Shannon Takacs is hoping her life experience will enable her to help people who are facing the end of their lives by being a death doula.
“A birth doula… they are used at the beginning of life and a death doula is someone who would assist at the ending of life, at death,” she told The Free Press.
Takacs understands that death is a subject often shunned by our culture, as people opt not to talk openly about it. She is hoping to change that by creating a dialogue surrounding death, thereby easing some of the grief and pain people can feel when losing a loved one.
“Grief is a natural process but in our culture, I think nowadays, we are not processing grief. It’s just getting blocked and the more it gets blocked the more it comes up in other ways, like excessive everything, depression, anger, drinking, rage,” she said. “I see my role as in really trying to break open dialogues by talking about death and making death be a comfortable topic for people to talk about and educating people about what happens when you don’t.”
Takacs became interested in becoming a death doula last fall, after reading an article in McLean’s magazine. After some online research, she attended a workshop in Calgary, where she learned the basics about helping people with death.
“That weekend workshop had everything to do with being a death doula – the spiritual and emotional side, the ritual side, like how to assist in helping people have a home funeral or home vigil,” she said.
Takacs is now comfortable to help people in all aspects of death, including sitting with them as they are dying, helping grieving loved ones prepare a home vigil, and assisting with getting the legal affairs in order before death. Takacs does acknowledge the legal issues in helping people with a home funeral, and therefore only acts as an advisor to a family who wants to preserve a body at home before the final farewell.
“As far as liability, we are not legally allowed to provide hands on care. We can assist but we cannot be paid for services that a funeral director would be deemed to do. So in fact, we are not handling the body, if they should choose to do a home funeral, we are assisting.”
According to Takacs, the amount of death she has experienced will help her in the role.
“It seems that I have an innate understanding of what to say and what to do to help my friends deal. All of the sadness that I have endured in my lifetime around death allows me to understand their pain very well, so I know what to say, what not to say,” she said. “I have had the luxury of being at two home births of a friend of mine and I can equate the love that you feel at a birth is present at death. If you can open your mind to it and if you can be present with it, it is no different, it is the same love. It is my greatest hope for people to start coming to understand that that is right there.”
Takacs understands it is important not to take on sadness, which can be easy to do when she is surrounded by it in her position as a death doula.
“I think it is challenging to not be affected by sadness for sure. But you just have to have a healthy outside life so I do a lot of sport, I do meditation, I do lots of self love stuff and I trust that will be good enough,” she said.
While no certifications are currently required to be a death doula in Canada, Takacs wants to educate herself as much as possible on the subject. She has signed up for a 12-week course on becoming a death doula for the fall, and says the course, which was created by a lady in Nova Scotia, is a comprehensive class in everything to do with being a death doula.
In her efforts to start a conversation about death in the community, Takacs is working with the hospice to organize a death café. The event is set for July 10 from 4 to 6 p.m. at the Castle on First.
“With a death café, you can invite people to a space,” she said. “You just invited people into a space to talk about past death experiences, pending death experience of an aging loved one or grandparents and just provide a safe space to talk about their experience in little clusters of people.”
Takacs hopes to have a strong working relationship with the local hospice and local funeral homes to create a dialogue about death. She says the topic of death is something that she will always have time to talk about.
“To me, it excites me to talk to people. I feel like yeah it’s an uphill battle but it is so important for people to have this information that I will just die trying,” she said. “I have all the energy in the world to talk about death, and I’m not afraid to talk about it and I’m excited to talk about it. I’m excited for people to want to have the information and just be a little bit curious about it. I just feel like there is an endless opportunity to get people to talk about it.”