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!


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!


Meet the “Death Positive” Women Changing the Funeral Industry


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


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

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

Amber Carvaly of Undertaking LA.

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

Melissa Unfred with her sidekick, Kermit.

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

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

One of Lane’s hairwork pieces.

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

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

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

Complete Article HERE!


Crematory Is Booked? Japan Offers Corpse Hotels


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

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

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

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

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

By custom, Japanese families take the bodies of their loved ones home from the hospital and sit for an overnight wake followed by a service the next morning in the company of neighbors, colleagues and friends. Then, in the afternoon, the body is sent to a crematory.
Continue reading the main story

But as neighborhood ties have weakened, funerals that once involved entire communities are increasingly the province of small, nuclear families. At the same time, Japanese society is getting old so fast and deaths per year are climbing so quickly that families sometimes have to wait several days before a body can be cremated.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Complete Article HERE!