Bali’s open-air burials endure despite COVID-19 crisis

By Brinkwire

For centuries Bali’s Trunyanese people have left their dead to decompose in the open, the bodies placed in bamboo cages until only the skeletons remain.

It is a ritual they haven’t given up — even as the COVID-19 pandemic upends burial practices worldwide with religious leaders in protective gear, cemetary workers in hazmat suits, and mourners banned or unable to comfort each other because of social-distancing rules.

Across Indonesia funeral workers are now required to wear protective equipment and bodies are laid to rest quickly, all in a bid to prevent the spread of the deadly respiratory disease.

But in Bali local officials claim the novel coronavirus, which has infected at least eight million and killed more than 430,000 globally, has yet to reach the remote north east where the Trunyan live.

“The funeral process remains the same but now we have to wear masks,” explained village head Wayan Arjuna.

Tourists are temporarily banned from visiting for fear of them bringing in the disease, he adds.

“We’re afraid of getting COVID-19,” said Arjuna, but added there was no suggestion of stopping the open-air burial process.

Unlike many in the rest of Hindu-majority Bali, the Trunyanese — who fuse animist beliefs and traditional village customs with their own interpretation of Hinduism — do not bury or cremate their dead.

Instead they let nature take its course as the corpses decay in the open, believing it to be a way to keep a link with the deceased.

“This makes us feel connected to our loved ones,” Arjuna said.

“Like when my grandmother died, I felt like she was close”, he added.

– Skull Island –

It is a short boat ride to their open-air cemetery from tiny Trunyan village, overlooked by volcano Mount Batur and a sprawling Hindu temple carved out of volcanic rock.

There are 11 cages for the corpses — placed close to a fragrant banyan tree that hides the putrid smell of death, locals say.

In one cage, a recently deceased woman could almost have been mistaken for someone sleeping, but her waxy greying complexion revealed the truth.

Nearby, a flesh-less foot poked out of clothing left on the bodies, while a skeletal jaw lay agape in another cage.

“I used to be a little scared working here, but it’s been so long now that I’m used to it,” said veteran guide Wayan Sukarmin, who was spent 20 years showing people the custom on what outsiders have dubbed “Skull Island”.

When AFP visited in February before the World Health Organisation declared a pandemic and travel restrictions were put in place, signs warned visitors to wear appropriate clothing and refrain from using bad language.

Rubber sandals, cigarette packages, toothpaste tubes and pots and pans were scattered around the site, along with baskets filled with coins and crumpled money — all left by mourners for dead relatives to use in the afterlife.

“Locals won’t take anything because it belongs to the dead. That’s our belief,” Sukarmin said.

“I don’t know what the consequences would be if you took something but I believe in karma,” he added.

– Millennia-old custom –

If the cages become full then older corpses are moved to an open ossuary, to make way for new ones.

Then when there is no flesh left, the skulls of the long dead are placed upon a stone altar, until they too crumble back into nature.

Nearby, there is a second cemetery for the unmarried and children, while a third location is for those who died unnatural deaths like murder or passed away from acute illness.

The Bali Aga — or mountain people — who live in these isolated villages, claim to be descendents of the original Balinese and the main temple in Trunyan village dates back to the 10th century according to historical records.

The origin of the custom of open-air burials is subject to debate.

One legend has it that the area’s early inhabitants fought over the prized Banyan tree, so to keep the peace, leaders decided to place the dead there, believing the smell from the corpses would make the spot less attractive.

Another story suggests that the ritual was adopted to avoid angering the rumbling volcano nearby by cremating people.

“There are several versions of the legend so I can’t decide which one is correct,” Arjuna said.

But these open-air burials are now so rooted in the culture that few expect much to change in Trunyan, even as the pandemic ravages the world.

“It’s relatively easier to prevent infections in isolated and faraway places,” said Bali’s virus taskforce chief Dewa Made Indra.

“There aren’t any reported cases in Trunyan. But if that happens then we’ll handle it with special procedures and I think the villagers will understand.”

Complete Article HERE!

‘Not Priests, Nor Crosses, Nor Bells.’

The Tragic History of How Pandemics Have Disrupted Mourning

By Olivia B. Waxman

On a recent Monday in a New Jersey cemetery, social worker Jane Blumenstein held a laptop with the screen facing a gravesite. A funeral was being held over Zoom, for a woman who died of COVID-19. It was a brilliantly sunny day, so a funeral worker held an umbrella over Blumenstein to shield the laptop from any glare, as synagogue members and family members of the deceased sang and said prayers.

The experience was a “surreal” one for Blumenstein, who is a synagogue liaison at Dorot, a social-services organization that works with the elderly in the New York City area. “I felt really privileged that I could be there and be the person who was allowing this to be transmitted.”

The roughly 20-minute ceremony was one of countless funerals that have taken place over Zoom during the COVID-19 pandemic. As authorities limit the size of gatherings — and hospitals limit visitors in order to prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus — loved ones have been unable to gather for traditional mourning rituals in the aftermath of a death, so it has become the norm for those who die to do so without their families by their sides, able to say goodbye only virtually, if at all.

The rising death toll has overwhelmed funeral homes and cemeteries, further limiting what is possible. Across religions and around the world, end-of-life traditions have been rendered impossible: stay-at-home orders have stopped Jewish people from sitting shiva together; overwhelmed funeral services have meant Islam’s ritual washing of the body has been skipped; Catholic priests may have had to settle for drive-through funerals, in which the coffin is blessed in front of just a few immediate family members.

The effects of COVID-19 will be felt for many years to come, but those who have lost loved ones are feeling those effects immediately — and, for many, their pain has been exacerbated by the inability to say goodbye. The horror of these rushed goodbyes may be looked back on as a defining feature of the COVID-19 pandemic. But, as the tragic history of pandemics reveals, it is something that disease has forced human beings to struggle with throughout history.

For example, during a 1713 plague epidemic in Prague, a shortage of burial supplies heightened the pain of rushed burials. The emotional toll is evident in a Yiddish poem written shortly after the outbreak, translated for TIME by Joshua Teplitsky, professor of History at Stony Brook University, who is writing a book about this period. At the sight of the dead being carried away day and night, “all weep and wail!,” the poem says. “Who ever heard of such a thing in all his life?” The poem describes people working around the clock and through the Sabbath to saw planks for coffins and sew shrouds.

In one 1719 book, a rabbi recalls counseling a man who was anxious about burying his plague-stricken father in the local cemetery because of a government requirement to coat the body in a chemical to accelerate decomposition. He asked the rabbi if it would be more respectful to bury his father in a forest far outside of the city. The rabbi told the man to follow the rules, likely thinking that “if the body gets buried in the woods, in a very short time, it will be lost, and if it’s in the cemetery, the rabbi is expecting that when this plague passes, visitors will go pray and pay their respects,” says Teplitsky.

Indeed, Teplitsky found a prayer printed circa 1718-1719 that he believes women may have recited while walking around a cemetery years after the epidemic, asking the dead for forgiveness for the lack of a traditional funeral and burial five years earlier.

Centuries later, during the 1918-1919 flu pandemic, Italians were likewise thrust into a world in which funerals had to take place quickly, without ceremonies or religious rites. According to research by Eugenia Tognotti, an expert in public health and quarantine, and a professor of history of medicine and human sciences at the University of Sassari, Italy, many expressed horror at hurried burials in letters to friends and relatives, which are preserved at the Central State Archive in Rome. “The more common lamentations are: ‘Not priests, nor crosses, nor bells’ and ‘one dies like an animal without the consolation of family and friends,’” Tognotti told TIME. Another woman wrote to a relative in Topsfield, Mass., “Here [in Italy] there is a mortal disease named Spanish flu: the sick die in four or more days, a bucket of lime is thrown over the dead bodies, and then four workers take them to the graves like dogs.”

The horror was similar in the U.S., especially in Philadelphia, an epicenter of the pandemic. Columba Voltz was an 8-year-old daughter of a tailor back then, who said that funeral bells tolled all day long as coffins were carried into a local church for a quick blessing and then carried out a few minutes later, according to Catharine Arnold’s Pandemic 1918: Eyewitness Accounts from the Greatest Medical Holocaust in Modern History. “I was very scared and depressed. I thought the world was coming to an end,” Voltz recounted.

Inside one such house, Anna Milani’s parents laid her 2-year-old brother Harry to rest with what they had on hand:

There were no embalmers, so my parents covered Harry with ice. There were no coffins, just boxes painted white. My parents put Harry in a box. My mother wanted him dressed in white — it had to be white. So she dressed him in a little white suit and put him in the box. You’d think he was sleeping. We all said a little prayer. The priest came over and blessed him. I remember my mother putting in a white piece of cloth over his face; then they closed the box. They put Harry in a little wagon, drawn by a horse. Only my father and uncle were allowed to go to the cemetery. When they got there, two soldiers lowered Harry into a hole.

The same concerns that would have limited attendance at the cemetery when Harry Milani was buried reared their heads more recently during the 2014-2016 epidemic of Ebola, a disease that can be spread through contact with the remains of those it kills. More than 300 cases came from one Sierra Leone funeral, and 60% of Guinea cases came from burial practices, according to the World Health Organization. In Liberia, mass cremations ran counter to traditional burial practices that include close contact with bodies. In Sierra Leone, the dead were put in body bags, sprayed with chlorine and buried in a separate cemetery designated for these victims. As traditional burial practices were curbed in an attempt to stop the spread, the dismay caused by this situation, Tognotti notes, was the same feeling experienced by those Italians of the early 20th century who wrote of the pain of the flu pandemic.

Sometimes, however, victims of epidemics who knew the end was near were actually hoping for a departure from the usual norms of burial and mourning: they wanted their deaths to be used to remind authorities to take these crises seriously.

This idea of the political funeral is particularly associated with the AIDS epidemic of the 1980s and 1990s. The activist group ACT UP spread the ashes of victims over the White House lawn, and staged political funerals—open-casket processions, such as the one that brought Mark Lowe Fisher’s body to the Republican National Committee’s NYC headquarters ahead of the 1992 presidential election. “I have decided that when I die I want my fellow AIDS activists to execute my wishes for my political funeral,” Fisher wrote, in a statement entitled Bury Me Furiously. “We are not just spiraling statistics; we are people who have lives, who have purpose, who have lovers, friends and families. And we are dying of a disease maintained by a degree of criminal neglect so enormous that it amounts to genocide.”

The inability to give loved ones proper send-offs is often a hidden cost of these pandemics, Tognotti says, and should not be ignored by officials. Even with modern knowledge about disease transmission, awareness of the reasons for public-health guidance doesn’t lessen the desire to participate in rituals. “The emotional strain of not being able to dispose of the dead promptly, and in accordance with cultural and religious customs, has the power to create social distress and unrest and needs to be considered in contemporary pandemic preparedness planning,” she says.

In this pandemic, a new openness about talking about mental health issues could help. For example, New York state launched a hotline so residents can talk to a therapist for free, and some sites host virtual sessions to discuss grief. Mourners can opt for live-streaming and video conferencing and include more people virtually than before.

For others, these virtual gatherings and brief blessings at the cemetery are placeholders. In March, after Alfredo Visioli, 83, was buried in a cemetery near Cremona in northern Italy, with no relatives allowed to attend and a brief blessing from a priest, his grand-daughter Marta Manfredi told Reuters that, “When all this is over, we will give him a real funeral.”

Complete Article HERE!

Mexican families struggle to send virus victims back home

By CLAUDIA TORRENS, GISELA SALOMON, and PETER PRENGAMAN

When Crescencio Flores died of coronavirus in New York, his parents back in Mexico asked for one thing: that their son be sent home for burial.

The 56-year-old construction worker had been in the United States for 20 years, regularly sending money to his parents but never going home. Since he died in April, Flores’ brother has been working with American and Mexican authorities to have the body transported to the town of Huehuepiaxtla in the state of Puebla.

So far, his efforts have been in vain. His brother’s embalmed remains are still in a U.S. funeral home.

“I am trying to do this because my parents, 85 and 87 years old, live there,” Francisco Flores said. “They are rooted in their customs. They want a Christian burial for the remains of their son.”

The family’s situation is common. More than a thousand Mexican immigrants have died of the virus in the U.S., according to the Mexican government, and many of their families are struggling to bring dead loved ones home.

Returning a body to another country is never easy, but the coronavirus has added extra bureaucracy and costs, all at a time when many Mexicans have lost jobs in construction, retail and restaurants.

For grieving loved ones on both sides of the border, the challenges are many: overwhelmed funeral homes, delays in paperwork because government offices are not working at full capacity and limited flights.

The process has become so difficult that the Mexican Consulate in Los Angeles is encouraging cremation instead of repatriation and burial, said Felipe Carrera, a consular official.

“In a situation like this, we are encouraging our community to have an open mind,” Carrera said, explaining that cremation allows a loved one to return to Mexico in a week or 10 days. He declined to say how long it takes to return bodies. Family members who have opted for cremation say sending ashes home takes several weeks to months.

Cremation is a hard sell for many Mexicans, who are by far the largest immigrant group in America and deeply rooted in Catholicism. They are fiercely proud of their homeland despite problems that pushed them to emigrate, and they carry with them a constant hope to return one day, at the very least upon death.

And because many of them — particularly those who are in the U.S. illegally — have not been home in decades, returning in death is that much more important to their families.

For Mexican Catholics, having the body of a deceased relative is essential to giving them a “good death,” said Dr. Kristin Norget, an anthopology professor at McGill University in Montreal.

“Wakes are really important events in which the person is there, the casket is open, people go and bid that person farewell. They touch them. They kiss them,” Norget said. “It’s that tactile relationship with the body, representing the person.”

For over a month, the family of Javier Morales, 48, and brother Martin Morales, 39, who both died in New Jersey during the first week of April, tried to send the bodies to Santa Catarina Yosonotú, a village in the Mexican state of Oaxaca. The brothers had both left the village as teenagers, and family wanted to bury them there.

But after complying with U.S. and Mexican regulations, relatives said they hit roadblocks with health officials in Oaxaca. They eventually gave up and had the brothers created. Now they are working to have the ashes sent back, a process they estimate will take several weeks.

Between the lengthy stay in a funeral home and cremation, the family spent more than $12,000.

“It’s really sad,” said Rogelio Martin, a cousin who was close to the brothers. “We wanted to send them home, but it wasn’t possible.”

Felix Pinzón’s family went through a similar process. Pinzón wanted to send the body of his half-brother, 45-year-old Basilio Juarez, a construction worker, back to Cuautla, a city in the state of Morelos. The consulate warned him that the effort would be fraught, he said.

Juarez’s wife and two children back in Mexico “wanted to see the body,” Pinzón said. “They asked me to bring it back. At first, my niece did not understand that it was not possible. She did not want to accept it.”

Even though he chose cremation, Pinzón won’t be able to send the ashes back any time soon. The cremation cost $2,100, which he had to put on a credit card because as a construction worker he has been out of a job for more than two months.

When Marta Ramos, 63, died in New York, daughter Juanita Ramos, who lives in Bakersfield, California, hoped to fulfill her mom’s last wish, to be buried in Mexico. Since returning her mom’s body would be difficult, Ramos looked into cremation, figuring she could at least send the remains home quickly and have them buried there.

But the funeral home told her that a backlog of bodies meant that her mom would not be cremated for a month. Feeling that was too long to wait, and worried that her mom’s body could be lost, Ramos decided to have her mother buried at a cemetery in New York. Her aunt, Agustina Ramos, 55, died just ahead of her mother and had already been buried there.

For the Flores family, the long wait for Crescencio’s body has been painful, said Gerardo Flores, his oldest brother, who is in Mexico. But relatives feel strongly about bringing him home.

“We believe that in the moment my brother is buried, even as painful as it will be, in this sad moment, it will be the last chapter. We will turn the page. My parents will know where their son is,” he said.

Complete Article HERE!

Here’s how unpaid debt is handled when a person dies

By Sarah O’Brien

It’s not unusual for a person to pass away and leave behind some unpaid debt.

For the heirs — typically the surviving spouse or children — the question often is what, exactly, happens to those obligations. The answer: It depends on both the type of debt and the laws of the state.

A person’s assets — no matter how meager or massive — become their “estate” at death. That includes their financial accounts, possessions and real estate. And, generally speaking, it’s the estate that creditors go after when they try to collect money that they’re owed.

“Fortunately for surviving spouses or other beneficiaries, in most cases that debt isn’t something they’d be responsible for,” said certified financial planner Shon Anderson, president of Anderson Financial Strategies in Dayton, Ohio.

However, there are some exceptions.

First, though, some basics.

The process of paying off all your debt after your death and then distributing any remaining assets from your estate to heirs is called probate. Each state has its own laws governing how long creditors have to make a claim against the estate during that time. In some places it’s a few months. In other states, the process can last a couple of years.

Each state also has its own set of rules for prioritizing debt that should be paid from the estate, said Steven Mignogna, a fellow with the American College of Trust and Estate Counsel.

“In most states, funeral expenses take priority, then the cost of administering the estate, then taxes and then most states include hospital and medical bills,” Mignogna said.

However, he added, not all of a person’s assets necessarily are counted as part of an estate for probate purposes.

For instance, with life insurance policies and qualified retirement accounts (e.g., a 401(k) or individual retirement account), those assets go directly to the person named as the beneficiary and are not subject to probate. Additionally, assets placed in certain types of trusts also pass on outside of probate, as does jointly owned property (e.g., a house) as long as it is titled properly.

In fact, a person could pass away with an insolvent estate — that is, one lacking the means to pay off its liabilities — and yet have passed on assets that didn’t go through probate and generally can’t be touched by creditors.

However, a handful of states have “community property” laws, which make debt at death a bit more complex.

Generally, those states view both assets and certain debt that accumulated during the marriage as equally owned by each spouse — meaning a surviving spouse could be responsible for paying back the debt, even if it was only in the decedent’s name.

“Debt that couldn’t have been avoided during the marriage — like medical expenses or a mortgage — generally becomes the responsibility of the surviving spouse in community property states,” said CFP Bill Simonet, principal advisor at Simonet Financial Group in Kyle, Texas.

Yet that doesn’t mean you’d have to pay all of it, he said.

“A well-structured letter with a copy of the death certificate can lead to debt being discharged,” Simonet said. “In the probate process, you let the company know the estate has little to no assets to cover the debt and you ask that it be forgiven.”

Also, any time you jointly own debt — i.e., you cosigned a loan — you’re expected to continue paying if the other person passes away.

“You can ask for debt you cosigned to be forgiven, but don’t expect the request to work,” Simonet said.

It’s worth noting that federal student loans, unlike most forms of debt, are forgiven if the student dies. Parent PLUS loans — often held by parents to help pay for education expenses not covered by other forms of financial aid — are discharged if either the student or the parent who took out the loan passes away.

Complete Article HERE!

Thousands of New Yorkers Are Dying.

What Happens to Their Bodies?

Amy Cunningham

A conversation with Amy Cunningham, Brooklyn’s environmentally-friendly funeral director.

by Grace Gedye

On a Brooklyn neighborhood forum, funeral director Amy Cunningham put out the call. Could anyone contribute items, like flowers, to an upcoming funeral? An elderly woman had died of coronavirus in a nursing home and had no family in the area. Florists in New York are closed, so one resident contributed lilacs from her backyard, the Associated Press reported. Another embroidered “Mom” on some fabric that would be placed on the casket, with the deceased woman’s family watching via livestream.

More than 16,000 people have died of Covid-19 in New York City, the epicenter of the outbreak in the U.S. Just as hospitals have struggled to keep up with the influx of sick people, the city has also struggled to accommodate all of the dead. The state has relaxed environmental regulations to allow crematoriums to operate around the clock, and the city has dispatched a fleet of mobile morgues. Burials on Hart Island, New York’s mass grave for bodies that aren’t claimed, or whose family cannot afford a funeral, have increased five-fold.

Funeral directors like Cunningham have been forced to adapt ceremonies and services around the contagious disease. Cunningham, the founder of Fitting Tribute Funeral Services, specializes in environmentally friendly burials. She and I talked about how funerals have changed in New York.

This conversation has been shortened and edited for clarity.

How is your work different since the coronavirus outbreak started in New York?

Well, my firm specialized in earth friendly burials, home funerals, and witnessed cremation services, and none of those services are currently possible in exactly the same way I was delivering them. Because of the novel coronavirus, families are saying goodbye—on a good day—with nursing assistants holding the cell phone to the ear of the dying person in a hospital that the family hasn’t even been able to enter.

I’ve got four caskets in my living room right now. That’s a little unusual.

The funerals I’m managing now involve the transporting of the deceased person in a white plastic body pouch to protect the funeral home personnel from any risk of the virus passing to them in the hours after death. That bag isn’t coming off at the funeral home. While it’s believed that the coronavirus expires within the body at the time of a death, there is said to be some risk to individuals in the hours immediately afterwards, perhaps because the lungs of the dead person still hold a bit of air, and as we move them they actually can exhale a little bit after death. Plastic body bags are a fact of life for now, but they are upsetting to me. They’re hardly eco-friendly, not remotely green. I’ve got folks looking into how we could develop something just as sturdy and kinder to the planet.

Another thing that’s different is that previously, if a death occurred on a Tuesday I could arrange for a burial or cremation two days, three days later, sometimes even the next day if the paperwork went smoothly. Because of the sheer number of dead that we’re managing, cremations are now being scheduled at the end of May.

Are there any basic things you need in order to provide your services that are either hard to get ahold of or that you’re running out of?

It seems likely that there will be a casket shortage eventually. I’ve personally solved that issue by bringing caskets into my living room at home. I live in a two-story limestone row house and I’ve got four caskets in my living room right now. I went ahead and had the casket company deliver them, and had my son and husband carry them in so that at least I’d have some caskets that were clean and ready to move when I needed them. That’s a little unusual.

Have there been an influx of families that are in need of death care services but can’t afford them? If so, what are their options?

Yes, I’m hearing from people who need a funeral, and are disappointed that the wait time for an affordable cremation is so long. Some have lost their jobs, have no money, and need to plan a funeral with a burial now that might cost $1500 to $6000. It’s pretty devastating. There was a time when the deaths were occurring so quickly that some funeral homes weren’t able to manage the sheer volume of the work and were referring people out to other firms. Those firms were helping us New York City funeral directors cremate the dead by taking them to other states. There’s so many deceased people, our crematories are overwhelmed. So, there are people driving deceased folk up to Pennsylvania, New Jersey, other areas where the crematories are a little less overwhelmed.

In the coming month, that’s going to ease up. Today in New York as you’re interviewing me, I’m not hearing the same sirens out in the streets that I was two weeks ago. So it could be correct that, as Governor Cuomo says, we’re leveling this off. But people out of work are still struggling and starting GoFundMe pages to help them with the cost of the funeral.

I will say this, however: I’m really impressed with the local funeral directors that are reducing their prices for families in that situation. How can you charge them the full rate? It just can’t happen. So, we’re offering people our services at a reduction.

What does your typical day look like right now?

The heavy lifting and placing in the casket is done by amazing folks I employ to help me at the funeral home. My day is mostly on the telephone with grieving families, trying to schedule and arrange these burials and cremations in a timely way. I’m spending a fair amount of my time explaining to families why only 10 family members can come to the cemetery. We’re trying to educate folks about the possibilities and Zoom memorials and new ways to grieve remotely so that we can have some sort of commemoration of the life as we manage the very very basic down-to-earth matter of a simple disposition right now.

What has been your advice to people who have lost family or friends to coronavirus? Either practical advice, or different advice you’re giving on how to grieve?

I had already been thinking that we place too much emphasis on the hour-long funeral service. Saying farewell to someone is really the task of a lifetime, and something that you do most intensely over the period of the first full year. So I’ve been coaching families to see that, yes, we’ve lost the gathering we’re most familiar with, but you will be able to find a way to mourn, and find community, and relate to your other family members in a way that will be new but restorative in surprising ways.

When I do have a casket in my car headed for a burial, we’ve been replacing traditional chapel gatherings with doing these outdoor block parades. I drive the car with the casket in it onto the actual block where the deceased person lived, and people can acknowledge the death as a neighborhood. I had one death caused by a heart attack. We have to remember that other sorts of deaths still occur in the age of the novel coronavirus. I drove to the man’s block, opened the car, and allowed people to approach the car while maintaining a safe distance from each other. They placed flowers in the car, and then the immediate family drove to the cemetery and stood at the lovely graveside service 6 to 10 feet apart. Good funeral, lots of love expressed.

I know you specialize in sustainable, or greener burials. Are you still able to do those kind services?

Yes. My real contribution as a funeral director in this moment is personally driving people upstate to eco-friendly cemeteries that will just bury simple caskets in the earth. The only problem is that there is this plastic body bag inside there that I never used to have to use. Most of the eco-friendly cemeteries are saying, “well, God, what can we do, we know it’s a crisis in our country, and a time of considerable suffering.” So, they may take that plastic bag for the short term as we work it out. In other words, the green burials I’m managing are just a bit less green than they used to be but we’re doing the best we can.

Do you think the pandemic will lead to any lasting changes in the funeral industry?

I hesitate before mentioning this because it doesn’t feel like a great time to criticize the conventional funeral industry. The men who have been in the business 40 years and were nearing retirement have flung themselves into this crisis and been so courageous.

However, maybe when we catch our breath, we’ll evaluate where we’re headed as an industry and how we might provide better services to more people, and take the drive to profit from the funeral out altogether by looking at cooperative funeral home structure, which is operating very successfully in the state of Washington.

In the old days prior to the Civil War, before the American funeral industry was formed, communities took care of their own. And it feels to me like we could attend to that kind of care again and find ways to make deaths less of a medical event, and more of a community-based experience. So, as I work hard and admire the conventional guys I know and work around, I’m at the same time thinking, “Gee, there must be a better way to give funeral services to people at an affordable rate, and in a loving way.”

Complete Article HERE!

How to plan a remote funeral or memorial and grieve during the coronavirus pandemic

If someone you know has died from complications due to COVID-19, these resources may be helpful.

By ,

More than 238,000 people around the world have lost their lives to COVID-19, and the death toll is growing as the full effects of the coronavirus play out in hospitals and communities. The nature of social distancing means patients are denied visitors in their final hours and families can’t congregate in person at funerals and homes to bury their dead and mourn.

Enforced distance during a time of traditional togetherness can deny people the physical comfort of a hug, a shoulder to cry on and a sense of finality that’s part of the grieving process when someone close has died.

Online resources and tools are no replacement for a gathering of loved ones and friends, but they can help families organize online memorials, memory books and donations made in your loved one’s memory. We present some resources to help plan a remote funeral or memorial and otherwise honor those who have died as a result of COVID-19.

Remember that performing a physical act can sometimes help you regain some agency during a situation you can’t otherwise control. Here are additional tips to help manage anxiety during the pandemic.

Have a Zoom, Skype or YouTube funeral or memorial service now

The coronavirus restrictions prevent us from holding a funeral in person to honor the memory of those who we’ve lost. If you’re affiliated with a religious institution, reach out to see what kind of support your organization can supply in the short term — for example, literature on grief, individual video chats with you and your family members or online prayer meetings.

Your family and friends can also hold a memorial service using Zoom (change these settings to prevent unwanted guests) or another video chat service like Skype broadcast, Google Meet or even a private YouTube channel. Sharing a eulogy or other prepared tribute, readings, poems and personal stories — even discussing the hardship of being alone — can provide a chance to mourn together in a virtual community.

You can also record the memorial service to play later or to share with others who couldn’t attend online.

Set up a vigil your community can see from the street

To honor the memory of the family member who has died, you might light large candles on your porch or windowsill and allow others to drive past and honk to offer support. Set up a large box on your driveway for those in your neighborhood to drop off letters, flowers or other items they may want to share as a sign of their support and grief — at a distance from others.

As you collect items, make sure to handle them cautiously, and wash your hands after touching them. If you yourself are in a high-risk group, ask for deliveries, physical mail and email instead. These gestures could mean a great deal to others who never got to say goodbye and who want to support you.

Ask your religious institution for advice

Although most churches, mosques, synagogues and other places of worship are closed to help prevent the spread of coronavirus, they can still be used as a way to help you grieve. If you’re affiliated with a religious institution, reach out to see how they can provide relief during this time.

One church is live-streaming funerals and services for its congregants. A synagogue is also holding virtual prayer using Google Hangouts. One mosque is live-streaming the sermon and prayer, while another outside the United States is broadcasting the prayer over a speaker.

Ask your institution how they’re helping those in need. See if you can speak with the religious leader, like a priest, imam or rabbi when you need someone to pray or grieve with during this time.

Plant something in your garden or in a pot

The act of planting a flower, ornamental bush or even a fruit-bearing tree in the yard could provide comfort as a symbol of life, of hope or even simply as a way you’ve chosen to honor the deceased.

Reach out to online support groups

If someone close to you has died, seek a Facebook or other online group to share your thoughts and experiences, ask for ideas and even just read to know you’re not alone.

Live and Work Well, a website for well-being and behavioral health, suggests looking into online support groups for grief and loss. You can find others in your area that are grieving through websites such as Grief Support. At this time, the groups are meeting online.

Complete Article HERE!

Coronavirus is showing us how we’ve failed to manage the logistics of death

Madrid’s City of Justice building has been converted into a morgue for coronavirus victims.

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This is different from saying we need to talk about death and dying (which we also need to do). I mean instead that we should focus our minds on what the human corpse means in this new pandemic reality.

Consider the number of dead bodies in the world before coronavirus. Based on global mortality statistics, approximately 56,842,500 humans died over the course of 2019. That’s roughly 155,732 people a day.

In the US, approximately 2,898,060 people died that year, which means about 7,939 a day. In the UK, the death rate for 2019 was 620,268, averaging 1,700 people a day.

It is easy to gloss over these statistics, since most of us never really think about millions of dead bodies. But what these numbers illustrate is that dead bodies are an everyday constant, we just don’t pay attention to them unless our job directly involves the dead.

So dead bodies are completely normal -– until suddenly they’re not. Until a novel virus sweeps the globe and produces a dead body count with life altering repercussions.

In order to manage and cope with the millions of dead bodies produced every year, different countries create what I call a “national death infrastructure” or NDI. The various parts of this infrastructure range from the local (a neighbourhood cemetery) to the global (systems in place for international repatriation). But crucially, the National Death Infrastructure is largely invisible to most of our lives.

Now COVID-19 is making NDIs visible. Indeed, the coronavirus pandemic is relentlessly demonstrating what happens when NDIs are not prepared for an unplanned spike in human mortality. We have seen thousands of coffins unattended in Italy, temporary emergency morgues in New York, and Spanish officials storing dead bodies at an ice rink.

Disturbing as many people find these news stories, everything happening to manage COVID-19 corpses is from various “mass fatality” and “disaster victim identification” playbooks. I know this because, as director of the Centre for Death and Society at the University of Bath, I’ve participated in consultations on governmental postmortem preparedness.

What’s different, of course, is that most people already oblivious to the NDI are wholly unprepared to see dead bodies rapidly produced in multiple countries, at the same time, and reported hourly on the news.

Imagine though, if details were broadcast for a year on how every one of the around 56 million people across the planet died – how they died and in what circumstances. Seeing this kind of detail in death might help people realise how important the infrastructure dealing with dead bodies really is, and why it needs to be financially supported by national governments.

Because right now, huge numbers of families cannot mourn their dead in the ways they expect to. We have seen this situation before with AIDS-related deaths, where next-of-kin were told a funeral was unsafe because HIV caused the death.

As I explain in my new book, Technologies of the Human Corpse, none of this was correct but that didn’t stop it from being said. And now COVID-19 flips the situation on its head. Funerals are currently not safe because living family members could spread COVID-19 by interacting with fellow mourners. The human corpse, this time, isn’t the viral issue. So the kind of funerals many of us are used to will have to wait.

Body count

And even for the kind of services that are now taking place, funeral directors in the US and the UK are running out of personal protective equipment (PPE) and body bags.

Refrigeration trucks in New York serve as an expanded morgue.

This is a bigger issue in cities like London and New York, but it will quickly affect small places too. Funeral industry workers are the essential frontline staff that both the living and the dead critically need right now, and like their colleagues in medicine and pathology, they are putting their lives at risk to ensure the national death infrastructure operates.

The current situation is not sustainable and governments will need to move quickly to manage the ever increasing numbers of dead bodies and make sure the funeral industry front line has the supplies it needs. They will also need to be prepared for a public backlash if they fail to do so.

Right now we all seem to be suffering from what I call “virological determinism” – we are blaming everything on a virus, when in fact blame lies with human failure to adequately follow existing public health pandemic response and preparedness planning. Failure which has created a situation where for weeks and months to come we will be confronted by mounting mortality statistics and dead bodies. More dead bodies than most national death infrastructures can manage.

So we need to talk about dead bodies and we need to do it now. And we should never forget that the COVID-19 dead bodies are mounting up because humans failed to effectively anticipate what new viruses almost always do – create human corpses.

Complete Article HERE!