Community of Practice Explained
Community Deathcare is a burgeoning social movement. Canadians are experiencing the consequences of our cultural alienation from death, having accepted the medicalization, institutionalization and industrialization of dying and deathcare.
Some Canadians have maintained a participatory relationship with death. Many First Nation as well as Muslim, Jewish, Pagan, Quaker, Anthroposophical and other self-reliant communities, have continued to practice deathcare as their previous generations did. The grassroots practice of community-centred deathcare is an ancient practice which continues to this day.
More and more Canadians are seeking to become reengaged with death. We are participating in advance planning and offering personal, hands-on care for our loved ones at the end of life and after death. Those who seek a more meaningful relationship with death are discovering that, as a society, we have lost many of the skills needed to perform these basic acts of care, and have erroneously come to believe that providing end of life and post-death care is unsafe and illegal.
Baby boomers and other Canadians are beginning to seek leadership and services from both grassroots and trained practitioners in order to reclaim dying and deathcare in more personally and culturally meaningful, and deeply ecological ways.
People who feel called to serve as community deathcare practitioners are responding, by volunteering in our own families and communities, or offering services to the public for pay. We bring diverse and rich skills, experiences and traditions to the work we do and we call ourselves by many different titles, such as death midwives, death doulas, thanadoulas, end of life coaches, advance planning consultants, soul/spiritual midwives, home funeral guides, psychopomps, ceremonialists, disposition consultants, among others. Community Deathcare Canada does not endorse the use of any specific titles. We hope that community deathcare practitioners who do choose to name themselves publicly, will do so ethically and with respect for relevant legislation (such as provincial Funeral Service and Midwifery Acts).
As the public demand for community-based deathcare services grows, so does the need for practical ways to connect service providers and the public, in order to make what we have to offer clear to those who are interested. Thus, there is significant pressure to organize and professionalize the practice.
Community Deathcare Canada resists the pressure to professionalize the practice of community-centred deathcare, in order to honour the grassroots nature of the work, which we believe should be accessible to everyone. To promote the licensure and regulation of community deathcare implies that specialized skills are needed to provide death-related care, whereas we believe that families and communities possess the innate wisdom to care for their dying and dead. Our mission, vision and values reflect these deeply held beliefs, which form the core of this national organization.
While respecting and honouring the deathcare practices that families and communities are willing and able to handle without professional intervention, community deathcare practitioners are available to educate, guide and offer assistance with those aspects of dying and deathcare for which help is required. Families’ needs are unique and so are our offerings. Rather than aiming to standardize and regulate practice, we have chosen instead to embrace a ‘community of practice’ model whereby community deathcare practitioners are self-identified and regulated by the organic growth and development of the community.
It is expected that practitioners will be committed to capacity-building, and even though Community Deathcare Canada doesn’t take any role in judging whether or not a practitioner has appropriate credentials to offer service, we let each individual practitioner’s training and expertise speak for itself.
Communities of practice offer a unique way to build relationships amongst practitioners and the public, by making it possible to have practitioners list offerings in a comprehensive directory that describes background, training, capacities, skills and the types of service provided, in a standardized portfolio.
Those seeking service can compare and contrast portfolios to choose a community deathcare practitioner who is a good fit.
We believe that a community of practice is an ideal model to support the development of the burgeoning community deathcare movement in Canada. The model facilitates relationship-building amongst practitioners and with the public, by elucidating the services we offer without regulating the practice.
The community of practice approach engages practitioners with community members who have had experience in receiving this kind of support, and/or who are interested in ensuring that these services are available, so that together they can safeguard and develop the practice from their various perspectives. It also fosters a rich sharing of stories and leads to inter-professional knowledge generation, because so many community deathcare practitioners are, or have been, part of other related professions.
To be clear: there is no such thing as a professional community deathcare practitioner (or Thanadoula, Home Funeral Guide, etc.) because the field is unregulated and there are no professional associations nor third party governing bodies. Without licensure, the practice remain self-regulating, which supports the integrity of the grassroots nature of all kinds of community-centred deathcare work. Community Deathcare Canada is not in a position to govern, guarantee or endorse the work of any practitioner. We are building an inclusive community of practitioners who share a vision, mission and values. Those who chose to procure our services do so based on each practitioner’s listing, which describes their unique experience, training, credentials and offerings. We include on our website a list of questions that you may wish to use in screening and securing the services of a community deathcare practitioner.
To learn more about the Community of Practice model, please read this article by Etienne Wenger.
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