Holding Space For Death & Funerals: A Guide

Maybe you’ve heard the term “Holding Space” before. 

Or, maybe that is a completely new term to add to your vocabulary. 

In case you need a brush up, to hold space, according to Psychology Today:

Holding space means to be with someone without judgment. To donate your ears and heart without wanting anything back. To practice empathy and compassion. To accept someone’s truth, no matter what they are. To allow and accept. Embrace with two hands instead of pointing with one finger. To come in neutral. Open. For them. Not you. Holding space means to put your needs and opinions aside and allow someone to just be. Her. Self.

To hold space for death is an art. And it’s been practiced for thousands of years by our ancestors. However, now, as the death industry kicks into full gear and attracts a variety of folks, holding space for death has become an entire profession on its own.

Often known as “Soul Midwifery” or “Death Doula support”, many women are flocking to this industry with one important skill: the ability to hold space.

Maybe you are a funeral professional looking to get more involved as a Death Doula. Or, maybe you’re an aspiring death professional. 

Wherever you are on your journey, we hope these tips on holding space for death will inspire and support you.


Tip #1: Treat the experience of death like a luxury, not a punishment

As a death professional, you know that death isn’t exactly a welcomed topic, let alone a passage. Those feelings get translated, sometimes, into the way we care for and treat those approaching this passage. “We treat dying like a fast food experience,”Ashley Scott, death doula, said. “And it should be treated like a five-course meal.” 


Tip #2: Let the feelings flow

In our society, it’s often seen as “polite” to not feel our feelings. To keep them in is the “right” thing to do. The end of someone’s life is not a time to keep anything in. “The secret about feelings is that they dissipate when we let them flow,” writes clinical psychologist Dr. Laura Markham. “It’s the resistance to feeling that causes a great deal of our suffering,” she continues.

How to do it: Consider creating time everyday to provide space for the dying and their family to share what’s coming up for them. They will be grateful for the opportunity to share their heart on a regular basis. The regularity will establish more and more depth for them to open up to what they’re experiencing.


Tip #3: Allow, allow, allow

“[Our Death Doula] helped me talk through things and talk about a lot of my fears, and I know she was amazing at talking to [my partner] and helping him arrive at a place of great peace,” explains one client of Death Doula, Donna Baker. “I saw such benefit in having those important conversations. … Because nothing was left unsaid, the healing process for me has been easier.”

How to do it: One aspect of space holding that makes it so easy to “let it all out” is the ability to not want to fix how the person you’re holding space for is feeling. Try offering that space… to not fix or apologize for how someone is feeling. Instead, just practice deep listening and empathy. For more tips on that, feel free to check out this blog.


Tip #4: Lead with your intuition

One thing we often forget about in a time of devastation is our own intuitive and innate wisdom. One family describes their experience of this on the Full Circle Living & Dying Collective website

“When we were supporting Mom in her final days, we had no experience to rely on, and yet, intuitively, we knew what was needed. We knew how to carry her shrinking body to the washroom, we knew how to sit and sing hymns to her, and we knew how to love her.”

How to do it: It’s very empowering to offer the family of the loved one, as well as the loved one, to guide the process of dying as much as they feel called to. Find out what level of facilitation they’re wanting and needing during this time, and go from there. Avoid strict “protocols” or structures if they’re not feeling empowering to the family and the loved one at that time.


Tip #5: Get to understand their values

“A good death is one where you are looked after in accordance with your values and wishes, seamlessly, as you’re moved from institution to institution.” 

— Mark Starmach

A good death is very subjective. Not everyone’s version of a good death will be the same. But, one key thing to know is… what is meaningful to the person you’re helping with their transition? Don’t assume, stereotype or push. Stay open and find out what’s truly valuable to them.

How to do it: Find out what kind of support they need through a questionnaire or personal interview. Are they spiritual or religious? Do they like essential oils? Music? Touch? Do they simply want logistical support? Someone to listen? Ask as many questions as you can to find out what their values are. 


Tip #6: Help the loved one and their family find meaning

One of the most effective ways to help someone pass with peace, is to hold space for them to remember what was meaningful to them in their life. The richest thing in life is meaning, and helping those who are dying to remember it is the greatest gift you can give.

How to do it: Ask them questions about their favorite memories. If they aren’t able to answer, ask their family with them around. They will benefit from it no matter what. Listen deeply, and be present with them as they share their life with you. Here are some questions to break the ice.


Tip #7: “Let’s talk about death, baby”

Okay so the title might be cheesy, but it’s so true! One of the biggest misconceptions with talking about death, is that many people avoid it with those who are dying. However, talking about it actually brings relief to the dying! Sounds like an oxymoron, right? Turns out, 98% of patients in a hospital in Australia reported that they loved being asked about death, and how they’d like to handle it. In one interview, hundreds of patients said they truly appreciated speaking out loud about the subject.

How to do it: Ask about their last wishes. About how they would like to go. About where they’d like to be. Ask them the standard questions, and then go deeper. Empower them with their voice about their own passing.


What other tips would you add for holding space for death? Has this article helped or inspired you in any way? Let us know in the comments below!

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  1. Dora Carpenter

    Great article and tips are so beneficial for death care professionals. Thank you Krystal!

  2. Alain

    Very good advise for the public. Always please with simple explanation in these Covid days.

  3. Krystal Penrose

    Thank you Dora! I appreciate your kind words 🙂

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    […] love it: As we step into a new era of funeral service, we must ask ourselves what it truly means to hold space for death. It’s no longer an option to lean on tradition. Families want more. They demand more. And this […]