Winter 2022 - Doula Member Spotlight
Janet Reichart, LCSW
For as long as I can remember, I have experienced a fascination with death, with the dying process, and with how people grieve. Even as a child, I was drawn to stories about end of life, and about the medical aspects of death. Somehow, even in youth, I knew that the experience of leaving this physical existence is a deeply sacred transition, one that extends far beyond the cessation of a heartbeat. I was a shy, quite child, easily intimidated by an acute awareness that I was not deeply part of my school age cohort. My attraction to all of the aspects that define end of life was further confirmation that I was "weird," and so this remained a deep secret. Still...something called me.
As a young child, I was fascinated by the stories my maternal grandmother told about in-home wakes, held in the Hell's Kitchen tenement apartments of her youth. Along with her younger sisters, she would sneak into the homes of the grieving, for the food, and to listen with morbid curiosity to the sound of water dripping from blocks of ice beneath the body of the deceased loved one who was being memorialized. When I was 16, my mother, at the time in nursing school, brought home Elisabeth Kubler-Ross' "On Death and Dying." With the same enthusiasm 16 year old boys may have been exploring "Playboy" magazines at the time, I furtively read bits and pieces of this pivotal masterpiece, realizing there may be a place in the world for me after all. Life, though, was going to take many turns before I would feel called to honor this mysterious connection to a most beautiful process.
Supporting the process of saying goodbye is the root of my work, and I am honored to do it.
In 2008, my paternal grandmother died, after being lovingly cared for at home by a team of family and outside caregivers. At the time, I needed a second job, and decided to pay forward the care that was given to my grandmother by taking a position with a non-medical caregiving agency, serving mostly elderly clients. I provided companionship, support, and mostly listened. I listened to their stories, and I heard what was not spoken. I found a passion I was honored to indulge in, and get paid for!
I returned to school, to finally achieve an undergraduate degree, then a Masters in Social Work with the sole purpose of working in hospice care. While in school, I learned about End of Life Doulas, and I knew as soon as I graduated, I would explore this field in order to deepen my ability to serve people who are leaving this world, and their families. Hospice would pay the bills while allowing me to care in different ways, and my role as an End of Life Doula would allow me to hold sacred space and companion the dying in ways that bring deeper meaning and ease.
At the same time, during a counseling session of my own, after sharing a story about deep, repeated losses endured by my parents both before and after my birth, my therapist observed, "Of course you want to work in this field. Death, grief and loss have been your experiences since before your birth." BAM! In my mid-50s, it all came together, and it came together in a way that I could be of service to others.
Today, my favorite part of being an End of Life Doula remains vigil work. Being present during those last days, hours, minutes, and bearing witness when people find exactly what they need to feel safe enough to leave leaves me filled with awe, with gratitude, and with a peace that comes from knowing that in the end, we all are given what we need to feel safe. Neither age, nor cognitive ability, nor medical diagnosis alter the process. I share that our bodies are going to do what they are going to do. Supporting the process of saying goodbye is the root of my work, and I am honored to do it. Being present during vigil work allows me to humbly witness the work of the soul. In this, birth, and death, are at their core spiritual experiences. Being present is a reminder that there is something far greater than "all this," and in that, death brings hope.
"Always believe. Believe in yourself, in your family,
and in your God." ~Eleanor Reichart
CEOLC EOL Doula Member Spotlight
Member Spotlight - Janet Reichart, LCSW
For as long as I can remember, I have experienced a fascination with death, with the dying process, and with how people grieve. Even as a child, I was drawn to stories about end of life, and about the medical aspects of death. Somehow, even in youth, I knew that the experience of leaving this physical existence is a deeply sacred transition, one that extends far beyond the cessation of a heartbeat.
Member Spotlight - Sara E. Stewart
After a stroke in October of 2015, Sara had to focus on rehabilitation. Her recovery was underwhelming. It was not until she realized she was grieving that things changed. Sara turned that grief into mourning the person she was prior to the stroke, and she began to speed up her recover process.
Member Spotlight - Vanessa Johnston
In 2015, Vanessa Johnston was looking for a new career. Her passion for teaching high school English had waned, and she wanted a different way to be of useful service in the world. She now spends her time as an End-of-Life Doula, a death educator, and an advocate for all the new options in the field of death care..
Member Spotlight - Valerie Nicholas
Valerie has always had an affinity for working with older adults, and she attributes this calling to her loving and influential grandparents. Valerie has been a life-long professional working with older adults and has devoted herself to end-of-life care as a hospice volunteer, life-cycle celebrant, and end-of-life doula.
Member Spotlight - Kerry Arquette
Kerry is the secretary and co-founder of the Colorado End-of-Life Collaborative, as well as the proprietor of End-of-Life Midwife. She has authored several books and is regularly invited to speak and teach about her work as an end-of-life doula, as well as a victim’s specialist for the Denver Police Department. Her most recent book, War Cries: Unheard Voices, Unmarked Graves, is a beautifully haunting collection of poems that give voice to the stories of many people much like ourselves who died during WWII. CEOLC is proud to feature her article, “Why Our Collaborative Is Imperative,” as we launch our new Collaborative Blog. Find out more about Kerry in this month’s Member Spotlight.
Member Spotlight - Cindy Kaufman
Cindy is the president and co-founder of the Colorado End-of-Life Collaborative, as well as the proprietor of HeartSpeak End-of-Life Companioning. She is regularly invited to speak and teach about what it means to be an end-of-life doula. Her most recent book, The Mortal’s Guide to Dying Well: Practical Wisdom from an End-of-Life Doula, was released in May 2020. Visit Cindy’s website to see more articles, publications and interviews.