This is the most exciting time in history for funeral service. There has been huge advocacy for mental health within our industry; new inventions, career opportunities, and the ability to help people in ways we never have before. I have recently had a lot of questions regarding the integration of coaches and death doulas in funeral service.
In the past, indoctrination within funeral service had taught me to scoff at the notion of death doulas. I remember at one point, someone stopped by the funeral home and dropped off some pamphlets regarding their death doula service. At the time I had 3 thoughts:
Who on earth is going to hire some mumbo jumbo witch doctor to facilitate their end of life care, and assist with funeral rites?
They’re not going to want to pay you, people are already financially and emotionally stressed from having to care for their family member.
How can they know how to take care of a deceased person without embalming training and years in funeral service making arrangements; when they don’t have permission from the regulatory boards, or vital statistics to complete the task of disposition? Families will have to deal with a funeral home regardless.
As a funeral director I didn’t know anything about what a death doula does. So what are the specifics? According to Wikipedia, thethe role of a death doula is to educate and empower families to exercise their innate right to care for their own dead. Death midwives or doulas," provide emotional, spiritual, and physical support at an intensely personal and crucial time.
How many articles have we all read, advocating for families to care for their own dead? How many people have we encountered who feel like the funeral home has taken initiative by fulfilling requests by the families, performed the important rituals; but is unable to provide the emotional, spiritual and community support necessary to process the emotions accompanying these rituals.
The public is hiring both funeral directors and death doulas because they don’t have the tools and don’t know how to deal with the death of their family member. The role of death doulas is growing in our industry, because they are providing the mental and emotional support throughout the time they serve families. This happens before death occurs. They are creating value first by making people feel comfortable and involved in the entire processbefore the time of need.
A death doula, is a professional who begins a working relationship with families and the dying person before they pass away, usually when the person is in palliative care. They are professionals who bridge the gap between palliative care and death care. Their job tasks, which affect the funeral industry include: at home funerals, rituals, and services which were traditionally performed by the community or lay person. They have gained popularity with the decline of mental health and traditional religious practice. There is a growing number of death doula graduates and a declining number of funeral service employees. Their services are becoming widely regarded by the public and by palliative care staff.
There are people advocating for the doulas ability to issue death certificates from vital statistics. With lack of public knowledge about the purpose of embalming, fewer people are choosing to have their family member embalmed a major indicator that decedent care has changed. People choose to use a death doula because they provide a service which is different from what we do, and a service around mental health which we don’t or can’t offer. Some doulas charge fees which are comparable to an immediate cremation, without the cremation (so no tangible results) and their clients are choosing to hire them voluntarily.
I’m know many of you are having negative thoughts, around the concept and role of the death doula attempting to replace us and our industry. Perhaps you believe that they will never have an impact us, because of legislation. But negative thoughts don’t serve us as industry professionals and they don’t serve us as growing thinking human beings. We need to look at how we are failing at providing services, which the public is asking for. Or possibly look into hiring a death doula at the funeral home to build connections amongst our clients by facilitating trust and community.
Trust is built by providing value first. Successful business people know that clients will want to use their services if value has been established beforehand. Doulas are doing this in hospitals, homes and care homes by being a support worker for families before death. They are promoting positive mental heath and education around death. An area which we need to improve upon. What would your preneed clients think if they had your support during their dad’s time in the hospital or home, before passing. What would you funeral clients think if the doula was hosting classes after the funeral in the funeral home; in order to process their grief, while accompanying families on the entire journey? This care is just as important as the rituals surrounding disposition. Having a death doula in the funeral home is a great way to increase public education about the importance of ritual, and mental health, which have been regarded socially as taboo topics before death occurs.
Our decision to become funeral directors is to help others. Death doulas are not here to replace our industry, but to add to it. We can choose to oppose these new ideas or become facilitators and advocates in order to better our clients, and our industry, in ways we didn’t even know which we were lacking. Death doulas are bridging the gap between palliative care and death care. I want to bridge the gap between funeral service and doulas. I am thrilled that so many professionals within the funeral industry and without are partaking in these much needed changes and education. If we are doing everything in our power to help, we have no competition.
For more information on death doulas and alternative death care there is a festival in Saskatoon on October 19, 2019. Here is their website https://www.communitydeathcare.ca/community-deathcare-canada-swan-song-festival/