By David F. Rooney
Most people know Krista Cadieux as the vivacious and hard-working proprietor of the Sangha Bean Café. That’s a pretty accurate description of her but, lately, she is considering a complete change of direction.
Krista may be about to become Revelstoke’s Doula of Death.
That sounds a little weird, but it’s not. In fact it harkens back to that not-so-long-ago time when ordinary people, primarily women, were directly responsible for the care of the dying and recently deceased family and community members.
“A death doula or a death midwife is a person who is there to help a person who had been diagnosed with a life-threatening illness get their life in order, think about their end-of-life care and help them and their family,” Krista said during an interview at the café.
“As a society North Americans don’t communicate very well about death — period. It’s interesting because I’m not afraid to have that kind of conversation with someone but that kind of conversation is not something that comes up very often.”
The kind of service she may offer is non-denominational.
“It has no basis in religion or politics,” she said. “It could be a devout Catholic, it could be a Buddhist, it could be an atheist — it could be anyone from any walk of life and you just put your own personal beliefs aside and help them deal with what’s ahead of them.”
This is kind of an “age-old profession that was sent to the sidelines as birthing midwifery was sidelined” until 10 or 15 years ago.
“It’s what women used to do,” she said. “They used to do both ends of the spectrum: see you brought into the world and see you off.”
And it’s not just pre-death planning and discussion. “Sometimes you may offer someone the option of having their body prepared at home and having a home funeral — that’s part of the training,” Krista said. I’m not at a point where I could stop this (the café); I still need training.”
She took hospice-care training when she was in university and again, here, in 2010 and has recently rejoined the Revelstoke Hospice Society.
“I by no means see it taking over a Hospice role. I think it complements it.”
Gary Sulz, the widely respected proprietor of Brandon Bowers, has given this some thought and Krista even sought him out for a chat.
“A death doula traditionally becomes involved at the diagnosis of a terminal illness and remains involved right through to the completion of the funeral or memorial services,” he told The Current. “They may even be involved in performing those rituals. This concept is not new, however all things come around again though the title may have changed.
“I, as a funeral director normally get involved after the fact, however in this small community, I may be involved a lot sooner than my counterparts in the large city. Many people are in search of guidance at this vulnerable time and a death doula, a trusted individual in the community, may be able to fit right in. After 35 years in funeral service, I am seeking change and I will challenge myself in other ways and provide healing in different capacities as time goes on. As I transition out of this field, there will be new ideas come in and this may be a time for the bringing forth of the death doula.”
Krista said she’d like to see her role as a death doula intersect with physicians, Hospice volunteers, social workers and funeral directors.
“The more resources we have in the community the better.”
There is no overall governing body that regulates this kind of training.
She hopes to study under the tutelage of Cassandra Yonder, a respected death doula in Nova Scotia. According to her website, Yonder has a BA in gerontology and an MA in architecture. “In 2002 she studied grief and bereavement with the University of Western Ontario’s Thanatology Department and also became certified as an animal assisted therapist, hypnotherapist and lay horse trainer. Recognizing therapeutic potential in the homesteading paradigm, Cassandra’s family moved to Cape Breton in 2006 where she intended to seek work as a rural bereavement coordinator while establishing a retreat for grieving families.
“The unexpected death and resultant home-based post-death care of a close friend and neighbour precipitated a deepening of Cassandra’s consciousness in the field of dying and deathcare, and she became a home funeral guide in 2009 while she was working as a research assistant with Dalhousie Family Medicine conducting telephone surveys for an After-Death Bereaved Family Member Interview.”
She has also established a Facebook page called Death Midwifery in Canada.
She offers a 12-week core program for people like Krista who are serious about becoming death doulas.
There are a fair number of resources available to assist potential students of this field. Enter the search term ‘death doula’ into the Google search field and you’ll turn up more than 334,000 hits. The practice has also attracted news media attention in this country with Maclean’s publishing a story two months ago.