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Cultural Competency in Deathcare: A Necessity, Not a Choice

by Guest Contributor Joél Simone Maldonado aka the Grave Woman


Serious question…does anyone else find it ironic that modern Deathcare practices such as embalming, restorative art and many funeral rites and rituals that we perform and practice daily originated in Africa, yet Black Deathcare is not taught nor considered in the formal education that funeral directors and embalmers receive in mortuary school? What challenges, professional liabilities and potential unnecessary stress does the lack of Black Deathcare education pose for professionals? What impact does this omission have on Black decedents, their families, loved ones, and communities? How is not having this vital information and education negatively reflected in your firm’s reputation and bottom line?


As I am sure you are aware, making funeral arrangements and viewing the body of a loved one after their death has the potential to be an opportunity for peace and closure or, sadly for many Black families, one of the most traumatic and heart-breaking experiences one can have. The outcome and memory picture created is directly tied to your professional ability to not only communicate effectively in a manner that is culturally sensitive and non-offensive but also your level of competence as it relates to caring for Black decedents in the embalming room.


To be completely honest, Black families are not always choosing firms because of price and proximity. In many cases our choice is made based on who we think is most capable of providing the most dignified experience from beginning to end. Many factors influence what we perceive to be most dignified. However, professionals’ ability to communicate with, recognize and honor spiritual and religious nuances, communicate sensitively, and properly care for our unique hair and cosmetic needs play a big role in our selection process. Simply put, we do not always trust that we will be treated respectfully and more importantly that loved ones will be returned to us looking like themselves.


My name is Joél Simone Maldonado aka The Grave Woman. I am a licensed funeral director, embalmer, award winning deathcare educator, sacred grief practitioner, and proud founder of The Black Death, Grief, and Cultural Care Academy. I specialize in educating professionals about the importance of Cultural Competency, Racial Inclusion and Diversity in end of life, death, and grief care. Black Deathcare is not only my business but my ministry. I help professionals not only understand the importance of Black Deathcare but also build value through serving Black communities.


Throughout my career and research I have learned that many professionals are afraid of and avoid Black Deathcare because they simply do not want to “mess up” or cause further hurt and pain to grieving families. I don’t think that this fear and avoidance are rooted in racism or lack of desire to provide quality care and comfort but instead in simply not having learned basic skills, language and communication methods required. In all cases I have witnessed firsthand that acquiring these skills and competencies lead to more confident professionals, stronger relationships and increased trust within Black communities and bigger profits for firms.


What is the Black Death, Grief and Cultural Care Academy?


The Black Death, Grief, and Cultural Care Academy is an online end of life and death care academy dedicated to sharing the sacred art, wisdom, and knowledge of caring Black for bodies in transition and after death. The Black Death, Grief, and Cultural Care Academy was birthed from the lack of formal education, practical and technical training in health, end of life and death care education as it relates to caring for Black patients, deceased, their grieving loved ones and communities.


Our Value Statement


The Black Death, Grief, and Cultural Care Academy is dedicated to honoring, preserving, and sharing Black end of life, death, and grief care, ceremony, rituals and culture.


Our Mission

"Educate. Empower. Improve."


We aim to eradicate the disenfranchisement of Black patients, decedents, and grieving communities through educating professionals about the proper care of Black bodies, hair, skin, and cosmetic needs while honoring spiritual and religious rituals, cultural nuances, grief, and mourning practices and holding space for the consideration of folklore, superstition, and other professionally taboo aspects of Black end of life and death care.


About the Author

Joél has worked in the death care industry since 2010 and has over 15 years’ experience in the health care industry. She currently serves on the Board of Directors for Compassion and Choices, as co-chair of the boards Diversity, Equity and Inclusion committee and volunteers on the organizations African American Leadership Council.


Joél educates the public through having open and honest conversations about death, dying, death care and grief culture through the use of her APFSP CE certified courses, podcast, YouTube channel and social media platforms @thegravewoman.

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