Festival of Death and Dying explores topic Australians ignore


News headlines can feel like a catalogue of death and destruction, but are we really grappling with the reality of human mortality? The answer is no, according to a new festival.

Death and dying festival grapples with human reality

By Eloise Fuss and Lisa Skerrett

The Festival of Death and Dying wants us to stop focusing on our jobs, mortgages, children and relationships for a minute to consider life’s biggest unknown: death.

“We all live in a way as if we’re going to live forever,” said Festival of Death and Dying director Dr Peter Banki.

“To produce a cultural shift we need to do more than just talk about death and dying, I think we need to actively learn more about it, and even experience it in a certain way.”

The festival takes place in Melbourne this weekend after a successful debut in Sydney last year, with plans to also expand to Adelaide and Berlin.

Using art installations and immersive workshops, it hopes to provoke contemplation about how societies mark death and come to terms with the inevitable loss of friends and family.

“[Death] is probably the most difficult thing that any of us will ever have to do, and it’s probably the most important thing one can do for someone else — witnessing someone dying, accompanying them, and taking responsibility for their legacy and their memory,” Dr Banki said.

“You can’t experience death as such, so you need art — it helps us bear witness to it, even if it doesn’t save us from it.”

Mainstream Australia distanced from death

Before modern medical breakthroughs like vaccines and penicillin, it was more common to die at home, meaning most people had firsthand experience of human death.

Traditional funeral rites were also largely a family affair — a far cry from today’s funeral industry, which Dr Banki thinks has “commodified” the personal experience and expression of grief.

“We don’t see death, it’s hidden from us,” he said.

“You have a funeral and you might have a get together afterwards but that’s about it, there’s nothing within the culture that’s there or any type of ritual or ceremonial way to mourn our dead.”

One project helping people create ritual around death is a fashion designer making garments for the grave.

Pia Interlandi combines skills in fashion and funeral celebrancy, working with individuals and families to create bio-degradable clothing to be buried in.

“It neither denies nor flirts with death, but presents it in a way that invites observers to view it as natural, undeniable, inevitable and at times, beautiful,” said Ms Interlandi.

Rituals and mourning

Kopi hats, central to the mourning rituals of some Aboriginal cultures, represent the weight of a woman’s grief.

There is another older way of thinking about death close to home too: the complex mourning rituals of Australia’s Indigenous cultures.

Artist Maree Clarke builds an understanding of grief from an Indigenous cultural perspective, by guiding people through the experience of wearing Kopi mourning caps, or widow’s caps.

“In different areas some women would cut off their hair, weave a net of emu sinews, place it on their head and then plaster their head with gypsum, a very heavy river clay.

“They represented the weight of your grief, so the heavier it was, the bigger connection to the person that had passed.”

Dr Banki said mainstream Australia, which had “completely missed out on these ways of mourning”, had a lot to learn from Aboriginal cultures about dealing with death — and that getting “hands-on” helped in the process.

“There are other people in Australia also working to promote people to learn and have conversations about death and dying, but it’s always within the realm of speech and lectures and talks,” he said.

“We think deep learning happens when people feel something, when people experience something, and for that you have to get them to try on a garment or have to get them to try on a hat, or go into a coffin.”

Artist Maree Clarke builds an understanding of grief from an Indigenous cultural perspective by guiding people through making and wearing a Kopi mourning cap.

Complete Article HERE!


Meaningful Planning for Final Arrangements


By Melanie Ball

Some people wait to reach a certain age or receive a serious diagnosis before they start planning their final wishes.

Luckily, when we lost Dad to mesothelioma, we didn’t have much planning to do. Ever the family overseer, my father preplanned his memorial services.

He prepared for everything, including financial planning.

I am only now realizing the gracefulness of Dad’s consideration of our family during our time of grief. We were all a mess when he passed, and his prior decisions relieved some of the stress at a time when his guidance was most needed.

Exploring final arrangements ahead of time can relieve families of unnecessary anxiety during a time of emotional need. Preplanning also presents an opportunity for a person to make their own choices regarding their final wishes.

Dad found peace of mind by guiding our family through the difficult process of saying goodbye.

Developing a Plan Early Reduces Stress Later

Most folks don’t know much about the funeral process until they face the loss of a loved one.

Lack of planning often leads distraught family members toward emotion-based final arrangement decisions. The shock of loss can cloud one’s judgment.

Exploring aspects of final services in advance is a helpful step toward developing a solid plan.

For many, the most alarming part of final arrangement planning is the cost. Financial concerns may guide much of the decision-making process.

The National Funeral Directors Association is a reputable organization of more than 10,000 funeral homes in 49 states. In 2014, the NFDA estimated the median cost of a traditional funeral with burial at more than $8000.

Such a price tag may surprise bereaved families.

An expensive funeral doesn’t necessarily equate to a meaningful service.

A thoughtful service is a reflection of the memorialized person. Preplanning ahead of time allows families to create a memorial that truly embodies the essence of a loved one’s life.

Remembering them with honor and dignity is the goal of most funeral planning.

Be Aware of Different Types of Services

Most families consider spiritual beliefs, family and cultural traditions, and of course, the costs when making their final decisions.

Knowing what types of memorial services are offered is a good starting point for most people. It is also important to understand legal and ethical elements that may influence final decision making.

Each state governs funeral practices differently, but the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) provides national regulations that guide funeral providers.

There are many options available, so it helps to have a clear, universal definition of services. The FTC has an important role in clarifying the options available for customers across the nation.

According to the FTC, there are several basic types of services provided in most states, including:

  • Traditional Full-Service: Traditional funeral services are the most expensive type of memorial. This type of funeral includes a viewing or “wake,” a formal funeral service, hearse transportation and a graveside memorial. Often services take place on two separate days.)
  • Direct Burial: Direct burials exclude a formal viewing, hearse transportation and certain services provided the funeral home. There are fewer necessary goods which brings the cost down significantly. This type of service usually shortens the time between passing and burial.)
  • Direct Cremation: Services that involve direct cremation generally omit the formal viewing. After processing, the remains are placed in a container called an urn which is usually present at a memorial service where families join together. Cremation is much more affordable than traditional services.

Planning final arrangements can be a bit overwhelming. Understanding the basic services available can ease the decision-making process.

Protections Provided by the Funeral Rule

Federal guidelines are designed to protect customers shopping for funeral products and services. The FTC’s Funeral Rule offers peace of mind to many shoppers.

While each state passes their own laws regarding legal funeral practices, the state laws coincide with these federal guidelines.

Among the many protections in the Funeral Rule:

  • Customers can shop with funeral homes and only pay for the goods and services they want to buy, rather than choosing from lavish packages that lump products together. Families can save money by only buying the goods they need.
  • When seeking a price quote, shoppers don’t have to show up at the establishment in person. Service providers must give customers a price quote over the phone, if they inquire. This is especially helpful for families planning under time constraints.
  • People who meet with funeral home professionals to discuss plans are provided with a General Price List. This document clearly states the prices of all goods and services available from the provider. Seeing the listed price can help people make cost-conscious choices.
  • Sometimes the cemetery or crematory has separate requirements which families should know before signing a funeral arrangement contract. The provider must inform the customer with a list of those requirements in advance of purchase.
  • With some services such as cremation, caskets are not necessary. The customer may choose to use an alternate or less elaborate container. Other shoppers may choose to order a casket from a different provider. Funeral homes must allow people to order them from other companies, rather than exclusively selling their own products.

Making final arrangements is a difficult process under the best of circumstances.

During times of emotional despair, discernment escapes most of us. I’m not sure my mother was capable of planning Dad’s services in the days immediately following his death.

It was a tough time for our family, and I learned from my father’s thoughtfulness. Taking care of my family in the future is just as important as taking care of them now.

Making arrangements for our final goodbyes is a way I can comfort them when they confront life without me.

Complete Article HERE!


Funeral celebrants offer customized services without liturgy, dogma or traditional rituals


Until fairly recently, priests, ministers and rabbis presided over rites for the dead. But fewer Americans are attending a church or synagogue. Enter funeral celebrants.

By Kevyn Burger

While he was buttoning his crisp white shirt and tying his tie, Ryan Raffray started crying.

He’d been up late the night before, laboring over his eulogy for baby Dylan, found unresponsive in his crib, a SIDS death.

“How do you tell the story of a beloved child who was with us only six months?” he said, as he stood behind the lectern, trying to keep his voice from catching.

Raffray delivered his carefully composed tribute not in a church or funeral chapel, but in a Plymouth hotel conference room.

His audience was not a grieving family but a group of funeral professionals.

And the baby? He was fictitious. But the details Raffray gave about Dylan’s short life were so poignant that the others in the room passed around a box of Kleenex.

Writing and delivering the eulogy was Raffray’s final assignment in a course to become a certified funeral celebrant. He joined a dozen participants who spent three days and $999 attending a workshop on how to craft a final farewell for families that don’t want a funeral with traditional trappings.

Until fairly recently, priests, ministers and rabbis presided over rites for the dead. But fewer Americans are attending a church or synagogue. Every seven years, the Pew Research Center releases a comprehensive Religious Landscape Study. In 2008, 16 percent of those polled claimed no religious affiliation. By 2015, that number had grown to 23 percent, with the drop noted across denominations, genders, generations and racial groups.

That leaves nonreligious families without a person (such as a clergy member) or place (a house of worship) to turn to when they experience loss.

Increasingly, funeral celebrants are stepping in to create secular ceremonies without liturgy, dogma or traditional rituals. What they offer instead is a customized service designed to suit the needs of the grieving.

“Funerals are changing and families need new options and ceremonies that speak to them,” said Glenda Stansbury, co-founder of the InSight Institute Certified Celebrant program, based in Oklahoma City.

“Churches take care of churchgoers,” Stansbury said. “People on the fringes think no one can or will meet their needs. We can be there for the ones who say they’re spiritual but not religious or who clearly state they don’t want to be preached at.”

A meaningful funeral can be a healing first step for families as they begin to mourn. But funeral professionals see more people forgoing funerals altogether because they can’t find a service that will allow country music, quotes from Harry Potter or unvarnished storytelling.

“We know that people need that gathering to share their loss and get support from their community. Without funerals, we’re setting up a nation of people who are not dealing with grief, and unresolved grief is at the root of a lot of persistent problems,” Stansbury said.

Lisa Jones, a community activist from Milwaukee, took part in the celebrant training because she feels “called” to serve this unmet need in her community.

“The black church is strong, but a lot of hurting folks are unchurched or de-churched,” she said. “I just went to a church funeral that used the traditional model, but it didn’t suit the family and they went away feeling angry. We need to find new ways to respond to trauma.”

Training for a tribute

At the celebrant training in Plymouth, students learned how to organize funerals, celebrations of life, graveside services and the scattering of ashes. The course covered incorporating music, readings and video tributes and offered guidance on how to price, position and publicize work as a funeral celebrant. (Most charge $300 to $400.)

The centerpiece of the celebrant’s work is the life tribute, the unique story that the celebrant delivers to give mourners a sense of the life lived and lost.

Celebrants learned how to set up a family meeting to gather a mosaic of memories and fashion them into a story. Gathering those memories is as important as delivering the tribute.

“You become the ambassador for that person’s legacy,” Stansbury told her trainees. “When everyone is hearing the story together it becomes a sacred time that is healing.”

A licensed funeral director and certified celebrant, Stansbury estimates she’s delivered 500 life tributes in her 17-year career. The work is growing more challenging. In recent years, she’s been the celebrant for a greater number of overdoses and violent deaths.

Many funeral directors keep a list of pastors who may be willing to officiate at a service for someone they don’t know (“I never got a chance to meet John … ”). But Stansbury has found them reluctant to officiate at troubling deaths.

“The rent-a-ministers take a pass on the hard cases,” she said. “Families experiencing a sudden, tragic loss need us the most. We tell them, ‘We won’t sugarcoat your loss.’ Sometimes we walk into a family’s dysfunction and we have to help them grieve the relationship they didn’t have. We say, ‘What do you need to say goodbye?’ ”

Authentic vs. anonymous

When dealing with families that lack religious affiliations, funeral directors sometimes step into the breach.

“We’ve been functioning as celebrants, but we never had the training,” said Kelly Woltjer, who owns and operates three funeral homes in northwestern Minnesota with her parents. “We meet the ones who express that they are Christian but don’t go to church and are looking for someone to lead the service. We need help learning how to give them something different.”

Woltjer said many families don’t want mentions of salvation and eternal life, but seek comfort in what’s familiar. “A lot of them will ask for the Lord’s Prayer or the 23rd Psalm and ‘Amazing Grace,’ ” she said.

Some taking celebrant training are licensed funeral directors, like Woltjer, who are formally schooled in embalming and mortuary science. Others hope to work as independent celebrants, who are called in by funeral directors to fill the gap.

Jessica Moujouros works with young people who have experienced loss. That’s what inspired the program director at the Children’s Grief Connection in Willow River, Minn., to undergo the training.

“We see kids who come to our family grief camp because they didn’t have a good funeral experience. Their pain was trivialized. We want to give them a better ceremony that would help them on that stage of their grief journey.”

Moujouros has seen the value of the celebrant option in her own life.

“When my grandfather died last year, we had a celebrant who talked to his last surviving sister and we learned things about him that we never knew. The service and the story was wonderful,” she said. “When my other grandfather died, the town priest pronounced his name wrong.”

Houston-based SCI, the nation’s largest chain of funeral homes, offers celebrants as one of its funeral options. But others in the industry have been slow to embrace the concept.

“I was talking to a small-town funeral director and he said, ‘We would never offer a celebrant.’ He said he wouldn’t risk offending the clergy in his community. I was taken aback by that. He missed an opportunity to serve,” said Prof. Michael LuBrant, director of the Program of Mortuary Science at the University of Minnesota.

While LuBrant called the funeral industry “notoriously resistant to change,” he’s seeing a major shift in the kind of the death rituals that families seek, with tunes from the radio instead of the hymnal or a Champagne toast as a service concludes.

Stansbury agrees.

“Millennials are the least religiously affiliated generation in history and they’re getting ready to bury their baby boomer parents,” she said. “They will demand touching, authentic ceremonies that speak to them and their values. We need to make sure they understand they can have that.”

Complete Article HERE!


The Art of Natural Death Care


The Art of Natural Death Care raises awareness of an alternative way in which families can care for their loved ones at the time of death. The Sophia Center for Life Studies Crossings Care Community, along with many forward thinking people around the country, are bringing death care back to family and community. Natural home death care is legal, even without a funeral director in most states, and is an alternative to the conventional way in which death has been handled in the United States over the last century. This growing movement of home funeral and green burial care is driven by the belief that this way can be more meaningful, affordable, and environmentally friendly. Families can care for their loved ones at the time of death bringing individuality, sacredness, love and reverence. The Art of Natural Death Care can help get the conversation started about end of life choices.

The Sophia Center for Life Studies would like to thank filmmaker Katelyn LaGrega for donating her time and energy and dedicating her heart and soul in creating this film. We believe that this film can serve individuals and organizations across the country who are dedicated to educating about Natural Death Care options. We are passionate about this work and encourage the use and sharing of this film to support this movement and raise awareness. Donations for the creation and production of this film can be made HERE!

The Sophia Center for Life Studies

The Art of Natural Death Care from Katelyn LaGrega on Vimeo.


What we can learn from death rites of the past will help us treat the dead and grieving better today


Making death masks of notorious criminals was common in the 19th century, such as this cast of murderer William Burke at the University of Edinburgh’s Anatomy Museum.

By and

These days many people know they are dying long before death finally arrives. Yet death, a natural event, is often seen as a failure of medicine. Despite the additional time modern healthcare may provide us, we still begin our conversations about the wishes of the dying and their families too late – or not at all. This reluctance to accept our own mortality does not serve us well.

This taboo around death is a fairly modern, Western phenomenon. Past and present, societies have dealt with death and dying in diverse ways. It is clear from, for example, the outpouring of grief at Princess Diana’s death, and the conversations opening up around the 20th anniversary of the event, that these outlets are needed in our society too. High-profile celebrity deaths serve as sporadic catalysts for conversations that should be happening every day, in everyday lives.

Recent bereavement theory has moved on from thinking of grief as a series of stages, to a continuous process in which the bereaved never fully return to some “pre-bereaved” status quo. It is increasingly recognised that the living form various sorts of continuing bonds with the dead, as put forward by the sociologist Tony Walter and psychologist Dennis Klass and colleagues – and this is certainly something that can be seen in death practices today across the globe, and among those practised in the past.

In Neolithic Turkey, one funerary rite included the creation of plastered skulls – family members were buried under the floors of their house and after some time the skull was removed and a plaster face lovingly recreated over it. Many of these plastered skulls show evidence of wear and tear, breakage and repair, suggesting that they were used in everyday life, perhaps displayed and passed around among the living. Similarly, in modern-day Indonesia, the dead are kept in houses, fed and brought gifts for many years after death. While in this state they are considered to be ill or asleep – in this case their biological death does not entail social death.

It was not so long ago in the UK that public outpouring of grief and practices that kept the dead close were acceptable. For example, in Victorian England, mourning clothes and jewellery were commonplace – Queen Victoria wore black for decades in mourning for Prince Albert – while keeping tokens such as locks of hair of a deceased loved one were popular.

However, today death has been outsourced to professionals and, for the most part, dying happens in hospitals or hospices. But many doctors and nurses themselves feel uncomfortable with broaching the subject with relatives. Perhaps there are lessons to be drawn from the attitudes of others far removed from us in time and space: the past, and societies on the other side of the globe, are easier to discuss, yet act as prompts to help us discuss more personal experiences.

The Continuing Bonds Project brings together healthcare practitioners and archaeologists at the University of Bradford and LOROS Hospice in Leicester to explore what we can learn from the past, using archaeology to challenge modern perceptions of and attitudes towards death and dying, and as a vehicle through which people can discuss their own mortality and end-of-life care.

Remember, remember

One case study we show our workshop participants is the Holy Right Hand of St Stephen, a relic of the first king of

The Holy Hand of St Stephen

Hungary which has been on display since 1038. Though saints’ relics – generally body parts – have been a large part of Christian culture in the past and were not uncommon, they are something many are uncomfortable with today. One workshop participant describes the display of St Stephen’s hand as “selfish”, as if he is being exploited beyond the grave. What responsibilities do we have towards the dead? What constitutes “respect” for them? Archaeology shows us that it is a fluid and culturally embedded concept which differs wildly between societies and individuals.

Memorialisation, through photographs or statues (that served the same purpose in the past), appears to be fundamental to “respectful” treatment of the dead. Death masks – plaster castings of a dead person’s face – and later even photos of the recently departed, were not uncommon as a way to memorialise the dead, even into the 20th century. Yet while taking photographs of the departed in life are celebrated, photographs of dead bodies themselves are less palatable today.

The vast stone bust of Ramses II in the British Museum.

Another example for workshop participants is the statue of the Egyptian pharaoh Ramesses II, the bust of which

resides at the British Museum, while the feet remain in situ at the Ramesseum in Luxor, Egypt. Given that this individual lived in Egypt nearly 3,000 years ago, the statue has kept his memory alive. Yet its fragmented and dispersed nature prompted our participants to wonder how long their loved ones’ memories of them would persist after their death, and what legacies they would want to leave.

101 uses for mortal remains

Memorialisation of the dead takes a very different form at the 16th-century Capela dos Ossos in Évora, Portugal, where monks desiring to save the souls of some 5,000 people from overcrowded local cemeteries used their remains to create a chapel of bones. Individual bones were used to create decorative features such as arches and vaulted ceilings.

Workshop participants were unhappy that bones had been removed from their resting place without the permission of the deceased. But for how long can our wishes be accommodated after death? The other feature that unsettled them was the dismantling of the skeletons – in the West today, our identity sits firmly with us as individuals, bounded by our physical bodies. Fragmenting our skeletal remains strikes firmly at this sense of identity – and so our sense of social presence. Such scattered remains are nameless, faceless – lacking the very thing that memorials seek to preserve.

In other cultures – and in the past – identity is less individualistic and resonates within larger kin or community groups. Here, distributing bones may be less problematic and a part of the process whereby the recently deceased joins the host of communal ancestors.

‘Nice chapel, I love what you’ve done with the space.’

Though some of the topics were difficult to discuss, many workshop participants felt they had improved confidence in talking about death, dying and bereavement as a result. The range of practices from the past reminds us of the diverse ways through which death can be negotiated and the extent to which practices that we take for granted today are in fact culturally embedded, relative and subject to change. Persistent Facebook profiles of dead friends and family to which loved ones post on each anniversary are an example of how traditions are changing.

In a world where death has become increasingly outsourced and medicalised, the diverse ways we treated and remembered our dead in the past should highlight the choices available to us and prompt us to consider those now banned or taboo. At the entrance of the Capela dos Ossos, the monks who built the chapel left an inscription, a momento mori that reminds us: “We bones that are here, for yours await”.

Complete Article HERE!


Ashes to Ashes, Dust to … Interactive Biodegradable Funerary Urns?


The Bios Urn mixes cremains with soil and seedlings. It automatically waters and cares for the memorial sapling, sending updates to a smartphone app.

By Glenn McDonald

Earlier this summer, a modest little startup in Barcelona, Spain, unveiled its newest product — a biodegradable, Internet-connected funeral urn that turns the ashes of departed loved ones into an indoor tree. Just mix the cremains with soil and seedlings, and the digital-age urn will automatically water and care for your memorial sapling, sending constant updates to an app on your smartphone.

At first glance, the concept seems gimmicky — evidently, we’re running out of ideas for smart appliances. But the Bios Incube system can also be seen as the latest example of a gradual transformation in modern culture.

Technology is fundamentally changing how we deal with death and its attendant issues of funerals, memorials and human remains. Much of this change is for the good. Some developments are a little spooky. But one thing is for sure: You can do a lot of cool things with ashes these days.


The Bios Incube system, which went on sale in June after a successful crowdfunding campaign, is the latest iteration of a much older idea in which ashes are essentially used as compost for a memorial tree or plant. But the Incube system adds some high-tech twists. The biodegradable urn is placed within a 5-gallon planter with an elegant, off-white, minimalist design vibe — call it the iUrn.

Roger Moliné, co-founder of Bios Urn, says the company offers two versions of its system. One provides the basic biodegradable urn and planter at $145. The more expensive version — if you want all the high-tech bells, whistles, atmosphere sensors and smartphone apps — tops out at $695.

“Interestingly enough, we have found so far that most have opted voluntarily for the high-tech option,” Moliné says.

He has a theory on that.

“Most of us are connected to the digital world, and we have become used to it,” he says. “Perhaps by tying together this process with technology, there can be a sense of comfort that comes from using a familiar process with a new experience. We hope that it will push people in a new direction and perhaps make this process easier for those experiencing loss.”

The Bios Urn is part of a high-tech system in which the ashes of a departed loved one are used to help grow a tree.

The Bios Urn concept is indeed part of a larger transformation in which technology is changing how we think about death and dying, says Candi Cann, author of the book Virtual Afterlives: Grieving the Dead in the Twenty-first Century.

“Their approach implies a different sort of afterlife than the religious one — an afterlife that theoretically we can partake in,” says Cann, who teaches religion and world culture at Baylor University.

“Recent theories on mourning reveal that having continued bonds with the deceased allow us to navigate everyday life while renegotiating our relationships with loved ones who are no longer present,” she says. “So in this way, the Bios Urn might actually foster a healthy type of mourning that allows us to look after the dead in an active, daily way.”

Caring for the dead via a smartphone app may seem strange, Cann says, but it makes perfect sense for those of us living in a perpetually connected world: “The generation today has grown up with online spaces and smartphones, so this is their medium.”

Cann has done extensive research on modern mourning rituals around the planet, and the various ways that technology is impacting how we deal with death and dying. The Internet has certainly changed the way we do things. Obituaries are posted online, funeral arrangements are sent by email or text, and social media platforms like Facebook now offer a range of memorial pages and legacy contact options.

In general, this is all good healthy progress, Cann says. “Smartphones and social media spaces have forced a decline in the importance of a controlled obituary narrative, as more people can contribute to the communal memory of a person and the meaning of their life,” she says.

A recurring theme in Cann’s work concerns an odd and abiding reticence in mainstream Western attitudes toward death: In short, we just don’t like to talk about it. Our aversion leads to a lot of unhealthy sublimation in the culture. “I would argue that the reason we see so much death in the media and in video games is precisely because we are not having real conversations about death,” Cann says.

Technology is helping in that arena, too. Cann points to online communities like Death Cafe, which use Internet forums to arrange local meetups for people wanting to talk about death.

Then there is the issue of what to do with the remains. We humans have been navigating this dilemma since the dawn of civilization, but recent technological advances have opened up some options. You can have ashes incorporated into jewelry, blended into oil paintings, mixed into tattoo ink, submerged into coral reefs or even pressed into vinyl records. And don’t forget about the festive fireworks option.

While developing the Bios Urn system, Moliné explored how other cultures are processing cremains, like Tokyo’s unique Ruriden columbarium, which utilizes LED Buddha statues and digital smart cards.

The Ruriden columbarium houses futuristic alters with glass Buddha statues that correspond to drawers storing the ashes of the deceased.

“I’ve seen some interesting things in China and Japan,” he says. “Both have run of out burial space in larger cities and have created interesting ways of commemorating those who have passed.”

Cann says that these new modern rituals, facilitated by various technologies, can help us get a little friendlier with death.

“In Brazil, I went to a public crematorium that cremates a body every 15 minutes, and is an actively used public park and picnic space,” he says. “Families were playing and picnicking among the ashes. If we see deathscapes as friendly places, rather than where the dead are banished, we might be able to utilize them in healthier and more creative ways.”

Looking to the future, however, Cann addresses more worrisome technologies.

“One of the areas I’m thinking more about is the use of artificial intelligence and digital avatars,” Cann said. “These are people intending to upload themselves, via AI, into digital avatars.”

Proponents of this idea contend that uploading the mind into a computer is entirely plausible. But science fiction has some cautionary tales in this area — any technology that promises to defy death is usually nothing but trouble. Ask Dr. Frankenstein. Even speculating on this sci-fi scenario can get a bit dodgy, Cann says.

“Whenever people focus more on extending life rather than examining its quality, death loses its importance,” Cann says. “If we are spending more time trying to deny death or prolong dying, then I think we are not living well.”

In this light, the Bios Urn seems like a fairly gentle step forward. Technology can’t yet provide us with digital immortality, but it can help us grow a memorial tree in our living room. What’s not to like?

Complete Article HERE!