The Charge of the Light Brigade

Funeral director, Amber Carvaly of Undertaking LA at a workshop shrouding demonstration

The Charge of the Light Brigade by Karen van Vuuren.

Excerpt from Natural Transitions Magazine Vol. 6 No. 2 The New Deathcare Professionals

A few years ago I was at a gathering when one of the women present introduced herself as a certified death midwife. Someone asked, “Who are you certified by?” She named an unfamiliar group in another state. “How do you get your clients?” was another question. “I haven’t worked with anyone yet,” the response. Okay. We all have to start somewhere in our respective careers and so lack of experience is understandable for those who are novices in their fields. But to the general public, certification implies a certain standard has been attained and accordingly recognized by an overarching authority. I hoped that anyone hiring her would inquire similarly about the nature of her certification, but I wasn’t convinced that all buyers would beware. Certification is a hot topic in this arena, but it does go some way towards validating these new professions and making them comprehensible to the general public.

Then there’s the question, are families or dying people currently prepared to hire and pay people like doulas and death midwives to accompany them on their end-of-life journeys? I remember reading an article by a well-known writer on end-of-life who declared that people were always calling her for hospice recommendations, but no one had yet called to ask her to recommend a doula — despite the media coverage about this fast-growing career option. But with the upsurge in end-of-life doula trainings, death cafes, death salons, and other death-related phenomena, who’s to say we are not on the verge of a significant cultural shift?

This week I met a man who was a perfect candidate for doula support. He’d just learned his cancer had spread to his brain. He was lonely and alone, about to face an intensive course of palliative radiation, disdainful of the doctors who only asked “Are you having any pain?” (meaning the physical kind) but because of their busy schedules (and perhaps lack of adequate training) were unable to probe further into his existential state. This individual who may or may not have accepted his mortality, clearly needed a companion, a counselor, a navigator, and a witness. I thought of the death doulas I’d recently met and wondered if they would work with this man with brain cancer. He had no money, no network of friends, and he had not entered a system such as hospice, with social workers and spiritual counselors. But his lack of resources would mean they would be volunteers – and yet who would supervise them, and to whom would they turn for peer support?

Connecting the man with brain cancer to a helper did not seem simple. I realized that doulas can also have roles before the “d” word becomes an accepted reality for a person with a terminal illness. A doula is an angel who potentially brings light to the darkest, heaviest healthcare scenarios, when people feel overwhelmed or confused, or potentially de-humanized by our medical system, or all of the above. I hope the time will come when people will ask for doula recommendations. I hope there are doulas who will offer pro bono services — as all of us should — unconditional gifts to our communities.

In this issue of NT, we give space to the voices of the burgeoning doula movement and hear from new natural funeral directors who are changing the most moribund of industries. We’re committed to following their progress and keeping our readers posted on the continued emergence of the new deathcare professionals.








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