How to Write an Obituary

A Guide to Crafting a Meaningful Memorial

By Angela Morrow, RN

When you write an obituary, it’s so that you can announce the news that a loved one has died. Family, friends, former colleagues, and the community will want to know details about the viewing, memorial service, or funeral, and any plans for a burial.

You also may wish to add a summary that personalizes the life and legacy of your loved one, and acknowledges the surviving family members. In some cases, a cause of death and preference for any donations to a health-related or community organization may be included.

This article offers ideas on how to honor a loved one or even write an obituary for yourself ahead of time. Even if you’ve never written an “obit” before, you’ll learn how by following a step-by-step approach.

Planning the Obituary

As you plan your loved one’s obituary (or your own), first check with the funeral home or similar service that’s handling end-of-life arrangements.

These agencies will often help people who need to write an obituary. They may have a guide for obituary writing that’s part of a planning overview. They also may have an online platform where you can place a digital obituary, and invite people to share memories, images, and video.

Some are free, so check with the service provider. With newspapers, call ahead to check on the rates. Expect a charge of $200 to $500 for a “short” obit (often up to 300 words) and up to $1,000 for a “long” one with a photo.

That way, you’ll know how to plan the length of the obituary ahead of time, or make adjustments that align with your loved one’s and family wishes in the space that you’ll have.1

Writing an Obituary, Step by Step

First, you’ll want to collect the information you need. You also can decide on a family member or friend who will help in the process of writing an obituary.

It may help to ask people who knew your loved one from teams, clubs, or faith-based and community groups to contribute information, alongside those who may have worked with them.

Select your preferred tool, whether you’re writing with pen and paper or on a computer. Many people will want to use a template for an obituary that’s easy to use in digital form, but you can follow this step-by-step approach on paper too.

Basic Obituary Facts

An obituary needs to include key details about your loved one. These basic facts include:

  • The full name of the deceased
  • Their age
  • Where the deceased lived
  • Their date and place of birth
  • The date and place of death
  • The date and cause of death (which the family may wish to withhold)

You’ll start with a basic announcement of the death that clearly states your loved one (name, age, hometown) died. You might add that the death was suddenly, or expected after a long illness, with the time and place of death.

The place can be specific or, if you prefer, you might simply say they were surrounded by family.

Summary of Life

When writing an obituary, you’ll want to include a brief summary of the deceased’s life. This is a way to honor them and the meaning their life held, but also to help other people remember them.

You can be straightforward, moving from one fact to another. You can be more heartfelt, or even humorous. You also may already know what your loved one wanted to include and plan to stay faithful to their ideas.

There really is no “right way” to write an obituary. But most obituaries will next include the person’s birth information, including the place and their parents. It’s common to include their job and career information, if it applies. You may want to add any educational achievements.

A detail or two about their community activities, favorite hobbies, or their faith-community membership would be included here, too. Choose the things that reflect the identity of your loved one and how their life was shared with family and friends.

It’s better to gather “too much” information early on. You can always edit and/or shorten your obituary later.

Family Names in an Obituary

An obituary also focuses on family, both those who died before your loved one and the survivors who are honoring your loss. So you’ll include both living and deceased family members.

If you’ve included the full names of the deceased’s parents earlier, you don’t need to repeat them here. What you’ll want to do is describe the family members in order of the closest relationships.

A spouse or partner, and any children, are typically listed first. The spouses or partners of children also are listed but set off with parenthesis so that it looks like Child (Partner’s First Name). Then siblings, also listed with their partners if preferred

Any grandparents, aunts, uncles, step-family members, or cherished and special friends should be included. Be sure to write the total number of grandchildren or great-grandchildren, even if you do list them by name.

It’s not unusual for people who died before your loved one to be listed separately. A “preceding them in death” paragraph can include those who have not already been mentioned.

Funeral or Memorial Details

An obituary is meant to share details about any funeral and memorial services. If you plan to invite the public, be clear that this is the case. If your ceremony is private, be clear about that, too.

For a public memorial, simply invite “family and friends” to the service. When you write the obituary, make sure people have information that includes:

  • Time
  • Day
  • Date
  • Place
  • Location

Be sure to include any other information that may be helpful to those attending the service. That includes the name of the funeral home, and any memorial website to honor your loved one’s life.

Donations

It’s common to ask people who might otherwise have sent flowers or a gift to make a donation instead. There’s a good chance that your loved one may have already told you their wishes about donations to a charity or memorial fund.

If not, then the choice is up to the family. Just be sure to name the charity or memorial fund to which donations should be sent. An address helps, too.

Checking the Facts

Obituaries are more than a matter of public record. They can become lifelong keepsakes for the people left behind. You’ll want to be sure it’s right, both now and in the future.

You can work with another family member or a friend to proofread your obituary writing and make sure all the facts are correct and that no one was missed in the family list.

Be sure that the spellings of names and places are right. That’s especially important if titles like “Dr.” or abbreviations like “Jr.” are needed to differentiate between people.< Sometimes, the ears are better than the eyes when it comes to improving the tone of a story. So, always give it one last read aloud, so that you can "hear" the tone, the facts, and any changes you'll want to make before publishing it.

Proofreading Tip

Edit the obit first, then proofread it. Editing involves revising, reorganizing, and rewriting sentences for clarity. Proofreading is checking details like spelling and punctuation. You’re bound to catch more when you focus on one task at a time.

Summary

Structuring an obituary is largely a matter of choice; no two are alike. But readers expect to learn some generic information about the deceased, including basic facts, a life summary, list of relatives, and details about the final service.

Before you get too carried away with writing, check current rates that newspaper and online platforms charge to run an obit. The difference in price may influence your preferred word count.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • What should be included in an obituary?
  • An obituary should be informative. Be sure to include:

    • The full name of the deceased, including nicknames
    • The age of the deceased at the time of death
    • The city or town of residence at the time of death
    • A list of immediate surviving family members
    • A brief summary of the deceased’s life
    • Memorial or funeral details with the address and date
    • Details about charities or memorial funds to send a donation
  • Should the cause of death be in a obituary?
    Check with the deceased’s spouse or family members before publishing the cause of death. In some cases, the family may prefer to keep this detail private. In such cases, you can use a euphemism like “passed after a long illness” or “passed suddenly.” Or you can sidestep the subject entirely and not mention it at all.
  • What should be excluded from an obituary?
    Obituaries should not be written in the first person. This means you should not use the word “I”. Remember that an obituary is not a personal tribute. You should also exclude personal addresses and phone numbers.

    Complete Article HERE!

Ashes to Ashes

Turning the dead into soil in Washington State.

By

Micah Truman, founder of Return Home, uses the word beautiful many times during our conversation about his company’s unique burial process.

Terramation—what Return Home calls human composting—a two-month-long process that turns deceased bodies into soil, is new to the world. So new, in fact, that the service is offered in only a few places on the entire planet, and Washington State happens to be one.

Washington became the first place in the world to legalize human composting, thanks to a small, dedicated group of funeral directors led by Katrina Spade, a founder of the nonprofit Urban Death Project. As an undergrad at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, Spade had received the prestigious Echoing Green Fellowship and worked with scientists and biologists to develop a process that turns human remains into soil. In 2018, Spade pushed for human-composting legislation in Washington, later signed by Governor Jay Inslee in 2019. After it became law, she opened the world’s first human-composting center, Recompose, located in Seattle.

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Currently, there are only three states that provide this service: Washington, Colorado, and Oregon. Other states, including California, are working on similar legislation. In 2021, California Democratic assembly member Cristina Garcia, from Bell Gardens, introduced Assembly Bill 501, which would legalize “natural organic reduction.” It successfully passed out of the California State Assembly, the Senate Health Committee, and the Senate Business and Professions Committee, but it is currently tabled.

Return Home is located in Auburn, a suburb 20 miles south of Seattle. Speaking with me on a sunny spring morning, Truman recalls the story of a California family who recently used Return Home’s service.

The woman’s son had died suddenly, and she’d decided that because he hadn’t liked to fly when he was alive, she would transport him in a car herself. She drove from Northern California to Washington, her son’s body cooled and packed according to Return Home’s instructions. Once she arrived, Truman recalls, “She was able to sit with him and talk with him. We were able to place him in his vessel with his mom there.”

“It was one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever seen,” Truman says.

An entrepreneur and investor, Truman saw the Washington legislation as not just a business opportunity but an environmental one. The funeral industry isn’t particularly innovative: most people opt for either burial or cremation, and neither of those are good for the planet, he explains.

“Cremation has long been considered the environmental alternative. It’s the one that people use. It’s what I would have used, or my family, because we consider it the least environmentally impactful,” he says.

But, he points out, “Cremation uses about 30 gallons of fuel, spews about 540 pounds of CO2 into the air per cremation.”

The burial service Truman offers is different from a green burial, which, at its simplest, involves placing an unembalmed body directly into the ground without a box. Though green burial is also more natural than cremation, it presents the same problem that traditional cemeteries often face: limited space.

The idea of human composting might seem weird at first. Some “conservative religious groups” have reservations, says Truman, but he points out that the Catholic church was also once averse to cremation and is now on board. And if you think of human composting as slow burial, it’s less odd. Return Home uses a custom-made, heavily insulated plastic polycarbonate vessel; the body is placed inside with alfalfa, straw, and sawdust. After 30 days, the body disintegrates, leaving only bones, which are crushed and returned to the vessel to sit for another month. At the end of the cycle, 500 pounds of dense, nutrient-rich soil are created and can be used anywhere.

“We have to tell our families that it is extremely nutritionally dense,” Truman says. “So a lot of people would think, ‘OK, I will take a large pile of this and plant a tree in it,’ but there’s an enormous amount of nitrogen. It’s incredible. It’s the stuff of life.”

Joanna Ebenstein is the founder and creative director of Morbid Anatomy, an organization based out of New York City that has classes and lectures that encourage thinking differently about death and using creativity to explore the end of life. (Sample class: Make Your Own Memento Mori.) “We’re really about bringing death to the forefront,” says Ebenstein. A Bay Area native, she says that many people in the death-positive community are younger women and are more open to embracing natural burials, like human composting.

“A lot of them are focusing on trying to change attitudes about death so that we can live, so we can have better deaths. And that includes dying with more dignity, being able to choose when you die. And that also includes what you want done with your body and help people get to spend time with your body after you die,” Ebenstein says. “I certainly have seen many, many more people interested in this in the last 10 years than I ever have before.”

Though Return Home’s is the largest facility in the state—11,000 square feet, housing 70 vessels at a time, at full capacity—Truman is composting only 900 bodies a year.

With so few places offering the service in the country, Truman says 20 percent of his customers are from out of state: “Colorado, California, Missouri, Oregon. So we’ve had people come from all over there, and a number of them from California.”

Truman is still moved by the memory of the California family who came to Return Home.

At the end of the two-month process, the woman’s other sons made the drive up to gather the enriched soil made from their brother’s remains and brought him back to California.

“It was one of the most remarkable experiences I’ve ever had in my life,” Truman says.

You might even say it was beautiful.•

Complete Article HERE!

Volunteering for a Jewish burial society showed me how to live a more sacred life

The work of a Chevra Kadisha is done without promotion or fanfare, and is solely for the benefit of the deceased

By Hannah Lebovits

The first time I touched a dead body was in a sanitized room inside a Dallas funeral home. I was stationed next to Ana’s toenails, with a small toothpick and a Q-tip. While firmly holding onto her foot, I silently cleaned away any dead skin, dirt or debris that might be found under her nails or between her toes.

Though Ana’s primary residence was several hours from the city, and she was not affiliated with any local synagogues, a burial plot in Dallas had her name on it. In Dallas, Ana’s family requested a Jewish burial service, including a plain, pine coffin and a ritual cleansing. The funeral home alerted the local Chevra Kadisha, the organization that prepares bodies in accordance with Jewish law, to perform the tahara or purification rituals, and, along with four other women, I volunteered.

Jewish death and Jewish life seem vastly different to me since joining the Chevra. Jewish life gets more and more public every day. Last year, an online Jewish organization paid for prime advertisement space in Times Square to fight antisemitism. Netflix offers Jewish experiences on demand, including the nuanced, scripted “Shtisel,” and the unabashed, reality-TV show “My Unorthodox Life.” Meanwhile, on Instagram, TikTok and Twitter, one can find countless accounts dedicated to informing the public about Jewish life and interfaith experiences.

Yet, while Jewish life seems to be increasingly visible, Jewish death rituals remain private, intimate and authentic. Narcissism and self-promotion are left at the entrance to the funeral home. Inside the tahara room, individual opinions, personal comfort and even your schedule are entirely secondary to the needs of the deceased. The experience is calming and comforting specifically because it is not about you. It’s a lesson for all of us who consider ourselves to be representatives of and in service to Jewish life.

If we can take a few moments to disconnect from the noise and selfishness of everyday living and instead focus on accountability — particularly in our interactions with those who may never repay us — we can maintain a certain purity of action in living an authentic Jewish life.

Prior to walking into the tahara room, I helped to prepare the casket. The first thing we realized, upon opening the box, was that there were not enough wood shavings to properly prepare her casket. Ana’s head was to be propped up on a pillow filled with wood shavings, and her body to lie on a sheet covering an arched bed filled with more wood shavings. We laid out the burial shrouds across the aron (casket) and waited for a funeral home manager to find more of this important material, but no additional wood could be found.

We asked her to keep some on hand for the future, set up what we had and hurried into the tahara room, unwilling to make the body wait for even another second.

After cleaning Ana’s nails and checking her body for any open wounds, I picked up a pot full of water. Starting with Ana’s hair, I poured the water from the pot onto her body as another member of the Chevra Kadisha washed her with a simple white linen cloth. We made our way down the right side of her body as another pair of women did the same on the left. Her body was cold to the touch.

Towels covered her body, and we lifted those towels only to reach a specific spot. Once the area was cleaned of any residual dirt or blood, we covered it again. Any bleeding that we had found during the process would be collected and buried in the casket with her.

I watched as her head remained elevated the entire time. Ana could be seen yet she herself could not see, and as such, we kept her face and eyes covered, out of respect.

Before washing Ana, I washed my own hands. In line with the ritual practice, I poured water from a cup onto my right hand, making sure the water spread from my wrist to the ends of my fingers. Then, I did the same for the left hand. I repeated this three times, in silence. After Ana’s body was cleaned, we washed again, replaced our gloves and filled three more buckets with water.

Ideally, Ana’s body would be entirely submerged in a mikvah. However, since that is not feasible in our community, we are required to pour water in a manner that will ensure that the flow does not stop, simulating a complete immersion. Ana’s body was completely uncovered as three women poured the buckets of water over her, beginning with her head and ending with her feet, making sure that the flow from the bucket was continuous. After the three women poured, we all proclaimed Ana’s purity, and one woman read the prayers. We then immediately covered and dried Ana’s body and began to dress her in burial shrouds.

Local traditions vary across places as different leaders (the “Rosha”) will follow specific customs they’ve been taught and have found to work. The practices followed by our Chevra include specific outlined rituals, local traditions and tikkunim, or “perfections.” A tikkun is a practice that assists in the performance of the ritual and serves as a reminder to the members of the Chevra that they must treat the body — which once held the soul and is now in transition — with the utmost respect.

One tikkun our Chevra keeps is placing a sign with the deceased’s Hebrew name in the tahara room, so that there is no time lost waiting to recall the name as we say the prayers. While dressing Ana, we turned the garments slightly inside out so that Ana’s body would not have to be moved more than necessary as we pulled them up her body — another tikkun we performed.

Complete Article HERE!

These Human Composting Facilities Are Open for Business

— to Deceased People Nationwide

A human composting vessel at Recompose’s facility.

By Sophie Hirsh

Human composting, an eco-friendly alternative to traditional burial, has already been made legal in Colorado, Oregon, Vermont, and Washington. Plus, states including California, Illinois, Massachusetts, and New York have introduced legislation to legalize the process. So as the carbon neutral burial process grows in legality across the nation, more and more human composting facilities and funeral homes are springing up.

Thinking about your end of life can be scary — and made even scarier when considering the high environmental impacts of traditional death practices such as burial and cremation.

So if you are interested in learning more about human composting and your body returning to the earth when you leave this planet, keep reading for a look into a few of the innovative funeral homes leading the way in human composting, aka natural organic reduction.

Recompose is leading the way for human composting in the U.S..

human composting facilities

Source: SABEL ROIZEN Recompose’s human composting vessel.

Recompose, which is based in Kent, Wash., is a full-service funeral home that works directly with clients and families for empathetic end-of-life processes. After a client passes away, for 30 days, the Recompose team regularly mixes the body with soil, alfalfa, woodchips, and straw in a Recompose vessel.

Once the body has fully turned into soil, they remove any items that did not break down, such as dental fillings or metal pins and screws, and recycle them; the soil is then moved to a bin for several more weeks to cure and dry. Recompose will then offer some topsoil to the person’s loved ones; otherwise, it will be donated to a conservation partner.

Recompose’s full-service burial (including local transportation of the body, the entire natural organic reduction process, death certificate filing, an online obituary, and more) costs​ $7,000. The company’s services are open to people anywhere; but you’ll be responsible for paying to transport the body to Washington.

Not only was Recompose the first licensed human composting funeral home to open in the U.S., but Recompose and its founder Katrina Spade actually inspired a Washington bill to legalize the process in the state back in 2019. Additionally, the Recompose team is also helping pave the way for other states to legalize human composting, which you can learn more about on the public policy section of Recompose’s website. The company is also planning to open a second location by the end of 2022, in Colorado.

Return Home offers human composting in Washington and nationwide.

 

 
 
 
 
 
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Return Home, which opened in 2021, offers “inclusive, gentle, transparent death care” via its Terramation human composting process. The company’s facility is based in Auburn, Wash., but offers its services to people across all 50 states and Canada.

At Return Home, deceased bodies are placed in a vessel. For 30 days, oxygen is flowed through to stimulate microbes in the body, which turns it to soil; then for the following 30 days, the soil rests and stabilizes. During these 60 days, visitors can come visit their deceased loved one in their vessel at Return Home’s facility turning business hours. At the end of the process, the deceased’s family can take the soil, or opt to have it scattered in nature.

Return Home’s full-service process costs $4,950. The company allows people to plan ahead to arrange their eco-friendly burials; it also offers services to those with an immediate need, and keeps its phone lines open 24/7 for this purpose.

Return Home is passionate about legalizing human composting more widely, and the company created the #IdRatherBeCompost campaign to help lead this movement. You can find a letter-writing template on Return Home’s website, which you can use to encourage your elected officials to support legalizing natural organic reduction in your state.

Earth offers natural organic reduction in Washington and Oregon.

“Funeral brand” Earth describes offers burial via a 45-day process called soil transformation. Earth uses its proprietary vessel technology; a balance of carbon, nitrogen, oxygen, and water; materials like mulch, wildflowers, and woodchips; and ideal moisture and temperature levels to create the optimized conditions for microbes and bacteria to break down the body, much like it would in nature.

At the end of the process, the deceased’s family choose to plant or scatter some of the resulting soil; the remaining soil is used for land restoration projects on the company’s conservation site in Washington’s Olympic Peninsula.

Earth has two facilities, located in Portland, Ore. and Auburn, Wash., both of which are powered by renewable electric energy. Currently, the company is only offering its services to those based in the Pacific Northwest (more details can be found here). Even though transporting dead bodies is legal, Earth believes “doing so undermines one of the greatest advantages of soil transformation, which is that the process is carbon neutral.”

Earth’s soil transformation package — which includes funeral services, all paperwork, and more — typically costs between $5,000 and $6,000.

Complete Article HERE!

In life, my sister taught me how to love. In death, she made me want to fix the funeral industry

After Allison’s funeral, Jackie Bailey enrolled in a master of theology. Now she’s an interfaith minister, deathwalker, celebrant and funeral director – and the author of a new book she wrote for her sister

‘I wrote an entire book to say goodbye to my sister’, says Jackie Bailey (left), the author of The Eulogy, pictured here as a child with her sister Allison.

By Jackie Bailey

I hold his lower leg up so his daughter can gently wash underneath his knee. Then she does the same for me. We kneel on each side of her father’s body, which we brought home from the hospital where he died last night.

“You do his face,” I say and move back to the base of the bed where I wring out my cloth in the warm water. My colleague arrives with a cooling plate. His daughter and I finish washing him and drying him, then we dress him in his best suit and place him on a sheet over the plate. The plate means that his daughter can keep him at home until it’s time for the cremation.

We draw another sheet up to his chest. I light candles and place them at each corner of the bed as his daughter scatters rose petals around him. Tomorrow we will place him in a wicker casket. We will surround him with garlands and greenery and carry him out to the hearse. His daughter will accompany him to the crematorium where she will bear witness as her father’s body is placed in the fire.

It’s seven years since my sister Allison died. She lived for most of her life with various degenerative conditions as the result of brain cancer. My family gave her a beautiful send-off. Her adult nieces and nephews, whom she had babysat when little, brought her special mementoes, prepared a slideshow, decorated the casket.

I brought felt-tipped pens so we could write final messages on her eco-coffin. My daughter, then three years old, drew “potato people” on the side of the casket to keep Aunty Allison company on her final journey. Friends and family said prayers. I, my brother and our eldest sister gave the eulogy.

Jackie Bailey and Alison as kids.
‘When my sister died, I was not a consumer; I was a grieving puddle of emotions’

After Allison’s funeral I took a break from writing the manuscript which would eventually become my new novel The Eulogy. I needed some time away from our story. But instead of a holiday, I found myself enrolled in a masters of theology. Two years later I was an ordained interfaith minister, a trained deathwalker, a celebrant and independent funeral director.

Interfaith ministers offer pastoral care outside of religious institutions, creating spiritual services for the nonreligious. Many of my peers became chaplains in hospitals and prisons, social workers, university counsellors. But for me it was always about death. I wanted to give others what my sister’s funeral had given me: a clean wound, ready for healing.

But not everything about my sister’s funeral was perfect. I had chafed under the transactional gaze of the funeral directors. The inflated price of the eco-coffin outraged me, along with the attempts to upsell my grieving mother on urns, nameplates, casket decorations.

I later found out that the funeral company we had hired was not a local family firm as I had thought, but was actually owned by the multinational company InvoCare, which controls more than a third of the funeral market in Australia.

State and federal governments have held a number of inquiries, attempting to make the funeral industry more transparent, recognising that consumers are particularly vulnerable at these times of their lives.

But I want more than competition in the funeral industry. I want there to be no “industry”. When my sister died, I was not a consumer; I was a grieving puddle of emotions. I wanted a human I could trust to walk with me.

My book takes the form of a fictional guide for how to write a eulogy, as the protagonist prepares for her own sister’s funeral.

Australian author and funeral celebrant Jackie Bailey.
Australian author and funeral celebrant Jackie Bailey. She conducted her first funeral in 2017.

In reality I have never been able to find a good guide to eulogy writing. They all seem to assume you are telling the story of a prosperous businessman who has lived to a ripe old age. But what about people like my sister Allison, who had no career, no children, no value in this calculus, even though she was the defining person in my life, the person who taught me how to love?

In the end I wrote an entire book to say goodbye to my sister. But if you only have a time slot in a funeral service, here is my advice: it does not have to be perfect. It does not have to be long. And it is completely OK to cry, laugh or do both simultaneously.

In 2017 I conducted my first funeral. It was for a nonprofit funeral provider in my local area, a charity that believes someone’s death should not be an opportunity to take a company public.

I was nervous before the service began, but once it started, the anxiety just floated away. It was so clear that this event was not about me. I was there to give permission to people to feel whatever might arise: sadness, relief, despair, gladness. I was there to walk with them.

Complete Article HERE!

The psychedelic drug that could explain our belief in life after death

Scientists have discovered DMT, the Class A hallucinogenic, naturally occurs in the body, and may contain a clue to what happens when we die and why people see fairies

By Caroline Christie

DMT (Dimethyltryptamine) is the most powerful hallucinogenic drug around. The class A psychedelic is so potent that under the 1971 UN Convention on Psychotropic Substances its manufacture is strictly for scientific research and medical use and any international trade is very closely monitored. But it also naturally occurs in the human body. Now a Senior Psychologist at Greenwich University, Dr. David Luke, is trying to undercover a link between DMT and ‘near death experiences’ to explain elves, tunnels of light and centuries old folklore. On July 8th he’ll talk about his research at an event in conjunction with SciArt collaboration Art Necro at The Book Club in London.

Tell me about yourself

I am a psychologist at the University of Greenwich and I teach a course on the psychology on the exceptional human experience, which looks at extraordinary phenomenon of human beings. It’s all about mythical experiences, psychedelic experiences, personal paranormal experiences, mysticism, spiritual experiences, those sorts of things.

I do research on altered states of consciousness and exceptional human experiences, including psychedelics, medication, hypnosis as altered states and the experiences people have in the states such as out of body experiences, possession, telepathy, and clairvoyance – all your usual stuff.

How did you end up focusing on DMT?

I’m interested in DMT is because of my interest in psychedelics and the phenomenology of psychedelic use. DMT is of particular interest because it’s an extremely powerful psychedelic substance. But what’s more interesting than that, is that DMT naturally occurs in many plants, animals and in humans. It’s endogenous, meaning it’s made within the human body. So it’s more than just a natural plant psychedelic – it’s in us. That makes it extremely curious.

Wait – we naturally produce DMT? Why?

We don’t really know. It was first isolated as a chemical about 100 years ago in various plants. For example in ayahuasca, (a hallucinogenic brew from South America) the other chemicals that were isolated in a plant were named telepathine because users reported telepathic experiences. DMT was later found to be naturally occurring in the human body, found in large quantities in the cerebral spinal fluid. It’s thought to be produced in the lungs and in the eye. It’s also speculated, but not proven, that it’s made in the pineal gland.

What’s the pineal gland?

The pineal gland is a weird organ. During the daytime it produces serotonin, which we know keeps us happy and buoyant, and at night the serotonin gets converted into melatonin. It’s also thought that the gland produces DMT, which is converted from serotonin because they’re similar, it just an enzyme that converts it. The gland is part of the brain’s structure, situated just outside in the spinal fluid in a cavity. It’s really interesting. Why would we have an extremely strong psychedelic substance being produced in our brains? What is its ordinary function in humans? It’s not very well understood, largely because there’s not much done into it. The initial speculation thought that it was perhaps responsible for psychosis, in that people with schizophrenia may have an overproduction of DMT. There was some research conducted into it in the 1960s, but that didn’t get any consistent findings. So that idea was abandoned. Shortly after that, the research with humans stopped because psychedelics became illegal. It didn’t really stop people from taking them, but it did stop researchers from reaching the affect in humans.

Recently, research has begun again. A pioneering medical doctor in the 1990’s called Rick Strassman , started injecting people with DMT as part of a medical research project. About 50 to 60 participants were given high doses and they reported some extremely bizarre phenomena. Approximately half of the participants on a high dose reported being in other worlds and encountering sentient entities, i.e. beings of an intelligent nature which appeared to be other than themselves. The experience was so powerful that participants were convinced of the reality of experience with these other beings. It poses some very interesting questions.

What do these beings look like?

The beings themselves took on various forms. Sometimes they took on the form of little elves or imps or dwarves, sometimes they’re omniscient deities, other times they’re angelic beings. But they’re specifically not humans. Rick Strassman also speculated that the DMT experience had a lot of similarities with what we know about the near death experience.

How is being on DMT similar to having a near death experience?

The near death experience is a type of experience syndrome, whereby people perceive themselves to be near death or in danger of dying. Typical experiences include the sensation of leaving the body, entering into a tunnel of light and flashbacks of their lives. People typically meet some kind of being, sometimes a deceased relative or a powerful other, like an angelic being. The being will tell them it’s not their time to die and that they should return. Then the person who’s having the experience will return back to their body. Sometimes it coincides with them being resuscitated if they are having a genuine near death experience, like a cardiac arrest.

Research has suggested that there is an overlap between that experience and the experience people have when on DMT. In that there’s often encounters with beings, out of body experience, life changing experience, which is often said of near death experiences. But there are dissimilarities as well.

Why are these experiences particular to DMT?

That’s a five and half million dollar question. It’s not well understood. Why do people have this reoccurring theme of apparently sentient entities? It could be that it’s a hallucinatory experience, and for some reason DMT triggers the sense of encountering another being. Or perhaps it’s a misfiring of the brain’s neural network that’s reasonable for those kinds of experiences ordinary.

But it’s curious that the experience occurs in the absence of any kind of objective sentient being in the presence of the person. The other thing is that people quite adamantly testify to the reality of the experience. They say it’s more real than this world. Although we can explain it as a neurochemical misfiring, people who have the experience typically feel dissatisfied with that explanation because it feels so real. But to say it’s a hallucination isn’t satisfactory either.

Hallucination is a bit of a waste basket term for odd experiences we don’t really understand or can’t explain. It’s just a label really.

What’s even more baffling is that people seemingly independently have similar types of encounters. They may not know about other people’s experiences of little people, elves, gnomes or dwarves.

We’ve found reports of them right back to the very first DMT experiments conducted by a psychiatrist in Hungary during the 1950’s. He first tested it on himself and then gave it to his colleague.They all reported the same thing.

My colleagues and I think these experiences aren’t culturally mediated. This is when people are primed to expect something i.e. elves and dwarves and so on, because they’ve heard about it. We think people have been having these experiences on DMT naively, ever since it was first isolated and taken by humans. There’s something about DMT itself which cultivates these experiences. We’re just not sure how or why.

So why do you think DMT is present in the human body?

Rick Strassman tried to use it as a way of explaining the near death experience. He suggested that what happens when you have a near death experience is that your brain releases its store of DMT into the brain and it’s this chemical release that gives the experience.

No one has done a particularly thorough job of mapping the classic near death experience to the classic DMT experience. People have attempted crude compassions but no one has looked at it closely. When you do there are some overlaps but there are a lot of differences.

Although the DMT experience broadly contains all the elements of a near death experience, near death experiences are not like DMT ones. You have the experience of being out of the body or a tunnel of light, like you have with DMT, but there are things we find in the DMT experience that we don’t find in the near death one, such as geometric patterns and alien and bizarre experiences, whereas near death ones are typically very earthly.

What’s more Interesting is if you look at the folklore in literature around 100 years ago. People documented verbal accounts of people who had experiences with pixies. Typically in the folklore literature there were most often associated with spirits of the dead, which has some alliances with the idea of DMT being related to near death experiences. How and why that is, that’s anyone’s guess really.

Are we close to finding any answers?

Scientifically it’s somewhat tricky. I’ve been researching in this area for about 10 or 15 years. DMT struck me as being extremely curious because there’s no other psychedelic we know of that naturally occurs in the human body. I mean the human neural system has endocannabinoids which are related to cannabis THC, but there’s a big difference between that and the presence of DMT.

What’s the role of DMT in the body and why do people have such extraordinary intense and bizarre experiences when they take it? Strassman’s theory is that the purpose of DMT is to help people transition from a living state to a post-death state, whatever that might be. That’s a quite ambitious speculation from a scientific perspective. Because you can’t really know what happens after death.

Strassman’s theory is that the purpose of DMT is to help people transition from a living state to a post-death state, whatever that might be.

Current mainstream scientific thinking is that the brain dies and consciousness ceases. New research and evidence is beginning to challenge that. If you’re looking at the near death experience research that’s going on, people are reporting having experiences of conciseness and conscious awareness even when there’s no apparent brain activity. When the heart stops beating for about 20-30 seconds, all brain activity that we can detect stops because the brain is starved of oxygen.

In theatre operations when people have had their heart stopped and the blood drained from their brain have reported conscious experience throughout the whole procedure, sometimes lasting an hour or more, during which there is no brain activity that we can detect. This challenges the notion that you can have no consciousness experience without brain activity. Now we can’t be certain that they’re actually having a consciousness experience, because we can’t be sure it’s taking place at the same time as their stops working. They could just conflate the experience when they recover brain activity. Or it could be that there are some parts of the brain that we can’t detect, which still remain active. But there’s no evidence for that. So we’re in peculiar territory here, scientifically speaking.

Do you think we’ll ever be able to test for signs of consciousness after death?

We always like to think we’ll have a better understating in the future and science does tend to progress but it’s quite a tricky area. Experimentally it’s very difficult. We’re not in a position to experimentally put people into a death state and see what happens. Although we can take note of people who have surgical procedure and are put into a state of clinical death.

We don’t even know if DMT exists in the pineal glands. We have discovered it in the pineal glands of rats, which are anatomically similar to humans. So there is possibility but we have yet to discover what the pineal glands’ actually function is. It seems to be important as a neurological transmitter on certain, little understood, nerotransmitter sites in the brain. It also seems to have important indications in the immune system. But the question remains why we have an extremely potent psychedelic chemical floating around in the human body. Can this account for spontaneous mythical and spiritual experiences?

Complete Article HERE!

Why I’m planning my own funeral in my 20s

When ABC reporter Claudia Long began preparing her funeral, she realised she didn’t want a traditional burial.

By Claudia Long

As someone in their 20s, I try not to spend too much time thinking about my own death.

And when it comes to actually planning for the event, it’s somewhere on my priority list between becoming the eighth member of BTS and holidaying on Mars.

But when a friend — citing my love of gardening — sent me a link to a new funeral home that can compost your body after you die, it sent me down a rabbit hole of caskets, wills and burial fees.

There were so many options to choose from, which for an indecisive person like me is straight up more stressful than the idea of actually dying.

I figured, why not save myself some worry and plan my own funeral.

So you’re dead, now what?

There’s quite a few ways to deal with a dead body in Australia but unfortunately composting isn’t one of them just yet.

There isn’t yet a facility providing the service here, so I’d need to get my corpse sent to the US, and while I’m all for sustainability, a logistical nightmare doesn’t seem like the kindest gift to leave my family.

So what do my options look like?

A room including a mortician's slab and a clock.
Composting may not be an option in Australia but there are modern approaches to burial and cremation that are gaining in popularity.

For most Australians, cremation is the way to go, with 70 per cent of people taking the literal dust-to-dust route.

For the rest, burial is the other most popular choice.

But modern spins on these old traditions are becoming more common, according to Griffith University death studies expert Margaret Gibson.

“The possibilities are much greater than they’ve ever been before,” Dr Gibson said.

“It’s another way of marking the finality and transitioning the body into another form. Some people find it a cleaner kind of ritual and more, I guess, more finite in that sense.”

But down the body-composting clickhole I found another option: natural burial

Death, naturally

Essentially, natural burial involves placing your remains in the ground in biodegradable coverings — at a slightly shallower level than other burials to allow for better decomposition — and letting nature run its course.

There’s no embalming, headstone or fancy coffins, to minimise impact on the environment.

So minimal is that impact, that when I went to check out my potential final resting place at Gunghalin Cemetery in Canberra, I didn’t even realise we’d reached the natural burial ground until cemetery staff pointed it out.

The burial ground, with a large stone at the entrance.
Canberra’s first natural burial ground at Gungahlin Cemetery.

Dr Gibson said the natural burial ground’s ability to blend in could make it an appealing option for councils looking for more cemetery space.

“The difficulty for local governments getting approvals to have cemeteries is that there’s always that question of where are they going to be and are they going to be close to where people live,” she said.

“The thing about natural burial is that it creates kind of a multiple space environment.

“It’s much more about a green space than a death space.”

While the process isn’t quite as common as other types of burial and cremation yet, the idea itself isn’t new.

A number of religious and cultural traditions around burial call for shrouding the deceased, as is often done in natural burials, and burying the body without embalming treatments.

Putting all your eggs in one casket

Once I’d opted to be interred at the natural burial ground, it was time to rethink any plans for a big, classic coffin (what can I say, I love drama).

When it comes to what you’ll be buried in, there’s plenty to choose from: did I want a shroud? A cardboard coffin painted by my family and friends?

A cardboard funeral casket
A cardboard funeral casket

In the end, I decided to go with a simple wicker basket, with flowers on top if my family were ok with bringing some along from the garden.

I booked in for a formal planning session with a not-for-profit funeral home, thinking now that I’d decided where and how I wanted to be buried I was set! Ready to go! Totally, 100 per cent prepared!

Not. Even. Close.

Tender Funerals is currently based in the Illawarra, with plans to be operating in Canberra by the end of the year. So hopefully by the time I die they’ll have everything ready to go.

And when it comes to funerals, turns out there are details you need to have prepared.

The planning session went for almost an hour and there were plenty of questions that needed answering.

  • Indoors or outdoors? Outside.
  • Flowers? Yes, but nothing too fancy.
  • Music? Sure, I’ll prep a Spotify playlist.
  • Eyes open or shut? Eyes absolutely, 100 per cent shut (?!).

And that’s just the start.

It’s all a bit overwhelming and that’s before you chuck a sudden death into the mix rather than one that’s hopefully decades away — a good reason to write down some ideas, just in case.

While it’s not all that common to plan and handle a funeral yourself, there’s technically nothing stopping you.

“The funeral industry doesn’t want people to take control of it,” said Dr Gibson.

“You could actually authorise your family to be your own personal funeral directors if you wanted to, it’s just that no one thinks about that and it’s not part of the conversation.

“Part of what keeps the industry going is that people don’t really want to think about their own death, they don’t think ‘ooh how exciting’.”

Who needs to know?

A funeral plan isn’t very useful if discovered under a stack of papers years after you’ve died, so you should tell your nearest and dearest what you want them to do.

A coffin sits at a funeral.
A code of practice has been introduced to safeguard WA’s $170 million prepaid funeral sector.

That could be in the form of instructions in your will, putting together a plan with a funeral home like I did, or jotting down a plan for your loved ones to execute — just make sure to tell someone where you’ve left it.

Cost-wise, even choosing a natural burial, without many bells and whistles, dying is pretty expensive, particularly if you want to have a funeral.

That cost, combined with the pressure and complications of figuring out the logistics, is pushing some to ditch the funeral altogether.

As long as your remains are dealt with, there’s no legal requirement for any funeral or ceremony to mark your death.

“There’s probably a number of factors, but certainly it’s cheaper, I think the cost of funerals is a real factor for people,” said Dr Gibson.

“In some cases, it can be because the nature of the deceased person, maybe didn’t want that and was not particularly into any kind of forms of ceremony or celebration of their life.”

But Dr Gibson said people may want to think of those left behind before instructing there be no funeral.

“I’m not sure whether in the long term that is necessarily a good thing because, you know, funerals are about recognising in this communal way that someone has died,” she said.

“It’s a symbolic act of that recognition, but it’s also connected to the capacity to be able to grieve.”

Complete Article HERE!