The Journey Doula
December 2022 Issue
by Edwina Hoyle
Photography by T.R. Love, T.R. Media World
Celia Furr is like an experienced tour guide for families on the most difficult journey of their lives. A journey through dementia is fraught with anxiety, fear and constant change for both the afflicted and their families. Celia said it’s a trip into the “Land of Denial” where many caregivers believe their loved ones will get better. “They try to look normal and be normal, and those closest to them don’t understand their new normal. Today is their best day, and tomorrow may be worse. They are out of time,” Celia said. As Memory Care Coordinator at the Preston Health Center at the Cypress on Hilton Head, Celia works every day with residents who suffer from dementia.
Celia has 21 years under her belt working in all levels of residential care, the last four at the Cypress. “Everybody has a story,” she said. “My Dad had vascular dementia and actually lived at the facility where I worked in Charlotte. His situation pulled me into dementia care.”
She is a certified dementia care professional who interacts with residents every day to give them their best day. That involves meeting each resident where they are—back in time to their childhood, or getting on an imaginary submarine after lunch. Celia understands their behaviors might signal a need: “I want to go home means I need something. Are they cold, or do they need a restroom? Ask questions. Listening to what they say is the best thing to do.”
Celia also conducts support groups for caregivers and loved ones to help them understand their journey, their grief and loss, and to help connect them with resources in the community. Not only does she work in the memory care “neighborhood” called the Dogwood, she is also responsible for dementia care employee training for the entire Cypress campus. This involves training on how to approach those with dementia, how to recognize abuse and neglect and how to provide person-centered care.
On any given day in the “neighborhood,” there is live entertainment, bingo, flower arranging, a putting green and even manicures and pedicures. One of the residents’ favorite activities, however, is playing fetch with Graham, Celia’s therapy dog who comes to work with her every day.
“Graham is a rescue. He was six months old when I got him. He’s half Golden Retriever and half Corgi. He was found chained in a backyard; his family had moved and just left him there. I took him to the vet who told me, ‘You’ve got a winner! Take him to work with you.’ He has a very sweet temperament, and is seven years old now. He’s known as the Dogwood Dog.” She said the residents love to pet Graham, cuddle with him and let him sit in their laps.
In the four years since Celia came to Hilton Head, she recognizes the demand for resources for all seniors, not just those with dementia. So, through the University of Vermont, she has earned a certification as an End of Life Doula. The term “doula” was formed in ancient Greece, meaning “a woman who serves.” Many people are most familiar with birth doulas, trained professionals who provide therapeutic, emotional, physical and educational support to women from the beginning of birth through the postpartum period. Doulas are advocates and allies who provide continuous, compassionate, non-judgmental care and informational support. Overall, doulas are there when individuals face the two major transitions in life: birth and death.
The role of a doula is multi-faceted. They may help coordinate care, such as scheduling medical appointments, assisting with insurance issues and connecting clients to resources. They mediate difficult conversations around last wishes, living wills, do not resuscitate orders, advance care directives, and Five Wishes documents. They even coordinate and plan living wakes, burials, funerals and memorials. They must remain non-biased and supportive, listening without judgment, helping clients to articulate their legacy.
“When clients are ready to discuss what their wants and wishes are, perhaps after a diagnosis, they may need unbiased help. They may not be comfortable talking to family, or they may be alone,” Celia said. So she is now launching her Journey Doula business.
“I can’t work with children; I feel like their life is stolen. But with older adults, they’ve had their lives and are ready to meet their maker, whenever that may be. This is my passion—to honor and respect them. I walked my parents through their end of life, so I know.”
Long Walks: Celia enjoys spending time on the beach with her fur baby, Graham. She said, “People always greet Graham; he is a rock star on the beach!”
Just for Fun: She crochets and takes pottery classes, which she finds cathartic. Celia also enjoys going out with friends to find new restaurants.
Home Folk: Celia grew up in Charlotte, NC, only a mile down the road from evangelist Billy Graham’s home. Billy Graham is called the “favorite son” of Charlotte, and Celia saw his last crusade. She said his family were dairy farmers, and he delivered milk by horse and wagon. She and a friend went to an auction and were in disbelief when a pint-sized glass bottle from the Graham Dairy sold for $4,200. Her friend giggled and reminded Celia they used to break those bottles in the creek bed. Celia laughed as she commented, “We probably broke $10,000 worth of bottles.”