Portland’s End-of-Life Guide Will Help You Grieve Everything From the Death of a Pet to a Divorce

“I think we’ve come to realize that every day isn’t promised, and life is messy and tragedies happen.”

Nicole Comach has been around grief for a long time.

Starting at age 15, she worked in a Bay Area funeral home until leaving to attend the University of Oregon. In 2019, Comach started her journey into death work after connecting with a Seattle-area death midwife. Today, after training in how to help people through emotional and practical end-of-life issues, Comach runs Emerald Awakenings, a business that escorts people to the borders of the undiscovered country.

Comach calls herself an “end-of-life guide,” a self-created specialty in the broader death worker field that includes death midwives and death doulas. Her work comprises everything from sitting with grieving people to helping dying people convey their funeral wishes to holding virtual and in-person memorial services.

While some death workers primarily provide bedside companionship and support, Comach’s work also has a strong practical side, making her something of an estate planner for the less tangible parts of a legacy. Her advice: Put your wishes in writing now. “I think we’ve come to realize that every day isn’t promised, and life is messy and tragedies happen,” she says. “If things are not on paper, your end-of-life wishes can get really messy.”

Comach moonlights in other crises: She’ll counsel people through a breakup or divorce, having a loved one incarcerated, or other traumatizing losses. One such loss people often feel uncomfortable mourning in public: the loss of a pet. “I’ve known people [to grieve] the death of their dog a lot harder than the death of their mother,” Comach says. “Sometimes it’s worse, really, and you’ll hear that quite often.”

Comach doesn’t grade grief. She figures out what someone is feeling, and tries to tailor a space for their sadness. “It’s a really individualized container depending on whom you’re sitting with,” she says. “The best thing you can offer somebody with any type of grief is your presence, and sometimes words don’t even matter.”