Death Doula Network International: A community for death literacy and doulas

Personal Stories | March 8, 2024 | Sarah Dobec

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Jo-Anne Haun is a retired insurance adjuster and has helped many people navigate the experience of losing property. It may not be super obvious at first, but it is a type of death — not a loss of life, but people still go through the stages of grief. 

After 35 years in the industry, Jo-Anne was looking for a new direction and ended up on a phone call with a psychic. The psychic said, “I don’t know why, but write this down – death doula.” Jo-Anne did not know what that was or what this meant but she searched it up online and told two good friends about this encounter. Both friends encouraged the idea and helped her do research.  

Not too soon after, one of the friends, Jan, was diagnosed with end-stage pancreatic cancer. Jo-Anne supported Jan through the journey not really realizing at the time that this was her introduction to the role of a death doula. All of this aligned with an introductory course about becoming a death doula through Douglas College that Jo-Anne had enrolled in. 

When Jan chose to have an assisted death, Jo-Anne was able to help her coordinate family visits to say their goodbyes, and the gathering on the day of the MAID provision. Before she died, Jan said to Jo-Anne, “You have to keep doing this work. There are too many gaps in the system and people need an advocate when they are dying.” Jo-Anne kept her promise to Jan and today she is a death doula. 

Jo-Anne’s friend Karen had also trained as a death doula and when the pandemic started, they made a quick decision to transition online and began offering sessions called “Seriously, Let’s Talk.” It was safe space to explore learning about ourselves and our loved ones, and prompts to consider the many aspects of death, dying, end-of-life planning and communication. 

They also became the Canadian distributors for the Death Deck – a party game that lets you explore death – a topic we’re often afraid to discuss – and they started a podcast called “The Dishing Doulas.”    

Jo-Anne and Karen began to hear from other death doulas who had finished their training but weren’t sure where to go next. “We did some research and realized there wasn’t a community or organization for people to join after their death doula training, so we created one. On August 10, 2020, Death Doula Network B.C. was born, but quickly expanded to Death Doula Network International (DDNI) because of the demand around the globe. We have over 200 members from around the world and not everyone is a death doula; it is a passionate community committed to connection, support and education for anyone interested in in death literacy and positivity. The site offers resources for those navigating end of life, a monthly workshop, mentorship opportunities and various training workshops including one specific to doulas who support people through MAID.” DDNI is also the Canadian Distributor for Barbara Karnes RN educational materials and provides workshops that incorporate her works. 

Jo-Anne is also a volunteer with Bridge C-14, MAID Family Support Society and is the Chair of the Okanagan Chapter of Dying With Dignity Canada.

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