Here’s How You Can Save the Earth, Even After Dying

Traditional funerals are terrible for the environment. But the green burial movement allows people to be kind to the planet, even after they’ve passed.

by &

If you’re planning a traditional Western funeral for a loved one, burial according to industry standards will cost you — in more ways than one. The materials typically used in the process, from embalming chemicals to casket varnishes and sealants, can seep into ground, polluting the water that you use every day.

In addition, U.S. cemeteries contain an estimated 15 tons of casket steel, enough to build almost all of the skyscrapers in Tokyo, according to TalkDeath, an online community dedicated to encouraging positive conversations around death and dying. Even cremation — often considered one of the most environmentally friendly options — spews fossil fuels into the atmosphere.

So what’s an eco-conscious funeral planner to do? A green burial uses biodegradable materials for caskets and shuns the use of chemicals to preserve bodies. That means adopters can help save the planet while saving themselves (or their families) money in the process.

To learn more about green burials, watch the video above.

Complete Article HERE!

This is what it’s like to be a death doula

The founder of Going With Grace, Alua Arthur, shares how she found her way into death work and how she manages not to take her work home with her.

Alua Arthur

By Anisa Purbasari Horton

For many people, the thought of being surrounded by death (and have that be a central part of how they earn their living) can seem quite morbid. But for Alua Arthur, the founder of the end-of-life planning service Going With Grace, it feels exactly the opposite.

Arthur is a death doula—also often referred to as a “death midwife.” Arthur’s journey to becoming a death doula is a profoundly personal one, but she represents a number of professionals who are active in the growing “death wellness” and “death-positive” movement. As Fast Company‘s Rina Raphael previously reported, this movement rests on the notion that having a good death is “part of a good life.”

Fast Company recently spoke to Arthur about her motivations for becoming a death doula and how she copes with work-life balance as she helps others through the grieving (and often stressful) administrative process that comes before and after a loved one’s death. The interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Helping people become clear on what death looks like

A death doula is a non-medical professional who provides holistic support for the dying person of the family and the family members. I help the people who are close to death on what it looks like. After that, I help family members deal with their affairs.

I also work with healthy people. The way I conceive it, as soon as someone comes into any recognition that one day they’re going to die, that’s the time to start preparing for that, so I help them with an end-of-life plan. It’s where we write down all the stuff that’s going to be a pain. We get clear for what their desires are for life support, and who’s going to make the decisions for them. We walk through important information and documents, like where’s their birth certificate? Where is their retirement account? Where do they bank? 

I also help people who are terrified of death. I find that people are more afraid of the dying process than death itself, so with them, I do death meditations. This looks like us going through the eventual decline of the body, their systems shutting down, and their breathing becoming ragged. It’s an opportunity for the person to lay there with whatever it is they experienced. A lot of times, people experience a sense of peace after going through this process.

The desire to build a career around death

Growing up, I wanted to be lots of things. I really wanted to be an astronaut. I loved to read and immerse myself in another world. I also wanted to be a conductor. I applied to a music conservatory, but I ended up in a liberal arts school that had an okay music program. I got involved in student government and decided to go to law school. I worked in property law, starting with government benefits, and then I moved to domestic violence and then not-for-profit development. I fumbled around for 10 years and started getting really depressed, so I took a medical leave of absence. That’s how I found death work.

I met a woman in Cuba. She had cancer and was traveling, and we bonded. We spent 14 hours on the bus together, and I asked all the difficult questions. What would be undone in her life if the disease killed her? What does she think happens after she dies? Did she live with the recognition of death constantly? They were questions I never really had myself. That was the first time it hit me that death was very real and that we don’t talk about it enough. It became clear that I wanted to spend my career talking about death.

That was solidified when my brother-in-law got sick and died. It showed me how all the ways that we do it now are broken. We had so many questions—how do we transfer the title for his vehicle, and what should we do with his leftover medication? There was nobody to answer them.

A day in the life of a death doula

A typical day always includes a lot of emails. So many emails. The part of my job that stresses me out is the business part. God, it’s the worst! I need to go back to my vision of helping people feel less alone to keep me in clear focus.

I start my day checking on various things—with the people who are dying, how things were over the course of the night. I’ll also check on plans for any funeral procession. I do a lot of phone calls and talk to therapists who work with people that are dying. If I do have clients that are dying, I see them in the afternoon, or I will see my end-of-life planning clients.

These days, I also do a lot of education around death and dying. I’m doing a lot of talks to reach people about how to do this work because we’re all going to have to do it for somebody in our lives.

When it comes to work-life balance, I do things like meditate daily, exercise regularly, and drink a gallon of water every day. I just got my nails done. I don’t deny myself pretty things.

On death and relationships

I talk about death all the time with my friends and family. I think sometimes I can be a little bit annoying because I want people to be authentic in their decision-making. I tend not to tell people what to say or do, and I listen actively. My best friend and I, we always have challenges because she always wants to tell me what to do. It is a struggle for my friends who have a hard time with the concept of their own mortality, because I’m talking about it all the time.

I don’t push the issue with my friends who are uncomfortable, but with my family members, I do. For my dad, he first had to come around to the idea that I wasn’t going to be practicing law anymore. Being an African parent, he wanted me to be either a lawyer, doctor, or engineer. I was like, how about death? He was like, how about what? That was a little tricky. But eventually, we got around to talking about it. After all, I’m the one who’ll have to deal with it when it happens.

I think people actually want to talk about death, but they feel like they don’t have permission to do so because it’s “heavy.” Well, it’s a regular part of living. Without death we wouldn’t have life. It’s funny: when I meet someone for the first time and I tell them I’m a death doula, so many of them say, “Oh, when x died, I wish that you had been there.”

Complete Article HERE!

People in western China smoked marijuana to bury their dead 2,500 years ago

— the oldest evidence of weed smoking in human history

In a tomb in western China, scientists discovered human remains and evidence of marijuana use from 2,500 years ago.

By

It appears people have been smoking weed for more than two millennia.

Researchers reported on Wednesday that they’ve found some of the earliest evidence of ritual cannabis smoking in the archaeological record.

The evidence comes from stone-filled braziers — a device used to burn a plant and fill the air with its vapors — that were unearthed in eight tombs at the Jirzankal Cemetery in the Pamir Mountains of western China.

Preserved in the 2,500-year-old braziers were traces of cannabinol (CBN), the compound that forms after tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) comes in contact with the air. THC is the most potent psychoactive agent in marijuana.

This wooden brazier with burnt stones in the center provides some of earliest evidence of ritual cannabis smoking.

The authors published their findings in the journal Scientific Advances. The chemical signature of THC residue in the tomb, they said, indicates that people in this region of China likely smoked marijuana during burial ceremonies, perhaps as a way to communicate with the dead.

“It’s the earliest strong evidence of people getting high” on marijuana, Mark Merlin, a botanist at the University of Hawaii, told USA Today.

This marijuana was potent

Marijuana is one of the most widely used psychoactive drugs in the world today, but the legacy of its use and cultivation spans millennia. The earliest known cultivation of cannabis plants occurred in Eurasia roughly 6,000 years ago, but it was used as a food crop and for hemp material — not smoked for psychoactive effects.

Previous evidence of ancient cannabis smoking came mostly from historical anecdotes, not archaeological evidence. Greek historian Herodotus wrote about ritual and recreational pot use around the same time that these braziers were buried in distant China.

Scientists also found cannabis seeds in a different 2,500-year-old Chinese tomb in 2006, but there was no evidence of smoking

Usually, wild cannabis ( Cannabis sativa) has lower levels of THC than its cultivated counterparts. But the residue in these Chinese braziers indicates that the type of cannabis smoked in them had higher THC levels than wild plants. It also had higher amounts of THC than the cannabis grown in ancient Eurasia, the authors of the new study noted in a press release

The authors aren’t sure whether the cannabis used in this region was intentionally cultivated to have higher amounts of THC (as it is today), or whether the people who conducted this burial had some other way of seeking out more potent plants.

Either way, they appeared to be aware that not all cannabis is created equal when it comes to its psychoactive qualities.

These tombs had evidence of human sacrifice

In the Jirzankal Cemetery, the archaeologists also found skulls and other bones with signs of fatal cuts and breaks, which they interpreted as signs of human sacrifice. They found a harp as well — an important musical instrument in ancient funerals and sacrificial ceremonies.

These clues from the past indicate that the burials had a ritual quality to them, and that smoking marijuana played a role in commemorating the dead.

The excavation of the tomb M12, in which evidence of the oldest ritual smoking of cannabis was found. In the photo, the cannabis brazier can be seen at the middle bottom edge of the central circle.

“We can start to piece together an image of funerary rites that included flames, rhythmic music, and hallucinogen smoke, all intended to guide people into an altered state of mind,” the study authors wrote.

Merlin told The Atlantic that this discovery does not suggest ancient Chinese people were into recreational drug use. Instead, he said, it was likely a spiritual practice — part of ushering the dead into the afterlife and helping the living commune with deities or the deceased.

Complete Article HERE!

How ‘Death Doulas’ Are Helping People at the End of Their Life

They’re changing how we approach end-of-life care.

by Kristen Fischer

To many people, the word “doula” refers to a childbirth coach. But doulas aren’t only available for when life begins — they can help when life ends too.

An end-of-life doula is a nonmedical professional trained to care for a terminally ill person’s physical, emotional, and spiritual needs during the death process. While you may never have heard of this position in the healthcare field, there’s quite a market for “death doulas.”

The role is also referred to as an “end-of-life coach,” “soul midwife,” “death midwife,” or “transition guide.”

Searching for a way for patients to have a “good death” has become increasingly important in the medical community. Last year the medical journal Behavioral Sciences devoted an entire issue to communication over end-of-life issues to ensure patients’ end-of-life wishes were realized.

“In the American culture, where the majority of people die in hospitals, death has been routinely denied, sterilized, and/or removed from view,” said Maureen P. KeeleyTrusted Source. Keeley, who is director of graduate studies at the Department of Communication Studies, Texas State University, wrote in the journalTrusted Source. “Talking about dying with the person that is terminally ill can relieve anxiety for both participants in the conversation, and it can help ensure that final wishes regarding treatment at the end of life are honored.”

Currently there a few organizations that administer credentials for death doulas, including the International End of LifeDoula Association (INELDA), International Doulagivers Institute, and Lifespan Doula Association (LDA).

Jeri Glatter, vice president of INELDA, said her organization has trained about 900 end-of-life doulas in the United States since 2015. The organization provides personal certifications as well as training to hospital staff members including hospice workers. In addition to popularity in the United States, there is a significant interest for training in Asia.

Individuals who seek a personal certification often go on to run their own businesses. An INELDA certification involves attending a training session and then applying for the credential. Several requirements, including hands-on work, must be completed to become certified, which takes the average person six to nine months and is quite rigorous, Glatter said.

Life as a death “doula”

For those who embark on the career, it’s quite a personal choice.

Kelly Sanders, RN, an end-of-life doula from Michigan, worked as a nurse in the long-term care field for many years before becoming a death doula.

“I saw people die without any control over the process,” she recalled. “It seemed as soon as the terminal diagnosis came, the patient became invisible to family and friends. They would talk as if the patient was already gone, even while the patient was in the room.”

She said that hospice cannot provide all of the services a person needs — especially the emotional help — when they have a terminal prognosis.

“Hospice does a great job taking care of the medical aspect of dying, but due to the changing nature of healthcare compensation, little time was left for the other aspects of dying that are just as important for a peaceful passing,” she said. “End-of-life doula services fit that need.”

She said there is a big misconception that hospice provides the same services as a death doula.

“I think it was the overall idea of hospice, but because of Medicare/Medicaid cuts, hospice only has time to deal with the medical needs. They do not have the training to even do the work of a doula.”

Death doulas can fill a gap in care. People can work with a death doula before they reach a point where they qualify for hospice. And an end-of-life doula is able to devote themselves to a single person, going in without an agenda to fulfill that person’s needs.

What a doula does

Sanders said a huge part of the job is to establish trust and build a relationship with patients and their families. It’s important to respect their wishes and not influence their decisions, she said.

As part of her services for Peaceful Journey Home, LLC, Sanders is often asked to take family photos or assist patients in writing letters to ask for forgiveness. Some patients hire her to plan their funerals.

“The more time that you have with a person, the more you learn and it is easier to learn their life story and advocate for their wishes,” she said. Sanders said it’s important to be flexible during the process. When she notes a patient’s wishes and they change, she gently reminds them of their initial preferences but allows them to change their minds.

“It is their death, so they can certainly have the right to change focus,” she said. “Sometimes we don’t always know what we want, and we mold the idea as we go along.”

Some family members rely on the doula to remain present and keep them informed on the patient’s status while they take a much-needed break.

A death doula can also answer questions about the dying process and empower family members to create the kind of environment that the person dying has requested, said Christy Marek, an end-of-life doula from Minnesota who sees patients locally and offers her services via phone and video conference.

“We help family feel competent and central to the process and less afraid of the unknown,” Marek said. “It is a true partnership, and I think that’s the best support we offer for families — assuring them they are not alone.”

Typical services include helping patients create legacy projects or planning a person’s final days and moments. Mostly, Marek said she focuses on creating a safe space for clients to do the emotional and “soul” work needed to help them prepare for their death.

“I help the individual who is dying to stay close to what is most important in the time that remains, to focus on what is possible rather than on limitation, and to support their loved ones in staying as involved as desired as things progress,” Marek said.

One of the biggest advantages of having an end-of-life doula is the continuity of care and consistent support. Patients often transition from actively seeking curative treatment to no longer receiving treatment. Some are put in hospice, and some “graduate” from hospice before their death, Marek explained.

“These are all circumstances where care teams change and support systems get disrupted and lost. Having an end-of-life doula throughout the process of end of life ensures that there is a consistent supportive foundation that remains the same,” Marek said.

Family ties can help lead to a ‘good death’

Sanders said it is best when family members are actively involved with the doula to respect the patient’s wishes.

“I try to encourage and engage families to participate in the process, especially if they are not in agreement with the process,” she said. “All input is valuable, but I like to politely remind families that this is not their death. So, the dying person’s wishes and needs come first.”

“Many times, a patient is not able to articulate their wishes, such as cases of dementia, but the patient still deserves a lasting tribute,” Sanders said.

Marek said her goal is to serve the patient even if they forget they hired her, don’t remember what they initially asked for, or have different wishes than family members.

She said her ultimate goal is to get what the patient wants — even if she is hired by family members.

Aside from bedside manner, death doulas have to run their business. Their services might be too costly for some patients, and insurance is unlikely to cover their work.

Sanders said an individual package may cover 20 hours for $700 plus an additional fee if the patient wants more time with the doula.

Marek said that prices typically are flexible and can include a weekly or monthly retainer or individual sessions and packages. An end-of-life vigil, which takes place during the active dying process, can range from $1,500 to $3,500 or so.

Leaning ‘into’ the fear

Anyone who is struggling with their diagnosis or wants to leave something behind for family, may want to seek out a death doula.

Sanders loves her job but admits that it’s hard when a patient passes away. “That part never gets easy,” she said. “I take comfort that I was able to help them transition on their terms.”

“Our culture holds so much fear around death that when we find ourselves face-to-face with it, either our own mortality or that of someone we love, we typically don’t know what to do,” Marek added. “It’s incredibly scary to face into the unknown, so most of us do our best not to.”

But Marek said ignoring real life can be harmful.

“It affects not only the person who is dying, but the entire circle that surrounds them,” Marek said.

The presence of an end-of-life doula helps people “lean into” the pain and fear of the unknown. That frees up space and energy so they can experience the emotions including actual joys that come with death. She said the doula’s experience helping others through death can ease the process for both family and patient.

“The comforting presence of a doula enables opportunities for the dying to connect more deeply with loved ones and to enjoy the time that remains, focusing on possibility rather than only on limitation, on what they can control rather than on what they can’t,” Marek said.

She said she believes that many people would benefit from having an end-of-life doula because they can help foster connections even during an emotionally painful time.

“I believe a death doula — the openhearted presence of someone who won’t turn away in the face of suffering and will offer support to help us work with it rather than fight against it — would benefit everyone at end of life.”

Complete Article HERE!

Could Trees Be the New Gravestones?

A California start-up wants to “redesign the entire end-of-life experience.” The answer to “eternity management”? Forests.

By Nellie Bowles

Death comes for all of us, but Silicon Valley has, until recently, not come for death.

Who can blame them for the hesitation? The death services industry is heavily regulated and fraught with religious and health considerations. The handling of dead bodies doesn’t seem ripe for venture-backed disruption. The gravestone doesn’t seem an obvious target for innovation.

But in a forest south of Silicon Valley, a new start-up is hoping to change that. The company is called Better Place Forests. It’s trying to make a better graveyard.

“Cemeteries are really expensive and really terrible, and basically I just knew there had to be something better,” said Sandy Gibson, the chief executive of Better Place. “We’re trying to redesign the entire end-of-life experience.”
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And so Mr. Gibson’s company is buying forests, arranging conservation easements intended to prevent the land from ever being developed, and then selling people the right to have their cremated remains mixed with fertilizer and fed to a particular tree.

The Better Place team is this month opening a forest in Point Arena, a bit south of Mendocino; preselling trees at a second California location, in Santa Cruz; and developing four more spots around the country. They have a few dozen remains in the soil already, and Mr. Gibson says they have sold thousands of trees to the future dead. Most of the customers are “pre-need” — middle-aged and healthy, possibly decades ahead of finding themselves in the roots.

Better Place Forests has raised $12 million in venture capital funding. And other than the topic of dead bodies coming up fairly often, the office is a normal San Francisco start-up, with around 45 people bustling around and frequenting the roof deck with a view of the water.

There is a certain risk to being buried in a start-up forest. When the tree dies, Better Place says it will plant a new one at that same spot. But a redwood can live 700 years, and almost all start-ups in Silicon Valley fail, so it requires a certain amount of faith that someone will be there to install a new sapling.

Still, Mr. Gibson said most customers, especially those based in the Bay Area, like the idea of being part of a start-up even after life. The first few people to buy trees were called founders.

“You’re part of this forest, but you’re also part of creating this forest,” said Mr. Gibson, a tall man who speaks slowly and carefully, as though he is giving bad news gently. “People love that.”

Sandy Gibson, the chief executive of Better Place Forests, in the start-up’s Santa Cruz location.

Bring Your Dog, Forever

Customers come to claim a tree for perpetuity. This now costs between $3,000 (for those who want to be mixed into the earth at the base of a small young tree or a less desirable species of tree) and upward of $30,000 (for those who wish to reside forever by an old redwood). For those who don’t mind spending eternity with strangers, there is also an entry-level price of $970 to enter the soil of a community tree. (Cremation is not included.)

A steward then installs a small round plaque in the earth like a gravestone.

When the ashes come, the team at Better Place digs a three-foot by two-foot trench at the roots of the tree. Then, at a long table, the team mixes the person’s cremated remains with soil and water, sometimes adding other elements to offset the naturally highly alkaline and sodium-rich qualities of bone ash. It’s important the soil stay moist; bacteria will be what breaks down the remains.

Because the forest is not a cemetery, rules are much looser. For example: pets are allowed. Often customers want their ashes to be mixed with their pets’ ashes, Mr. Gibson said.

“Pets are a huge thing,” Mr. Gibson said. “It’s where everyone in your family can be spread. This is your tree.”

“Spreading” is what they call the ash deposit. The trench is a “space,” the watering can is a “vessel,” the on-site sales staff are “forest stewards.” When it comes to both death and start-ups, euphemisms abound.

Available trees are marked with ribbons. Multiple ribbons indicate type and size of the trees.

It’s all pretty low-tech: mix ashes in with dirt and put a little placard in the soil. But there is a tech element: For an extra fee, customers can have a digital memorial video made. Walking through the forest, visitors will be able to scan a placard and watch a 12-minute digital portrait of the deceased talking straight to camera about his or her life. Some will allow their videos to be viewed by anyone walking through the forest, others will opt only for family members. Privacy settings will be decided before death.

Death Is a Growth Industry

As cities are running out of room to bury the dead, the cost of funerals and caskets has increased more than twice as fast as prices for all commodities. In the Bay Area, a traditional funeral and plot burial often costs $15,000 to $20,000. The majority of Americans are now choosing to be cremated.

“The death services market is very big — $20 billion a year — and customer approval is low,” said Jon Callaghan, a partner at True Ventures, an investor in Better Places. “The product is broken.”

The firm’s other investments include Blue Bottle, Peloton and Fitbit, and Mr. Callaghan sees consumers of those products as ones who would be interested also in Better Place trees.

“Every industry seems to have its time when things get wild,” said Nancy Pfund, the founder and a managing partner at DBL Partners, which led early funding. “It’s been mobile apps, it’s been cars, it’s been fake meat, and now it is death care,” she said.

“But we have to come up with a better name than ‘death care.’ Maybe it’s legacy care,” she added. “Maybe it’s eternity management.”

Around 75 million Americans will reach the life expectancy age of 78 between 2024 and 2042, Better Place suggests. The company’s pitch is that tree burial is good for the environment, the location is more beautiful than a traditional graveyard — and it’s cheaper as well.

Ms. Pfund also sees these forests as a way to monetize conservation. Actively managing a forest is expensive, so much so that financially strained state park systems are having to turn down gifts of land. Conservation easements, an agreement between an organization and the government to preserve land, have become more popular as a solution.

“No one has really made a big business monetizing conservation, nothing that could scale,” Ms. Pfund said. “So a bell went off when we heard this pitch.”

Where’s Grandma?

Those tracking the death services industry are more skeptical about how disruptive it will be.

John O’Conner, who runs Menlo Park Funerals, said more than 90 percent of his clients opt for cremation.

“Most of my people scatter on their own,” Mr. O’Conner said. “They just go at night, scatter grandma, have a cup of champagne, and every day they drive by that park they know grandma is there. Why would they pay $20,000 to go to a memorial grove when they can scatter at any little park they want to for free?”

That act is, technically, illegal.

“Don’t ask, don’t tell,” Mr. O’Conner said. He said he knew of a few golf courses in the region that had to put up signs imploring people not to scatter guest remains there.

Ben Deci, a spokesman for California’s Cemetery and Funeral Bureau, said Better Place Forests’ activities do not fall under the bureau’s purview.

“It looks to me like they’ve just purchased large tracts for forest land and are allowing people to disperse their ashes, and they say here ‘This’ll be your tree or whatever,’” Mr. Deci said. “You don’t need our approval to do that.”

Mr. Gibson does have a permit from the state verifying him as a cremated remains disposer. “But that’s not quite the right way to think about it,” he said.

How to Choose the Right Forever Tree

One recent day, Mr. Gibson walked through his 80 acres of Santa Cruz forest where about 6,000 trees are available, many wrapped in different colored ribbons, waiting to be chosen.

“The last major innovation in cemeteries was the lawn cemetery in the ’50s and ’60s, basically so they could get a lawn mower through easier,” Mr. Gibson said.

To claim a tree, customers walk through the forest and find one that speaks to them. The Better Place brochure also guides them: Coastal redwoods are “soaring and ancient,” tan oaks are “quirky and giving,” while a Douglas fir is “stately and reverent.”

“Some people want a tree that is totally isolated, and some people really want to be around people and be part of a fairy ring,” Mr. Gibson said. “Some people will come in and they’ll fall in love with a stump.”

“People love stumps,” he said, pointing out a few trees people bought just for the nearby stumps. “They’ve got a lot of personality.”

Younger people often choose younger trees because they like the idea of growth.

Debra Lee, a retired administrative assistant in San Jose, felt immediate kinship with the madrone tree she chose.

“She’s about 60 years old, and I’m 63,” Ms. Lee said of the mature evergreen with dark red bark. “Looking at her growth pattern you can see things have been hard at times because she’s kind of curved, but she made it to the top to get to the sunlight.”

When a customer chooses her tree, as Ms. Lee did, she cuts the ribbon off in what Better Place calls the ribbon ceremony.

As Mr. Gibson hiked across the Santa Cruz forest in a sweater and work boots, he noticed a rhododendron, his mother’s favorite flower, growing out of a stump.

Both his parents died when he was young, and, at 12, Mr. Gibson was adopted by his half brother. He is now 36, and, since then, he has spent many afternoons in Toronto at his parent’s grave site, set on a noisy corner, with a shiny black headstone that reflects traffic.

“You remember them dying, you remember the memorial service, and you remember the image of their final resting place,” Mr. Gibson said. He was haunted by that badly designed grave site. “It’s comically bad.”

Visiting their grave in 2015, he decided to quit his job running a marketing automation company. He would make a better graveyard.

“A lot of investors laughed at us when I first pitched this,” Mr. Gibson said. “People don’t really like thinking about this.”

Complete Article HERE!

Planning Your Own Funeral & Memorial Service

by Anthony Martin

Planning your own funeral is not something anyone gets excited about. In all honestly, who would?

But you know what? There is great value in doing so.

Before we jump into the nitty-gritty, how about a funeral joke to lighten the mood?

Here’s a good one…

I was a little taken aback when I got my receipt from the funeral parlor. On the bottom of the receipt after the bill, it read, “Thank you. Please come again.”

In all seriousness, if you are considering planning your own funeral ahead of time we sincerely commend you. It takes courage to do so, and you will find it’s very rewarding once it’s done.

To help you on your quest, you’ll find in this article why you should plan your own memorial, how to do it, and discover four different ways you can ensure your funeral is paid for.

Why You Should Be Planning Your Own Funeral

The reason why you should plan your own funeral is quite simple.

If you don’t plan your own funeral, your family will have to while in their darkest hour.

Here’s the cold hard truth of it.

When you pass away, your family will be going through an incredibly dark time full of grief and sadness. They will miss you terribly.

Your loved ones having to make tough choices via planning your funeral only adds to the emotional stress they are enduring due to your passing.

Nobody likes to think of their own mortality, let alone plan for it. You should take the time to do it for your family, so they won’t have to while under the greatest emotional stress of their life.

Here’s some really good news.

Planning your own funeral is actually very easy! Not to mention, it won’t take as much time as you’d think to knock it out.

All you are really doing is documenting exactly how you would like to be remembered.

The best part is, once you’ve done it, you never have to do it again!

Taking a little time planning this ahead of time will pay huge dividends in the future. You’ll save your family from a lot of grief, and they will know how much you cared because of what you’ve done.

You Have To Document Your Plans Or They Do No Good

You could literally just use a blank piece of paper and that would suffice.

No matter how you do it, you must document your final wishes, or all your preparation is worthless.

Not to mention, however you choose to transcribe your funeral plan, you need to store them in a place where they are easily accessible by your family.

The idea is upon your passing, your family will naturally locate your final wishes, so they can follow your instructions. This will alleviate them from having to make these tough choices while they are grieving.

There are lots of free funeral planning guides online such as this one or this one, if you prefer to have something that pre-outlines everything.

Ultimately, it does not matter exactly how you document your final wishes. All that matters is that you do it, so your family can put it to use.

How To Plan Your Funeral

Planning out your own funeral has a process that will actually be very familiar to you.

No seriously, it will be.

Think of it this way.

Have you ever bought a vehicle? You likely have at some point in your life.

Think back to your last car buying experience. It probably went something like this…

  1. Calculated your budget
  2. Decided if you want a car, truck, van, etc.
  3. Identified which makes and models you were interested in
  4. Compared those models to see which one(s) you like most
  5. Selected a model
  6. Chose the color, interior & exterior options, etc.
  7. Bought the vehicle

The procedure to plan your own funeral will be just like that. The only real difference is A) You won’t take delivery of your product right now 😇 (at least we hope not), and B) you will be selecting options related to a funeral rather than a car.

Burial, Cremation, Or Donation

By far the biggest choice you will make is choosing to be buried, cremated, or donating your body to science.

Your budget may play a role in deciding which one of these you go with.

Remember, the cost of a funeral varies greatly among these three options. On average, a typical burial service will cost anywhere from $7,000-$10,000. At the same time, a cremation service will cost between $1,500-$5,000. Donating your body to science will usually cost nothing.

With the availability of affordable funeral life insurance plans to cover end-of-life costs, most people can adequately insure themselves for an amount necessary to cover whatever sort of memorial they prefer.

What To Do With The Remains If You Choose A Burial Or Cremation

If you choose to be buried, you then must select what you want done with the casket. If your wish is to be cremated, then you must choose where the urn or ashes are placed.

Believe it or not, there are quite a few options. There are pros and cons to each, so decide which one you think best suites you.

In Ground For A Burial

This is the stereotypical burial so to speak. The casket is placed inside a burial vault that is roughly six feet underground.

In Ground Lawn Crypt For A Burial

A lawn crypt is a pre-made tomb that is typically comprised of concrete and steel whereby multiple caskets can be stacked upon one another.

Lawn crypts are sometimes referred to as in ground mausoleums because they are essentially a completely enclosed shell that preserves the casket(s) far better than a burial vault will.

Above Ground Lawn Crypt For A Burial

This is identical to an in-ground lawn crypt, except that it’s above ground. It provides the proper water drainage to ensure the enclosed casket is preserved.

In A Private Mausoleum Above Ground For A Burial Or Cremation

A mausoleum is an above ground structure that is built specifically to hold the remains of single family. Private mausoleums are quite costly, but if you desire exclusivity and privacy for your whole family a private mausoleum is the way to get it done.

In A Community Mausoleum Above Ground For A Burial Or Cremation

Many cemeteries have mausoleums built that are public. This means anyone can elect to have their remains placed there. Usually those who elect this feature just don’t want their remains placed underground.

The most important thing to understand about a community mausoleum is that it’s public, so other people unrelated to you will also be stored alongside you.

Natural Burial

In this situation there are no embalming fluids, caskets, or burial vaults used. Instead, the remains are placed directly into the ground allowing the body to naturally decompose.

Sometimes with a natural burial, they will utilize some sort of biodegradable casket or shroud just as long as they don’t impede the decomposition of the remains.

Green Burial

This is almost identical to a natural burial with one key difference. For it to be a green burial, the cemetery where the remains will be buried must not use pesticides, and there must be no other bodies buried in the cemetery when embalming fluids or caskets were used.

Spreading Ashes For Cremation

For those who wish to be cremated, one of the most popular options is to have their ashes spread in a location of great significance.

Spreading ashes is certainly an option, but be sure to mind local and state laws. Every state is different, so don’t assume anything. Basically, some states and local ordinances allow it, and some don’t. In addition, those that do allow it often have restrictions regarding where you can spread the ashes, so be sure to double check before pursing this option.

Memorial Reef For Cremation

A memorial reef is a unique option whereby the ashes of the body can be infused with concrete and shaped into a statue of something (could be any shape you like) and placed on the ocean floor.

You will need to work with a business that provides these kinds of services. It’s not something you would want your family to do on their own.

Viewing Or No Viewing

Do you want your loved ones to have one final chance to visit your body? Some people do, and some people don’t. The choice is certainly yours, but it’s definitely something you must decide upon.

Viewings can take place at a funeral home, church, synagogue, or any other location of your preference (assuming the owner of the building agrees to it).

One thing to keep in mind is that if you prefer to donate your body to science and you want a viewing, you will be required to pay for the cost of the viewing.

Now Choose The Details To Round Out Your Plans

At this point, you’ve chosen between a burial, cremation, or donation. You’ve selected what to do with the remains, and you’ve decided whether or not to have a viewing.

All you have to do now is finalize the details such as location, flowers, music, etc.

Look the list below and decide which ones (if any) apply to you. Then document your preferences along with all the other stuff.

  • Memorial service location
  • Where the remains will be placed
  • Type of casket or urn
  • Flowers
  • Music
  • Attendees
  • Name(s) of those who you wish to make your arrangements
  • Open or closed casket for a service
  • Clothes, glasses, & jewelry to be worn for a viewing and/or final resting
  • Any military preferences for veterans
  • Marker/headstone preferences
  • Pallbearer suggestions
  • Obituary preferences (key points you want addressed in your obituary)
  • Post funeral reception preferences

4 Ways You Can Ensure Your Funeral Is Paid For

At this point, you’ve fully planned out your entire funeral which means your family won’t have to make these tough decisions while grieving your loss.

Now all you’ve got to do is put together a plan to ensure the expenses of your funeral don’t fall on your family.

Here’s the deal.

The greatest burden you can pass on to your loved ones is to saddle them with your unpaid funeral costs.

The truth is most families don’t have the cash needed to pay for the funeral outright. As a result, loved ones will resort to taking on debt in order to ensure you receive a respectable memorial service. Very often the debt they agree to takes years to pay off.

If you do nothing else, please make sure you financially prepare for your funeral to ensure your family doesn’t have to take on debt to do it for you.

Having said all of that, you have four basic options to pay for your final expenses.

1) Life Insurance

Life insurance to pay for burial expenses is a very popular option mainly because it affords immediate protection.

There are even life policies available that were designed specifically to cover end of life costs. They are often referred to as “burial insurance for seniors” or “final expense life insurance”.

They are small policies meant to provide just enough coverage to pay for final expenses. These policies are particularly helpful for folks over 80 who likely cannot qualify for a traditional life insurance policy. The cost of burial policies is generally affordable since the face amounts are low.

2) Save Money

This option should only be considered by those who are financially disciplined. In essence, you are electing to set aside a set amount each and every month until you have enough needed to cover all your final expenses.

The obvious drawback to this option is the fact that if you pass away before you’ve saved enough, your family will have to come up with the difference.

3) Pre-Need Contract

A pre-need policy is contract between you and a specific funeral home. Basically, you completely design your funeral service with them, and they tell you how much it will cost.

The policy is backed by a form of life insurance, but it’s a different kind of life policy compared to the one you obtain on an individual basis. The main difference between a pre-need life policy and an individually purchased life policy is that one day you will stop making payments on the pre-need policy.

Funeral homes that sell pre-need policies will try to get you pay off the balance of your funeral over the course of 3-5 years. Because of this, the monthly payments on a pre-need policy can be costly. They frequently end up being $100-$500 per month depending on the total cost and how long you give yourself to pay it off.

4) Funds From The Deceased’s Estate

Although not recommended, you could rely on your family liquidating your house, investments, or other valuable property as means to pay for your final expenses.

There’s no question that this is an option.

However, it should honestly be off the table for the most part.

Here’s why we say that.

It takes a lot of time for your family to be able to liquidate your estate. For one, the probate process can easily take months. That alone will condemn your family with having to temporarily generate funds to pay for your funeral.

Even after the probate process is complete, they would still need to sell off whatever valuables you own which takes even more time.

Again, this is an option, but because of the time involved, it should be a last resort.

Put Together A Will Or Living Trust

A will or living trust will address the legal matters associated with your death which is why it’s important you not leave this step out.

Now, whether you go should go with a will or living trust is purely a personal preference that will likely be determined by the complexity of your estate. This article gives a good outline about the pros and cons of each one.

The best thing to do is to consult with a wills and trust attorney, and let them help you decide which is best for you.

However, if you are the independent type and want to set up a will on your own that’s perfectly okay. Truthfully, a lot of people do with much success.

There are many online resources available to help you setup a will. If followed properly, it can be relatively simple and accurate.

If you do elect to setup a will without the assistance of an attorney, at least use a guide to ensure you do it properly.

On the other hand, a living trust is far more complex, and should be done with the assistance of a professional. From implementation to structure, they are very different and subject to different laws which is why professional legal help is suggested.

You might be wondering… Why do I need a will or trust anyways?

The reason is simple.

You want a will or trust to shore up the legal matters associated with death.

Just like all the other elements of your funeral, if you don’t prepare for the legal ones, you condemn your family with having to deal with them.

Complete Article HERE!

What Exactly Is a ‘Mushroom Suit’?

Eco-Friendly Burial Options Explained.

By Danielle DeGroot

Going green with natural burial options. 

The tragic passing of longtime television heartthrob Luke Perry a few months ago put a spotlight on the subject of green and eco-friendly burial options. It was recently revealed that the late actor was buried in a mushroom suit, a special burial suit designed to aid in the natural process of decomposition, but more detail on that later.

Though it may not be a topic many of us are comfortable talking about – perhaps one we only think about when faced with a loss – knowing what is out there, and understanding eco-friendly burial, is worth some thought.

Why Go Green?

Burial in a casket and cremation are the most common methods of burial, however, these options actually have a significant negative impact on the environment. Burial in a traditional casket made of metal or plastic prevents the natural process of decomposition. These caskets can use chemical-based finishes, toxic plastics, and chemicals, like formaldehyde, that are used for traditional embalming, which is a carcinogen and poses a risk to those who work with it regularly.

Cremation, or a traditional-style casket, is often considered an eco-friendlier option due to the lack of land use. The process of cremation itself requires the burning of natural gas and, in turn, releases harmful greenhouse gases. Additionally, other harmful chemicals such as carbon monoxide, sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxides, mercury, and hydrofluoric acid are released into the air. There is an eco-friendly process for cremation that has been developed, such as bio-cremation or water resolution, which is a process using water, heat, pressure, and potassium hydroxide to accomplish a cremation without toxic or harmful chemicals.

Green burials are burial practices that have a low environmental impact. Leaving a smaller, less harmful footprint on the planet as one’s last act conserves natural resources, preserves the environment, and also benefits the health of those who work in the industry by not using conventional embalming. The Green Burial Council is made up of two nonprofit organizations working together to further the green burial movement, support and develop more sustainable practices, and continue to honor those who have passed with respect for their lives, treating both the earth and the grief and burial process with respect.

A natural burial, in industry terms, specifically means a burial where the body is interred in the ground without the use of a vault, a traditional casket, or any chemicals. The deceased is wrapped in a biodegradable shroud or uses a pine or woven wicker casket. The options continue to grow as cemeteries around the country have begun to offer natural burial grounds.

Natural and eco-friendly burial options have been growing in popularity over the last 20 years or so. Pine, cardboard, bamboo, and willow are all earth-friendly material used to make caskets that leave less of an impact on the environment. Urns have been fashioned out of biodegradable materials, such as seashell shaped urns made from recycled paper and clay, designed to break down once placed in a body of water, and cornstarch, which eventually biodegrades completely. The options continue to grows as interest in environmentally friendly burial grows.

About That Suit

Luke Perry chose to be placed into eternal rest wearing Coeio’s “Infinity Burial Suit”, a burial garment made with totally natural and biodegradable components, including microorganisms and mushrooms with a job to do. The specially designed suit has three goals: to help in the decomposition process, to neutralize toxins from the body, and to transmit nutrients back into plant life, thus completing the process by restarting life. The company plants two trees for every suit and shroud sold, another step in its goal to continue the cycle of life. The suit costs $1,500 and is available for order online.

The average casket cost anywhere from $2,000 to $5,000, though the price tag can top $10,000. The cost of cremation is about $1,000, and none of those estimates include funeral services. So while a $1,500 price tag seems steep in comparison it is actually on the less pricey side of the choices. 

The choice to be interred in a mushroom suit was not about fashion or headlines, it was a choice an individual made to give back in a unique way. Due to his celebrity status, that choice brings awareness to this delicate subject.

Keeping It Local

We have plenty of options for going green in the afterlife right here in Colorado, and most are locally owned businesses and products. Here is a breakdown of some of the green and natural burial options the Centennial state has to offer.

  • Roselawn Cemetery in Fort Collins and Evergreen Memorial Park in Evergreen are two of the cemeteries that offer a range of green and natural burial options in Colorado.
  • Crestone Cemetary Natural Burial Ground located in Crestone, Colorado, is the state’s first and only natural burial ground to be Green Burial Council certified.
  • Nature’s Casket out of Longmont creates handcrafted caskets using pine trees killed from pine beetles. Repurposing these trees into blue-stained pine caskets, their products are 100 percent biodegradable and use all non-toxic materials. Though these caskets are only available in Colorado, the company also offers a selection of intricately handcrafted pine urns and provides free shipping on them nationwide. 
  • The Natural Funeral is an independent local funeral home located in Lafayette that specializes in green and natural funeral methods. Using locally produced and naturally made products, they offer a variety of green funeral options, including pine caskets from Nature’s Casket, cardboard caskets, handmade and painted pine urns, and custom crafted painted gourd urns. Living urns, seed pods, and water urns are also offered as are bamboo burial shrouds.
  • Goes Funeral Care in Fort Collins is another local funeral business that works with the Green Burial Council and offers a range of green burial options at either Crestone or Roselawn Cemetery.
  • Seven Stones Chatfield is a botanical gardens cemetery located in Littleton. Seven Stones offers many different burial options and is very different than the somber rows of headstones one might find in a traditional cemetery. An artistic and peaceful place, Seven Stones offers artistic memorials and tributes made individually to honor everyone laid to rest there. Cremation gardens with sculptures and walking paths, waterfalls, and quiet spots to sit and remember. Green burial options are available and growing, with a Meadow of tall grass and natural granite boulder markings. There is even a spot to remember our furry family members with green burial and a pet memorial area. A unique and intriguing place Seven Stones also celebrates life by hosting events such as art, music, and nature festivals throughout the year.

Donate Your Body to Science

For some people, this can be a final act of giving back, perhaps too old or sick to donate organs; some will choose to let their body be used for medical and academic research. This is actually far more common than one might think, and there a plenty of options here in Colorado.

If you are one of those people who may want to give back by letting your body be a research tool, you can do it at no cost. Science Care Colorado has a donor registry where people can sign up and pre-register to become a donor.

Most of the major universities have donor programs, as well, and work with the State Anatomical Board to use these gifts to learn and better serve patients. The University of Colorado School of Medicine at Anschutz Medical Campus holds an annual Donor Memorial Ceremony each spring to remember, honor, and thank those who have given of their bodies in this way. It is a highly emotional event and brings together the community, the families of the deceased, and those who have learned from them.

Former Vice Chancellor for Health Affairs and former Dean of the school of Medicine Richard D. Krugman, MD offers this statement on the donor memorial:

“I have always been impressed that the Anatomical Donor Memorial Service is one of our most emotional events. Just what this service means for students and donors’ families and friends really resonated in a letter I received last week from a woman who wrote, ‘I was the ancient, white-haired lady in the second or third row weeping through most of it.  Not just sadness, but a lot of gratitude, empathy and happiness. It was so well done – the prayers, the Arrhythmias (our student a capella group), the student bagpiper, and the very touching speakers … It was emotional, full of respect and in every way, it meant a great deal of closure for me.'”

Preserving the planet goes far beyond recycling soda cans and not using plastic straws. And all of us, celebrity or not, can make a difference in this unexpected way. Though it is an uncomfortable subject, it is one we will all face at some point, for ourselves and for loved ones.

Have you thought about green and natural burial options? Is there an option or place that you know of here in Colorado that we missed? Please share your thoughts and sentiments with us in the comments below.

Complete Article HERE!