Where Can We Find You And Your Business?
Toi: So let's start with tell me your formal title.
Alua: My formal title.
Alua: I'm a death doula and end of life planner.
Toi: Okay. How did you get into this work?
Alua: How I found death work is a long story. I stumbled across a woman in Cuba who's German, but she had uterine cancer and during our time together, I talked to her about her death and realized ... I mean, during the time with her, I realized that she had people in her life that were supporting her with illness but nobody really that was talking to her about dying. She had a psychologist, like a therapist through her oncology program but they were also only talking to her about living with disease. They weren't talking to her about dying.
Alua: So I was like, "Well, I mean, she's got a serious disease and it was pretty far advanced." She was on this trip to see all these places across the world that she wanted to see before she died, and I was like, "Well, why aren't the people telling these people about the fact that they're gonna die? Like I'm a die, she gonna die. Everybody on this bus gonna die." I never had a real conversation about it up until that point, and so yeah. That's when I knew that I was gonna be doing death work, but it took up until my brother-in-law died before I saw what the real gaps in the system were, and then creating Going With Grace to fill them.
Toi: I love that. So, tell me like what are some of the values that define your work with people in your business?
Alua: Compassion. Non-judgment, which is an essential component of compassion anyway. Values, grace is a value, isn't it?
Toi: Yeah. Sure.
Alua: Empathy, but I think that's ... No, compassion is a more appropriate one than empathy. Honesty. Honesty, yeah.
Toi: [crosstalk 00:02:00] How long have you been doing this work?
Alua: It's been almost six years since I found death work. It's been three years since Going With Grace has existed the way that it does.
Toi: What do you find the most challenging inside of your work with people?
Alua: Honestly, the thing that I find most challenging is entrepreneur part.
Alua: Yeah, man. I mean, I'm a heart centered, love focused ... It's a service, you know what I mean? It radiates from here, and when I realize that that's what I was going to be doing, I never thought that I'd have to spend days trying to figure out how to subtitle a video, right? Why am I now learning how to balance audio levels and get things from mono into stereo. This is not my life. You know?
Alua: Or try to figure out branding stuff or you go through ... I once went through like 400 fonts trying to find the most appropriate one. I'm just trying to help people prepare to die. That's it.
Toi: Not find all the fonts, okay.
Toi: I've heard that a lot. You know, you want to do your craft, but doing your craft comes with all the other things inside of entrepreneurship, for sure.
Alua: Exactly, exactly. Marketing and [crosstalk 00:03:15] ...
Toi: Social media. So, how do people find you? Is it referrals? It's not a traditional business model where you advertise? Like, how does that work?
Alua: No, people have been finding me through word of mouth and social media, but mostly word of mouth. Somebody worked with me and then they found it helpful.
Toi: This is maybe this year I've heard of death doulas. I haven't heard of it prior. Is this like new work or has it been around for a really long time and we just haven't heard about it?
Alua: It's new old.
Alua: People have been doing it in different capacities. People probably have been doing it personally since mankind came into existence because people have been dying since forever, so people have been supporting them through dying since forever, but the way that it's done now, the way that I do it is in a professional capacity, meaning aside from just sitting bedside with somebody or being present to support the family and my getting food, for instance, I'm also trying to help them figure out, looking holistically at the life and trying to figure out how to most peacefully end it, meaning all their affairs. Get those all in order, make sure that the dying looks the way that they want it to. Wrap up any emotional affairs that still need to get done, like heal relationships. All those things go into the work. Yeah, looking at the whole life.
Toi: Right. I can't imagine knowing you're a little girl, you're like, "I want to grow up and be a death doula."
Alua: No, that wasn't it.
Toi: No, that wasn't it. When you were little, what was it that you wanted to do?
Alua: I wanted to iron.
Toi: You wanted to iron.
Alua: Because my mom ironed a lot and I thought that was very cool, and now I specifically buy things that do not need to be ironed. I'm not ironing a damn thing. I wanted to iron. Somewhere in college though, or somewhere in high school, I decided I was going to be a conductor, music conductor.
Toi: Oh wow.
Alua: I know, right? That was my jam. Then I went to college. Well, I applied to music conservatories. I got into a few, but then I also got into this liberal arts school, so I just went the liberal arts route, and then I was going to be a politician and then I became a lawyer.
Toi: All right, so that's full circle.
Alua: Yes, right? Very round from ironing to death.
Toi: Yeah. Yeah. So, do you foresee this is work you'll be doing for a really long time? Does it feed you?
Alua: This is it.
Toi: This is it.
Alua: I'm singularly focused on how we die. This takes up ... I mean, I just went on this lovely run walk and the entire time I'm thinking about languaging around it, programs to build, ways to be a greater support, where else I should provide services. You know, I walked past a guy on the walk who looked elderly and I was like, "I wonder how much time he's got left." You know, it's always there. I wonder how much time I've got left. I wonder about that guy at the light. It's present all the time. I'm full of death.
Toi: What would you say would be one of your greatest professional achievements since you've been doing this work?
Alua: Professional achievements ... I got to speak at the Association of Death Educators conference in April. That was pretty awesome because the work that I do, I made up.
Alua: It's been like my little secret that it's not real.
Toi: It's real.
Alua: Right, but I was like, "Nobody knows that I just tried to make this a thing, and now it looks like it's a thing." So, standing before a crowd of my peers who do death work was very ... You know, when I learned that I was gonna be speaking, I cried. Yeah, it's been pretty awesome.
Toi: Yeah. So, let's talk about inspiration. Who are some women in your life professionally, not professionally, ones you know, you don't know in your inner circle that inspire you.
Toi: Oprah, yes. What do you like about Oprah?
Alua: [crosstalk 00:07:44] What I like about her is that beautiful balance between ... I mean, it seems like she is who she is. Obviously I don't know her, but it seems like she just really is who she is, yet she also knows where she's going. Those two are not in conflict. You know, I think that she's totally content with who she is and what she got, yet she's also seemingly ambitious. I don't know what her ambitions are right now but I highly doubt that Oprah's just sitting there every day sitting around in her garden. Like, once she's in her garden, she's probably also having thoughts and ideas about how to touch people and how to impact people and how to help people live better and more grounded. Yeah.
Alua: You know?
Toi: I think, yeah, Oprah was always just one of my biggest influences, just inspirations, just looking at how much she cares but doesn't care. Like, she moves just like she knows, like it's hers already.
Alua: It's in her.
Alua: Yeah. Absolutely.
Toi: That's like ... I need some of that.
Alua: Right. Let's bring a lot more of that in.
Alua: Let's do that.
Toi: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Alua: She seems so effortless in it too.
Alua: I'm sure she probably has hard days, but by and large it just seems like she got this.
Toi: Yeah, and she seemed just very poise. I think any time I've heard her have criticism, it's never been like a snap back, and not to say that's wrong, but I'm just saying she seems like she sits with stuff before she makes a statement or says anything. It's always, like, really grounded.
Alua: Yep, she's graceful.
Toi: Yeah, yeah.
Alua: I'm a fan.
Toi: We're in like a really great time and a weird time in our society, right now where you can seemingly start a business out of nowhere. You can just have a computer and have an idea and formulate it and start these things. I think it's beautiful, especially for younger black women who don't want to go maybe the corporate route and really want to see their ideas come out into the world. What would you say would be some of the things, the challenges for black women that are, like, coming up behind you just in society? Like inside of making money and being entrepreneurs, what would be the toughest things for them?
Alua: You know, I don't think any of the external things are the tough things. I think it's the internal things. I think it's the belief in self, belief in the idea and like knowing that you can make it happen, because if you do, I believe that when we're pretty clear that what we want can happen and we work toward it, there's nothing that could actually get in our way, but all the self doubt and listening to messages that might be coming externally would dilute that.
Alua: You know? So it's being able to, I think, block it out and just being very clear about what we want to create and committing to it.
Toi: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Alua: Yeah, I don't think any of the challenges are external.
Toi: I agree.
Alua: I don't believe that we're not capable of achieving.
Toi: Mm-hmm (affirmative), because I think there will always be external. It's always gonna be, especially in the way our culture has been created. Like especially for black women, there's always gonna be some kind of noise.
Toi: Always, so it's gonna be self-defined, and like how much we believe in ourselves. That's gonna propel us, I think, 100%.
Toi: So, you've been doing this for six years and then ... Where do you see yourself? Like, what is the hope in the next five years. Like, big dream ... Where do you see your business?
Alua: So, in five years there's going to be like a solid network team of people that I've trained, because I'm training death doulas now also.
Alua: People that I've trained across the country and hopefully across the world, so that when somebody is dying and needs some support, there is somebody professional there to be with them and there's also a whole team of people out there that are doing end of life planning, so my vision for the humankind and not just my work, that when we all start to come into awareness of the fact that one day we're gonna die and everybody comes into that awareness on their own time, that they seek out professional services to support them, much like people will go to a doula or a midwife or an OBGYN the minute they think that they're pregnant to get blood tests and all that stuff done, but you also go to an end of life planner, get affairs in order, start working with your dreams and your hopes and your things that you don't want to regret.
Alua: Getting a plan for how you want things done, that it just becomes an instituted part of society that we're gonna die and we behave like it.With my work, it's to create a team of people that are professional, committed, passionate and knowledgeable in order to support that vision come to life.
Toi: So, when someone comes to you, how soon is too soon? How late is too late to come to a death doula?
Alua: Either on either side, no. I actually had a call with a woman whose brother was sick and he had pancreatic cancer for about nine months. Just that day they said that he probably only had a few days left, so she called me in a panic and I was like, "Oh, well, let's do what we can." She was in New York. I'm here in LA. We had an hour and a half phone conversation where she was just, "What do we need to do? Tell me everything I need to know. How do I do this? What about this? What about that?" She was in a cab from Brooklyn to like Long Island or something like that, trying to get to an estate planner. I was like, "Oh my God." Yeah. While a person's still alive, it's not too late, yet obviously the earlier, the better, so as soon as you come into awareness of the fact that one day you're gonna die, now's the time to start.
Toi: What would be one of the ... Like, when you're speaking with clients, what's the hardest thing for them to hear from you? I know you're really compassionate. What are the hard things, the tough things that they hear?
Alua: Yeah, the tough things are when people, when they know inside that there isn't anything left to do, but their brain hasn't caught up with the guy. Hi, six year old. Hi, cutie.
Speaker 3: Hi.
Alua: [crosstalk 00:14:11] Playing.
Toi: [inaudible 00:14:14] One cookie [inaudible 00:14:19]. Okay, now they're all coming in. Okay. Jeez, now I lost my train of thought.
Alua: We were talking about how early is too early, how late is too late.
Toi: Oh yeah, and the tough things that the clients hear.
Alua: The tough thing is you're going to die, and I rarely say it. I more ask them what they think is happening or I'll ask the family members or the family members will ask me. "Well, do you think she's dying?" I'm like, "Well, what do you think?" They know. They know.
Toi: Is it harder for the family members to hear or is it harder for the person that's actually passing to hear?
Alua: I think it's harder for the family members.
Alua: I think that most of us know when our time is coming and I think that it's harder for the people around us to know that it's our time, you know? You know, I should've known. I was gonna say that I think when people are dying from disease, people know that they're dying when it comes time to disease, yet I've heard of and have supported people who died accidentally or in a rush. Hold on, let me make a note because something just happened. How the idea of accidental death is a total fallacy because it's not an accident if you die. I mean, you may have died in an accident, but you died. Like, okay.
Toi: Yeah. You gonna die.
Alua: And you did. It's not an accident.
Alua: Okay, but even when people die in accidents or suddenly, there is ... I've heard of stories and supported where there is still some knowledge. A woman I went to college with, the night before she died, posted, "I'm ready for the new chapter of my life to begin" and then had a pulmonary embolism three hours later and died. That was her very last social media post.
Toi: We know.
Alua: I think that there's some knowing.
Alua: I think there's some knowing.
Toi: What do you think ... I feel like there's a lot of stigma around death. Like we don't like to talk about it. You know, definitely ... Like my grandma has had cancer forever. She's ready to go. You know, she's like, "It is what it is." My mom is very, like, "She's not dying." I'm like, "She kind of is," you know? But she doesn't want to acknowledge it but I feel like even in conversation, people don't want to ... "Oh, they're fine." They don't want to acknowledge it. What is that? Do you know? Do you have a thought around ... Is it just like human nature? We don't want to let go or let people go? But it is a part of life, like you said.
Alua: I think there is a strong portion of not wanting to let go. I also think that culturally we're set up to believe that we're immortal and that we can do anything, we can beat anything, but you can't beat that, you know? I think that there [inaudible 00:17:30] those two things.
Toi: Just one more question, what do you think is the shift in consciousness that we would need ... Like, how do we talk to kids about death, you know?
Alua: [crosstalk 00:17:45].
Alua: Yeah. I think it's important to tell the truth, and so a lot of times the truth is, "Well, I don't know, and nobody knows. These aren't questions that we can answer." My niece is now nine. She was four when her father died, and my sister was in the hospital with my brother in law, so I was caring for her mostly during that time. She would ask me the toughest questions and I didn't have answers. That was hard for me as a grownup, you know? I'm trying to be strong for this kid, but I didn't have the answers and that made me feel like extra vulnerable and inadequate somehow, but the truth is I don't know where he went. I don't know. I don't know.
Toi: That's beautiful. My kids test me all the time. My six year old asks a billion and one questions. They ask about death a lot and I'm not very religious but they pick up all this stuff. They're in heaven, they're in all these places, and I say, "I don't know when someone passes, where they go." We don't know, and that's scary.
Alua: Yeah, absolutely, because we think that they look to us for reassurance. Well, they do. They look to us for reassurance and to make sure that everything's safe and things make sense, and when they don't make sense to them, then they ask us. We're supposed make it ... But ...
Alua: Don't know. Nobody knows.
Toi: Nobody knows.
Toi: Well, that's it. It was just very short. I loved it. Thank you so much.
Alua: Thank you very much for putting up with my raggedy self.
Toi: For even hoping on Zoom when you didn't know it was Zoom [crosstalk 00:19:36].
Alua: I mean, I ran in at 11:59, picked up the phone. [inaudible 00:19:40] She's gonna call any minute. Then when 12:01 came and you hadn't called, I was like, "Ooh, let me check. Let me check."
Toi: Let me look.
Alua: Let me look. Bang, girl, [inaudible 00:19:53], but thank you. I'm glad that I [crosstalk 00:19:56] ...
Toi: Thank you so much.
Alua: Yeah, I appreciate it. This was great.
Toi: Okay, all right [crosstalk 00:19:59] ...
Alua: Okay, great. Bye.