Transition Green Burials is Promoting the Growth of This Eco-Friendly Practice

Climate change is on everyone’s mind as initiatives for renewable energy and sustainable public habits adapt to a more environmentally-friendly approach.

While numerous avenues for reducing the adverse impact of energy production and ocean contamination dominate most of the narrative around preserving the ecosystem, many more obscure and often overlooked practices lead to the accretion of environmental contaminants.

One of those areas is the traditional Western approach to burial practices and its subsequent impact on local ecosystems. Embalming fluid, typically composed of formaldehyde, ethanol, and water, is commonly used in burials throughout Western culture to preserve bodies for funeral services before being put to rest.

However, the proliferation of costly funeral services has led to increased exposure to formaldehyde, both to individuals who work with it directly and the environment. Compounding the issue is the myriad metals — such as bronze and steel — that are laid to rest during funeral services that do not readily compose in the soil. As demand for cemetery land undoubtedly grows, the adverse impact of the contaminants synonymous with funeral practices grows.

Transition Green Burials is a company focused on promoting the conversion to more eco-friendly burial practices, known as ‘green burials’ or natural burials.

Identifying Sources of Burial Pollutants

Formaldehyde produces the most concerning ecological threat with common burials practices because of its widespread use and identity as a dangerous animal carcinogen.

Highly toxic to animals, formaldehyde is implicated in cancer, nervous system disorders, and lateral sclerosis. Formaldehyde can also break down into urotropine during decomposition, an anti-bacterial chemical commonly used in antibiotics for bacterial infections, but that is harmful to the natural bacteria in the soil.

Pesticides and herbicides are often used in the internment process too, compounding the negative effects of formaldehyde on the soil surrounding burial areas. The downstream effects of the chemicals used in the internment process can eventually even lead to contamination of underground water sources.

Outside of common internment practices, cremation processes also lead to the emission of mercury and toxic plastic into the environment. Further, high carbon loads are needed for the cremation process, leading to increased carbon emissions, one of the fundamental focuses of environmental initiatives like The Paris Climate Agreement. With nearly 50 percent of Americans selecting cremation today, few realize the pollutants that are dispersed into the air from the procedure.

Many conservation groups, like the Green Burial Council, are seeking to promote more eco-friendly practices by limiting the use of embalming fluids, herbicides, and pesticides in the process. Further, some groups are promoting the use of biodegradable coffins, design to break down over time, mitigating the long-term impact of steel or brass caskets that can destroy habitats as burial grounds expand.

Transitioning to Fixed Cost Green Burials

The Green Burial Council cites the rise of certified green burial sites across the US as an indication of the legitimacy of their cause, and their emphasis on protecting worker health, reducing toxic pollutants, and promoting habitat conservation is gaining traction among various burial grounds and activists.  

Similarly, Transition Green Burials is taking a hybrid approach to the issue with a focus on both the environmental impact and financial advantages of green burials through their TransitionCoin, which is designed to incentivize people to change conventional burial practices.

TransitionCoin provides a fixed cost for green burials — including all of the associated services required in the course of the burial. The targeting of a fixed price is derived from the rapidly increasing cost of funeral home services, which can reach as high as $25,000 and can lead to financial struggles among grieving families.

With a fixed cost for any green burial, people who select TransitionCoin can reduce financial costs and contribute to the growing Green Burial Movement.

The conventional burial practices among Western countries using caskets and multiple proceedings through a funeral home is also more of an isolated and recent phenomenon that began following the Civil War in the US. Several religions — including Judaism — forbid the embalming of the deceased out of religious tradition, and preserving chemicals or embalming fluid are also rarely used in Islamic burials.

Green burials grounds and services have also emerged across the US already. States like California and South Carolina have certified green burial preserves set up that are registered with the Green Burial Council. The Green Burial Council provides certified standards for funeral services, cemeteries, and burial product manufacturers. There are currently 39 states with funeral providers accredited by the Green Burial Council for eco-friendly burials.

The notion of analyzing green burial practices is one of the more obscure concepts within environmental conservation, but, nonetheless, is important to take into consideration as the widespread use of formaldehyde and pesticides continue. Transition Green Burials and the Green Burial Council are actively promoting the shift to a more eco-friendly approach, and it is beginning to gain traction among both environmental activists and funeral parlors.

Complete Article HERE!

For this Hong Kong undertaker, every working day is a matter of life and death

Ogden Chan puts his best into making sure bereaved families are taken care of but admits being detached is a necessary part of the job

By Stephanie Tsui

January was a busy month for undertaker Ogden Chan Yan. “It’s peak season for us because more people are dying due to the fickle weather, and many families don’t want to wait until after the Lunar New Year to bury their dead,” the 36-year-old says.

Rows of cardboard boxes containing the ashes of his clients’ loved ones line the shelves of Chan’s shop in Hung Hom. His clients have left the ashes for safekeeping until their deceased are assigned columbarium niches. Chan reckons there are almost 200 of these boxes.

“It’s the typical Hongkonger’s fate: the living can’t afford homes, and the dead can’t find final resting places.”

It has been seven years since Chan joined the industry as an apprentice. Although he applied for the apprenticeship “out of curiosity”, his interest in the funeral sector began in his early teens.

“I wanted to be a mortuary makeup artist because I was under the impression that people in the funeral business made a decent living because there’s always going to be a demand for the service, and I liked how it was something of a craft.”

But that initial perception was somewhat misguided. Chan says that his business has only recently become profitable. Before, he was barely getting by. He now oversees everything from preparing documents and booking cremation services to planning religious ceremonies. As a nod to his childhood dream, he also acts as a makeup artist for his clients’ loved ones.

“I talk to the corpses when I put makeup on them because I believe that our consciousness remains even after we die.”

After a while, he adds: “That said, I’ve never seen a ghost.”

Chan says he has been fearless all his life, even as a child, when he saw a corpse for the first time lying in a construction site in mainland China. The second time he saw a corpse was before he joined the industry, when he was volunteering for a service for inmates. The corpse was already decomposing.

“What impressed me was not the appearance of the corpse – which looked like a zombie out of a video game – but the smell.”

The smell of decay was something Chan had to get used to as soon as he became an undertaker’s apprentice, as was staying detached from clients and their grief.

“In time, I adopted a somewhat dispassionate view of death. As a service provider, I get satisfaction from organising a successful service. After all, it’s the last ceremony a person ever has on this Earth.”

But when Chan presided over his father’s funeral service five years ago, things got personal.

“While making the arrangements, I kept thinking of the times I’d spent with my father. What helped with my grieving process was the fact that I knew exactly what had to be done after his death.”

Chan says he is happy to see that Hongkongers have become more willing to explore and discuss issues related to death, but believes education about death and dying should start young.

“I’ve seen four or five year-olds bawling at their parents’ funerals. They’re old enough to learn the meaning of life and death.”

At that, Chan offers his take on life: “Don’t waste time. Even if you’re given 80 years to live, it’s still not enough. Do as much as you can while you’re around, so when you’re on your deathbed looking back on your life, you can think about all the marvellous things you’ve done.”

So, what is on Chan’s bucket list?

“I want to get a bachelor’s degree. And, like every other Hongkonger, I want to be able to afford my own home.”

Complete Article HERE!

Memorial Map Offers Way to Mourn, Remember

After his own addiction-related loss, one man created a tool to help others heal.

Family members embrace in a cemetery on March 6, 2016, in Plantsville, Conn., to commemorate the first anniversary of the fatal heroin overdose of a loved one.

By Steve Sternberg

Jeremiah Lindemann’s “Celebrating Lost Loved Ones” project is a map of lost lives, a moving collection of crowd-sourced tributes from family and friends to those who have died of drug overdoses.

A digital mapmaker by training, Lindemann understands the geography of grief. More than a decade ago, he lost his kid brother to a drug overdose. Jameson Tanner Lindemann – J.T. to his family and friends – may have been introduced to opioids not by a dealer on the street, but by the well-intentioned dentist who removed his wisdom teeth.

J.T. died Sept. 13, 2007, shortly after finishing his second round of drug rehabilitation. He was 22.

Lindemann, seven years older than J.T., was away pursuing his career as his brother sank deeper into addiction. After J.T.’s death, Lindemann mourned but kept his feelings to himself. He couldn’t shake the stigma associated with drug abuse that might have led others to think of J.T.’s life as squandered in a desperate stew of escapism and dependency.

“It was nothing I wanted to talk about,” Lindemann says.

But as time passed, he became increasingly distressed at the opioid crisis’ mounting death toll, often ensnaring celebrities and other public figures. It became startlingly clear that many of the victims come from good homes and loving families, and that the vortex of addiction was sucking in individuals from every walk of life.

Around three years ago, Lindemann, a geographic information systems engineer for the digital mapmaking firm Esri, decided to tap into his expertise and create a crowd-sourced map to serve as an outlet for the scores of people who were grieving alone, reluctant to share their feelings with others who had experienced similar tragedies.

The goal: to celebrate the lives of those now gone.

Lindemann’s map enables loved ones to post pictures of absent friends and relatives, along with a brief tribute. Alongside the photo gallery is a map that displays where lives were lost, as well as a tally of the death toll in a given community. So far, more than 1,900 people have posted photos and shared stories of loved ones who have died, most of them in the United States, but a few in farther-flung locations such as England, Ireland, South Africa and Australia.

“These deaths are the tip of the iceberg,” Lindemann says. “There are so many more people now that are going through this. There’s got to be hope for them, too.”

Before long, Lindemann found himself overwhelmed by the number of people who regarded him as someone to whom they could pour out their feelings. He wanted to offer comfort, he says, but he didn’t know how. Plus, he had a day job, providing a variety of client support services for Esri.

A reprieve came when the National Safety Council offered to take over hosting the website as part of a comprehensive effort to curb opioid addiction and support those who have suffered losses from it.

“We realized that that in addition to pushing for legislative and policy changes – and changes around prescribing practices – we also needed to connect families so that they know they’re not alone,” council spokeswoman Maureen Vogel says. “That was one of the things that drew us to the map. There are stories behind each one of the data points.”

It is reminiscent, she says, of the AIDS Memorial Quilt, a massive folk-art memorial made up of festive, grave-sized panels commemorating those who have died from HIV/AIDS.

Jeremiah Lindemann’s map enables loved ones to post pictures of absent friends and relatives, along with a brief tribute.

Among those with a spot on the opioid map is Salvatore Marchese, 26, whose courtship with drugs began at 13 when he began smoking marijuana.

“We never knew, because he played sports and had friends,” says his mother Patty DiRenzo, of Blackwood, New Jersey. But on the inside, something wasn’t right for Sal. “I guess he was probably medicating himself.”

Soon, DiRenzo says, Sal began taking pills: “When he couldn’t afford the pills, or steal them from us, he tried heroin.”

DiRenzo, a single mother, did everything she could to help her son, who was in and out of rehabilitation programs. In the end, heroin triumphed.

“He had been sober for 90 days,” DiRenzo says. “He probably thought he could use whatever amount he had been using previously, and overdosed.”

Marchese’s last months were a roller coaster of hope and despair. “In June 2010, he was in a very dark place, using very heavily, 20 to 30 bags of heroin a day. He called his sister from a parking lot and said, ‘I’m scared, I’m sick, I can’t live this way anymore,'” DiRenzo says. His sister took Sal to a local emergency room to flush the drugs out of his system. The next day, after a mad scramble to find an available bed, he was admitted into a treatment facility. Seventeen days into the program, he was released.

“He cried,” DiRenzo says, “‘I’m not ready to come home.'”

That summer, Sal got into an intensive outpatient program. He got a job working for a heating, air conditioning and ventilation company. “He started looking like himself again,” DiRenzo says. “His face looked healthy, he was healthy. We had a great summer with him.”

Then, on the night of Sept. 22, Sal didn’t come home. “It was devastating to me,” DiRenzo says. “What happened when he walked out that door? Did he hear a song on the radio? Did he go to Wawa to get coffee and meet someone he knew?

“When the police knocked on my door, I couldn’t believe what had happened,” she says. “They woke me up at 2:30 in the morning. My daughter said, ‘Oh, crap, the police are here.’ We thought he’d been arrested. Now I’d give anything for that news.”

Sal is survived by his mother, sister, longtime girlfriend and a 9-year-old son, also named Sal, who lives with his mother in his grandmother’s house.

Today, DiRenzo consoles herself with the photo and the legend on the Celebrating Lost Loved Ones” map.

“When I saw Jeremiah’s map, “I said, ‘Oh my God, it’s amazing.’ I can look at the other pictures and know I’m not alone. And Sal wasn’t alone. There are other people going through it,” DiRenzo says. “My son was a beautiful person, and so are all the other people’s children who are struggling with this disease.”

On the map, underneath Sal’s photo, there’s this written reminder of how such tragedies echo through generations:

“Sal gave us one of the most precious gifts that anyone could give, his beautiful son. Baby Sal is a piece of his dad that will continue to shine his light and give his love to everyone around him, for the rest of his life.”

Complete Article HERE!

I’m 33, Healthy, and Planning My Own Funeral

By Susie Bearne

I was 33 when I decided to plan my funeral. I was healthy, and I would describe myself as a glass-half-full kind of person. In other words, I’m not morbid, and I don’t have a death wish.

But over the years, the thought of my own funeral constantly popped up in my mind. Who would turn up? What music would be playing? And — with a good degree of narcissism — which ex-lover overwhelmed with grief would be lingering in the back pews? While friends planned their weddings, I had a different milestone that I wanted to plan for: the end of my life.

The more I started to think about the funeral, the more I wondered how my funeral might play out outside of my daydreams, given I wouldn’t be there to orchestrate it. If I were to die, how would my family know whom to invite? And as an eco-vegetarian, would my funeral reflect the principles I’d lived by? It dawned on me that my final soiree might actually be my own worst kind of party, with me wanting to jump out of the coffin and scream, “FFS, James Blunt?” as “You’re Beautiful” played softly in the background and everyone quietly wept into plates of frozen, beige party food.

One day, I read about Louise Winter – an editor turned funeral planner – online. According to her website, Winter founded Poetic Endings, a business dedicated to creating bespoke funerals, ensuring that send-offs could be stylish, meaningful and unique. I was intrigued. Could she help me plot out my big day?

I met Louise at The House of Saint Barnabas in Soho in London. Over a pot of green tea, she gently asked about my experience attending funerals. The funerals I’d attended were quite traditional and stuffy — black limousines, black clothes, and mostly somber, never really reflecting the spirit of the person who’d died.

Then, Winter quizzed me about every aspect of my future funeral.  Would I like to be buried or cremated? What I would like to be dressed in? Did I want to be embalmed? She explained that funerals didn’t always have to be held in a church, as I’d previously assumed. She also enlightened me on things I never knew, including the fact that I didn’t have to have my funeral in a church, and that it’s actually more environmentally-friendly to have a woodland burial than a cremation.

The cost of Louise’s services came to just under $400. For that, I got three hours of what is essentially event planning, guided by an industry expert. Following the one-to-one, Louise sent me a document which outlined the practical arrangements of my funeral such as keeping my body in a natural state and making sure people wear whatever clothes they want — color is encouraged. The document, which Louise sent to me, is a loose plan of how I’d like my big day to pan out. It can be updated by me at any time, and I’m not legally bound to any of it.

I decided on a candle-lit service in a historical house in London, where friends and family will be welcomed with glasses of Champagne for during the service and be encouraged to stand up and share anecdotes (note to friends: be funny). The after party is set to be in the same venue or a nearby pub, with guests encouraged to bring a vegetarian dish for a huge buffet. Other requirements include no embalming, a bamboo coffin, and a woodland burial near my parents’ home, complete with a tree planted nearby.

I get that it all sounds a little bit…intense. However, I’m not the only one preparing their funeral.

Over the past decade, there’s also been increased interest in dedicated spaces where people can discuss death and grief. For example, more than seven thousand Death Cafes, where strangers are encouraged to talk about death over tea and cake have been held across 68 countries since the social network was founded in 2011.

“When it comes to end-of-life planning and our relationship to death and dying, avoidance doesn’t work; it doesn’t prevent a person from dying, but it may prevent them from dying a good death,” says Lennon Flowers, co-founder and executive director of The Dinner Party, which encourages those who experienced loss to join others for a meal.

The rising societal urge to speak up about death and celebrate life has led to Reimagine, a non-profit which hosts events in San Francisco and New York across spaces ranging from hospitals to comedy clubs. “By bringing death out of the shadows and repurposing public spaces where all types of people are invited not just to talk about death we’ve seen a process of personal and community-wide transformation emerge,” says founder and executive director Brad Wolfe.

Amy Cunningham, owner of Brooklyn-based funeral directors Fitting Tribute Services, believes that millennials are far more aware of their own mortality — perhaps because of the current political climate and the rise of mass violence. “Death can strike at any moment,” she says. “This causes younger people to contemplate it and even get creative with what’s inevitable – as sad as that is. Young people want to break more of the old funeral rules and customs and make the funeral work for them.”

Danielle Ripley-Burgess, 35, a freelance communications consultant living in Kansas City fine-tuned her funeral plans on her own as part of her 2019 New Year’s resolutions. “I was diagnosed with colon cancer 18 years ago and I’ve thought about death a lot ever since,” she says. “Attending funeral services for friends, family and fellow cancer fighters has given me a lot of ideas.”

She describes her funeral as a “pop-music filled, colorful celebration of life full of faith-based Bible verses and songs that allude to the hope I find in death” – and with a taco bar serving up food. “When we pass away, our loved ones will be those suffering the most, yet they’ll also be tasked with handling our affairs. Making funeral plans is a small way to lighten their load,” says Ripley-Burgess.

It was following the death of her mother that motivated Alica Forneret to consider her own funeral. “I realized that there’s a lot of damn work involved with planning a funeral, especially when you’re grieving,” says Forneret, 30, from California. “I eventually realized that it was super important for me to start thinking and talking about this stuff with my family and my fiancée, because I didn’t want to put any of them in a situation where they weren’t prepared to execute on what I want done when I die.”

Forneret, a writer who now lives in Vancouver, says her funeral plans so far includes “good food” because “grieving is hard work and our bodies need to be nourished during those times” and ensuring someone tells jokes. “In short, I want my funeral to be positive and sad, to help people connect in their lives that’ll continue after I’m dead.”

“We are all going to die,” Forneret continues. “Preparing your family and friends in advance is really, really important. Then they can just ride the waves of grief without having to pick out fillings for the tiny sandwiches that’ll be served at your wake or what celebrant is going to MC your funeral.”

As for me, my environmentally-friendly and simple but stylish funeral looks set to be a beautiful and meaningful day, reflective of who I was — or rather, am. Knowing that my grieving family, doesn’t need to frantically worry about what songs I would have wanted to play, who to invite or if I wanted to be cremated means I leave knowing there’s one less headache for them. But one thing’s for sure, if it turns out to be quite the party and I’m in the heavens looking down, I’ll be absolutely gutted that I can’t be there.

Complete Article HERE!

Washington State Weighs New Option After Death: Human Composting

A green burial plot at the Woodlawn Cemetery in Snohomish, WA

By Kirk Johnson

Leslie Christian recently added unusual language to her living will: After death, she hoped her remains would be reduced to soil and spread around to help out some flowers, or a tree. In essence, compost.

“It seems really gentle,” said Ms. Christian, 71, a financial adviser. “Comforting and natural.”

A bill before the Washington State Legislature would make this state the first in the nation — and probably the world, legal experts said — to explicitly allow human remains to be disposed of and reduced to soil through composting, or what the bill calls recomposition.

The prospect has drawn no public opponents in the state capital as yet, but it is a concept that sometimes raises eyebrows. Funeral directors say a common reaction to the idea, which has been explored and tested in recent scientific studies, is to cringe.

“There’s almost a revulsion at times, when you talk about human composting,” said Brian Flowers, the managing funeral director at Moles Farewell Tributes, a company north of Seattle that supports the bill.

In truth, composting is an ancient and basic method of body disposal. A corpse in the ground without embalming chemicals or a coffin, or in a quickly biodegradable coffin, becomes soil over time.

But death certificates in many states include a box that must be checked for burial or cremation, with no other options. Aboveground composting, through a mortuary process that requires no burial or burning of remains, is a new category without regulation about how it should be done or what can be done with the compost. What that means is that hardly any funeral director — even in states where laws about human remains are loosely worded — would risk offering it without state permission.

Pete Seeger, the folk singer, crooned about the idea: “If I should die before I wake, all my bone and sinew take. Put them in the compost pile to decompose a little while,” goes the song “In Dead Earnest.”

“When radishes and corn you munch you may be having me for lunch.”

In America, there are regional patterns to what comes of bodies after death. In the South and Midwest, where religious or cultural traditions run deep, more families opt for caskets and concretes vaults, and fewer choose cremation, experts say. In the Northeast, where family roots sometimes extend back centuries, people often favor burial in local cemeteries alongside ancestors.

In the Pacific Northwest, by contrast, death is treated somewhat differently, for reasons that sociologists and religious experts have long pondered. It’s a region where transient newcomers have defined the culture since pioneer days. Church attendance is among the lowest in the nation. Preservation of the environment is a central concern.

In Washington State, a larger percentage of residents are cremated than in any other state. Washington has more “green cemeteries,” which encourage a return to nature without manicured lawns and chemicals, than most states; only California and New York have more. And laws allowing physicians to help terminally ill patients hasten their deaths, known as “death with dignity,” were pioneered in the Pacific Northwest.

“It’s this interesting combination of environmental sensibility and individual choice,” David C. Sloane, a professor of public policy at the University of Southern California, said of the Northwest region. Now the prospect of legalized human composting, he said, puts many of those regional impulses in a spotlight. “It’s a test case for seeing how people think,” he said.

A container used in a study of human remains and composting last year at Washington State University.

Jamie Pedersen, a Democratic state senator from Seattle, is leading efforts to pass the legislation to permit a composting process after death.

Democrats control both chambers of the State Legislature, and Mr. Pedersen, the bill’s sponsor, said he had enlisted support from Republicans as well. Gov. Jay Inslee, a Democrat, has taken no position, a spokeswoman said.

At a hearing this month, no one spoke in opposition, though a state association of funeral directors said that it hoped clearer information could be added to the bill about where composted remains could be distributed. It was uncertain, too, whether such a measure would be seen as a priority during a legislative session crowded with issues that may be easier for politicians to talk about and win points on.

The bill would also legalize a separate process sometimes known as water cremation or alkaline hydrolysis. Under that process, already legal in 16 states, bodies are dissolved using a mixture of heated water and lye, leaving behind bone fragments and a sterile liquid.

People are drawn to the idea of aboveground decomposition mainly for environmental reasons, Mr. Pedersen said. There’s no coffin, no chemicals, none of the fossil fuels that would be needed for cremation, and no expensive cemetery plot required. Some religious traditions also favor ideas of simplicity and of earth returning to earth.

Though the process sounds simple, it would not be cheap. Preliminary estimates suggest that it could cost at least $5,000 — less, perhaps, than an elaborate burial service, but more than the most basic cremation.

In a study last year at Washington State University, six bodies donated for the research were placed in a closed container, wrapped in organic materials like alfalfa, then bathed in a stream of air warmed by microbes, and periodically turned. Lynne Carpenter-Boggs, a professor of soil science and sustainable agriculture and the lead researcher in the study, said that after about 30 days, the bodies essentially became soil.

Fears that composted remains might smell bad or contain toxic elements — from dental fillings, for example, or pharmaceutical residues — were allayed, Dr. Carpenter-Boggs said. She said that the heat generated by micro-organisms broke down organic matter and pathogens, and levels of pollutants like cadmium and mercury were within federal limits.

“It certainly is feasible that families would take home a small portion that they could keep for a long time,” Dr. Carpenter-Boggs said. “Or families could bring home a small amount that would be interred into their landscape, placed under a loved one’s favorite tree, similar to what people do with cremains.”

Katrina Spade, the founder and chief executive of Recompose, a Seattle company that hopes to build the first facility to use the new method and conduct funeral services based around it, said the movement toward cremation — now used in more than half of deaths in the nation — has led to an erosion of essential rituals. Remains are often just picked up from a crematory, she said, and that’s that.

“This is not simply a process to convert bodies to soil; it’s also about bringing ritual and some of that ceremony back,” Ms. Spade said.

Ms. Christian, the woman who is hoping recomposition will be an option after she dies, says she has long been uncomfortable with the other choices. She has ruled out burial. And she does not like the idea of cremation because of environmental costs — emissions and climate impacts of fossil fuels used in the burning process. But her friends remain divided on the issue.

“The vast majority are like, ‘That is so cool,’” she said. “And then the other response is, ‘Oh, gross.’”

Complete Article HERE!

When Death Was Women’s Business

In the 19th century, women called “watchers” tended to the dying and the dead.

A woman tending to a sick man, 1861

By: Livia Gershon</a

In recent years, many Americans have begun looking for new ways to approach death. The death-positive movement supports people who prefer to die at home, and even those who wish to care for the bodies of loved ones the way many families did before the rise of the funeral industry. Historian Karol K. Weaver took a close look at that earlier approach, studying the business of death in early nineteenth century Pennsylvania, when care for the dying and dead fell mostly to women.

In those years, Weaver writes, watchers or watch-women—sometimes also referred to with the more generic term “nurse”—tended to the dying. These might be friends, family members, or hired help.

The watchers offered physical care and prayer, and organized visits by clergy and loved ones. Another important part of their job was observing the attitude of the dying person. If they could report a Good Death—characterized by courage and faith—it would comfort the other survivors. On the other hand, a Bad Death filled with struggle and pain could make for a cautionary tale aimed at the insufficiently pious.

Weaver writes that the final and most important job of a watcher was to verify that her charge was dead, observing the cessation of breath and even shaking the body to be sure no life remained.

Once the watcher’s work was done, “layers out of the dead” would wash, dress, and groom the body. They would also close the mouth of the deceased, using a tied cloth or a stick propped between the chin and breastbone, and use coins or other objects to keep the eyes closed. Layers out might also perform the skilled jobs that would later fall to undertakers, such as removing internal organs, blocking orifices, and slowing putrefaction by applying alum-covered cloth or filling body cavities with charcoal.

Like watchers, some layers out were unpaid family members or friends, but others were paid professionals. Looking at Philadelphia city directories from the early nineteenth century, Weaver found business listings for these women. Sometimes, they also advertised themselves as nurses or midwives—jobs that involved intimate care in a domestic setting just as laying out the dead did. Some listed themselves as “widows” in the directories. Weaver writes that this title suggested their connection with death and also explained the lack of a husband’s income that forced them to work for money.

Over the following decades, women’s death work declined. Increasingly, people died in hospitals rather than at home. With the Civil War came the need to transport Union soldiers’ bodies home, inspiring the rapid growth of undertaking as a business—often a father-and-sons affair. Now, families had a one-stop shop for coffin, burial plot, hearse, and the care and preservation of the body.

By 1867, the Philadelphia directory listed 125 male undertakers, one female undertaker, and four female layers out of the dead. The death industry as we know it today had been born.

Complete Article HERE!

Heartbreaking Photo Series Documents the Raw Final Moments Owners Spend With Their Dying Pets


Any pet owner will tell you that losing them is as great a pain as losing any member of the family. It’s in these moments we’re at our most vulnerable. One brave photographer has taken on the task of capturing such fragile moments in a series that documents owners struggling to cope in the last moments of their animal’s life.

Ross Taylor’s powerful new series is one that’s sure to bring a tear to the eye of any pet owner. His inspiration came after being “profoundly moved” by witnessing a friend struggle with the deteriorating health of her pet and her subsequent decision of euthanasia. The collection of images, he says, explores the intimacy of the human-animal bond, specifically “the last moments before and after the passing of a pet at home with their owner.”

Leigh Zahn fights back tears as she lays with her dog, Spencer, in her lap a final time, just moments after Spencer passed.
“She’s always been my companion. Coco was there for me when he was on deployment,” said Rebecca Cassity, as she fights back tears. Her husband, Drew, was in the military. Dr. McVety reassures her with a hug and consoling words: “This is better treatment than any one of us would get.”

The images were taken in Tampa Bay, Florida throughout 2017-18 and involved working closely with the families involved. The pet owners seen in the images were aided by veterinarians from Lap of Love, a pet euthanasia service that allows for a peaceful passing at home. Founded by Dani McVety, the organization has been working with Caring Pathways, all of whom Taylor expresses utmost gratitude for. “It couldn’t be done without their willingness to participate and belief in the project… They have my respect,” Taylor said.

In one of the most intense moments I’ve ever witnessed, Wendy Lehr cuddled beside her dog, Mimosa, shortly after she passed. The muffled sounds of her cries filled the empty room as she nuzzled against her face. She cried out: “Oh my baby, oh my baby. What am going to do without you?”
“It’s tough saying goodbye,” said Carrie Peterson after she dropped sunflowers over the grave of her dog, Asia. The smell of freshly turned earth is what I remember and how peaceful Asia looked within it.

While difficult, the at-home euthanasia process can be one that mitigates some of the painful reality of the end of life. It’s worth noting that the vets I’ve worked with are some of the most compassionate people I’ve met and always offer the families a chance to have a respectful moment afterwards with their beloved pet. It’s in stillness of these moments that I sometimes felt the most emotional for everyone involved.

Bob Zahn touches his dog, Spencer, just moments after the dog passed. His wife, Leigh, left the room immediately, as it was too much for her to take. “She’s going to take it harder maybe than the loss of her parents. Your parents can tell you when something’s wrong, but your dog can’t.”
Vanessa Gangadyal consoles her son, Ian, 8, while her husband, Michael Gangadyal, pets their dog, Ally, shortly after its passing.
“When I was sick, she knew something was wrong,” said Bob Lutz about their dog, Heidi, who looked up at them moments before she was euthanized due to recent substantial declines in health. His wife, Cindy, added: “she helped take away our pain.” At right, watching, is their other dog, Winnie.

If you were as moved as we were by this powerful series, you can see more of Taylor’s work (some of which saw him nominated for a Pulitzer Prize) at his website and Instagram.

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