Certified death guide Andrews “Bones” Nelson will discuss her experiences and views on death and dying Tuesday at Curtis Memorial Library. Contributed / Andrews Nelson

Andrews “Bones” Nelson, a certified death doula, has been working with people at the end of their lives for a decade now.

Nelson has always felt very at ease with death and about facing it head-on.

“There’s always somebody in the family who takes on that role, and that’s just naturally who I am,” the Cornish resident said. “I’m very comfortable with death and it doesn’t phase me. For me, it’s just part of the story.”

Nelson, certified through the International End of Life Doula Association, based in New Jersey, will discuss her work helping the dying and their loved ones make the transition out of life, from 1 to 2 p.m. Tuesday, Feb. 27, at Curtis Memorial Library in Brunswick as part of the library’s monthly Lunchtime Discussions on Death and Dying program. Each session features an expert on a particular part of death or after-death affairs.

The library’s goal is to offer people resources and a place to candidly talk and ask questions about death and dying, for themselves or for loved ones, said Wynter Giddings, manager of adult services and technology.

“I thought it was important to offer programming around death, because it’s something people want to talk about,” Giddings said. “People who live alone aren’t being nudged to talk about these things and might not have people around to bring this up.”


She got the idea after hearing from other libraries that were hosting “death cafes,” informal and open discussions, sometimes with death doulas like Nelson, where folks could come and talk about whatever aspects of death they want to.

Nelson said she prefers to use the term “death guide” rather than “death doula” because the word “doula” originates from a Greek word for “female slave.” She got her nickname, “Bones,” as a child because she was “scrawny,” she said, but now finds it amusingly ironic given her line of work. She brings that humor, along with her compassion, to her work.

An important part of her work with clients is the “end of life review,” she said, which involves listening actively as the dying person tells her about their life. People may feel more inclined to share certain things with her, as a third party, that they don’t want to burden loved ones with.

“You gently develop a relationship with them,” she said. “My style is to really relate and open doors. Life sucks when you hide everything.”

Rather than acting as a therapist or grief counselor, she willingly offers stories of her own life and talks candidly with that person as a friend, she said.

Then, she works with the dying person on their “legacy project” – something they’ve always wanted to do or say or rituals they’d like to perform.


One man she worked with in his late 90s lived alone on a hill in rural Maine with no remaining family. His neighbors were wary of him and thought of him as “the strange old man on the hill,” so together Nelson and the man decided to invite the neighborhood over for a “graduation party.”

“He decided he was graduating from life,” she said. They made a tasseled graduation cap for him, and the neighbors stayed and socialized for hours, finally got to know him as a person. The gathering was really a celebration as he prepared to depart from life, she said.

She also helps the dying person decide where they’d like to die, and what atmosphere they want around them at that time.

“I’ve worked with a lot of people in all types of situations,” she said. “One of the most impactful was someone dying of acute alcoholism, and they really wanted to die.”

It was taking longer to die than he had hoped and he was sometimes a difficult client.

“There was hardly anyone hanging out with him because of his disease, so he ended up in a hospice house,” she said. “I was with him for many months, and I was one of the only people.”


As hard as he could be to work with, she said, the two bonded.

As he was dying, she said, she played his favorite music for him, and when one of those songs shows up on her Pandora while she’s driving, she always thinks of him fondly.

“Somehow, when I look at all the people I’ve been with, I miss him the most,” she said. “He remains my favorite, even though he was the biggest pain in the butt.”

Something that strikes her, she said, is that “each exit is so completely different. I’ve never seen any two alike. The person is going to go out the way that they were” in life, she said.

She wants more people to know that “no behavior is a wrong or bad behavior in death.”

“Death isn’t always pretty that way, because so many emotions are coming up,” she said.


Her daughter works as a birth doula, and the two often compare their jobs. “What I love about my job is that I can’t mess up, because they’re going to die anyways,” she joked. “They can do it in whatever styles they want.”

The Brunswick library’s March session on death will be a discussion with an attorney about online accounts and property.

“People think about wills and money and legal affairs, but we’ve created an enormous amount of data that only we as individuals have access to,” Giddings said, and the session will help people get this data sorted before they pass.

In April she said, “we’ll do one on green burial options and different options in terms of what to do with one’s remains.”

More information is available at curtislibrary.libcal.com. To learn more about Nelson, go to bonesnelson.com.

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