Story #4: Death Care

Who do you call when it’s “Closing Time”?

             We’ve all heard of health care and prenatal care. But how many of us have heard of death care?

              In simple terms, death care is about embracing the traditional roots of the death process, the way dying used to be before it became very clinical.

             Through conversation and reflection, Aileen Stewart, a local Death Care Guide, empowers her clients to uncover what a “good death” means to them.

            Encouraged by her own curiosity about the mystery of death, Aileen underwent training at the Institute of Traditional Medicine’s Contemplative End Of Life Care program in Toronto. After graduating in 2016, she co-founded Closing Time, a death care group in Kingston, which gave her the opportunity to share information with others who were interested in exploring options at end-of-life and after-death.

            Additional training and experience through Hospice Kingston and the palliative care program at Providence Care Hospital allowed Aileen to apply her training in a more practical setting. It also provided a better understanding of her role in the dying process.

            Aileen sees that role as providing service and support. She assists the dying person and their family as they navigate the intricacies that arise when one passes away. This process can involve helping the dying person develop a death plan, giving advice about a home funeral, and accompanying someone during their last hours following a lengthy terminal illness or a medically assisted death.

           Decisions such as whether the person wants a vigil or a memorial, cremation or burial − even the kind of music to be played after they die − are included in a death plan. A death plan is not a legal document but a written declaration made by an individual about their wishes at the end of life and after death.

           “My role is that of a support person, where I support the family or loved ones to create the experience that the dying person has asked for, almost like an advocate, especially if they have taken the time to create a death plan,” says Aileen.

            Death care has evolved to be a hybrid of purchase-of-service and  volunteer service. For example, clients are asked to pay for some services, such as developing a death plan or a home funeral but “there is no charge for sitting with someone during his or her final hours, which is more of a gift from the heart,” she says. “It is such an honour to be asked to be with someone when they are at that threshold.”

 

− Sabaa Farooq and Ashlesha Gaur

 

To learn more about Aileen Stewart, visit www.deathcarekingston.ca