Calling Out Being “Called”

by Rochelle Martin

I hear a lot of references these days to “being called” to work with the dying and dead – we use it in our conversations with each other online, in death doula training course outlines, in media interviews.  I think there are two ways in which the term “called” is often used re. deathcare work and I think both need reconsideration.

It is my guess that this term and concept first became popular in 20th Century protestant Christian languaging: “I feel called [by God] to…”   Over the years, it’s been overused and abused to justify anything and everything one might want to do in these circles (televangelists have been the most egregious abusers of this concept, perhaps, but pastors and parishioners use this language daily to achieve their ends).

“Being called” has been used so extensively that it’s slipped into our prevailing post-Christian Canadian culture’s lexicon, unchecked.  Now many people use it in a secular way.  They don’t mean to imply that some deity is calling them to care for the dying and dead;  what they mean is to convey an inner yearning (“call”) to do so.

I find both of these uses of “call” problematic.  The abused and overused religious usage often implies that one’s god is everyone’s god, or that a “calling” is unquestionable, having come from God.  These assumptions are easily discounted and dismissed, however, in our current secular environment.

It is the second, secular usage of “call” that offends me most – insidious in its unexamined self-righteousness and sentimentality.  Our “called-to-this-work” language essentially claims that caring for the dying or dead is a special calling in a way that raising sheep or cleaning offices or plowing snow, is not.

Perhaps caring for the dying and dead *is* more of a “calling” than those other types of work – but if so, I would argue that it is a *universal* calling.  If we are going to use the word “call,” we must acknowledge that we are all called, by nature of being human, to care for our dying and dead.  None of us can claim to have a “special calling” to this, any more than we should be claiming to have a special calling, for example, to breastfeed our babies.

Finally, if there *is* such a thing as a “special calling” to lead our communities in our care of our dying and dead, it should be a “call” that originates from the community – not something one feels/claims personally.  Stephen Jenkinson articulates this imperative to move away from individualistic/internal/personal understandings of death and dying, toward a communal/shared approach, in his latest treatise “Die Wise.”

It is not an easy lesson he brings, and it certainly isn’t “feel-good,” but it is a prophetic voice in the wilderness of our sentimentalized, if well-intentioned, death and dying culture.  Let us dive deeper – out of ourselves and into community.


Why Is It So Hard to Discuss Death With Family

Rick Lucas

It could be the toughest conversation you will ever have and the easiest to put off. People tend to not want to face the necessity of discussing or planning their own funeral service. Planning ahead your funeral service is as much a responsibility as planning for your retirement or kids education. Discussing it with a professional that deals with the hard facts on a daily basis can make the chore a little more palatable but does not mean you can avoid informing your family of your decisions.

The conversation is such an easy task to put off because unlike retirement planning there is no real date or time frame to take into consideration. It almost seems to be human nature to procrastinate when there is no real dead line. If there is no realistic window of time to reference then it seems so easy to wait for that window to creep towards closing before acting. The problem is that sometimes that window is slammed shut due to events beyond our control and decisions are left undone. Those decisions are left to family that is burdened with tragedy and loss multiplying the emotional distress.

The unknown is scary. Death is scary. The unknowable could be the most important factor in causing people to leave for another day thoughts of their own demise. Talking about it makes it real. How will it happen? How will it all end? Will I lay in bed lingering or will I disappear like lightning? All unsettling thoughts even for the most pragmatic. Setting those thoughts aside and making family aware of your final wishes will help to put things into perspective. Knowing that your final wishes have been attended to and the tough decisions have been made helps attain peace of mind that is immeasurable.

It really is unfortunate but disputes among family members can be a real problem. The disputes can be a myriad of issues ranging from money to who gets the good china. It is understandable. It is so much easier to let whoever fight about whatever later especially if there are health issues. That would be the time to consult with a lawyer and write up a will that is clear about your final wishes. It would be irresponsible to not address those issues or to let it turn into an even bigger dispute. That is why it is even more important to address while you are healthy and have the energy to have the hard discussions and make the tough decisions.

It can be difficult to look into a future that you may not be a part of. There is a sense of relief once the hard part is finished and the plans are made. Prearranging your funeral will guarantee that your family will be allowed to grieve and heal instead of worry and plan.

This article was written in consultation with Rick Lucas of Louisville SEO Strategies.

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This little blog post is about gratitude. I’m feeling so grateful toward the dedicated group of core coordinators who have been meeting almost weekly now for over 3 years to birth Community Deathcare Canada. My colleagues Don Morris, Rochelle Martin, Sue Muirhead, Sarah Kerr, Jemma Fong, and Judith McGill have given so much of themselves to co-create this national community of practice. We have been operating beautifully together, utilizing a model of shared leadership to imagine and facilitate the reclamation of community-based deathcare in Canada. Together we invented a mission, vision and values for this organization, and now I’m grateful also for a shift to a board of directors model as we currently seek non profit status.
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Direct Access to Certificates of Cremation Reinstated in Ontario

Direct Access to Certificates of Cremation Reinstated in Ontario

Rochelle Martin

Aug. 20, 2017

In October 2016, the Office of the Chief Coroner of Ontario streamlined its system for the issuance of certificates of cremation. The new, centralized online system permitted access only to funeral industry service providers, shutting families out of direct access to applications for certificates of cremation. Families suddenly found themselves having to employ a funeral home, transport services, or crematorium to apply for a certificate of cremation on their behalf, if they chose cremation as the disposition option for their loved one.

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Willow – Love and Light

I have been searching for blog posts for our new website and recently heard back from Michelle Pante and Reena Lazar who have co-founded Willow.

At Willow their goal is to transform the often overwhelming and fragmented process of advance planning into a rich opportunity for personal growth and transformation.  I found it fascinating to read why they have chosen Willow as the name for their business!

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CBC – Death midwives help families cope with end-of-life care

bright flowers“… As our population ages, baby boomers are beginning to seek the alternative to the traditional end of life care. They are taking more control over what happens to them, some are seeking green burials and home vigils and asking difficult questions about the meaning of death. They are hoping to find a richer set of experiences for them and their families. Enter death midwives a growing practice here in Canada. Death midwifery is both an ancient and brand new discipline that brings deathcare back into the home ….”, listen and read Gloria Christianson’s story of her son, Scott’s end of life journey and Judith’s experience shared on CBC.

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Home Funeral Practicum on Gabriola Island BC

Hi everyone, this is long overdue!

In February, 2017, I attended Don Morris’ Home Funeral Practice workshop on Gabriola Island. The weekend was so inspiring that as result we formed the Gabriola Community Death Care Collective. We found the workshop informative and very moving. Our collective consists of Michele, Leah, Christine and myself, Elfi. We are in the seeding time of our endeavour and beginning to connect with other community organizations and hoping that our work will blossom. We appreciate your work very much.

More to come!

Elfi Shaw

Find out more about home funerals at: 


How To Listen to the Dying

by Olga Nikolajev RN, MA, CT

Listening in this way can be used for any communication process, especially when “listening” to someone speaking about dying and death, or any difficult conversation. If we can start listening with presence, empathy, compassion, forgiveness during these discussions, imagine how much better listeners we will be with other conversations, developing true heart to heart communication, speaking from the heart as our ancestors did.

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The Season of Remembering

By Susanne Muirhead

The winter snow sparkles, its as if twinkling stars have landed from above and are surrounding me everywhere as I walk along the snow covered path.  At this time of year, this time of cocooning, wood fires, early darkness, cold floors in the morning, icicles hanging from the rooftops,  ice chunks floating in the river and creek, I am remembering my Mom.  The river dippers help me remember to sing – to honor my Mom who has died almost five years ago now.  I smile and my heart is warmed thinking about her.  She died in February, in the winter of 2012.  Today, similar to five years ago, the world here is covered in snow.   Back then, our home was just being built on a piece of land that is bordered by river and creek.  This is where my Mom chose to come to die.  She had helped with the beginnings of building this house and so the land, the air, the water still share the fond memories of our time together here.  The wild mountains held a space for her to die – as if they opened the palms of their hands and created a spot just for her. Mom died in a bed that we had built – it was big enough for someone to rest beside her as she travelled.  The room where she died has a huge window that looks out onto the welcoming branches of the cedar trees and over large expanses of white snow.  This is what her eyes beheld those last days spent in our home where family, candles and flowers surrounded her. We had time to laugh, cry, talk, remember, and prepare together.  It was such a fitting end for such a humble, loving, magnificent woman.  I miss my Mom – I miss talking with her, I miss her deep caring and loving ways. I miss her and remember her as I walk these snow covered lands – a season for remembering.

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