Sexuality – Breaking the Silence

By: Anne Katz PhD, RN, FAAN


Sexuality is much more than having sex even though many people think only about sexual intercourse when they hear the word. Sexuality is sometimes equated with intimacy, but in reality, sexuality is just one way that we connect with a spouse or partner we love (the true meaning of intimacy). Our sexuality encompasses how we see ourselves as men and women, who we are attracted to emotionally and physically, what turns us on (eroticism), our thoughts and fantasies, and yes, also what we do when we are sexually active, either alone or with a partner. Our sexuality is connected to our image of ourselves and it changes over the years as we age and face threats from illness and disability and, eventually, the end of life.

Am I still a sexual being?

Illness can affect our sexuality in many different ways. The side effects of treatments for many diseases, including cancer, can cause fatigue. This is often identified as the number one obstacle to sexual activity. Other symptoms of illness such as pain can also affect our interest in being sexually active. But there are other perhaps more subtle issues that impact how we feel about ourselves and, in turn, our desire to be sexual with a partner or alone, or if we even see ourselves as sexual beings. Think about surgery that removes a part of the body that identifies us as female or male. Many women state that after breast cancer and removal of a breast (mastectomy), they no longer feel like a woman; this affects their willingness to appear naked in front of a partner. Medications taken to control advanced prostate cancer can decrease a man’s sexual desire. Men in this situation often forget to express their love for their partner in a physical way, no longer touching them, kissing them, or even holding hands. This loss of physical contact often results in two lonely people.  Humans have a basic need for touch; without that connection, we can end up feeling very lonely.

Just talk about it!

seniors_menCommunication lies at the heart of sexuality. Talk to your partner about what you are feeling, how you feel about your body, and what you want in terms of touch. Ask how you can meet your partner’s needs for touch and affection. The most important thing you can do is to express yourself in words. Non-verbal communication and not talking are open to misinterpretation and can lead to hurt feelings. Our sexuality changes with age and time and illness; we may not feel the same way about our bodies or our partner’s body that we did 20, 30 or more years ago. That does not mean we feel worse – with age comes acceptance for many of us – but we do need to let go of what was, and look at what is and what is possible.

The role of health care providers

Health care providers should be asking about changes to sexuality because of illness or treatment, but they often don’t. They may be reluctant to bring up what they see as a sensitive topic and think that if it’s important to the patient, then he or she will ask about it. This is not good. Patients often wait to see if their health care provider asks about something and if they don’t, they think that it’s not important. This results in a silence and leaves the impression that sexuality is a taboo topic.

Some health care providers are afraid that they won’t know the answer to a question about sexuality because nursing and medical schools don’t provide much in the way of education on this topic. And some health care providers appear to be too busy to talk about the more emotional aspects of living with illness. This is a great pity as sexuality is important to all of us – patients, partners, health care providers. It’s an important aspect of quality of life from adolescence to old age, in health and at the end of life when touch and love are so important.

Ask for a referral

If you want to talk about this, just do it! Tell your health care provider that you want to talk about changes in your body or your relationship or your sex life! Ask for a referral to a counselor or sexuality counselor or therapist or social worker. It may take a bit of work to get the help you need, but there is help.

Complete Article HERE!

Right to die: Should ‘mature minors’ have access to doctor-assisted death?

MPs wrestle with sensitive moral and legal questions in crafting new physician-assisted death law

By Kathleen Harris

A woman holds the hand of her mother who is dying from cancer during her final hours at a palliative care hospital in Winnipeg in 2010. A woman holds the hand of her mother who is dying from cancer during her final hours at a palliative care hospital in Winnipeg in 2010.
A woman holds the hand of her mother who is dying from cancer during her final hours at a palliative care hospital in Winnipeg in 2010.
A woman holds the hand of her mother who is dying from cancer during her final hours at a palliative care hospital in Winnipeg in 2010.

This week’s parliamentary report on the right to die has put a profound moral and legal question to federal legislators: Should children suffering from incurable illness be allowed to end their own life with the help of a doctor?

Among the 21 recommendations from the joint panel of MPs and senators is one to allow “competent mature minors” to request a physician’s help to die.

The committee tabled its 70-page report Thursday called “Medical Assistance in Dying: A Patient-Centred Approach.” It suggests a two-phased approach, with an initial phase allowing doctor-assisted death to adults 18 years and older and then expanding it to mature minors within three years.

Dr. Derrick Smith, head of psychiatry at Vancouver’s Children’s Hospital and chair of the physicians’ advisory council of Dying with Dignity Canada, said it is right to determine the capacity and competence rather than the arbitrary age of someone making such a “momentous decision.”

Age is ‘arbitrary’

“Some people who are 21 do not have the capacity to consent and some people who are 14 do,” he said. “It’s really artificial to try and have an age as a cut-off point. You’re much better off going with something measurable like capacity to consent. If the cut-off is 18 and we’re prepared to let people 18 have physician-assisted death, why would we want to have 17-year-olds suffer interminably?”

The committee’s recommendation to include mature minors has generated much controversy, with critics insisting it goes far beyond the parameters set out by the landmark Supreme Court decision on Feb. 6, 2015, that struck down the ban on assisted death.

But Smith believes the discussion should go even further — to include young children.

“The committee isn’t going to address that, but as a society we should,” he said. “Obviously a five-year-old is not going to be able to give consent for something like that, but should we allow a substitute decision maker like the parent to say, “Johnny’s had enough suffering. I think it’s time that we assist him to terminate the suffering.”

Conservative MP Mike Cooper, who filed a dissenting report with three of his fellow caucus members, said including minors deviates from the “clear road map” set out by the Supreme Court. He called it “illogical” that someone not old enough to vote would be old enough to decide to die.

“What this does is open the door for someone under the age of 18 who may have an underlying mental health issue to be able to access doctor-assisted dying, and I don’t think anyone would think that’s a good thing,” he said.

To date, Belgium and the Netherlands are the only two countries that allow minors to obtain medical assistance in death. There is little research or data on how it has worked so far, and Cooper said Canada is heading in a dangerous direction.

Uncharted territory

“I think there are risks when you’re talking about minors; about their ability to have capacity, a full appreciation of the consequences,” he said. “Most jurisdictions have not gone down this road, and I think from a policy standpoint we’re entering uncharted territory and we should proceed with a great deal of caution.”

Liberal MP Rob Oliphant, who co-chaired the committee on medical assistance in death, said the Supreme Court decision was based on two adults with physical conditions, but the report “hugs closely” to charter rights of all Canadians, including minors and the mentally ill.

“What other issues could come up and should be in the legislation to ensure that Canadians’ rights are protected in the spirit of the charter, in the spirit of the decision?” he said. “We looked at how age could be a charter issue, ability could be a charter issue, capacity could be a charter issue.”

While the issue has drawn bitter political battle lines, it is also dividing Canada’s medical community.

Dr. Dawn Davies, medical director of the palliative care program at Stollery Children’s Hospital in Edmonton and chair of the Canadian Paediatric Society’s bioethics committee, believes the panel should have stuck to consenting, competent adults. She said it’s “premature” to set a three-year deadline to include minors.

In most cases, palliative care can mitigate and manage the pain and suffering of patients, yet she is one of fewer than 20 full-time pediatric palliative care physicians across the country.

“Until we can improve that, I have very grave concerns, because I think a lot of adults are asking for assisted death out of a sense of control … but I think in the case of children, we don’t even know what their issues are.”

Court challenges expected

Davies expects that requests from minors could wind up in court with challenges from medical professionals, child protection services or even relatives.

She could not predict how many minors would actually seek medical assistance to end their own lives, but in her experience most terminally ill patients want to live to reach milestones such as birthdays or graduation.

But she worries about young people who may have devastating injuries, like quadriplegics whose life-altering experience causes despair.

“In many cases, people do go on to live productive, fulfilling lives, and I really worry about new catastrophic injuries for minors — that possibly leading to requests,” she said.

Davies said with advancements in pain management and end-of-life care, the issue is less about preventing pain and suffering and more about control over ending one’s own life. She calls that a “real departure” for human beings.

“For myself, I’d say it goes beyond being a physician. It is such an about-face for our whole society that one person will be able to take the life of another person for any reason,” she said. “I just don’t think personally that I would ever be comfortable with that.”

The Liberal government has until June 6 to pass new legislation on doctor assisted death.

Complete Article HERE!

Save Money…By Donating Your Body to Medical Science

by Davis Grey

morgue cadaver

Okay, we know. It’s not the standard thing you think about with end of life planning. But hear us out. The average cost of a funeral these days is coming in at $10,000. Sure, you can whittle that cost down. Or you can go with a cremationfor around $2,000-$3,000. But it’s still is a lot of money to gather up. This is where donating your body to medical science comes in.

If you really want to go the frugal funeral route, start considering donation. It may sound unorthodox but it’s a vital step in medical education and save your family a lot of money.  Here are some general Q&A’s that come along with body donation.

What will your body be used for?

Budding doctors and dentists have to learn anatomy and physiology. Cadavers are a critical part of their education, allowing them to understand things like organ systems and musculoskeletal relationships. If it weren’t for body donation, the first bodies these students could work on would be live patients, which is a little scary.

Researchers also need human tissue to further medical science and develop new procedures or medications to treat debilitating illnesses.

What costs are covered or not covered when donating your body to medical science?

As you can imagine, the body will have to go to the research organization. Normally families have to pay for transportation to funeral homes or to cemeteries. In the case of body donation the medical institution will cover body transportation fees.

If you want to have a memorial service for friends or family, or a burial service of the cremains, you will have to pay for that. Other than that, there are no fees that you’ll have to deal with.

Are any bodies not accepted for donation?

Body donation is usually “whole body” donation, which means the research facility needs the body intact. Bodies that have been autopsied, dissected, embalmed or in an advanced stages of decomposition will not be accepted. You can also expect that if the individual died from a contagious disease like tuberculosis or hepatitis the body would be rejected.

Some institutions will accept standalone eye donations so check with your local institution if that’s something that would be of interest.

What happens to the body after the research is done?

After 1-2 years remains are cremated. The cremated remains (e.g. cremains) will either be buried at the organization’s expense or returned to the family. It’s common for medical students to hold a memorial ceremony for the cadavers before they are cremated.

How do I talk to someone about body donation?

If you want to make arrangements for donating your body to medical science, or talk to someone about the process, contact the closest university-affiliated medical school in your area. If you’re not sure which that is, check out this list from the University of Florida.

There are also private organizations that accept whole body organizations, which include Science Care andMedCure.

Complete Article HERE!

Funeral Flower Terminology

File under:  Funeral Fun Facts

Funeral Flower Terminology

Sending sympathy flowers to a family in mourning is a great way to show your support and contribute to the funeral arrangements. However, it can be difficult to know what kind of funeral flowers to send or what each type of bouquet entails.

This quick guide to funeral flower terms and options should help give you a clearer understanding of what kind of choices are out there—and what funeral flower etiquette dictates you should do.

  • Arrangement: The arrangement is what shape and style the funeral flowers will be delivered in. Some of the options include basket arrangements, vase arrangements, wreath arrangements, cross arrangements, and pedestal arrangements, just to name a few.
  • Blooming Plant: If you want to send something that will last longer than cut flowers, a blooming plant is a good choice. These potted plants come with a bright floral bloom.
  • Casket Blanket: This “blanket” of flowers is draped over the casket to provide a visually stunning effect.
  • Casket Scarf: Instead of an entire blanket, some families choose to decorate a casket with a smaller scarf of flowers that can be artfully arranged.
  • Easel: If a wreath or cross arrangement of funeral flowers will be on display, you may need a frame to hold it up and provide a visual centerpiece. These can be rented or provided by most funeral homes.
  • Filler: Most flower arrangements are made up of several large and beautiful flowers, surrounded by what is known as “filler.” Ferns, fronds, baby’s breath, and other less expensive items help to make the arrangement look nice and full without making it too costly.
  • Flower Bearer: As the name suggests, this individual is similar to ring bearer/flower girl in a wedding, and walks before or after the casket carrying flower tributes.
  • Flower Car: A special vehicle may be needed to transport the flowers to the cemetery or funeral home for a secondary service.
  • Grave Blanket: This display can be made of flowers, ribbons, greens, and other floral fillers to cover a newly laid grave. It is meant to be temporary.
  • In Lieu of Donation: Some families would prefer not to receive funeral flowers, and ask instead that you make a donation to a charity or other organization instead.
  • Potted Plant: Not all funeral flowers have to be floral in design. Many families prefer the lush greenery of potted plants, which can be blooming or made up of ferns and other non-floral designs.
  • Spray: The most common type of funeral flower, a casket spray is an arrangement of florals and leafy greens that is designed to be displayed on the top of a closed casket.

For a more detailed list of what types of funeral flowers are available and what is appropriate to send to the family, you may want to contact a florist directly. Most of them have considerable experience working with funeral displays and will be able to direct you toward the best options for your relationship to the family and your budget.

Complete Article HERE!

Video Game Review: ‘That Dragon, Cancer’

A couple built a game inspired by the life and loss of their young son. I’m a bereaved father who played it. Here’s my experience.

By <


Around the time Amy and Ryan Green’s third child, Joel, turned one, he was found to have AT/RT, an aggressive pediatric cancer of the central nervous system. Surgery, radiation, and aggressive chemotherapy were employed, but another tumor emerged anyway. Initially given four months to live, Joel lived another four years, until the cancer finally killed him in March 2014.

Ryan is a video game developer, and Amy is a freelance writer. Their desire to memorialize their son led them to take a groundbreaking step: to create a video game about Joel’s life and death, and their experience of living through that process. The result, That Dragon, Cancer, was released for Macintosh, PC, and the Ouya console on January 12th, 2016, with a Linux version coming soon.

First, disclosures. I was an early backer of That Dragon, Cancer on Kickstarter, and backed it at a level that allowed me to place artwork by my daughters Carolyn and Rebecca into the game. Furthermore, my daughter Rebecca died of brain cancer on her sixth birthday in June 2014. So the topic is very close to me personally.

That Dragon, Cancer isn’t a game, by most definitions of that term. There are no structural barriers to advancing, no opposing forces to overcome, no points to score nor prizes to unlock, and no way to influence the outcome. The only choices you can make are how much of the content to experience, and how quickly you move through the storyline. It is, to my eyes, much closer to a movie than a traditional game, but the control the player exerts over pacing and discovery makes it far more engaging and affecting than any movie I’ve ever seen.

In the end, That Dragon, Cancer is something for which we don’t have a convenient term. It’s a window into other lives that says far more in its two hours than most other forms of media could manage in four, and might even have created a new genre of video games combining that personal window with a console. For the sake of convenience, I’ll continue to refer to it as a “game” and those who experience it as “players,” but I wish I had more honest words to use in their place.

As for a review, it’s difficult to discuss without lessening the impact of the game. I initially debated whether to explain the backstory but eventually came to realize that – just like in a movie one watches repeatedly over the years – knowing how the story ends actually heightens, not lessens, the game’s effect. Your heart breaks for the Greens even as their hearts do not break, in their moments of unknowing hope. Then, when the hopes go unfulfilled, your heart breaks anew.

The game presents itself in a heavily stylized 3D, with human figures looking almost like cartoons of rough carvings, and lacking facial features (other than eyeglasses on a couple of characters), a technique that makes the entire experience curiously more intimate. The constantly shifting viewpoint allows the player to be both observer and participant, evoking the feelings of being both a close confidant to the Greens and of taking their places. Most of the dialogue comes from Amy and Ryan, in their own voices. The spare soundtrack shifts effortlessly between from one mood to another, always illuminating the moment without overwhelming it.

The music, like the dialogue and the scenes we’re presented, can only be described as honest—not in the sense of accurate in the details, but of being fundamentally truthful. What’s remarkable is how clear-eyed the Greens are in every aspect of the journey. Even their anger, disgust, and envy—with each other, with themselves, with the world—are all presented without varnish, but also with judgment. As difficult as it must have been for the Greens to be so open, it must have been doubly hard to avoid excusing or condemning themselves.

So, too, are the Greens very honest about their faith in, and doubts about, God. A fair portion of the game presents their hopes that God will heal where medicine could not, as well as their growing fear that Joel will not survive. The two threads entwine and comment on each other as the game moves into its final levels. What astonished me was how That Dragon, Cancer presents these questions of faith with such clarity and neutrality that you can legitimately see this aspect of the game as either a powerful affirmation of the power of faith, or as a scathing indictment of the futility of faith, based solely on the Greens’ words and how they are presented.

This is but one of the many levels on which the game operates. It challenges you to endure the immediate events of the story even as it provokes intense reflection on what we believe and how we believe it. The game leverages its medium brilliantly, using common game mechanics to comment on the nature of the Greens’ challenges, and employing artful design to weave disparate emotions together—sometimes with great subtlety, and other times quite jarringly. There are radical, unannounced shifts in time and perspective, in which thoughts and scenes jump across hours or years. It’s an astonishingly accurate portrayal of how stress, fear, and grief disrupt the sense of linear time, both in the moment and when looking back in memory.

I’ve asked other players of That Dragon, Cancer about their experience in playing the game, few if any of whom have been through similar experiences in real life. I found that most of them had to take a break from playing the game partway through, and all of them took their break on the same level of the game—the level that was, according to Ryan, the nucleus of the entire game; and those who didn’t take a break said that level was the point where they almost did.

This is a gift that the Greens have given, possibly unintentionally, to those who play That Dragon, Cancer. Because as you go through this journey with the Greens, you always have the final say on whether things will progress or not. You can walk away from the game and do something else, secure in the knowledge that nothing is happening. You can stop short of Joel’s death, if you must. That’s the real benefit of being a game player: you can make that choice. You can decide to pause for a while, to reflect on what you’ve felt and regather your emotional reserves, while time does not progress and Joel gets no closer to dying. Families like the Greens, or like mine, didn’t have the luxury of a pause button.

It’s understandable if a reader’s first reaction is that playing the game sounds scary. I was honestly terrified as I started That Dragon, Cancer for the first time, not sure if I’d be able to get through it in one piece. But I was glad I’d played. It wasn’t easy. There were moments that shortened my breath and made my throat ache with sorrow. Parts of the story are legitimately harrowing—but other parts are peaceful, contemplative, thought-provoking, even joyful. Some moments are all of those things, and more, all at once. For me, the game became a prism through which to examine my grief and my relationship to it, refracted through the Greens and their story, and I was profoundly touched by it.

That Dragon, Cancer is an astonishing look at how one family dealt with the most piercing questions of life and death. It’s a difficult journey for anyone to take, whether or not they have suffered loss, but it’s an astonishingly complex and human work of art that I was honored and grateful to be able to take with the Greens. The thoughts and emotions I experienced while playing That Dragon, Cancer still linger with me, and I expect they will for a long time. If you’re ready for a video game to make you smile and weep and smile as you weep, to show you a family’s life with unflinching honesty and a complete lack of sentimentality in the face of some of life’s most difficult passages, I cannot recommend it highly enough.

Complete Article HERE!

Diane Rehm on life, death and learning to play the piano

By Sadie Dingfelder

Diane Rehm’s new book explores how she mourned her husband’s death and began her new life alone.
Diane Rehm’s new book explores how she mourned her husband’s death and began her new life alone.

Public-radio host Diane Rehm, 79, began writing her new book, “On My Own,” on the last night of her husband’s life. The candid memoir tracks Rehm’s first year of widowhood, starting when her husband, John, decided he was done fighting Parkinson’s disease, which had rendered him nearly immobile. It describes the 10 excruciating days when John starved himself to death (a path he chose, Rehm says, because assisted suicide is illegal in her home state of Maryland).

“On My Own” traces her uncertain steps without John — taking care of finances, taking over his side of the bed — and features reminiscences of their 54-year marriage. Rehm, who is ending her long-running WAMU program “The Diane Rehm Show” after the November election, will talk at Sixth and I on Wednesday.

You wrote that you and your husband were “more together in sickness than in health.” Can you expand on that?

It’s a lovely thought to expand on, because while he was in assisted living, I think he realized how dependent he had become on me, and I think that broke down some of the barriers he had used all his life to shield himself, to be such a private human being. He knew I would do anything for him, and I think we simply had a loving time with each other in those last few months.

What do you hope people get out of reading “On My Own”?

I hope that people will talk with their families and their loved ones about what it is they want at the end of their life. John and I talked a lot about it with our kids, about how neither one of us wanted prolonged dying or to live long in illness or to lose our ability to care for ourselves. People need to talk about death and dying. It’s kind of a taboo subject in families. I can remember my own mother wanting to talk to me about it and me saying, “Oh Mom, let’s not talk about this now.”

You’ve become the de facto face of the “right to die” movement. Do you feel that impairs your ability to be a journalist?

I’m not an activist. I am not out there campaigning for anyone, for any organization. I am simply speaking about my own experience. I’m going to speak about my husband’s death. I’m going to speak about my own hope for myself — that when the times comes, I will have the right to choose how I wish to die. I’m only speaking from the heart and for myself, so I see no conflict journalistically.

You’ve said that working has helped you keep your grief at bay. Are you concerned about retiring after this election cycle?

The fact of the matter is, I’m not retiring. I’m stepping away from the microphone, but I’m going to continue to work — at WAMU in some capacity, on behalf of trying to find a cure for Parkinson’s, trying to find a cure for Alzheimer’s and speaking out personally about what I believe is the right to die.

Will you pick up any hobbies?

Piano. I took lessons for just five years as an adult, and I’m looking forward to trying to get back into that. But I won’t try to be too ambitious because I know it’s hard to play the way you’d like to hear yourself play. You just have to forgive yourself and keep on trying.

Do you have any advice for other people who are grieving or friends of those who have experienced a great loss?

If a friend of yours is grieving, just listen. Just be there and be helpful in any way you can. And don’t push that person to “get over it.” I think there’s part of me that will probably grieve forever. When I’m alone, I miss John so much. I miss talking with him. I miss laughing with him. I’ll miss him forever, and I’ll think about him forever, but that doesn’t mean I will close down my life. I will keep living as long as I am healthy and well and have good thoughts and interesting things to do and interesting people to be with. But I will not push someone else who is grieving to do what I am doing. I’ll just try to be with that person and be that person’s friend.

Complete Article HERE!

Going green in life and death

A push towards alternative, eco-friendly death practices

A push towards alternative, eco-friendly death practices

There’s a quiet revolution under way in the American death industry, moving towards a future in which natural composting, water cremation and even a so-called ‘mushroom death suit’ might be as socially acceptable as conventional coffins and cremation.

Current burial practices pose significant environmental risks. To counter their effects, a group of funeral professionals, artists and academics have started proposing eco-friendly alternatives. But the endeavor requires engaging a normally death-phobic public in a wider discussion about dying as a natural process — something rebel mortician Caitlin Doughtystrives to do. Doughty, a Los Angeles undertaker with a self-confessed “proclivity toward the macabre,” is the founder of the aforementioned group, which she calls The Order of the Good Death.

It’s about trying to lift the “veil of secrecy and shame cloaking death,” she writes in her best-selling book Smoke Gets in Your Eyes: And Other Lessons from the Crematory. “A culture that denies death is a barrier to achieving a good death,” she says.

For her next book, Doughty is exploring the idea of eco-friendly death practices because she believes current practices are unsustainable. “This is about the future of the dead body and its disposition,” she says.

For now, traditional burial and cremation still dominate the death industry, each with about half of the market, according to 2015 estimates by the National Funeral Directors Association. Both processes carry environmental risks. Traditional burials, where an embalmed body in a wooden coffin is sometimes placed in a concrete or metal vault, require more than 30 million board feet of hardwood, 90,000 tons of steel, 1.6 million tons of concrete and over 800,000 gallons of carcinogenic formaldehyde embalming fluid every year in the U.S., according to the Funeral Consumers Alliance of Southern California. Cremation requires burning a body in temperatures of up to 1,500 degrees Fahrenheit for three to four hours — a process that requires as much energy as a 500-mile car trip and releases harmful gases into the atmosphere, says Doughty.

Options for eco-friendlier death practices include natural or green burials, in which a body is lowered into the ground wrapped simply in a biodegradable coffin or shroud, allowing it to decompose naturally and quickly. The concept is a simple one and is actually what was widely practiced before the modern funeral industry as we know it took over.

“It’s a greener way of looking at death,” says Suzanne Kelly, who helped establish New York State’s second municipal natural burial ground at Rhinebeck Cemetery, in the Hudson Valley. She chairs the Cemetery Committee and has recently published a book calledGreening Death: Reclaiming Burial Practices and Restoring Our Tie to the Earth.

Conventional death practices are not just polluting, Kelly says, but disaffecting because people feel separated from earth and nature. “Green burials are not just about the environment, but also about generating new meanings around death.”

Other experimental burial options gaining momentum include the Urban Death Project, which proposes leaving bodies in the open air to decompose naturally to soil, with the help of microbes and materials such as woodchips. The natural composting of dead bodies would take place in a custom-built, three-story facility that could hold up to 30 bodies at a time, says project founder and director Katrina Spade.

Spade said inspiration struck about five years ago when she was contemplating her own mortality. “The current options we have for our bodies after death are, at the very least, underwhelming and at the most toxic, polluting and not meaningful.”

Natural decomposition will allow people to “contemplate our place in the natural world” because many people feel there’s something important about being connected to nature both before and after we die, says Spade. She and her team are currently beta-testing the composting technology, and they hope to raise around $35,000 to build a prototype in Seattle this April.

Still another offbeat burial method is the Mushroom Death Suit, or Infinity Burial Suit. Created by Jae Rhim Lee, a visual artist and research fellow at Stanford University, the suit is embroidered with mushroom spores that help to decompose the body. The mushroom spores also remove toxins from the body, which normally releases more than 200 environmental toxins into the soil when buried, says Lee. After beta-testing is complete, the suit will go on sale in the middle of this year at a target retail price of $999.

Some alternative options are not so far off. Bio Cremation, also known as alkaline hydrolysis or cremation by water, is now available in seven states, including Florida, Minnesota and Oregon. The process uses water and lye to break down the body into its chemical components, leaving a residue similar to traditional cremation. Bio Cremation, however, uses 90 percent less energy than traditional cremation and is considerably cheaper, says Doughty.

Psychologically, it’s an easier concept to accept as well, Doughty believes. “Many people prefer the idea of a watery grave to a fiery one,” she says.

Spade of the Urban Death Project echoes this view. “I like fire — but only when I’m sitting next to it with a beer,” she says.

While eco-friendly options for the afterlife are gaining traction, they still account for only about 3 percent of burials in the U.S. today, says Doughty. Institutional and legislative barriers are a big reason for their low numbers. Many funeral directors see the American funeral industry as a sacred institution to protect and are very interested in keeping the status quo, she says.

“A huge barrier to greening up our death practices is the stronghold of the trio of chemical embalming, the modern casket and the burial vault,” adds Kelly of the Rhinebeck Cemetery Committee. But she is positive that the green burial movement is gathering momentum. “It’s building steam riding a wave with other alternative death and end of life movements like home funerals, death cafes and hospices,” she says. Death cafes host events where people can meet up and discuss death over tea and cake — something that spread in popularity from Europe.

The American funeral industry isn’t the only one to blame, says Spade. “Ninety percent of what’s holding our society back in terms of having eco-friendly aligned funerals is a cultural denial of death.”

Spade says, “If we talked about death more comfortably, we’d be dying better and also be able think about what we want for our bodies after we die.”

Complete Article HERE!