Life, Death, and Story: A Doula for Each

By: Kelsey Schurer, Executive Editor, Round Table Companies in Storytelling Advice

In The Book of Two Ways, Jodi Picoult takes the reader on two parallel journeys: one where the main character gets to relive a love she had long lost, and one where she returns to the broken pieces of her life and makes them whole again. Regardless of where you fall on the spectrum of liking Jodi Picoult novels, we can all come to the consensus that the woman researches the hell out of the topics of her books, and why she does this is because, as she puts it: “I hate catching authors in inaccuracies when I’m a reader, so I’m a stickler when I’m writing.” This simple reason for being a stickler for the truth in story is how she’s been known to have several experts on call when writing a book—from detectives, to pathologists, to DNA scientists, to doctors and lawyers.

For her novel The Book of Two Ways, Picoult’s research took her from “the tombs of Middle Egypt to the bedsides of those in hospice, and the professionals who care for them,” and she realized that all human beings have been asking the same question for the past 4,000 years: “Will you be happy at the end of your life?”

The answer to this question is something Picoult’s main character grapples with throughout her story. Perhaps the most beautiful thing about this book is the main character’s job profession—a death doula. A person whose entire mission is to sit with someone dying and make sure they are seen and heard and comforted and challenged to live through the rest of their journey before a new one begins.

Which begs the question, if there are death doulas and there are birth doulas, are there life doulas? Are there people out there in this great big world whose entire mission for existing and contributing is so that another person may live the life they were born to live and step into the hero they were called to become? There are priests, and there are counselors, and there are life coaches, and there are grandmothers (a special kind of comfort), and all these types of doulas are circling around similar abstract themes of life: faith, fears, failures, faults.

“Will you be happy at the end of your life?”

One of the reasons Jodi Picoult’s books are so widely read is because her stories all circle around those big ideas, those big fork-in-the-road choices, those identity-shaping questions. As a writer, she knows that the stories we tell ourselves are powerful roads to travel.

And because our stories are fueled by emotions that can’t easily be explained, and because those roads we’ve traveled to love or loss or death or theft can’t be easily explained, and because cracking open the fissures of our memories and heartaches and desires and downfalls and displaying it all out there on paper can’t be easily done, we need a story doula. Someone to help us walk through the hard discomfort of shining a light on our life experiences and putting those moments down on paper and sharing them with the world. We need a new kind of priest, counselor, grandmother. A life-giving, story-shaping doula.

Because discovering our life’s purpose, who we are, what we desire, and what we are constantly chasing after is never, under any circumstances, easy. And then trying to wrangle that part of ourselves into words that are concise and full of clarity or even beautiful becomes even more challenging. Talk about birthing pains—when the life we’ve led and held so tightly contained within us is begging to come out in the shape of our story.

Life-giving storytelling support

Anyone who has ever felt the weight of their story pressing in on them, who is ready to carry it forth into the world, needs a story doula—the support of someone who settles into the storytelling process with you.

At Round Table Storytelling Academy, we are more than a collection of storytelling courses We are doulas for the creative process. Midwives of memories and emotions and marvels.

Man standing on a mountain with arms outstretched and blue sky before him

We are figuratively holding the hands of our class participants as they step into the process of telling their story for the very first time. We are their story doula, who is in service to their story, no matter what.

With gentle challenges from us at every step of the journey, our students conquer the fear of sharing their story—and instead of armoring up with every obstacle or perceived mistake, they lean into being raw and real and sometimes weak and sometimes strong and always in the pursuit of being authentically true—to the person they are and the person they are destined to become.

Authentic storytelling happens in relationship

Part of the magic of this transformation belongs to the process. Each of our storytelling courses is designed with this transformation in mind. Each method to the madness is really just a vehicle to transport you and your story into a new, special world, a world that transforms each and every one of us from the inside out.

Ultimately, your storytelling experience isn’t occurring in isolation and in silence. While you are doing the hard work of transforming your relationship with your own past experiences and expectations of how you could be and how your story could unfold, your class is holding that space for you. The class itself, as your story doula, listens to your voice in full service of its authenticity, isn’t afraid of your life’s messiness, but rather sees the heroism in the challenges you’ve faced and brings comfort amidst your pitfalls and doubts—even walking side-by-side through the discomfort with you—as you wrestle with the story within. Our classes guide you from the first few words to the final version where you step out of the past and into a more powerful, more whole, and more healed version of yourself.

Any journey like that will always be hard to explain, but is also worth taking. And who knows? Perhaps through the process, you may even answer the question: “Will you be happy at the end of your story?”