Burials, cremations, dissolving: the new ways to die well


new ways to die well

Life after death is changing – thanks to scientific innovation. The best time to plan is now.

What happens to us after we die? It is one of the most profound spiritual questions, but also a practical puzzle. After all, whatever you believe happens to the soul after death – if you believe in a soul at all – there is irrefutably a body for someone to deal with. While there are many emotions that can make it hard to think about what you want to happen to your body, it need not be traumatic.

At least, that is what the researchers at the Corpse Project want to remind people. Set up last autumn and funded by the Wellcome Trust, this UK research programme has just published its first findings on what we might do with our bodies after we die.

I meet Sophie Churchill, the project’s founder, at a café in Queen Mary University of London. The goal, she tells me, is to help find ways to “lay our bodies to rest, so that they help the living and the Earth”. It’s not a case of being dispassionate but rather a quest to balance the social and cultural aspects of death with the scientific.

Sometimes, aspects of death that people initially baulk at can become more acceptable through conversation. One relatively new process, sold as a greener alternative to cremation, involves dissolving the body in heated alkaline water. “I was with 15-year-old urban teenagers, and you could see them scowling at the thought of being dissolved. But the more we talked about it and considered how odd it would once have seemed to go into machines and be cremated, [the more] they started to reconsider.”

Churchill points out that cremation, too, is a relatively recent phenomenon. The first official cremation in the UK took place in 1885, and it was only in the 1960s that the Catholic Church, for instance, accepted the practice and lifted its ban. Now, over 70 per cent of people who die in Britain are cremated.

Churchill is discovering that people can be open-minded, even if their beliefs are initially strongly held – though she admits that it may “still be a generation or two before new forms are accepted”.

“People will say, ‘Mourners always need a place to return to, to memorialise.’ But there are lots of people who do scatter ashes.” So, part of rethinking death might involve reassessing what we are comfortable with. I wonder if our general reluctance to talk about death makes it less likely that we will encounter different perspectives on how to deal with bodies.

Churchill’s studies with teenagers seem to support this. When asked to think about their own deaths, many of them were quick to engage with the idea, she says – “Being sent out to sea and burned in a boat, Viking-style, seemed to be very popular!” – and it was often their teachers who were more squeamish.

The Corpse Project is just one of a growing number of organisations committed to tackling the discomfort around death and dying. The Order of the Good Death was founded in 2011 by the mortician Caitlin Doughty and aims to “make death part of your life”.

The group of academics, funeral industry professionals and artists encourages people to educate themselves about dying, and even to become “death positive” by learning to accept and engage with their mortality. Its website covers everything from sky burials, in which corpses are left to be eaten by the birds, to how it feels to bury a relative if you’re a funeral director.

So what are the best options for someone wanting an environmentally friendly death? Until new methods such as dissolving become easily available, small tweaks can make a big difference. Doing cremation well, for instance, is important: the Corpse Project’s work partly involves investigating what sort of schedule allows crematoriums to operate at maximum efficiency.

If you want to be buried, it might even be a case of choosing a sustainable wood for your coffin. The Corpse Project is also investigating optimum burial depths and whether burials could be done strategically to enrich the soil where this is needed.

“But science never changes opinion by itself,” Churchill says. Luckily, every death is different, and can be a chance to invent meaningful rituals that incorporate innovative methods. The important thing, she stresses, is to think about it early, as one would with a will or life insurance.

“One day, this hand . . .” – she lays her hand on its back, limply – “. . . will do this. Twelve hours later, it’ll be a bit pale and clammy. And that will be it. The day will go on, with people going on having coffees, and so on.” She looks around her at the students milling in the sunshine. “To me, the last big challenge is to do that well.”

Complete Article HERE!

Parents Honor Daughter With Tea Party Instead of Funeral

She believed “love is a superpower” that could make everything all right.



In her last days, 5-year-old Julianna Yuri Snow of Vancouver, Washington, couldn’t move her arms or legs or breathe on her own, but that didn’t stop her from being as fabulous as she could possibly be. Every morning, she put on a princess dress and tiara and painted her nails with glittery polish, telling CNN reporter Elizabeth Cohen that “there’s no such thing as too much glitter.”

002The little girl suffered from an incurable neuromuscular disorder. Doctors said that there was “no light at the end of the tunnel” for her, and so she chose to forego medical treatments and died at home instead of in the hospital on June 14, 2016.


Because Julianna loved tea parties, her parents decided to honor her spirit by throwing a whimsical party at the City Bible Church the following Saturday instead of a traditionally somber funeral.


Friends arrived wearing floral print dresses and shirts, and the hall was decorated with everything she loved, including bright colors, pink balloons, and lots of glitter. There was even a nail bar where guests could give each other manicures and a cupcake bar where they could decorate frosted treats.


One of the tables was filled with her old toys and tiny dolls, which the children who came were welcome to take home. And on one long table laden with tea sandwiches, there was a poster made by her grandfather, Tom Snow, which read, “Text from Julianna: Arrived in heaven! I am healed! Thank you for your love! Hope to see you in God’s time,” and a banner with a favorite saying coined by Julianna herself:


Complete Article HERE!

Funeral Home Gets A Therapy Dog To Help Clients Cope With Grief

By Dina Fantegrossi


Experiencing the loss of a loved one is devastating. It is the most stressful, disorienting and agonizing event we can suffer through. For some, the process of planning and attending the memorial services for their deceased companion is more than they can bear.

One White Plains, NY funeral home has found a way to ease that burden, if only for a short while.


Ballard-Durand Funeral Home has an extra staff member who provides a special kind of comfort to grieving clients. Her name is LuLu and she is a therapy dog. The majority of the facility’s clients have heard about their one-of-a-kind employee and specifically request Lulu’s services when they come in.


Matthew Fiorillo, the president of  Ballard-Durand Funeral Home, told NBC Today that he came up with the idea of getting a therapy dog during a particularly stressful visit to the airport. Fiorillo’s flight had been canceled and he was battling the anger and anxiety of the situation when a Maltese trotted past with its owner. Just the presence of a dog was enough to soothe his rising tension.

A wave of calmness washed over me and after it happened I was like, wow, that was really powerful!


Fiorillo began researching the logistics of incorporating a dog into the delicate practice of funeral services. Lulu the Goldendoodle officially came on board the team in May of 2015. Like many dogs, she instinctively senses where, when and how she’s needed most. Fiorillo told NBC Today:

She’ll park herself right next to an older person to let them pet her one minute and the next she’s prancing around with kids. It’s been really impressive to watch.


Lulu is a calm, sturdy beacon of support for those whose lives have spun suddenly out of control. Her presence allows otherwise stoic men to weep, and gives brokenhearted children the chance to laugh again.


Fiorillo also takes comfort in Lulu’s companionship. The funeral services profession is highly stressful and very emotional. Sometimes a replenishing hug from Lulu is just what he needs to help him release his own emotions and better serve his clients.

Humans need to touch. Even just petting her can be a subtle distraction from the tremendous amount of grief people are going through.


For those who take comfort in spirituality or the belief in a higher power, Lulu’s ability to “pray” is astonishing. Chelsea Sules lost her 25-year-old brother on June 17. Her grief was stifling, but within minutes of meeting Lulu, she found herself laughing once again. She told NBC Today:

Lulu was with us for both of the wakes and out of nowhere we see her kneeling on a bench with her head down and praying in front of my brother’s casket. It blew us away.


Want more Lulu? Visit the Ballard-Durand Funeral Home on Facebook to see more photos and inspiring messages of hope in the face of loss.

Complete Article HERE!

How To Bury a War

As the last Holocaust survivor in our family was lowered into the ground, a generation was laid to rest.



How do you bury a war?

You start at the Tom Sawyer diner in New Jersey. You sit with a gaggle of relatives, all impacted by their parents and their fists and their fears and their grief. You order matzoh balls and you order cobb salads. No one asks for the bacon held. There are tuna melts and there is cream soda and everyone is American now. This is the beginning.

Once full, and after a funeral where Orthodox Jews and random strangers, where people look like they came, as your uncle will quip, “from central casting,” or Amish country, will gather, you won’t know who they all are.

An old man with a walker will slither across the stage and talk about the stock exchange, about the way the dead played numbers. She, the carrier of war. She, your great Aunt Rayya. She, the very last of the witnesses of the Poland that brought all of you into being. He will cry and glow and make it clear he fell in love with her and her great mathematical mind and you and everyone else will cry without understanding anything.

You will drive in a procession with cousins and aunts and parents and uncles. You will want to climb out of the car even though it is moving.  The graveyard will swallow you into its maze, your parents will play Russian roulette on gravesite discovery — using their “intuition” to find your grandfather’s grave and leading you back to the Paramus, New Jersey highway. No one, without Rayya, will have a compass anymore.

This day, this burial, this earth, this six feet under will mark the beginning and the end, the birth and the death, and you will stand there wondering why you can’t keep your diner food down as they lower her, and the war that shaped her, into the earth. You look at your father and wonder about how he is feeling. Free?  It’s over now, right? No more witnesses to the procession of relatives, no more evidence that they really came in with their bayonets, shuffled them all down a railroad track, and slaughtered everyone, almost everyone, that came before you.

It’s just that there is one way to bury a war and it involves generations and shovels. It involves saying no to the multi-ethnic burial crew with their bulldozers waiting nearby. It means no eating at the grave and gender separate prayer. It means a new order has not yet arrived. Burying the hole. Burying the gap. Burying a life, a woman, a stock market genius, a mystic, a mother. Burying a war involves generations and shovels.

One of your cousins, the circus performer, he is only 12. You will take him near you and note the length of his ponytail. You will whisper in his ear, shovel in hand, “Don’t worry, she left her body already. We aren’t really burying your grandmother.” The shovels are at work by now, in the hands of your bloodline, of their parents. They are passing shovels around.

As dirt thumps on cedar the circus-performing 12-year-old gets brave and grabs his shovel and joins the thud and the drop and the way the group has silently agreed not just to bury this woman but to bury the women and men she knew and that came before her. It is a silent agreement. You will collectively seal the tomb of an entire generation.

You take another cousin close to your chest. She will cry in your arms. You will have to hand your shovel to someone else.

“Did you know,” you will whisper in her ear, “that your grandmother’s family wasn’t ever buried?” You will want to tell her about piles of bodies, about a state-sanctioned memorial of piles of stones, of the way Poland tried to remember the dead with the names of towns or how ironically the Nazis were the only ones dignified enough to list the full names and addresses of their dead.

“This is for them,” you will say as she snots on your chest, as your stomach lurches, as you see your father as a parentless adult child with a shovel.

“This is a proper burial,” your cousin will whisper. “She would have liked this.”

Before you know it the grave is full. There is a mound on top. There is no more dirt to move. Before you know it, she is underground and her soul is no longer here and you are all the new generation with no elder witness. This is when you will oust the rabbi. This is when the gender norms will split. This is about when everyone wants more time at the diner.

“Over my dead body,” you will imagine her saying, about having men and women pray together. You will stand over her dead body and recite Kaddish, the Jewish prayer for the dead, alongside the aunts, all the uncles, the cousins, the strangers.

You will have to run. The bathroom will be your only friend and you will lose your entire diner lunch in one fell swoop. “You will wipe your face, the sweat on your brow.  “Sleep with me tonight?” You hear this as you crack open the stall door. Your cousin will want you in her mother’s bed, “I’m scared,” she says.

You will be sick again. You will slide into the backseat of your parent’s car and whisper, “drive.”  The war is buried now.  You can go home now.  Everyone is now for themselves, carrying what it left behind.  Everyone is now for themselves.

Complete Article HERE!

‘Samseng’ son pens heartfelt poem as obituary for father

Mr Ong Tiong Yeow
Mr Ong Tiong Yeow with his mother Madam Han Boon Keng and his daughter Andromeda Wang.

SINGAPORE – Four hours – that was the time it took for businessman Ong Tiong Yeow to write his father’s obituary, a frank, heartfelt poem that has since gone viral on social media.

Four hours was also how long he took to pack his things and leave his family home as a 23-year-old, after his father Ong Peck Lye threw him out for standing up to him.

The elder Mr Ong, a wealthy rubber tyre businessman, died of pneumonia last Wednesday aged 82 and was cremated on Sunday (June 12).

He is survived by his wife Han Boon Keng, 82, a housewife, and three sons aged 46 to 54.

Mr Ong, 52, his second son, penned the tribute as a poem in first person, based on conversations he had with his father in his last days.

The verses depicted the complex humanity of his father, describing not just his charitable nature and flamboyance, but also his ego and conflicts with his family.

“I dared to live, and now I dared to die,” concludes the poem. “I am Ong Peck Lye.”

The obituary, which was in The Straits Times on Friday, was shared on Facebook by user Robin Rheaume and had garnered over 4,300 likes and 1,200 shares as of 8pm on Sunday.

Many were moved by the honesty of the poem, which admits that “My last days were dreary and weary” and that “I never got to see my father be/ A husband to my mother so/I made mistakes being both, trying to be as human as I know.”

The late Mr Ong was born in 1935 into poverty, fatherless from a young age. He worked his way from a slum along the Kallang River into prosperity after he co-founded the Stamford Tyres business empire.

He showered his children with privilege, but their relationships were complicated – at some point, he evicted each of them from their bungalow in Upper Serangoon.

Mr Ong said his older brother was thrown out after he converted to Christianity and married into a Eurasian family. His younger brother followed suit after coming out as gay. Both left Singapore, the oldest moving to Australia and the youngest to the United States.

Said Mr Ong: “My father died before he had the chance to ask my brothers to forgive him.”

He himself was ordered to leave when he fought with his father about the treatment of his mother.

He said: “The poem is also a tribute to my mum. My father bullied her, scolded her, kept mistresses – but she tahan (Malay for endure) until the end.”

Madam Han said in Mandarin: “We had good times and bad times. He was a generous man. I loved him and he loved me.”

Together, she and Mr Ong nursed her late husband through seven years of dementia.

Mr Ong said his father had asked him to move back home after a few years. “He got lonely,” he said.

He recalled returning laden with artwork from the beauty pageant franchising company he had set up, determined to show his father how successful he had been. “My father looked at me and said: ‘I don’t care about all this. I missed you.’

“After that, I did not leave his side again for 25 years.”

In the obituary, Mr Ong dubbed himself the “samseng” son, which is Malay for gangster. He said this was because in his youth, he was rebellious and did poorly in school. He was a prolific poet in his youth, having written more than 500 poems, though none were published.

When he was 16, his father bought him a pick-up truck and had him deliver goods after school from the godown to the docks. He would often have to go out to the ships and climb a few storeys up their sides to get the captain to sign the papers.

“He wanted to toughen me up, to show me the same hard life he had led,” said Mr Ong.

Mr Ong, who has a nine-year-old daughter, said he wrote the poem to share the lessons from his father’s life. “We have only one chance in life to be a husband and a father. We learn what we can from our parents, but we only have one chance to get it right ourselves.”


Complete Article HERE!

The Son of a Funeral-Planner Explores His Dad’s Grieving Process



Jesse grew up observing grief. He learned the most about it from his dad, a man who seemed not to express much at all. Here is how.

Lou was walking alone when he died of a heart attack. He was my dad’s brother-in-law, but they seemed more like best friends. My dad was Lou’s best man in his wedding, they’d talk politics, and they played music together. So, when my dad was put in charge of Lou’s funeral, it was no surprise that it became a multi-act musical tribute. Lou’s kids played, neighborhood kids got up, my mom and I performed.

We held in our tears during the funeral, since we had to perform. But then the final act began. It was a recording of Lou on piano and you could hear him breathing. I think it goes without saying that the last thing you expect at a funeral is to hear the dead person breathing. And so mom began to cry. I began to cry. Outside, as the funeral let out, we supported each other, sobbing. My dad remained inside, arguing with the sound crew.

At that point in our lives, my family had been been playing in my dad’s funeral band for several years. This was the fifth funeral my dad had planned. But what started as a genuine attempt to honor the departed had become hard for me to understand. I wondered if somewhere along the way to funeral director, my dad had lost his ability to grieve.

* * *

You could say it all begins with Johnnie. He was my dad’s older cousin and they were close. Johnnie was a charming kid who wore patches from yoyo competitions, did trick-dives off the diving board. When Johnnie would visit for the weekend, my dad looked forward to sharing a room.But there was also a darker side to Johnnie’s life. His mom was the daughter of a military officer and came from an abusive background, a tradition she seems to have passed on. There were rumors that she whipped him with belts and threw him against walls. When he was 1 year old, he had a broken leg, cause unknown.

Once Johnnie turned 18, he took off. No one heard from him for years, though snippets came down the grapevine that he had grown his hair out, discovered heroin. And then just like that, Johnny reentered my dad’s life. “I went out to one of the first fiddler conventions,” my dad told me, “and I got out there kind of early. I saw a guy dumpster-diving for food, and I took a closer look, and it was my cousin Johnnie.”

They spent the day together, talked about Johnnie’s family. My dad offered him a place to live and Johnnie accepted. But before long, alcohol starting disappearing from the house. I was a baby, my dad could be gone for long periods of time, and my mom, who had once dated an alcoholic, felt uneasy about the situation. “He had that, I don’t know how to say it, this jive, the lying, the part that I had been dealing with for so long with somebody who had that kind of addiction.”

My dad asked Johnnie to move out and once again he disappeared. From what we know, the rest of his life was spent doing odd jobs, battling addiction, getting arrested, and studying the Bible with a men’s Christian group. Then, on his 50th birthday, after relapsing, he went to Big Sur and killed himself under the stars. My dad took it hard. He asked Johnnie’s mother if they were going to have a funeral and she refused. She accused Johnnie of taking his own life just to get back at her. So my dad picked some songs, wrote a eulogy, and put on a funeral himself.

“Chat, rap, talk, spinning the yarn, that was Johnnie’s gift wasn’t it?” my dad’s eulogy began.

My mom and I joined my dad up front. We played an old folk song called “Hobo’s Lullaby” (I knew it because my dad would sing it to me before bed). The rest of the funeral went well. People stayed and ate dinner. Dad didn’t cry. He didn’t seem sad. He circulated around the room, calm, cracking jokes. But in the weeks that followed the funeral, he stopped singing “Hobo’s Lullaby.” When I’d ask for it before bed, he’d say, very nicely, “I can’t sing that song.”

I could tell something was going on for dad. I didn’t realize it then, but that song, “Hobo’s Lullaby,” was a brief window into my dad’s sadness. And then, just like that, it shut again.

* * *

A few years after Johnny’s death, my grandmother had a stroke and the process began again. This time the death took many months and my dad was put in charge of caretaking. Day by day, her body and mind broke down. He was by her side when she died. Soon after, we discovered that my grandmother had planned her own funeral. She not only requested specific songs, but specific people, including the family funeral band, to sing them. My dad arranged the performances and pushed us to practice. Then the day of the funeral arrived and to the surprise of everyone but my grandmother, 300 people arrived. We shook with nerves as we played. The audience clapped.

Afterwards, we packed the minivan with equipment and barely made the reception in the backyard of my grandfather’s house. People shook our hands and complimented us.

Once we played her funeral, the expectations were set. We played when my Uncle Tom died. We played when my grandfather died. And a funny thing happened, the more tragedy struck, the better we got. By the time Lou died, we were ready to really put on a show. But that window into my dad’s grief didn’t reopen and I was left wondering, once again, what was going on inside my dad’s head.

* * *

Years passed, we continued to play funerals. But as I got older, moved out of the house and struck out on my own, I began to resent my dad’s demands. I started dating, and I began to wonder why I had difficulty showing emotion. I knew it had something to do with my dad and that angered me. I decided: no more family band. I went on strike. And then a few more years passed, more dating, and I began revisiting the most important deaths and funerals of my childhood. And as I did so, I came to see my dad’s emotions, and mine, in a new light.

When I went to my mom and asked her about my dad, she told me something that happened to her the last time she was on stage. She is a very nervous person and when she’s performing with my dad, she searches the audience for someone she finds reassuring. But this time, during “Amazing Grace,” she did something different.

“I started looking around at different people and I could see that they were very moved. There was part of me that felt I did it right, using my own feelings to portray this song, to sing it, but also recognizing the effect my singing had.”

This got me thinking. Maybe, for my dad, performing is about experiencing grief. Maybe he can feel loss by seeing it in others; a kind of grief by proxy. Could that be it?

The final answer came later.

My girlfriend was driving and I put in a recording of the family band. As the music played, my parents’ voices coming through the tinny speakers, the emotion that swept over me came as a surprise. I felt proud. I watched my girlfriend’s face as the music played, hoping the music would bring tears to her eyes. “Listen to this one,” I said. “You can hear my uncle breathing. This one has my cousin on it.”

As I searched her face for a reaction, I remembered what my dad gets out of these performances. Yes, he feels pain and loss. He feels sadness. But it’s the performance that does that. It’s the performance that allows him to see his own pain through someone else’s eyes. And just like my dad, I was seeking this from my girlfriend’s reaction, this many years later.

And so, if I should lose someone close to me, here’s what you can do. Watch me play, let the music move you, and let me watch the music move you. Come up to me afterwards and let me shrug in modesty, crack a joke. Let me pretend I don’t care. But let me think, secretly: Yes, I’m the son of a funeral planner. Yes, I play in the Family Funeral Band.

Getting to know my dad in a deeper way allowed me to learn something about myself. We are not macho men, but we aren’t liberated men, either. Somehow, we learned to circumvent the emotional limitations of masculinity by performing our grief. It’s a work-around, we know.

It’s the best we can manage, for now.

Complete Article HERE!

What to Expect When You Come to the Funeral Home


After you’ve decided on a funeral home and are ready to begin the process of planning a funeral, your funeral director will ask you to come into the facilities for a visit. This personal contact with the people in charge of your loved one’s remains is an important step in the grieving process. Not only will you get to benefit from face-to-face interaction, but you’ll also be walked through each decision ahead of you.

Although every funeral home operates differently, most visits take on a fairly similar format. Expect yours to look something like this.

  • Initial Telephone Contact: Almost all funerals begin with a phone call to the funeral home of your choice. Your funeral director will tell you where to come to make the arrangements, set up an appointment, and let you know what types of items to bring with you. These often include financial papers as well as personal effects.

  • Meet the Staff: Your funeral director will be there to greet you when you arrive. This individual will become your primary point of contact for all the funeral plans you have ahead of you—and he or she will also become your partner in grief. Don’t be afraid to ask questions and accept support when you need it. That’s what the funeral director is there for.

  • Make Arrangements: After you arrive at the funeral home, you’ll most likely be led to a consultation room. Offering privacy and comfort, this room is where your funeral director will walk you through the process of making final arrangements. Even if the deceased had everything pre-planned or laid out in a will, the next-of-kin will be responsible for solidifying all decisions.

  • View Caskets/Options: While catalogs exist to help you visualize the details of the funeral, many funeral homes also have showrooms where you can see the caskets, linings, and urns for yourself. Many people find it comforting to make a tactile connection to these types of items.

  • Go Over Payment Plans: Paying for a funeral is a costly affair, even if the deceased set aside money for the final arrangements. Once you’ve decided on the type of funeral you’d like to hold, your funeral director will go over your payment options. No matter how difficult, this is a necessary conversation, and you will have to sign contracts before things can be set in motion.

  • A Moment to Reflect: It can be difficult to make these kinds of decisions all at once, so never be afraid to ask for a moment to yourself. No decisions have to be made during this initial consultation, so if you want time to talk to family members, have the contract looked over by a lawyer, or to slow down and think things through, you have every right to ask for time.

You also are not obligated to sign up for any services at all if you feel like the funeral home might not be a good fit. Although you may have to pay for transportation and service fees if you choose to have the body transferred to another home, you’re never locked into a funeral provider you don’t like until the contracts are signed.

Complete Article HERE!