The Vatican may protest, but traditional funerals are dead and buried

A new decree forbids Catholics to scatter ashes, and insists on the sanctity of the cemetery. But in terms of burial options, the Vatican are way behind the times


‘Burial space in UK graveyards is at a premium, so people are moving towards alternative trends in the disposal of bodies.’
‘Burial space in UK graveyards is at a premium, so people are moving towards alternative trends in the disposal of bodies.’

[J]ust in time for the prayers for the dead on All Souls’ Day next Wednesday, the Vatican has restated its position on what can be done with the ashes of the faithful. In short, no longer can Auntie be kept in a mantelpiece urn or grandad’s ashes scattered on his local team’s football pitch.

Concerned about the adoption of “new ideas contrary to the church’s faith” suggestive of “pantheism, naturalism or nihilism”, the Vatican document conflates ashes-scattering with a dangerously new age spirituality, stipulating instead that remains should be kept tangibly in a sacred place. The Catholic belief in bodily resurrection at the end of days makes this position unsurprising, and the church clearly has a vested interest in discouraging casual rituals outside their control, but it’s a proscription that doesn’t sit well with current trends in the UK. The Vatican may face a harder battle against creeping modernism in the matter of burial and funeral practices than they bargained for.

Burial space in the UK is at a premium. The Labour government’s 2007 plan to allow the reuse of graves was given the green light in London, but the toxicity of the topic has seen it languish “under review” ever since for the rest of England and Wales. A Scottish bill to permit such recycling was passed in March. But such measures won’t make a significant dent in the 75% cremation rate, and the scattering of ashes is still a huge trend – the Mountaineering Council of Scotland warns that the sheer volume of ashes on the most popular summits is such that it is causing dangerous chemical changes in the soil.

The Vatican rejects the idea of death as “the moment of fusion with Mother Nature or the universe, or as a stage in the cycle of regeneration” that scattering in such natural environments represents; it also bans the use of ashes in memorial trinkets. In recent years, ashes have been used to make everything from records to tattoo ink, and such gung-ho going-ons have become associated with rock’n’roll abandon, from Keith Richards snorting his father’s remains, to the metal fan whose ashes were scattered in the mosh pit earlier this year. US experimental act Negativland went so far as to issue their new album this month with a small bag of the ashes of band member Don Joyce. Irreverent stuff, but the modern history of cremation in the UK started in no less paganistic style, with the failed prosecution of druid William Price for burning the body of his baby son on a pyre in 1884, setting a legal precedent that saw the practice legalised in 1902.

But cremation may not be where the individualism and valorisation of the natural world the church so fears is really thriving. Alternative trends in the disposal of bodies are moving towards burial. The Association of Natural Burial Grounds (ANBG) represents more than 270 woodlands and meadows run as natural cemeteries in the UK; 20 years ago there was only one such facility. It is in natural burial that the idea of an unmediated return to the earth that the church has denounced is writ large, with bodies often buried without a coffin and the landscape managed sustainably to preserve its natural beauty.

Rosie Inman-Cook, head of the ANBG and of the Natural Death Centre (NDC), a charity that puts choice, family and respect for the environment at the centre of their funeral advice service, has written inspiringly about the wide range of funeral and burial options available in the UK today. In the words of Leedam Natural Heritage, which operates eight natural burial grounds, these alternatives “offer something gentler”. Indeed, this is all in a context of the rejection of the staid funerals of old, which belonged to a more emotionally buttoned-up past, with British Humanist Association-trained celebrants now conducting more than 7,000 funerals a year.

But more and more people are doing away with formal ceremony and professional celebrant altogether, instead taking the “direct-it-yourself” approach championed by Inman-Cook, or going for direct cremation, which involves no funeral at all. The fact that David Bowie chose this option cemented his image as the ultimate individualist, and the NDC has reported a rise in interest in this possibility.

With adherence to a faith’s doctrines always being on a sliding scale, and the Catholic faithful hardly being immune to changing fashions, the church perceives these new approaches to marking the end of our lives as a threat. But if they are worried about greater freedom and a more individualistic approach to death and burial, scattering of ashes is old news.

Complete Article HERE!

Archbishop Desmond Tutu ‘wants right to assisted death’


South Africa’s Archbishop Desmond Tutu has revealed that he wants to have the option of an assisted death.

The Nobel Peace Prize laureate and anti-apartheid campaigner said that he did “not wish to be kept alive at all costs”, writing in the Washington Post newspaper on his 85th birthday.

Mr Tutu came out in favour of assisted dying in 2014, without specifying if he personally wanted to have the choice.

He was hospitalised last month for surgery to treat recurring infections.

“I hope I am treated with compassion and allowed to pass on to the next phase of life’s journey in the manner of my choice,” Mr Tutu wrote.

“Regardless of what you might choose for yourself, why should you deny others the right to make this choice?

“For those suffering unbearably and coming to the end of their lives, merely knowing that an assisted death is open to them can provide immeasurable comfort.”

There is no specific legislation in South Africa governing assisted dying.

But in a landmark ruling in April 2015, a South African court granted a terminally ill man the right to die, prompting calls for a clarification of the laws in cases of assisted death.

Desmond Tutu and his wife have four children and seven grandchildren together
Desmond Tutu and his wife have four children and seven grandchildren together
  • Born 1931
  • 1970s: Became prominent as apartheid critic
  • 1984: Awarded Nobel Peace Prize
  • 1986: First black Archbishop of Cape Town
  • 1995: Appointed head of Truth and Reconciliation Commission
  • Became a fierce critic of South Africa’s ANC
  • Supports assisted dying for the terminally ill

Complete Article HERE!

How to Die Peacefully, Part 3 Making the Most of Your Last Days

Look for Part 1 and 2 of this series HERE and HERE!


1. Do what feels natural.

There’s no right or wrong way to die. For some people, it may be desirable to spend as much time with friends and family as possible, while others may find comfort in solitude, choosing to face things alone. Some people might want to kick up their heels and make the most of the last days, while others may want to go about the same basic routine.

  • Don’t be afraid to have fun, or to spend your time laughing. Nowhere does it say that the end of life is supposed to be a somber affair. If you want to do nothing more than watch your favorite football team and joke with your relatives, do so.
  • It’s your life. Surround yourself with the things and the people that you want to be surrounded with. Make your happiness, comfort, and peace your priority.[6]


2. Consider pulling away from your work responsibilities.

Few people receive a terminal diagnosis and wish they’d spent more time at the office, and one of the most common near-death regrets is of working too much and missing out. Try not to spend the time you have left, if there isn’t much, doing something you don’t want to be doing.

  • It’s unlikely you’ll be making a marked financial difference for your family in a short amount of time, so focus on what will make a difference: addressing the emotional needs of yourself and your family.
  • Alternatively, some people may find energy and comfort in going about the routine of work, especially if you’re feeling physically strong enough to do so. If it feels natural and reassuring to keep working, do it.


3. Meet with friends and loved ones.

One of the biggest regrets those who are facing death express is not staying in touch with old friends and relatives. Remedy this by taking the opportunity to spend a little time with them, one-on-one if possible, and catch up.

  • You don’t have to talk about what you’re going through if you don’t want to. Talk about your past, or focus on today. try to keep things as positive as you want them to be.
  • If you want to open up, do so. Express what you’re going through and release some of the grief you’re experiencing with people you trust.
  • Even if you don’t have much energy for laughter or conversation, just having them sit by your side can bring you worlds of comfort.
  • Depending on your family situation, it might be easier to meet with people in big shifts, seeing whole families at once, or you may prefer focusing on individual meetings. These have a tendency to help slow down time, focusing on quality, rather than quantity. This can be a great way of maximizing the time you have left.


4. Focus on unwinding your relationships. It’s common for those near death to want to uncomplicate complicated relationships. This can mean a variety of things, but it generally means trying to resolve disputes and go forward less burdened.

  • Make an effort to end any fights, arguments, or misunderstandings so that you can move forward. You shouldn’t engage in arguments and keep fighting, but rather, agree to disagree when necessary and end your relationships on a good note.
  • While you probably can’t be around the people you care about all of the time, you can plan to see them in shifts, so that you rarely feel alone.
  • If you can’t see your loved ones in person, making a phone call to someone you care about can make a difference as well.


5. Decide how much you want to reveal.

If your health situation is unknown to your friends and family, you may elect to let everyone know what’s going on and keep them up to date, or you may prefer keeping things private. There are advantages and disadvantages to each choice, and it’s something you’ll have to decide for yourself.

  • Letting people know can help you get closure and feel ready to move on. If you want to grieve together, open up and let your friends family in. You can tell them individually to make it feel more personal, and tell only those people that you really care about, or make it more public. This can make it difficult to avoid the issue and focus on lighter subjects over the next weeks and months, though, which is a negative for many people.
  • Keeping your situation private can help to maintain your dignity and privacy, a desirable thing for many people. While this might make it difficult to share and grieve together, if you feel like this is something you want to take on alone, you might consider keeping it private.


6. Try keeping things as light as possible.

Your final days probably shouldn’t be spent pouring over Nietzsche and contemplating the void, unless you’re the sort of person who finds pleasure in these things. Let yourself experience pleasure. Pour yourself a glass of whiskey, watch the sunset, sit with an old friend. Live your life.

  • When you face death, you don’t have to make an extra effort to come to terms with it. It will come to terms with you. Instead, use the time you have left to enjoy the people and things you enjoy, not to focus on death.


7. Be open with what you want from others.

One thing you may have to deal with is the fact that the people around you are having trouble coping with your death. They may look even more upset, hurt, and emotional than you feel. try to be as honest as seems kind with your family, when discussing your feelings and desires.

  • Though you may want nothing more from them than comfort, optimism, and support, you may find that they will be having trouble in their own grief. That’s perfectly natural. Accept that people are doing their best and that they’ll need a break sometimes, too. Try your best not to be angry or disappointed at how they’re reacting.
  • You may find that some of your loved ones are showing little emotion at all. Don’t ever think that this means that they don’t care. It just means that they are dealing with your health quietly, in their own way, and that they’re trying not to upset you with how they feel.


8. Talk to a religious advisor, if necessary.

Talking to your pastor, rabbi, or other religious leader can help you feel like you’re less alone in the world and that there’s a path laid out for you. Talking to religious friends, reading religious scriptures, or praying can help you find peace. If you’re well enough to attend your church, mosque, or synagogue, you can also find peace by spending more time with people in your religious community.

  • However, if you don’t subscribe to a religion, don’t feel compelled to change your mind and to believe in the afterlife after all if that’s not really true to who you are. End your life as you’ve lived it.

Complete Article HERE!

To Be Happier, Start Thinking More About Your Death



WANT a better 2016? Try thinking more about your impending demise.

Years ago on a visit to Thailand, I was surprised to learn that Buddhist monks often contemplate the photos of corpses in various stages of decay. The Buddha himself recommended corpse meditation. “This body, too,” students were taught to say about their own bodies, “such is its nature, such is its future, such its unavoidable fate.”

Paradoxically, this meditation on death is intended as a key to better living. It makes disciples aware of the transitory nature of their own physical lives and stimulates a realignment between momentary desires and existential goals. In other words, it makes one ask, “Am I making the right use of my scarce and precious life?”

In fact, most people suffer grave misalignment. In a 2004 article in the journal Science, a team of scholars, including the Nobel Prize winner Daniel Kahneman, surveyed a group of women to compare how much satisfaction they derived from their daily activities. Among voluntary activities, we might expect that choices would roughly align with satisfaction. Not so. The women reported deriving more satisfaction from prayer, worship and meditation than from watching television. Yet the average respondent spent more than five times as long watching TV as engaging in spiritual activities.

If anything, this study understates the misalignment problem. The American Time Use Survey from the Bureau of Labor Statistics shows that, in 2014, the average American adult spent four times longer watching television than “socializing and communicating,” and 20 times longer on TV than on “religious and spiritual activities.” The survey did not ask about hours surfing the web, but we can imagine a similar disparity.

This misalignment leads to ennui and regret. I’m reminded of a friend who was hopelessly addicted to British crossword puzzles (the ones with clues that seem inscrutable to Americans, such as, “The portly gentleman ate his cat, backwards”). A harmless pastime, right? My friend didn’t think so — he was so racked with guilt after wasting hours that he consulted a psychotherapist about how to quit. (The advice: Schedule a reasonable amount of time for crosswords and stop feeling guilty.)

While few people share my friend’s interest, many share his anxiety. Millions have resolved to waste less time in 2016 and have already failed. I imagine some readers of this article are filled with self-loathing because they just wasted 10 minutes on a listicle titled “Celebrities With Terrible Skin.”

Some might say that this reveals our true preferences for TV and clickbait over loved ones and God. But I believe it is an error in decision making. Our days tend to be an exercise in distraction. We think about the past and future more than the present; we are mentally in one place and physically in another. Without consciousness, we mindlessly blow the present moment on low-value activities.

The secret is not simply a resolution to stop wasting time, however. It is to find a systematic way to raise the scarcity of time to our consciousness.

Even if contemplating a corpse is a bit too much, you can still practice some of the Buddha’s wisdom resolving to live as if 2016 were your last year. Then remorselessly root out activities, small and large, that don’t pass the “last-year test.”

There are many creative ways to practice this test. For example, if you plan a summer vacation, consider what would you do for a week or two if this were your last opportunity. With whom would you reconnect and spend some time? Would you settle your soul on a silent retreat, or instead spend the time drunk in Cancún, Mexico?

If this year were your last, would you spend the next hour mindlessly checking your social media, or would you read something that uplifts you instead? Would you compose a snarky comment on this article, or use the time to call a friend to see how she is doing? Hey, I’m not judging here.

Some might think that the last-year test is impractical. As an acquaintance of mine joked, “If I had one year to live, I’d run up my credit cards.” In truth, he probably wouldn’t. In a new paper in the science journal PLOS One, two psychologists looked at the present value of money when people contemplated death. One might assume that when reminded of death, people would greatly value current spending over future spending. But that’s not how it turned out. Considering death actually made respondentsless likely to want to blow money now than other scenarios did.

Will cultivating awareness of the scarcity of your time make you grim and serious? Not at all. In fact, there is some evidence that contemplating death makes you funnier. Two scholars in 2013 published an academic paperdetailing research in which they subliminally primed people to think about either death or pain, and then asked them to caption cartoons. Outside raters found the death-primed participants’ captions to be funnier.

There’s still time to rethink your resolutions. Forget losing weight and saving money. Those are New Year’s resolutions for amateurs. This year, improve your alignment, and maybe get funnier in the process: Be fully alive now by meditating on your demise. Happy 2016!

Complete Article HERE!

Spiritual care at the end of life can add purpose and help maintain identity

By  & 

Spiritual care

In Australian nursing homes, older people are increasingly frail and being admitted to care later than they used to be. More than half of residents suffer from depression, yet psychiatrists and psychologists aren’t easily accessible, and pastoral or spiritual care is only available in a subset of homes.

Depression at the end of life is often associated with loss of meaning. Research shows people who suffer from such loss die earlier than those who maintain purpose. This can be helped by nurturing the “spirit” – a term that in this setting means more than an ethereal concept of the soul. Rather, spiritual care is an umbrella term for structures and processes that give someone meaning and purpose.

Caring for the spirit has strength in evidence. Spiritual care helps people cope in grief, crisis and ill health, and increases their ability to recover and keep living. It also has positive impacts on behaviour and emotional well-being, including for those with dementia.

Feeling hopeless

Many people have feelings of hopelessness when their physical, mental and social functions are diminished. A 95-year-old man may wonder if it’s worth going on living when his wife is dead, his children don’t visit anymore and he’s unable to do many things without help.

The suffering experienced in such situations can be understood in terms of threatening one’s “intactness” and mourning what has been lost, including self-identity.

Nursing home residents are increasingly frail and more than half experience depression.
Nursing home residents are increasingly frail and more than half experience depression.

Fear is also common among those facing death, but the particular nature of the fear is often unique. Some may be afraid of suffocating; others of ghosts. Some may even fear meeting their dead mother-in-law again.

What plagues people the most though is the thought of dying alone or being abandoned (though a significant minority express a preference to die alone). Anxiety about dying usually increases after losing a loved one.

But such losses can be transcended by encouraging people to pursue their own purpose for as long as they can; in other words, by caring for the spirit.

What is spiritual care?

Spiritual care has religious overtones that make it an uncomfortable concept in a secular health system. But such care can be useful for all – religious and non-religious – and can be provided by carers, psychologists and pastoral specialists alike.

Spirituality can be defined as “the way individuals seek and express meaning and purpose and the way they experience their connectedness to the moment, to self, to others, to nature, and to the significant or sacred”. Perhaps the Japanese term “ikigai” – meaning that which gives life significance or provides a reason to get up in the morning – most closely encompasses spirituality in the context of spiritual care.

Guidelines for spiritual care in government organisations, provided by the National Health Services in Scotland and Wales, note that it starts with encouraging human contact in a compassionate relationship and moves in whatever direction need requires. Spiritual needs are therefore met through tailoring components of care to the person’s background and wishes.

Spiritual care can involve having your dog nearby or being surrounded by your favourite sports team regalia.
Spiritual care can involve having your dog nearby or being surrounded by your favourite sports team regalia.

For instance, one person requested that her favourite football team regalia be placed around her room as she was dying. Another wanted her dog to stay with her in her last hours. Supporting these facets of identity can facilitate meaning and transcend the losses and anxiety associated with dying.

Spiritual care can include a spiritual assessment, for which a number of tools are available that clarify, for instance, a person’s value systems. Such assessments would be reviewed regularly as a person’s condition and spiritual needs can change.

Some people may seek religion as they near the end of their lives, or after a traumatic event, while others who have had lifelong relationships with a church can abandon their faith at this stage.

Other components of spiritual care can include allowing people to access and recount their life story; getting to know them, being present with them, understanding what is sacred to them and helping them to connect with it; and mindfulness and meditation. For those who seek out religious rituals, spiritual care can include reading scripture and praying.

Spiritual care in the health system

Psychologists or pastoral care practitioners may only visit residential homes infrequently because of cost or scarce resources. To receive successful spiritual care, a person living in a residential home needs to develop a trusting relationship with their carer.

For those who seek out religious rituals, spiritual care can include reading scripture and praying.
For those who seek out religious rituals, spiritual care can include reading scripture and praying.

This can best be done through a buddy system so frail residents can get to know an individual staff member rather than being looked after by the usual revolving door of staff.

Our reductionist health care model is not set up to support people in this way. Slowing down to address existential questions does not easily reconcile with frontline staff’s poverty of time. But health care settings around the world, including Scotland and Wales, the United States and the Netherlands, are starting to acknowledge the importance of spiritual care by issuing guidelines in this area.

In Australia, comprehensive spiritual care guidelines for aged care are being piloted in residential and home care organisations in early 2016.

People with chronic mental illness, the elderly, the frail and the disabled have the right to comprehensive health care despite their needs often being complex, time-consuming and expensive.

Finding meaning at all stages of life, including during the process of dying, is a challenging concept. It seems easier to get death over with as quickly as possible. But the development of new spiritual care guidelines brings us one step closer to supporting a meaningful existence right up to death.

Complete Article HERE!

Widow confronts grief by making sleeping mats for street people

By Ariell Marsh

Virgina Wingate crochets sleeping mats for homeless people out of plastic grocery bags in her Daytona Beach apartment.
Virgina Wingate crochets sleeping mats for homeless people out of plastic grocery bags in her Daytona Beach apartment.


Virginia Wingate discovered the best form of therapy after her husband’s death from a stroke just over a year ago.

The 68-year-old widow worked through her grief by turning a longtime hobby into a ministry. She now crochets mats that are made from plastic grocery bags for homeless men and women on the streets of Daytona Beach. She’s made 30 of the 6-foot-long lightweight, waterproof mats so far.

“Crocheting has become an important part of my life since my husband’s death because it keeps me busy and happy knowing that I’m helping someone else,” says Wingate.  “It’s therapy for me because it helps me mentally so that I don’t have a breakdown.”

Wingate has been crocheting since she was 15. She became interested in the art when she took a visit to her grandmother’s house and saw some of the doilies she had lying around.

“I saw the most beautiful doilies that had the most gorgeous waves,” says Wingate. “Nobody in my family knew how to crochet, but I wanted to learn so badly.”

Wingate taught herself how to create crocheted patterns from a learn-how-to book. Soon after, she learned more about the art from four crocheters whom she knew.

“I’m just a country girl who loves to create her own things,” says Wingate.

Before her husband died, Wingate mostly crocheted things like dresses, doilies, and blankets.

In January 2015, she started making the plastic bag mats. She turned to her church, First Christian Church Daytona (Disciples of Christ), for a worthwhile cause to occupy her after husband’s death. Billie Lynch, chairwoman of the congregation’s outreach committee, had heard about the plastic bag mats. Knowing Wingate was an avid crocheter, Lynch asked her if she would be interested in making them for homeless people. With eagerness, Wingate got started on making these unique works of art. She took a pattern that had been used by others and made it her own by creating a different design and a “strap” for the homeless to easily transport the rolled-up mat.

The sleeping mats are made of grocery store plastic bags cut into strips that are tied together to become “plarn” — plastic yarn. Wingate uses any plastic shopping bags, except the ones that are too big or too small, that she receives from shopping or from neighbors. The mats are usually about six feet long. Between 500 to 700 bags are needed to make each mat. They take about two weeks for Wingate to complete and are waterproof and bug-free.

According to Lynch, putting together those strips of plastic bags is a challenge because when you stack plastic it tends to slide, but she says that Wingate does an amazing job making them.

“Her work looks like it was done by a machine as opposed to handmade,” says Lynch.

Once Wingate is done making them, she takes them to First Christian Church Daytona and from there Pastor Dave Troxler takes them to Halifax Urban Ministries to be distributed to the homeless.

Lynch says she knows a few local churches make the mats as a group ministry, but that Wingate’s individual efforts are impressive.

“This is one talented woman who has found her way to serve God … quietly and unassumingly,” Lynch says.

Complete Article HERE!

Many Christian pastors offer bad theology about death, suffering


When Mindy Corporon was 15 years old her friend Kyle, then 16, died in a car wreck.

“This was a devastating moment in my young life and our family,” says Corporon. “My dad, being the family doctor, pronounced him dead … I asked my pastor a few weeks later why this happened. He told me it was God’s will. I struggled for years trying to understand how God would want to have killed Kyle. As an adult, I came to learn that God gave man free will and although there are plans for us in God’s eyes, we disappoint him often with the poor choices we make. God didn’t kill Kyle. God doesn’t want babies to die of illness or starvation or gunshots.”001

Corporon, a member of a United Methodist Church, can say this now after her own son and father were murdered by a neo-Nazi white supremacist at the Jewish Community Center in suburban Kansas City on Palm Sunday of 2014. That very night, she spoke to a large community prayer vigil at which I also was a speaker, and she told the people there not to blame God for this catastrophe.

The hard truth is that Corporon’s pastor in her childhood offered her terrible theology. The harder truth is that many Christian pastors — Protestant, Catholic, Orthodox and others — sometimes continue to offer bad theology about suffering, pain and death. Beyond that, those of us who are not clergy frequently contribute to the problem by mouthing theological inanities.

“God helps those who help themselves,” we tell each other, using words not found in the biblical witness. In fact, those words are almost exactly the opposite of what Christianity teaches, which is that God helps those who can’t help themselves. God has what we’ve come to call a preferential option for the poor.

As Pope Francis has been reminding the world since he was elected, God’s heart breaks and God weeps over the needy, the poor, the sick, the helpless. And what breaks God’s heart surely should break ours.

The bogus theology that Mindy Corporon got dumped on her as a teenager was a pastor’s effort to answer what theologians call the terribly difficult question of theodicy: If God is good and all powerful, why is there evil and suffering in the world?

christian deathThere is no fully satisfying, exhaustive answer to that question. In fact, the theodicy question is the open wound of religion, and all theodicies finally fail. But if the question has no thorough answer, that doesn’t mean there can be no response to it.

The Christian response can be this: I don’t know why evil and suffering exist, but I will represent Christ to those who are suffering. I will mediate the grace of God to those in pain. I will be a channel of God’s love to those for whom life has turned dark and hopeless.

Mindy Corporon has chosen to respond in exactly that way generous, loving way even though she and her family are among those grieving because of the Palm Sunday murders of her son, father and another woman (all Christians, though the shooter said he was trying to kill Jews).

Mindy has created a movement to promote love and kindness. She calls it “Seven Days: Make a Ripple, Change the World,” and again this year she and her supporters have designed a series of activities in April to promote the uplifting values needed to stand against the hate that killed three people whom the killer thought were Jews.

A friend who used to be a Lutheran pastor but now is Catholic once gave a sermon quoting a man who said the accidental death of his grandson was God’s will. But someone confronted him about that, telling him not to blame God for the devil’s work.

Whatever you believe about the devil, that’s good advice — advice Mindy Corporon understands deeply.

Complete Article HERE!