Paper garments for the grave: artists encourage death talk

A Tasmanian exhibition of wearable paper art is exploring society’s unwillingness to talk about death.

Tasmanian artists are hoping to provoke important conversations about the end-of-life stage in an exhibition initiated by the palliative care sector.

paper grave clothes

Wynyard paper artist Ritchie Ares Dona creates his pieces from the pages of second-hand books.

“(I am) making a garment out of paper for a dead body,” he said.

His piece, called Eulogy, is being crafted from the heartfelt messages of Tasmanians who have lost loved ones.

“Some of them were writing letters as if the person were still living,” he said.

“Some of them are confessions.”

It is part of an exhibition to get underway in December called Paper Garments for the Grave.

Jenny Fuller from the Tasmanian Association for Hospice and Palliative Care hopes it provokes important conversations.

“(We’re) trying to get the community talking more comfortably about death and dying and end-of-life decision making,’ she said.

The exhibition starts in Burnie and will tour the state next year.Body Mould

It was inspired by Melbourne designer Pia Interlandi, who helps people make real clothes for their own burials.

“Part of what I do is a ritual, and a moment that is deeply entwined in their lives. I feel really nervous,” she said.

Curator Kitty Taylor said the use of paper as a material had great significance.

“Paper is fragile, as is life, and we just really like those connections,” she said.

“And processes that we can do to paper to strengthen them, there’s a really nice analogy in that about life as well.

“Some are actually making their own garments, so as you can imagine that’d be quite an emotional experience.”

Complete Article HERE!

For more information about the exhibit visit the Burnie Arts & Function Centre, visit their website HERE!

The Urban Death Project Will Help You Give Back—by Turning You Into Compost

An architect comes up with a surprising way to be productive one last time.

By Nina Shapiro

Katrina Spade started thinking about her mortality when she hit 30, while studying architecture at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. What would she want to happen to her body after she died? she wondered. A traditional burial was out. She didn’t like the idea of putting her body in a casket, “pumped full of formaldehyde.” “I guess I’ll be cremated,” she thought, envisioning her ashes being scattered in beautiful New Hampshire, where she grew up, or maybe over the ocean.compost mortem01

Then she started musing over the notion of a “natural burial,” a phenomenon that has caught on in the past 10 or 15 years, helped by its starring role in one episode of the popular mid-’00s TV show Six Feet Under. Bodies skip the embalming process and are placed into the ground wrapped in a biodegradable cover—a simple pine coffin, perhaps, or even a cardboard box. Spade liked the idea of getting “bodies back to the earth as quickly as possible.” The problem was that natural-burial cemeteries are usually located outside cities, where there is more land. And Spade considered herself a devoted city dweller, even in death.

Could there be an urban alternative? This, she thought, was a design problem. And, as an architecture student, design problems were her métier.

So began Spade’s work on what she calls the “Urban Death Project,” which turned into her thesis. Its central idea is so radical, so contrary to deeply ingrained notions about how we treat our dead, that she knows that one wrong word used to describe it will turn people off. But there’s only one plain way to put it: Our bodies would be composted. Turned to dirt, spread on gardens, used, as Spade sees it, for something “productive one last time.”

Radical or no, her vision—which she kept refining after graduating, moving to Seattle, and taking a design job with the nonprofit architecture firm Environmental Works—is getting some traction. Late last month, the New York foundation Echoing Green awarded Spade an $80,000, two-year fellowship that will allow her to work on the project full time and build a prototype in the Seattle area.

“We recycle everything, why can’t we recycle ourselves?” asks Nora Menkin, who has heard Spade talk about her idea. Menkin is the managing director of Seattle’s Co-Op Funeral Home of People’s Memorial, which seeks to provide affordable cremations and burials and help families explore alternatives to the norms developed by the heavily commercialized funeral industry.

compost mortem02Spade is not the first to float the idea of composting bodies, according to Lynne Carpenter-Boggs, a Washington State University agriculture professor who has long worked on composting projects. But, she says, “This is certainly the most serious and socially appropriate trial I’ve heard about.” By that she means that Spade’s project tackles not only the mechanics of composting bodies, but also our need to create meaningful ceremonies around death and to treat the remains of our loved ones with respect.

“I’m asking people to accept that we don’t all need our own space when we die.”
Spade, speaking by phone last week from Rhode Island, where as it happens she was attending a memorial service for her grandmother, explains that she sees one of her chief jobs as “making this an incredibly beautiful experience for people.” The model she has come up with, pictured in drawings that can be seen on her website, involves a four-story building that would have a series of ramps connecting each floor. The vertical model saves space; Spade envisions it needing no more than a plot of land suitable for a small apartment building. Crucially, though, the structure also plays a ceremonial role, as loved ones would walk the body up the ramps in ritualistic procession.

On the third floor, the family would pause and the body would be wrapped in linen. Spade envisions a “death midwife” taking the lead here. Death midwives, also known as “home funeral guides,” are another product of the movement to reclaim life’s end from the industry that has grown up around it, according to Menkin, who took a California workshop to train for such a role herself. Midwives clean and prepare the body for what comes next, often working with family members who want to help—the process that Spade sees happening on the third floor of her center.

Then, family members would walk the body up to the top floor. Here, they would lay the body on what Spade calls “the core”—the compost pile of bodies that would be mixed with wood chips and sawdust in a formula that fuels the decomposition process. Our bodies in themselves are a great start, full of “nutrients” that microorganisms love to eat, according to Carpenter-Boggs, who adds that it’s this feeding frenzy that produces the energy crucial to the process.

Spade acknowledges that this communal pile, rather than individual plots of land or a cherished urn, is a psychological leap. “I’m asking people to accept that we don’t all need our own space when we die.”compost mortem03

And what about the smell? Spade says that’s the first question she gets—a crucial one, because foul odors are a big problem at many composting facilities. Local composting giant Cedar Grove has faced community complaints about that for years.

Spade says she’s confident that won’t be an issue with her death centers, pointing to the process used to compost livestock animals. Carpenter-Boggs, who’s helped pioneer the practice at WSU with the university’s farm animals, explains that there are fewer fumes than at commercial facilities because animal composting doesn’t involve rotting garbage. Commercial faculties also sometimes use smelly manure as additives to the compost pile. That practice would be avoided when dealing with humans, says Carpenter-Boggs, who is working as an informal consultant to Spade.

The professor imagines the death centers, which would use neutral or even sweet-smelling additives, smelling “like a garden.” Indeed, Spade hopes city dwellers will treat her sites as if they were such, strolling through on their lunch hour, for instance.

Still, there’s no doubt she’ll have to overcome what Menkin calls “the ick factor.” The co-op funeral home director says marketing will be key.

Spade has got a start on that. She makes the environmental arguments for composting, noting that it won’t take up arable land, require “toxic” chemicals as embalming and burial does, or use the 30,000 cubic feet of natural gas that she says it takes to burn a single body. If some might bristle at that approach—Michigan funeral director Thomas Lynch quipped to The New York Times, writing about natural burials a decade ago, that one must now be a “politically correct corpse”—Spade also has a financial case. She says composting should cost far less than either burials or cremations.

Complete Article HERE!

Cemetery Art – 07/07/14

The task of interpreting the symbols on a headstone or memorial is a daunting one. Although most of the symbols that you will see DO have a textbook meaning, it is quite possible that the headstone or memorial you are looking at was put there simply because someone liked the look of it. Therefore, it will have no meaning beyond the taste of the deceased or those left behind to morn. The point is that many people choose a memorial motif not for its textbook meaning, but simply because they like the ornamentation or design, because it feels “right” or appropriate.

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Man’s Best Friend To The End: Resting In Peace Beside Your Pet

by Beverly Amsler

Mountain View Cemetery, a resting place in Vinton, Va.

Peanut, Bootsie, Choppie, Sassy Mae. They’re a collection of names engraved into the flat stones marking the graves of dogs and cats at Mountain View Cemetery, a resting place in Vinton, Va., run by Don Wilson.

“We see people coming to visit and pay their respects and remember their pets in this section just as we do in the rest of the cemetery,” Wilson says.

Across the country, there are cemeteries for people, and cemeteries for pets. But in the past few years, some states have passed laws allowing cemeteries to create sections where pets and humans can be buried next to each other. Virginia is about to become the latest state allowing cemeteries to designate sections where pets can be buried next to their beloved owners.

Pets have been buried at Mountain View for four years now, in a section separated from human plots by a row of short, green shrubs.

Starting in July, Wilson, who runs five cemeteries, will able to designate a separate section of land in them for humans who want to be buried beside their pets.

Tom Rakoczy and his wife moved from Ohio to Virginia so they could be buried in a plot next to their 11 dogs.

“For my wife and I — our dogs, they’re our family,” he says. “Loved ones could come with two legs or four legs. And our dogs, for the last 40 years of our marriage, have been our family. We have no human children.”

Virginia joins a growing number of states, including Pennsylvania and New York, where cemeteries are allowed to create special pet-human burial sections.

The law was spearheaded here by Kelly Farris who owns a funeral service in Abingdon, Va. A few years ago, he and his family set aside some land for a future “Garden of Loyalty.”

“I think that we’re just progressive and we thought of something with the help of our clients, basically. To me it was a commonsense thing to do,” Farris says.

He currently has a waiting list of 25 people. When the law goes into effect, he can start the burials. Pets will have to be in special caskets, he says.

“Just like for humans, they’re going to have to be in an outer burial container, because we got to maintain the appearance of the graves forever,” he says. “There are pet caskets; there’s companies out there that we use that have caskets designed for different sizes of [animals]. Primarily it’s cats and dogs that we’re working with.”

In Pennsylvania, cemeteries have had separate pet-human sections for the last eight years.petlawn8

Hillcrest Memorial Park, in western Pennsylvania, was the first to set up this type of cemetery, and owner Tom Flynn estimates that 80 people and pets have been buried in what he calls the “People and Pets Garden.” He says some of the pets buried here are waiting for their owners to join them. Some owners already buried here are waiting for their pets.

“People buy ahead of time so they can be buried with their pets. Some people even exchanged their lots in the cemetery for lots in the ‘People and Pets’ section. It’s over a hill; it’s probably the prettiest part of the cemetery,” Flynn says.

In Virginia, the new state law doesn’t require cemetery owners to set up a joint pet-human burial section. It merely allows them to.

Wilson of Mountain View Cemetery has no plans to create one; he doesn’t have enough land, he says. But, like most businesses, cemeteries are supply and demand.

Wilson says if there’s enough interest, he’ll reconsider.

Complete Article HERE!

The ministry of burying the dead

By Heidi Schlumpf

pallbearers When I heard that my friend Linh’s father had passed away, I knew I wanted to go to the funeral. Her father, who had fled Vietnam with his family during the war, had been especially kind and welcoming to our son, who was adopted from Vietnam. He had made us feel like family.

The funeral Mass was at his home parish, which was about an hour from my home. The pastor from that church, as well as from the parishes that are the base for Vietnamese Catholics in Chicago and from the local Divine Word Missionary community, concelebrated. There must have been almost a dozen of them. Parishioners from his parish and beyond were there too, as well as almost 100 family members, who wore traditional white headbands. The church was packed.

Since the liturgy was in Vietnamese, the only responses I could join in on were “Amen” and “Alleluia.” But the eulogy by the youngest son was in English and brought tears to my eyes. I was sad for my friend, for her widowed mother and for her children who had lost a grandpa.

At the end of the funeral, we were invited to the cemetery for the graveside service, to be followed by a luncheon. I assumed it was only for close relatives, but everyone else seemed to be going, so I got the “Funeral” sticker for my car and joined the procession.

At graveside, there were more prayers and songs — again in Vietnamese. Then the massive floral arrangements, which had been brought from the church, were dismantled, and the flowers distributed to people in the crowd.

The gravediggers were called to lower the casket into the ground. Next, they backed up a nearby crane and lowered a cement slab over the casket. We all waited patiently. Then we all threw our flowers into the casket-sized hole in the ground. While everyone stayed and chatted, visiting nearby graves, Linh’s 6-year-old daughter tossed every last flower into her grandfather’s grave.

What a powerful and moving example of “burying the dead.”

Burying the dead seems like the lonely stepchild of the corporal works of mercy. The others — feeding the hungry, giving drink to the thirsty, clothing the naked, sheltering the homeless, and visiting the sick and imprisoned — are embraced by Catholics committed to social justice, with entire ministries and even nonprofit organizations created to try to meet those needs.

But burying the dead? That ministry is usually left to priests, close friends and relatives, and the dedicated parishioners (often retired women) who sing at funerals or serve post-funeral luncheons in church basements.

Catholics of all ages — especially social-justice-minded ones — should remember that burying the dead is just as important as feeding the hungry and sheltering the homeless. Being part of a proper burial not only maintains the deceased person’s human dignity and is a service to the survivors, it also benefits the church and broader culture by offering ritual and meaning when people need it most.

Although burial of human remains in the ground may have begun as an efficient way to dispose of decomposing bodies, it acquired ritualistic and religious significance early on. For Catholics, burial of the deceased is not only a sign of respect but connected to our belief in the resurrection of the body. Burial is still preferred to cremation, which is now allowed by the church, “unless it has been chosen for reasons which are contrary to Christian teaching” (Canon 1176).

To be clear, I’m not just arguing for comforting the sorrowful — a related spiritual work of mercy — although certainly Catholics should consider spending time with widows or widowers, praying for those affected by the death of a family member, or perhaps volunteering at a hospice or hospital.

No, I mean actually attending wakes and funerals, including burial and graveside services. I know funerals are often held during business hours on weekdays, inconvenient for working people, but what could mean more to a family than their faith community accompanying their loved one to a final resting place?

The other six corporal works of mercy are taken directly from Matthew 25 (“Whatsoever you do to the least of my brothers and sisters …”), the parable of God’s judgment. Burying the dead was added to make the list a spiritually significant seven. The admonition to bury the dead comes from the Old Testament Book of Tobit, whose namesake is exiled for his righteous work of burying the dead, especially criminals.

Like Tobit, we should help bury not only our own deceased friends and family members, but others as well. This could include attending funerals of those in our community whom we did not know well in life, or even assisting, financially or practically, organizations that help low-income folks with funeral expenses (which today run in the thousands of dollars).

In our death-avoidant culture, it’s understandable that attending funerals is something many prefer to avoid. But I can’t think of anything more merciful than helping to ritualize the end of a life. My friend’s Vietnamese community has it right. Complete Article HERE!

10 Amazing Things Your Ashes Can Do After You Die

By Amanda Green

Image credit:
Lifetime Hourglass Urns

Ashes to ashes, dust to … diamonds? Here are 10 ways to give cremains a life after death.

1. An hourglass

Time for some symbolism! Hourglass iconography on gravestones dates back to the Puritans. Now Lifetime Hourglass Urns can accommodate the ashes of one or two loved ones.

2. A Vinyl Record

Your cremated loved ones can’t turn over in their graves, but they can spin right round on a record player. The British service And Vinyly presses ashes into vinyl so the dearly departed can rest in peace at 33 rpm. Families can provide the audio or have the service compose an original song, known as “bespook music.”

3. A Diamond Ring

Human life is finite, but diamonds are forever. The memorial jewelry company LifeGem uses carbon from cremains to create diamonds of assorted cuts, colors, clarity, and carats. The gems can be used to make various pieces of jewelry, but we’re thinking an engagement ring might be a little creepy.

4. A Teddy Bear

To paraphrase Yogi, this is more morbid than the average bear. The company Huggable Urns stores cremains inside the plush and cuddly body of a stuffed animal.

5. Tattoos

Commemorative tattoos don’t just honor deceased loved ones. Some are made with them! Tattoo artists can sterilize cremains and then mix them with tattoo ink, so the dearly departed is always under your skin.

6. Something to Write With

Ink isn’t for everyone. The Carbon Copies project by designer Nadine Jarvis turns cremains into a set of 240 pencils. Each is stamped with the departed’s name and birth and death years. Pencils are accessed one at a time and sharpened into a wooden box. After each pencil is used, the box of shavings can be kept as an urn.

7. A Portrait

Now a painting of your late grandmother can really be of your grandmother. A number of artists mix cremains and paint to create a special memorial portrait, landscape, or still life.

8. Stained glass

Let there be light. Stained glass pieces bonded with cremains are beautiful alt-urnatives, err, urn alternatives.

9. Human DNA trees

Here’s a new twist on the tree of life. An art venture called Biopresence claims to transcode human DNA into trees to create a leafy, living memorial that isn’t technically genetically modified. Consult their helpful chart above if you have any questions. We’re guessing it’s not like Grandmother Willow in Pocahontas.

10. Fireworks

Go out with a bang! Companies like Heavenly Stars Fireworks transform ash scattering into a pyrotechnic extravaganza. Writer Hunter S. Thompson was memorialized this way in 2005. If ammo better suits the departed, a company called Holy Smoke turns cremains into shotgun shells.

Complete Article HERE!

Cemetery Art – 05/15/14

The task of interpreting the symbols on a headstone or memorial is a daunting one. Although most of the symbols that you will see DO have a textbook meaning, it is quite possible that the headstone or memorial you are looking at was put there simply because someone liked the look of it. Therefore, it will have no meaning beyond the taste of the deceased or those left behind to morn. The point is that many people choose a memorial motif not for its textbook meaning, but simply because they like the ornamentation or design, because it feels “right” or appropriate.

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