Today, I am concerned with the village. Our own small village of our immediate surroundings and the role that we play out as death doulas in relation to our neighbors and the natural environment and life cycles within our community. But, the word community in terms of deathcare is getting a real reaming on the washing board at present.
The grassroots movement to reclaim deathcare in a way that is for the people, by the people has churned into a rich and creamy butter that has caught the eye of those seeking. The seeking consist of those desiring organization, or skills, or common language, or money, or expertise. The movement to reclaim started at the deep ancestral root of ancient work and is now being spread thinly in online forums, around board rooms, conferences, mass-marketed lovely shrouds and cool ways to dispose of a body.
The death positivity movement is a trend that’s hard to keep up with and a new expert is popping up every other day. The articles, podcasts and trainings are mounting pressure and a constant reminder that “we are not doing death well enough until…” until we have this, until we know this, until we do this.
The community deathcare movement is now just as complex (perhaps more so) as the drive to professionalize the death doula trainings. If you charge for your services are you really for community deathcare? What if you believe in community deathcare and that all have a right to do it, but you charge an extraordinary amount for your trainings or care, to the point where it is not accessible to people in your own community. Can you still say that you believe in community deathcare? Maybe you do, but you just don’t partake in it? Is it okay to be a little like Robin Hood and take from the rich and give to the poor? Meaning you charge those that can afford it and give to those who need it. Is that the right kind of community deathcare? And, if so, which do you prioritize? Or, if you don’t charge at all does this put you in opposition with others that want to charge for their services? How does that play out? I can tell you from experience — its’ not great!
At least the reason to professionalize death doula trainings is clear. We have an overwhelming number of elderly (and many Boomers heading down the pike) and we need at least twice as many able-bodied people to care for their dying bodies, hearts, minds and spirit. So, organized mass training is a clear way to go. I am not opposed to this.
This is separate from the reclaiming of deathcare. This is a limb off from the monstrous tree of professional and medicalized death.
Professionalization was not the first call. It was not the one that so many of us were awakened by in the middle of the night when our ancestors shook us and said, “DO YOU KNOW WHERE MY BONES ARE?”
In a stupor we awakened sleepy-eyed and hunting around in the dark for a family photo album… a garment of grandmother’s… a memory… and we realized alarmed and uncomfortable that we don’t know where our relatives bones are. The last we remember grandmother was sent to the nursing home… then to the ICU… then maybe to the crematorium or was she buried? The funeral was across the country — it was too expensive to fly home.
It got us thinking, what about me? Which is the shore we all land over and over again on our life voyage. We don’t know who will receive us when we are dying and are longing to call out for home — our real home. We don’t know our ancestors really… they feel so far away. They don’t show up in our daily lives when we are in line for our latte on our way to work. Or, do they? They’re certainly not there when we’re so sad, we just sit in the bottom of the shower with the water pouring in equal amounts from both the tap and our eyes. But, are they?
Many of us are far from our birth families and some don’t care for, or don’t know their birth families so they make new ones. We make our community our family whether or not they are blood related and that is a blessed thing. So, when we felt a trembling in our first chakra to care for the dying in the way that we ourselves wish to be cared for, and we didn’t have our own family members or an elder in our own community to consult, (did you even look?) we turned to those who seem to know. We went online to look for those who could tell us how to do it. But, they told us. They did not model it. Then, we learned in our heads and went out there to “practice” but who can “work” for free? And, ut-oh, all we formed around us in our chosen community are healthy people our own age… So, how do you find dying people anyway? You ask yourself, “Is so and so dying? What’s their name? Maybe I should offer my services.” You may feel sad to be turned down when you have so much to offer, or maybe they accept your offer but low and behold there are liabilities because of the money that we are charging and it turns out that caring for the dying out in the “real world” can be complex and scary and, why is there so little demand for my new skills?! *sniffle*
This is because we are babies holding a certificate of completion.
We misinterpreted the ancestral call, my friends. Dream-state grandma was not telling you to get a sweet new business card. The deathcare that you felt “such a calling for” was your own wake up call to your own mortality- you mistook it for a new business venture- or perhaps a hobby.
We only learned about deathcare what we were taught. And, if after hearing the calling, you sought to learn because it was not taught at home like it should have been, it likely was fed to you over the internet from someone you do not know and who does not know you or your community. You were instructed on what to do, when and how to feel, and how to give space and hold space while you sat in front of the computer with your imagination running wild.
And this is why Death Doula training in all forms is flawed.
And yet, we have the ability to be a global community online and learn from each other. So we should make use of that because, I do not know your community and you do not know mine. We must learn about each others communities and the challenges and eases in many different scenarios so that we become more wise beings capable of offering better care, empathy and compassion, to be better resourced, and be proactive. We must trade stories, skills and knowledge and then bring it back home to our village to share. That part is important: use technology and distance to learn but then bring it back home and share.
If we are doing deathcare well, it will be reflected back to us. The villagers will know our way of life and how it includes dying and death. We will either be revered or feared because we tread in places where many are too afraid to look. We won’t need to wear tee-shirts proclaiming how death-positive we are because we model a way of life that is gently, lovingly, holding death’s hand. We will not need a certificate mounted on our wall or the best web site to prove our value because those in our village don’t need to search the web. The only social networking web the villagers consult is their pastor, the check-out clerk or, they just come knock on your door. Because that’s what neighbors in a village do. And, no, it’s not flashy work to brag about because caring for the dying is not glamorous work. There’s no time to post on social media and besides, you’d lose all credibility in your village for doing so. Village deathcare citizens are busy teaching others how to wipe bottoms and how to roll a body so that when it’s their time to die, the people around them will know how to help.
Presently, I’m exhausted by death doula certificate holders and teachers who are pushing for either side of community deathcare or the professional route. I thought I was all “community deathcare all the way” but it turns out I’m something different. The divide between the deathcare community and professionalism is yet another division that our planet is suffering from that I do not want to contribute to. I feel like the discussion itself undervalues the care and work of those who have been deathcaring in their own communities and their own homes — whether it was something they felt a calling to do, or simply that they had no choice. The training itself is a privilege and debating which way things should go is not putting the training to use- unless it’s a stepping stone to becoming a policy maker or lawyer for the unrepresented and elderly. (And, actually, we need those too.)
I aspire to reclaim the reclaim and then let it go. I aspire to have enough of us trained (sure, by the internet if that is all that is available) that have the intention of modeling deathcare in our own villages until it gets integrated so deeply that there is not even a concept of who is qualified to care for the dying and dead and death doula training was something we once had to do in order to relearn deathcaring to save our planet.
And, that’s the day we will all value life to its fullest.