by Dan Holland
While many have heard of a doula – a person who provides educational, emotional and physical support to expecting mothers prior to and after delivery – a lesser known position is a death doula; a certified professional who assists with end-of-life support and care.
Such is the career path for end of life doula Kacie Gikonyo.
Gikonyo, a Nordonia High School graduate, worked as a registered nurse for more than 12 years, providing care to many end-of-life patients. Following the pandemic, she returned to the Cleveland area to begin a new career following a stint as an infection preventionist at a long-term-care facility in the Philadelphia area, in which half of the residents succumbed to the COVID-19 virus.
“It was devastating and detrimental, and they also couldn’t accept any new people because it was right in the middle of COVID,” explained Gikonyo, a mother of three boys. “They had to let go of half of their staff members, and I was one of them. But that ended up being a blessing, because I was able to be home with my kids during the height of the COVID crisis.”
Gikonyo noted that her goals and ethics didn’t match up with some of the facilities at which she worked. “I felt like in many nursing instances, money comes before patient care, and that’s not why I went into nursing,” she said. “So, I needed to find something I could do on my own but still stay in the realm of end of life, death and dying.”
After coming across the profession of death doula online, she sought and obtained certification through the International End of Life Doula Organization.
“The more I read into it, the more I realized I was meant for this,” Gikonyo said. “I took the training while I was working as a private duty nurse with a couple of clients who were terminal. So, I was able to take the training and use it in real time with those clients. It just solidified that this is what I’m supposed to be doing.”
According to Gikonyo, the profession is relatively new in the U.S. Of the few death doulas she has met in Ohio, none has a medical background.
Her caseload at End of Life Coaching with Kacie, which started in October 2022, ranges from three to seven clients per month depending on circumstances. Each case is specifically suited for the client and his or her family.
One of her first clients was her friend Grace Beamer, whose father was terminally ill.
“I cannot fathom how we would have gotten through my dad’s passing away without Kacie,“ said Beamer. “She helped while he was still living on his own and then proceeded to help every step of the way. She’s still here for us now, which is another incredible aspect of what she does.”
Gikonyo, who makes herself available to clients 24/7, often employs breathing exercises, meditation and guided imagery with her clients. A final legacy project is often included as well, which can include making letters for the client’s children, books, poems and videos, according to Gikonyo’s website.
She also helps families secure services such as estate attorneys, living wills, hospice care and more.
“I can’t always get back to them right that second, but I do get back to them in a timely fashion,” said Gikonyo. “Often at the end of life, people panic, and they’ll reach out so scared about something, and they find comfort in the fact that I’m so responsive.”
Preparation for end of life is important for both patients and their families, Gikonyo explained.
“People don’t talk about death and dying enough because it’s scary,” she said. “But I feel that we can be better prepared if we talk about it and are educated about it. When people get to the last weeks and days of life, the level of care that can be provided with both a death doula and hospice is unmatched. Everyone’s death is their own journey and I’m here for it, no matter what that journey is.”
For further information, visit coachingwithkacie.com. ∞
Photo: Kacie Gikonyo. Photo submitted.