Meet the “Death Positive” Women Changing the Funeral Industry


Courtney Lane, who practices the art of Victorian hairwork, with some of her creations.


Sooner or later, the end is coming — for all of us. But women in particular have been at the forefront of the “death positive” movement, which aims to strip away the mystery and fear around the end of life and help us each find our own “good death.”

Amber Carvaly is a mortician and service director at Undertaking LA, the funeral home she coruns with Caitlin Doughty. A women’s studies major whose life’s passion has been to work harder, better, smarter, and kinder as a human being, she soon found herself in the nonprofit industry, preparing meals and holding birthday parties for LA’s homeless. When she lost her job after the economy crashed in the late aughts, she made friends with a funeral director. “It seemed like it had similar characteristics to what I was doing at the Downtown Women’s Center,” Carvaly remembers of their talks about funeral work. She wanted to continue helping people and decided to go back to school, this time to study mortuary science. “I had been emailing Caitlin throughout this,” Carvaly says, “although we had never met.” Eventually, Doughty asked if Carvaly was interested in helping her start Undertaking LA and the rest, as they say, is death-positive history.

Amber Carvaly of Undertaking LA.

“It is not death that is important, but how we live our lives as we near it,” Carvaly explains. “How we view and treat the dead is a reflection of society and our values. What I want is to change our hearts and souls and the way we literally see and process the world around us. I think our very existence and survival as a species depends on it.” Carvaly’s next big plan is to offer house death calls, where families are given a person to guide them through washing and dressing the body. “In my experience,” Carvaly says, “families have not needed anything spiritual or extravagant. They just want someone to stand with them and help give them the confidence to use the strength they already have within themselves to start.”

Melissa Unfred with her sidekick, Kermit.

The Summer before Melissa Unfred‘s senior year of high school, a local funeral home was featured on the news. They were a family-owned business looking for assistance and, as a joke, her mom turned to her and suggested she get a job. A budding rebel, Unfred did just that. “I was fascinated by the science and art involved in funeral service and embalming,” Unfred says. “And led by such a strong woman, no less! Billie White Everett [the home’s owner and one of the first female directors in Texas] made a huge impression on me.”

These days, Unfred educates people about home funerals and green burial, which focuses on returning the body to the earth in its natural state by foregoing embalming and using biodegradable materials like wooden caskets. She partners with an Austin crematory that shares her core values and is one half of Texas’s first certified therapy dog team working in funeral care, along with her furry sidekick, Kermit the dog. Originally adopted to be a pet and emotional support source for Unfred, Kermit’s knack for interacting with others, particularly the grieving, quickly became apparent. Now, the two are inseparable during transfers to funeral homes after someone has died, at graveside ceremonies, and everywhere in between. Together, they’re on a mission to clear out the smoke and mirrors of the funeral service, helping families understand their options so they can make an informed decision on what they want for themselves and their loved ones.

One of Lane’s hairwork pieces.

Courtney Lane of Never Forgotten braids hair for a living. She’s following a tradition called “hairwork,” which was part of the extensive Victorian mourning process. “What really makes hair art and jewelry special is that it can contain the hair of your loved ones,” Lane says. Her clients might provide her with their own hair to make into a romantic gift or a snippet from their child’s first haircut. Lane also works with cancer patients who lose their hair during treatment. “A cancer survivor once explained to me that this was an artistic statement that helped her feel like she wasn’t losing her hair, but transforming it into something new and beautiful,” Lane says. Very often, of course, the hair she’s working with is that of a deceased family member; because hair doesn’t decompose, Lane explains, it’s a perfect relic with which to remember our dead.

In addition to custom work for clients, Lane also makes art out of antique Victorian hair and travels to give lectures and workshops on the misunderstood history behind hairwork and its elaborate techniques. The first time she showed her art at a convention, a man walked up to her table and asked, in what she calls a Disney villain voice, if she could make him “something truly evil” if he brought her the hair of his enemies. Since then, she has gotten so many similar requests that she added a section to the FAQ on her website. The answer is no.

The theme of education runs throughout the work of Lane, Carvaly, and Unfred. For while death is ubiquitous, it is also misunderstood and maligned. “I do completely believe that humans should not be afraid of dead bodies,” Carvaly says. “By leading by example, I can show others that there is another way to approach our existence and demise. And that if I can do it, so can they.”

Complete Article HERE!


Prehistoric Britons ate the dead & carved their bones – research


Prehistoric cannibals who once lived in a Somerset cave engraved human bones with zig-zag designs as part of a “complex” eating ritual, according to new research.

The bones, which had a number of deliberate cuts and human teeth marks, were discovered at Gough’s Cave in the Mendip Hills and are believed to be between 12,000 and 17,000 years old – when the cave was occupied by Ice Age Britons.

Scientists from the Natural History Museum in London and University College London (UCL) compared hundreds of cut-marks found on human and animal bones in the cave. They discovered one human body with the bones separated, filleted, chewed and then marked with a zig-zag design, before it was finally broken to extract the bone marrow.

Researchers ruled out an initial theory that the marks were made during the butchery process, because they were found on a part of the bone with no muscle attachments. There is no indication on the skeletons that the humans had suffered violence before they died.
They concluded that the “zig zagging incisions are undoubtedly engraving marks, produced with no utilitarian purpose but purely for artistic or symbolic representation.”

The study, published in the journal PLOS ONE, says the marks may have represented the “story” of the victim’s life or a memorial to how they died. Whatever the reason, researchers agree it must have been part of a ritual or ceremony to mark the person’s passing, like modern day funerary rites.

“The sequence of modifications performed on this bone suggests that the engraving was a purposeful component of the cannibalistic practice, rich in symbolic connotations,” says Dr Silvia Bello, lead author of the study.

“Archaeologists have linked the engraving of objects and tools to ways of remembering events, places or circumstances, a sort of ‘written memory’ and ‘symbolic glue’ that held together complex social groups.

“Perhaps the engraving of this bone may have told a sort of story, more related to the deceased than the surrounding landscape. It could be that they are indicative of the individual, events from their life, the way they died, or the cannibalistic ritual itself.”

Gough’s Cave was first discovered in the 1880s and frequent excavations at the site found evidence that humans lived there for thousands of years, including “Cheddar man,” Britain’s oldest complete human skeleton, which dates from 7,150BC.

DNA taken from the skeleton was found to match that of Adrian Targett, a man living in the local area today.

The cave is 115 meters (377ft) deep and 3.405km (2.12 miles) long, and contains a variety of large chambers and rock formations.

Human bones have been found intermingled with butchered large mammal remains as well as flint, bone, antler and ivory artefacts, including a 13,000-year-old carving of a woolly mammoth.

The team has previously found skulls at the site which had been turned into bowls or cups, possibly to eat or drink from.

Complete Article HERE!


Crematory Is Booked? Japan Offers Corpse Hotels


Part mortuary, part hotel, Japanese corpse hotels allow grieving families to spend the night near the bodies of their loved ones as they make their final farewells. Here’s a look inside of one.

The minimalist rooms at the Hotel Relation here in Japan’s third-largest city are furnished with plain twin beds. Flat-screen televisions adorn the walls. Plastic-wrapped cups and toothbrushes are provided in the bathrooms. And just across the hall are the rooms where the corpses rest.

Checkout time, for the living and the dead, is usually no later than 3 p.m.

The Hotel Relation is what Japanese call an “itai hoteru,” or corpse hotel. About half the rooms are fitted with small altars and narrow platforms designed to hold coffins. Some also have climate-controlled coffins with transparent lids so mourners can peer inside.

Part mortuary, part inn, these hotels serve a growing market of Japanese seeking an alternative to a big, traditional funeral in a country where the population is aging rapidly, community bonds are fraying and crematories are struggling to keep up with the sheer number of people dying.

By custom, Japanese families take the bodies of their loved ones home from the hospital and sit for an overnight wake followed by a service the next morning in the company of neighbors, colleagues and friends. Then, in the afternoon, the body is sent to a crematory.
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But as neighborhood ties have weakened, funerals that once involved entire communities are increasingly the province of small, nuclear families. At the same time, Japanese society is getting old so fast and deaths per year are climbing so quickly that families sometimes have to wait several days before a body can be cremated.

The funeral for Hajime Iguchi at Sousou, a so-called corpse hotel in the Tokyo suburb of Kawasaki City, last year.

The corpse hotels offer a practical solution — a place where a body can be stored at low cost until the crematory is ready, and where small, inexpensive wakes and services can be held outside the home.

“We can say the supply doesn’t meet the demand,” mainly in urban areas, said Hiroshi Ota, an official at the Japan Society of Environmental Crematories. While Japan has an estimated 5,100 crematories, Tokyo, with a population of more than 13 million, has just 26.

“The demand for cremation will increase until the baby boomers disappear,” Mr. Ota said.

Japan has funeral parlors, too, an industry that developed as people moved from the countryside to the cities and it became difficult — and often impossible — to take corpses into high-rises. But they cater to larger groups and more elaborate ceremonies, and these days, that can seem a bit much.

In the bubble economy of the 1980s, “Japanese funerals were based on showing off to other people, and people cared how they were viewed by others,” said Midori Kotani, executive researcher at Dai-ichi Life Research Institute, an arm of one of Japan’s largest insurance companies. “But fewer and fewer people talk to their neighbors, so they don’t have to show off or think about how they are viewed by them.”

The corpse hotels are used by families who want a simpler affair, or want to skip a funeral altogether. According to Ms. Kotani, about 30 percent of deaths in the Tokyo area are not marked by a funeral service, up from just 10 percent a decade ago.

After cremation, families usually keep the ashes at home for 49 days before a burial service at a cemetery. On the 49th day, according to Buddhist tradition, the dead are believed to arrive at the next world.

Mr. Iguchi’s body on its way to a crematory.

When Hajime Iguchi died at age 83 last autumn, his sister and brother-in-law held his wake and funeral at Sousou, a corpse hotel in the Tokyo suburb of Kawasaki City. Mr. Iguchi, a lifelong bachelor, had died in a nursing home after a protracted illness, and had few friends left.

“Back in the day, we used to have funerals at home, but times have changed,” said his sister, Kunie Abe, 73. “Neighbors all used to know each other and would help one another out. But today, you don’t even know your next-door neighbor.”

The demand for “itai hoteru” is likely to grow. Last year, 1.3 million people died in Japan, up 35 percent from 15 years earlier, and the annual toll is expected to climb until it peaks at 1.7 million in 2040, according to the Ministry of Labor, Health and Welfare.

About 37 percent of Japanese women who died last year were over 90, with few surviving friends to mourn them. And close to one-fifth of Japanese men never marry or father children, leaving behind few relatives to plan or attend funerals.

The number of people dying alone is also on the rise. In Tokyo, for example, the number of people over 65 who died alone at home more than doubled between 2003 and 2015, the latest year for which government figures are available.

At the Hotel Relation here in Osaka, about a third of the customers forgo a formal funeral. Instead, they sit in the rooms with their dearly departed for a day or two, with only close family in attendance, and then send the bodies for cremation.

Relatives of Mr. Iguchi departing the crematory with his ashes.

“In the past, if you heard someone held a funeral just for family members, people in the neighborhood would say, ‘What kind of people would hold a family-only funeral?’ But now it is accepted,” said Yoshihiro Kurisu, the hotel’s president.

Corpse hotels are more economical than large funeral homes. According to the Japan Consumer Association, the average funeral in Japan runs 1.95 million yen, or about $17,690. The cheapest package at the Hotel Relation costs 185,000 yen, or about $1,768.

The package includes flowers, a room for the family to spend the night in the same room as the corpse, a traditional white gown for the deceased, a simply decorated coffin, transport of the body from the hospital and then to the crematory, and an urn to hold the ashes. Each additional night costs 10,800 yen, just under $100. Families who want separate rooms, wakes or funerals pay extra.

“Itai hoteru” first appeared about five years ago in Japan’s largest cities, and there are only a few across the country. Some have angered residents who do not want to live in such proximity to death and mourning.

Near the Sousou hotel in Kawasaki City, signs on fences protest, “Corpse storage: absolutely opposed!”

Hisao Takegishi, the hotel’s owner, said he understood why neighbors were uncomfortable. But he said his staff tried to be as discreet as possible when bringing in bodies.

A cemetery outside Tokyo. Nearly all people who die in Japan are cremated.

Inside, Mr. Takegishi painted the walls in pastel colors and equipped the rooms with green sofas and stools. They look more like start-up break areas than a setting for wakes or funerals. The entryway, with shelves of plants and a few books, evokes a spa.

“I did not want it to look too sad or lonely,” he said. Sousou has relationships with funeral directors and monks, and can help clients plan modest services.

Yuki Matsumoto, the executive director of the All Japan Funeral Directors Co-operation, which represents about 1,340 long-established funeral homes, said some owners of the new businesses paid little regard to standards or the dignity of the dead.

Japan does not require a license to open a funeral business, and there are few regulations for how they operate. “So in this situation, it is possible that bad-intentioned businesses can enter the industry,” Mr. Matsumoto said.

But Mr. Kurisu at the Hotel Relation said traditional funeral homes just resented the new competition. “I am hated by people in the business because I am driving down the prices of funeral services,” he said.

At Mr. Iguchi’s tiny funeral ceremony last fall, a monk chanted last rites as his body rested in a coffin lined with white satin. Five guests, all relatives, sat in folding chairs nearby.

After the chanting, they rose to lay flowers and origami cranes on Mr. Iguchi’s body, making a bright garland around his head and on his chest.

His sister, Mrs. Abe, leaned close to her brother’s ear. “So long,” she whispered.

Complete Article HERE!


Pall bearing traditions have deep roots



I recently read two books in which the notion of female pallbearers was portrayed as a novelty.

One was set in a village in southwest England at the outset of World War II. Most of the “able-bodied” have left the community to serve in the military. When a bomb results in the deaths of two women from the local choir, pallbearer duties fall to female peers — by default.

The second book was set in western Minnesota during the 1980s. A high school student committed suicide, and two female classmates volunteer as pallbearers. Despite the girls’ earnestness, several adults strongly discourage the notion.

The topic of women bearing a loved one’s pall is not a significant plot point in either book. However, both highlight the significance of pallbearers and some gender biases that continue to persist.

In our modern society, “pallbearer” is a general term. If you accept or volunteer to be a pallbearer, you will help convey the casket during various parts of the funeral and burial. It usually involves helping to carry the casket at least a short distance.

Men and women who fill pallbearer roles don’t necessarily attach religious convictions to it. However, the role tends to hold spiritual meaning for those who accept and/or volunteer for the duties. That is, pallbearers essentially understand the duty includes conveying a loved one to his or her final resting place.

That is why “honorary” pallbearers are sometimes listed. Honorary pallbearers are almost always volunteers. The causes vary, such as having more than enough pallbearers or listing those who can’t physically fulfill the physical requirements.

In all cases, the role indicates the desire to fulfill a personal duty to the deceased.

The word “pall” originally comes from Christian traditions and refers to a cloth used to cover the dead.

Thus the practice of bearing a standard of mourning — generally, the “pall” — for the dead comes from various religious practices. These exist in some version across several belief systems.

Many religious scholars believe practices created around such funereal rites have ancient roots and form the foundation of humans’ first religious practices.

The liturgical significance of the pall essentially serves as a universal symbol of death.

For early Christians in north and west Europe, the pall was often black, in keeping with the color of mourning. For example, a poor Scot was buried in the simple black pall when he or she couldn’t afford a casket. Danes draped a black pall over the casket, wagons, carriages and horses.

Over the years, many belief systems have included messages of hope in funeral services, such as the Christian belief in the resurrection. For this reason, white is now a common symbolic or liturgical funereal color.

Considering the significance of the role, why are female pallbearers still relatively uncommon?

I combed through online discussion boards in search of candid conversations about perceptions of female pallbearers. I found sites where men and women alike offered their take.

Many believe it likely women aren’t as able to bear their portion of the weight. Meanwhile, women who insisted they could carry their fair share wondered if popular styles of women’s dress shoes knock them out of the running.

While I understand these opinions, I also believe they shouldn’t preclude women from taking up this role. When viewed as the symbolic and sacred responsibility of a child, grandchild, sibling or special friend, both men and women should rise to the occasion.

Complete Article HERE!


Caring for my beautiful husband as he died and through the days that followed


After Morgan’s second surgery he couldn’t remember Fiona’s name, but when asked who she was he answered “the love of my life”.

Who is the best person to care for someone who has died? Sometimes, a person who loved them when they were living. Dr Fiona Reid shares her experience caring for her husband Morgan throughout his illness and in the days after his death.

My husband Morgan was a kind, active and talented man. I felt tremendously lucky when I met him and continued to do so throughout our years together.

Morgan was remarkably fit, working as a stuntman internationally. He trained every day and could perform feats of acrobatics and skill. So it came as a shock when he called me at work one day to tell me he was having difficulty spelling. My heart fluttered and my stomach turned over. I felt an intense sense of dread but tried to convince myself that I was overreacting.

I told him to stay at home and that I would be there shortly. I drove home and held Morgan in my arms. We both knew something was very wrong. Despite this, I was totally unprepared for what happened next; for the utter horror of watching his scan and seeing the large tumour in his brain. My legs wobbled. I wasn’t supposed to be in the CT room because today I was a patient’s wife and not a doctor, but no-one thought to stop me. I still think that was one of the worst moments – the moment the world ended.

“Are there any gremlins in my brain?” he asked. “Yes darling, there is a gremlin”.

Like most people, we had a lot of hope. Morgan was young, he was strong, I was a doctor. Surely the 14-month prognosis was not for him.

He endured two operations on his brain, chemotherapy, radiation therapy, three experimental treatments and more chemotherapy before finally in January 2016 we decided to stop most treatments and concentrate on what little time we had left.

By this time my gorgeous husband was struggling. He had lost half his vision, he couldn’t use the right side of his body, his face was swollen from steroids and he was very tired. It never occurred to me that I wouldn’t look after him. I began to prepare for caring for him at home.

I was lucky to have some knowledge of what caring for someone who is dying might entail, but whatever I knew as a doctor was a fraction of the real experience. I prepared though. I read blogs written by other women who had cared for their husbands through brain cancer. I researched the timeline, what might happen, how his death might be, what symptoms may occur. I tried to predict.

I learned that we continue to hope, even when things are deteriorating. So even if we only get a “good hour” we hope for another later or tomorrow. We learn to reduce our expectations, such that a smile or a squeeze of the hand seems like a victory and the promise of recovery. Therefore in order to prepare, you must force yourself to remember what happened yesterday and last week. When there are more bad days or bad hours than good ones, you know it’s time to make arrangements.

The hardest thing was doing this whilst still trying to keep up Morgan’s spirits (not that he needed much help; he was extremely positive right until the end). I tried to be open with him, but he looked a little hurt when I had the hospital bed delivered. I felt I had let him down a little, but he was struggling to sit up and I was finding it difficult to lift him.

The bed came just in time. A few days later he was unconscious and although he woke up, he never spoke or left his bed again until after his death three weeks later.

You need equipment if you are to care for someone at home. I needed a bed, a wheelchair, a commode, a bath board and later continence aids, pads, eucalyptus oil, face-washers, medications, liquid thickeners and bed shampoo caps. Most things were rented. I bought consumables from disability companies and the palliative care nurses provided some.

Mostly I needed strength, love and support from family and friends – they believed I could do it and the thought of giving him up to someone else’s care frightened me more than caring for him myself.

I decided early that as much as I loved Morgan he didn’t belong to me, and he deserved to be surrounded by love as often as possible. So I declared an open house. I told everyone that they were welcome to visit at any time and without notice, but I also warned them that I would not be providing food or drink and that if the house was full or it was a bad time they may be asked politely to leave.

I also asked for two hours each day to be alone with Morgan. I put on nice music, burned a candle, bathed him, cuddled him and had some quiet time with him. This was precious time for me. Usually, he would smile at me, then fall asleep as I washed him. I put eucalyptus oil in hot water to freshen the air and massaged lavender oil into his temples to soothe him.

It was during this three weeks that I began to think about “after”. His death had now become a real inevitability; he had stopped talking, eating and swallowing, and he slept more often than not. It felt awfully disloyal to start planning his funeral before his death but I was desperate to do something that honoured him and I knew that every funeral I had been to so far would fall short of his expectations. I had little to go on. He did not want to talk about it. He did not want to be cremated, he wanted to be buried somewhere “with trees” – not a manicured cemetery, and without religion.

I knew I wanted to care for him until the last minute – I never wanted to let him go – but I had no idea what was possible. My experience of death so far had been as a doctor working in a hospital and try as we might it is a cold environment, people are rushed through the death of a loved one and bodies are moved quickly to morgues.

I stumbled on home death care. I was looking at local funeral directors and I felt empty – they all seemed so cold, so scripted, the coffin so pointless. I had no idea what to do. By chance, I found a wicker coffin on an Australian site and I thought it looked beautiful, natural, easily degradable and strangely, comfortable. I looked for the local retailer and found Natural Grace holistic funeral directors. It was as if Natural Grace was made for us.

I watched an interview with managing director Libby Moloney and instantly felt that she was special. Libby specialised in home death care and I knew I wanted to keep Morgan’s body at home. She knew a natural burial site which was 10 minutes away from where we were married. It seemed perfect.

I called Libby, speaking softly and feeling awful guilt as I sat in the same room as my sleeping and alive husband. She was incredibly compassionate. She seemed to understand my hesitation and confusion. She was supportive and never pushed.

I crawled into bed with Morgan on the night of Easter Sunday. I knew this was it. I put my arms around him and a few hours later he took a final breath. It broke my heart.

Libby told me that when he died I should feel free to spend some time with him before calling her. I cuddled him and cried. I called his family and they came we spent a few hours together until 4 am, toasting him with single malt whisky and sobbing together. I called Libby and the palliative care nurses in the morning but asked everyone to leave me alone with him until noon. I wanted to wash and dress him and I wanted to do this alone.

Libby came to the house. It was the first time we had met and she was wonderful. The first thing she said was how beautiful Morgan was and then she asked if she could touch him. I was so grateful for that.

She showed me how to set up the cooling blanket then she talked me through what to expect and watch for. She was honest and very frank which I appreciated. We talked about fluids and smell and flies and all those horrible things that could potentially occur but didn’t. Then she suggested I take some locks of his hair.

She offered to do all these things for or with me but was sensitive to the fact I wanted to do it myself. I knew I had made the right decision; had an undertaker come to take Morgan away from me at that moment I think I would have screamed. The pain of his loss was unbearable and I needed a little more time.

I decided that the first day would be for family only, the following for friends and family. I made and received various calls. I warned everyone “Morgan is still here, he looks peaceful”. I told them not to come for my sake but that if they wanted to come and say goodbye they would be most welcome.

I had warned his family that I intended to keep him at home. They were very supportive but understandably surprised. They all visited and sat with us, and I think they appreciated it. On the second day, his brother decided it was time for him to say goodbye. “I won’t be back tomorrow,” he said.

Friends were varied in their response. I found that women wanted to come, but men were less sure. Most people seemed glad for the opportunity to say goodbye. Some wanted a few minutes alone with him (this was hard for me but I did it). Some tried to ignore his presence and just talked to me. I continued to sleep on the sofa beside him.

On the third day, I realised I had to let him go. I had sat by his side for a month. I hadn’t stepped outside or seen the sun, I had barely eaten and barely slept. I needed to visit the cemetery, pick out a burial site and organise the funeral. I needed to leave the house but I couldn’t leave his side.

Now when I looked at Morgan I could see he wasn’t there anymore; whatever he had been had left. I called Libby. She came, I helped, and everything was done with the tenderest care. I had arranged a wedding photo, an autumn leaf and a teddy on his chest in his hands and she asked about them so she could recreate it perfectly in the sanctuary at Natural Grace. It was terribly hard but I was glad I felt able to trust Libby to look after him.

I went to the cemetery to pick a site with Morgan’s sister. We didn’t speak about it but we both picked exactly the same spot, under a beautiful Candlebark tree. We went back to Natural Grace and I checked on Morgan. He was there in the sanctuary, looking just as undisturbed and peaceful, the items arranged just so. Then we discussed the funeral and Libby was open to everything we wanted or suggested. I asked if we could bring him to the funeral ourselves in his 1974 Bedford van (the Beast); “A wonderful idea!” she giggled. She recommended a celebrant. We wanted mulled wine served – “No problem”. I wanted guests to be able to tie messages and flowers into the casket – “Easy”. We would like Morgan’s father to play his pipes – “Lovely”.

On 1st April 2016, we buried my beautiful husband. We met at Natural Grace and I spent the morning sitting with him, holding his hand. I had picked flowers to place in the coffin with him. His family and I placed him gently into his wicker basket coffin. We arranged flowers around him. We placed him in his van. We said goodbye.

We held the service at the cemetery with 300 mourners. Libby looked after me, making sure someone gave me food and drink, and guiding me through the funeral, sometimes physically. She did not rush me, even though the service went much longer than anyone anticipated. Afterwards, at the wake, there must have been 100 people who told me how beautiful it was, and how “Morgan” it was. No-one had been to a similar funeral and they were amazed.

The decision to care for my husband at home before, during and after his death was simple for me but would have been all the harder, perhaps impossible, without the kind, attentive, professional support of Libby, and the loving acceptance of my and Morgan’s family. They allowed me to make these decisions and held my hand throughout this most devastating time. For this, I am eternally grateful to them.

Complete Article HERE!


The long goodbye: Home burial can bring comfort



I never had any reason to think I’d have to plan my own child’s funeral. And yet, last July, that’s exactly what my husband and I found ourselves doing. Our unborn son, James, had just been diagnosed with trisomy 18, a terrible chromosomal disease, at 32 weeks of gestation. We’d read the grim statistics for this disease, the second-most common trisomy after Down syndrome (trisomy 21), and we knew that his time with us was likely to be short.

This awful news forced us to confront impossible questions: How did we want his brief life to look? How did we want him cared for after death? Instead of buying diapers and looking at cute baby boy clothes at Target, I was looking at cemeteries and trying to decide between cremation and burial. At 32 weeks pregnant in the miserable summer heat, I was writing a eulogy for my unborn child.

Catherine Ashe and her son, James

During this time, I came across a beautiful article written by a grieving mother whose adult daughter had died at home in hospice care after battling cancer. The writer cared for her daughter’s body, held an extended at-home visitation, and then buried her daughter at home. The article moved me to tears, because it captured perfectly how I feel about death.

In a society where death is largely relegated to hospitals, impersonal mortuaries and mass cemeteries, home burial has fallen by the wayside. Yet just a generation or two ago, death was recognized as a natural part of life. The deceased’s remains were handled by the family, and burial was done at home, in a family plot. Visitations often lasted for days. There was time for loved ones to say goodbye in a peaceful, familiar and welcoming environment.

After reading that article, I started researching North Carolina’s funeral and burial laws, and what I found surprised me. Home burial is permitted, as long as the interment is on private land, and just about anyone can transport the body. At no point does a funeral home have to be involved. The only specific regulations involve burial of a body too close to a reservoir or other public water source.

When James was born, he surprised everyone with his strength. He had five wonderful months with us. During his 154 days on earth, he was always with either me or his father. We cared for him through the good times and the bad. He was a fat, contented baby with big blue eyes and crazy brown hair.

On Jan. 2, 2017, he slipped out of this world, cradled in our loving arms. At that point, he was a patient in Mission’s pediatric intensive care unit. After his death, we held him, his grandparents and uncles held him, and his care team said goodbye to him. And then we simply walked out of the hospital, carrying James in our arms. We had cared for him in life; now we would care for him in death.

On Jan. 3, we hosted an extended visitation at our house. This was made possible by a CuddleCot — a cooling device that will preserve a small body for quite some time. It’s a noninvasive alternative to embalming. During my research, I’d also learned that embalming a body isn’t necessary: Cooling serves the same purpose.

Thanks to the CuddleCot, we were able to have James at home with us so we could say goodbye. Prior to his birth, I’d read about other parents doing the same thing — and at the time, much as I’m ashamed to say it, I thought it was morbid. Why would you want your child’s body in the house with you?

It wasn’t till James died that I understood: James was still James. Nothing changed when he died. He was still my baby. It seemed only natural to bring him home to the place he’d known his whole life, to give us time to adjust to losing him, to give his sisters (ages 3 and 5) time to see him, say goodbye and understand that he was gone.

His visitation was lovely, as lovely as something so tragic can be. My husband and I were in our own home, so we were comfortable, able to retreat into our bedroom when we needed to, and there was no established time frame limiting visits. We spent two nights with him, saying goodbye, telling him all the things we wanted him to hear.

On Jan. 4 at 4:52 p.m. — the same time of day he was born — we buried James in our backyard with over 100 people in attendance. His presence there, in the yard where his sisters play, brings us comfort on some very dark days: Though his spirit is gone, his earthly remains are nearby. We visit him often, keep fresh flowers on his grave and have wind chimes in the maple that he’s buried beneath.

I hope that by writing this, I can help others realize that home burial is possible for their loved ones — all of them, not just children.

Complete Article HERE!


Navigating the end of the road


Death doulas offer education, support to those seeking alternative options while dying or grieving

A screenshot of a video documenting a home funeral shows family members visiting their deceased loved on in a home setting. The video was produced by Lee Emmert and the University of Oregon’s School of Journalism and Communications Department.

By Courtney Vaughn

When both of her parents died six weeks apart, Nancy Ward had to confront death in a profound way.

She was lucky, sort of. Her parents had prearranged for their care after their deaths, but Ward recalls being uneasy with the post-mortem process when her father died of congestive heart failure.

“Up until this point, I had never seen a dead body because I was about as death-phobic as they come,” Ward says. “A man came into the room, he looked about 14, and unrolled a black plastic body bag on the gurney. I’m going, ‘Oh my God. This man was just living and breathing and now you’re gonna put him in a black plastic bag and do what?’ Put him out on the curb for waste management to pick up?”

Ward succinctly recalls the emotional sterility of the situation.

Nancy Ward

“This doesn’t feel right, this doesn’t feel good, it doesn’t feel loving, or respectful,” she thought to herself. “He doesn’t know my father. I know my father.”

Six weeks later, her mother died.

“I knew what was coming and didn’t like it, but I had nothing to replace it with,” Ward says.

Afterward, she became a death midwife, or “death doula” as some call it, availing herself to others so they didn’t have to go through the same process she did with her parents.

Ward is now used to confronting death. In fact, she and others have made a living out of it.

A few years ago, Ward and other colleagues in the death directives industry teamed up to form the End of Life Care Collaborative. Members help educate and guide people in their quest for home funerals and other self-directed death practices.

The group focuses on serving those who are dealing with the death of a loved one, or preparing for their own death.

Services range from home funeral preparation and arrangements, to help with navigating the traditional funeral process, to emotional and practical support for those delving into the end of their own lives, and a gamut of other services to serve those confronting death.

The ultimate goal, members say, is to help people achieve greater meaning, or a more comfortable process around dealing with death and accepting loss. To get there, clients must be willing to shake off some of the cultural stigma of death.

“As a society, we aren’t comfortable with dealing with death because it reminds us of our own mortality,” Ward says. “We think everybody should know what their options are and right now, they don’t. We’re trying to reach the people who want it done differently but don’t know what different looks like.”

Ward and the collaborative team help educate people on what their options are for preserving a loved one at home after they’ve died, or bringing the body of a loved one home if they choose.

Ward says most members of the collaborative try to operate on a sliding-scale fee system, to make sure no one is turned away because of finances.

“We all have different areas we like to focus on and that’s what makes the collaborative so important,” she says. “We can do everything from the totally esoteric to the toally practical.”

That means being a listener and helpful guide, or doing a load of laundry or providing a meal for a grieving household.

She points to a recent client she worked with- a woman dying of cancer- who wanted to be prepared when her final moments came, but more importantly, wanted to rely less on her family for her physical and emotional needs.

“She said, ‘my family is having a really hard time with this …I don’t want to burden them with my own questions and expressions, this is what I need you for,'” Ward recalls.

“Their psychological and emotional needs are unmet,” Ward says of many terminally ill patients. “My involvement is just simply working with the person on a psychological, spiritual, emotional level.”

Members of the collaborative are not isolated in their quest to provide resources and support for death directives, but their services aren’t widely available, or even widely culturally accepted.

Asher Wallis

“I have seen a good deal of anxiety arise from family members who are trying, in the midst of disorienting grief, to figure out what their loved ones, who had not planned logistically or financially for the events that would follow their death, would have wanted,'” Asher Wallis, an End of Life Care Collaborative member and grief counselor, explains.

He attributes some of the sources of that unnecessary stress to “culturally sanctioned misinformation about the physiological and psychological nature of dying such that both the family caregivers and the dying person think they are doing it wrong.”

Deborah Threadgill, a collaborative member who is also a certified funeral director, says the End of Life Care Collaborative focuses on making “everything family-directed,” meaning they never suggest or push services on clients. Rather, they try to educate them on their full range of options surrounding death and dying.

“We take something that is very, very traumatic in our society and taboo and make it something natural and beautiful,” she says.

Complete Article HERE!