Just as a birth midwife provides care at the beginning of life, a death midwife provides care during the final stages of life. Professional death midwives can offer the dying and their family spiritual and emotional comfort, advocate for their rights, guide them through paperwork, plan special burial rituals, and act as a liaison with funeral homes. Although certification processes are still relatively new and not yet standardised, there are a number of options for people interested in training and certifying to be a death midwife or, as it sometimes called, death doula.
Train with a death midwife. Your best resource for learning about becoming a death midwife is to study with others who have been in the field; they will have the experience and knowledge to prepare you to succeed.
Because there are a variety of professionals and professional organisations that provide companionship and support to the dying, research which educators and organisations match your goals and interests. Talk to former program participants, and read program-specific materials. Death midwifery includes a broad range of care giving and support. Programs offer training in everything from providing palliative care to creating spiritual rituals for the end of life.
These organisations offer training in the field:
--Create Sacred Space for Conscious Transitions, "a non-profit educational ministry whose mission is to empower people to act as guides for the dying and their families," is a karma yoga based organisation. The organisation recently published a book for beginner death midwives that won a National Book Award, titled "The Art of Death Midwifery: an Introduction and Beginners Guide."
--Beyond Hospice offers an 88-hour online course to train and certify as a death midwife. The program is self-paced and requires a four-day practicum retreat to complete the training.
--Jerrigrace Lyons of Final Passages offers beginning and advanced midwifery in-service training called "Honoring Life's Final Passages 1 & 2" in Sebastopol, California. Seminars and workshops are also offered for continuing education credits.
--The Soul Midwives Foundation offers beginning and advanced soul midwife practitioner courses in London.
--Thresholds of Life founder Nora Cedarwind Young, a Washington state-based practitioner, offers death midwife workshops and ceremonies across the country.
--Crossings, a non-profit funeral home and resource centre run by death midwife Elizabeth Knox in Takoma Park, Maryland, provides workshops, training and resources.
--Natural Transitions, a non-profit funeral guidance organisation in Boulder, Colorado, will have a multilevel End of Life Transition Guidance certification program beginning in spring 2011.
--Center for Loss & Life Transition in Fort Collins, Colorado, was founded by Dr. Alan D. Wolfelt and offers a death and grief studies certificate.
--The Shira Ruskay Center in New York City trains volunteer doulas to help with palliative care.
Obtain a copy of your local laws. Since each state has different laws about how to care for the dead or dying, you will need to be informed on how to assist your clients with any legal questions they may have. A death midwife will need to know the local laws pertaining to caring for the dead, hosting vigils, transporting bodies, burying, and cremating.
Join professional organisations. Many organisations exist to help professionals provide respectful, conscious and informed care. These organisations offer a rich collection of resources, research and authoritative answers to support your work. Consider joining organisations like Americans for Better Care of the Dying, Aging with Dignity, Hospice Net and the Funeral Consumers Alliance.
Market yourself. Once you are trained and ready to begin, it is important to let people know about your services. Creating a professional website will help people in your community find you. Producing business cards, brochures, and other informational pamphlets will help educate potential customers. Networking with others in the profession will help you build relationships and establish yourself as a death midwife.
To read more about the death midwife profession look for these books: "The Art of Death Midwifery : An Introduction and Beginner's Guide"; Joellyn St. Pierre, D. Div.; 2009 "Midwife for Souls: Spiritual Care for the Dying"; Kathy Kalina; 2007 "The Midwife and the Bereaved Family"; Jane Warland; 2000 "A Midwife through the Dying Process: Stories of Healing and Hard Choices at the End of Life"; Timothy E. Quill; 2001