“Everybody has the right to die a good death.”
When asked why she became a death doula, that was Janet O’Dell’s ‘in a nutshell’ response.
O’Dell, a longtime resident of Vancouver Island’s Comox Valley, traded in her dental assistant scrubs a few years ago, and returned to school, to pursue what she describes as a calling.
“It started with a little company (discovered online) called Doula Givers out of the USA and immediately thought ‘ah, that’s my calling - let’s see what Canada needs for requirements,’” said O’Dell. “So I took my course through Douglas College (in Vancouver). That was when I realized that I had been doing this for a whole long time - before I even knew what a death doula was.”
She recalls the death of a friend as being a catalyst for this career change.
“I had a friend that passed away from cancer about nine years ago, and I witnessed her not-so-good death. She wanted to stay at home to die, which was her choice. But her family was very little and she didn’t have much support, and it was quite a gruesome death. I never want to see that for another person. So that’s where my passion came out.
“There is such a thing as a good death - if you plan for it.”
O’Dell describes a death doula as “non-medical practitioners, who are trained and knowledgeable in supporting the dying, and their families, before, during and after death.”
Death doulas offer everything from advanced care planning, and end-of-life guidance, to grief support and home death/funeral arrangements.
“We meet with our clients and discuss everything, all the planning,” said O’Dell. “What are your wishes? What do you want (to be) done with your body? We talk about creating legacies… for families and loved ones left behind.”
In addition to preparation, death doulas offer emotional support for the dying.
“We will sit, support, listen. We are confidants,” said O’Dell. “I will meet them, joke with them, keep life in light, in a sense. We are companions. We are guiders. We will help families grieve, even at the time of the diagnosis - anticipatory grief.”
O’Dell acknowledges death is not an easy subject for many people. She wants to change that.
“My mission is to ‘flip the script’ and transform how we think and talk about death,” O’Dell said. “To encourage and empower others to speak about death. Being a death doula is an honour, it is fulfilling, it is my passion.
“You’re going to die… so plan for it.”
O’Dell’s company, Dynamic Journey, has been operating since May of this year. It is non-denominational.
“My philosophy is, as a death doula, I do not judge your choices, your actions, your desires, or your experience. I am here to support you in figuring out what makes sense for you; that may include decision-making, healing, processing, and more,” she said. “We can meet in public, at a park, or outside. We do Zoom meetings, phone calls, text messages - we are virtually everywhere.”
O’Dell said there has been a general surge in death doulas, and the pandemic is a major factor.
“What we are seeing, is the medical industry is stressed,” she said. “Health care workers, so many are taking leaves, or are burned out, or just retiring. We are in a crisis, and death doulas are filling in a void.”
O’Dell can be reached at her company’s website dynamicjourneydoula.ca, or by phone at 250-792-3978.