Community Deathcare in Canada

What is community-centred deathcare?

What is a death midwife

The Community Deathcare movement strives to reclaim a participatory relationship with death, honouring death as an important part of life. Even though there tends to be many challenging and painful feelings associated with dying and deathcare, there are also many rewards and benefits to engagement.

As a society, we are coming to realize that our cultural denial of death, particularly by handing deathcare over to professionals, has not protected us from dying or from grief. It has, in fact, left us less able than previous generations to cope with bereavement in healthy ways. Those who choose to reengage with dying and deathcare discover that not only is it safe and legal to be involved (exceptions in Québec), but it is also deeply meaningful to care for a loved one during and after death.  Visceral involvement helps to make meaning of death and may even foster healthy grief.

Community-centered deathcare is both an ancient practice and an emerging contemporary field. In the past, end of life and post-death care were usually handled at home by the family and the local community. Local women made themselves available to help with birth and deathcare and were called midwives and/or shrouding women.

During the modern age in North America, dying and deathcare became medicalized. Public health and private industry took over roles related to caring for people at end of life and after death. Since that time, we have become increasingly alienated from all aspects of death. Honouring the human and grassroots nature of community-centred deathcare is paramount to the success of the contemporary movement. A great portion of the work is simply holding space for the unfolding of such poignant transitions with love, courage, and faith in the process.

Who are community deathcare practitioners? They are those amongst us who are called to assist families and communities in reclaiming dying and deathcare. We share a desire to empower individuals, families, and communities to become as actively involved in shaping their own end-of-life and post-death care as they can, and choose to be. We call ourselves by many different self-appointed titles since the entire field of community deathcare is unregulated.

The work we do is often on a voluntary basis within our own families and communities, and some of us provide fee for service offerings, too. None of us are “professionals,” since there are no professional associations, accrediting bodies, nor any third party governance of any kind to oversee certification or licensure. We aim to practice in competent and responsible ways, respecting the letter of the law in every province.

Understanding that the success of the movement depends upon honouring its grassroots nature, we find ourselves in somewhat of a catch 22: On one hand we wish our work be seen as valid and reliable by the general public, and for those needing service to be able to find us, yet we also wish to share the message that dying and deathcare does not require professional intervention.

The contemporary community deathcare movement seeks to inspire and support Canadians to engage holistically with dying and deathcare. At this seminal point in our history, most practitioners’ services focus on education and advocacy while those with advanced education, practical training, and clinical experience provide more in-depth, holistic care.

Please join us in the development of this Canadian community of practice, and in co-creating the larger movement of community-centred deathcare!