but then it’s like, well, what care do you want? Who do you want around you? What do you want for your funeral? What do you want for your after death care? Do you get what I’m saying? And then what supports do you want in place for your family? It’s the most thorough thing. So, I’m going to be doing a big thing about that this year as well. I’m also going to be doing something this year I did, too…

End of Life Doula Roadshow

Oh, that’s right, the roadshow! I spent nine months of the year basically on the road, and it was so nice to get out of Victoria and Melbourne just because we’d been locked down so much. It was something I wanted to do prior to COVID happening, but we didn’t get there before the door shut. And so, me and my trusty Hyundai, off we went and moved my car packed to the gills, and I went. So, right up to Queensland, Sunshine Coast, and down to Dubbo and Orange and Maitland and Newcastle. And, uh, where else did I go? Sydney, the Illawarra, Victoria, South Australia, Western Australia, Tassie. Had the most amazing time and it was just so great to just get out on the road and see our beautiful, beautiful country and visit with lot of our doulas around.

And we had gatherings, and I showed the incredible palliative care movie, Live the life you please, which we’ll be doing again next year as well to really show what’s possible. And the great thing about showing that movie, it’s called Live the life you please, it’s all about palliative care and it’s a range of stories. It’s beautifully put together by Moonshine Agency. And that movie really opened people’s eyes, but as it says at the end of the movie, and one of our doulas, Rani Foreman, is actually in the movie and talks a bit about being an end of life doula, but that if an end of life doula does this much, they sort of showed about this much, right?

So what we were doing was we would show the movie in a town and we would then have a panel of our local doulas and they could ask questions afterwards because what we wanted to do was go, because the truth is, as it says in the movie, that good palliative care can be a postcode lottery, really depends on where you live. And if you think back to that 95%-5% rule that I just talked about, then doulas are in that 95%. So, then we would do a Q&A after the movie introducing local end of life doulas. So that has been very successful as well, which I’ve been really proud to do.

And we’ve been doing some training on the road with our doulas, and I got to go to some lovely wineries around– oh, the Hunter Valley, oh my God, love out there–the Barossa, I got to see a little bit of. Love, love having a glass of good wine; we love that. So yeah, it’s been a massive year. I’m just trying to think of some other things to, to share with you that we’ve done before I sort of go into some thank yous.

Coming in 2024

Next year, we’re going to have two Certificate IV running. We’re going to have End of Life Doula Skill Set, so people could come and do the four or the full thing. We’ve got more master classes. We’re really going to be focusing in on our doulas and really getting up under our doulas and building those doula hubs and supporting them. We wat to be adding some more training available for them.

I started to say about the End of Life Doula Roadshow, something I did this year was also I did some face-to-face training. So, our Foundation Workshop, which is a one-day or two half-days, I led that face-to-face in Sydney, Melbourne, Canberra. Where else was I? I think that was it. I can’t remember. Sydney. Sydney, I said that. Anyway, so this year I want to take it regionally! So, if you are out there in a regional area and you can get eight to 10 people together, I’ll come.

We are going to Orange. We’re starting in February. There’ll be two one-day Foundation Workshops there. And our doula there on the ground, Serena, and, there’s also Melinda in Dubbo, and Karen in Narromine. So, they’re going to be pulling that together; they’re our local doulas. We’ll probably do a film while we are there. And so, it’s just time to really spread the word.
Julie Fletcher said once, and I love this, it’s a real driver for me, is we need to get doula as well-known as nurse, so that we can truly make the difference that doula makes. And to be able to really share with people what’s available in holistic home-based after death care, what’s available in holistic funeral care, holistic active dying, holistic doula-ing where we’re working collaboratively rather than as silos.

The importance of self-care

So, the other big thing we’ve been focusing on this year is really about self-care. And doulas really are champions for wellness and health and wellbeing and can be those eyes and ears on the ground with families and people, which leads of course then to early intervention and harm reduction because, and I don’t know whether you’ve ever been a long-term caregiver, I have; I lived with my mum for seven years while she was living with dementia and, to do that role, and I learned a stat the other day that astounded me, so it’s something I really want to get to work on next year, and the stat was that around 30% of long-term caregivers die before the person they’re caring for. That’s a big stat. So, I really want to chase down a bit about self-care next year and really start to promote that in our doula-ing and have our doulas out there promoting that in their communities as well.

Thank you

I want to say a few thank yous before I wrap up. And, and firstly a thank you to you.

We’ve been really growing our following. We know that more and more people are interested in this, but without you, there is no Preparing the Way. And whether you care for one person or whether you want to do this work, we really do have the resources, the training, the education, and the community to back you up. Our doula community is absolutely extraordinary. We put a lot of attention on our after-training support. So, I want to thank you.

I also want to thank all of our teachers and mentors and champions.

I want to thank Catherine, my co-owner and bestie. I could not do this without her at all, and she’s brilliant and loves talking to people about this work.

I also want to thank all of our team, every single one of them.

We’ve got a team of educators. We’ve got Jo and Estella and Kit and Jackie. Ones that have left, are not working with us right now, Carolyn and Roz. God, I hope I don’t forget anybody; that would be dreadful.

And then we’ve got our amazing admin team. We’ve got Tilly over in New Zealand. We’ve also got Mel and Kathy are here. Kit’s also on our admin team as well. And we have Cosette, who is our digital marketing person who really puts all of this together and does a beautiful job with that. We’ve also got my sister Sue, who helps me behind the scenes with getting all the manuals out and doing all of that stuff. So, our, our team really is quite remarkable.

Also, this year we’ve had two wonderful team members who’ve been with us a long time and have contributed so much to Preparing the Way finish. And that’s Jancine and Cherie. And we really want to thank and acknowledge them for all they’ve contributed, as well.

And two other people in particular I really want to thank are Libby Maloney from Natural Grace and all the Natural Grace team and Jackie. Also, Julie Fletcher because Libby and Julie truly have championed me this year and have really supported me as a business, but as a friend and as a doula. I really want to thank and acknowledge them. I could not do this, what I do, without it.

So that’s a bit of a wrap for 2023. We really look forward to coming back. I’m looking forward to having some time off, as is our team, and really looking forward then to a very strong 2024.

Please take good care of you. Be kind to you and really take care. It’s such a precious life and there’s no guarantees. We really want to honour and support each other and our families and our communities.

Thank you to you and take good care. May this end of the year be gentle and restorative for you, and may 2024 be one that knocks our socks off in the best possible way.

Thank you so much. Take good care. Bye for now.

Portrait of Helen.

Helen Callanan is Preparing the Way’s founder and lead educator with more than 30 years of experience working with the very ill and people at the end of life.

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