More choice is on the way

Recompose, forest w sunflowers

More choice for the disposal of body remains is a step closer, thanks to a group of dedicated public benefit enterprise people in Washington, USA.  Katrina Spade is the driver behind this new way of dealing with our bodies post death.  For people wishing to reduce their ecological impact this is a fantastic advancement.  No longer will the choice be limited to burial or cremation – there will be recomposition as well.

How far away is the next question?  And how long before this idea reaches Australia is yet another question.  At least the idea has been floated and given approval in one country.  Hopefully others will follow.

This is how we received the news by email this week:

We’ve done it! On April 9, 2019, the Washington State House of Representatives voted to pass SB5001. This historic bill legalizes two sustainable death care options, alkaline hydrolysis and “natural organic reduction” (formerly “recomposition”.) This morning, the Senate concurred on the amendments made during the session, and the bill officially passed legislature. In the next few days, the bill will go to the desk of Governor Jay Inslee to be signed into law.

Natural organic reduction is defined as the “contained, accelerated conversion of human remains into soil.” Over the past several years, Recompose has developed a system that does just that, and we are overjoyed that we will soon be able to offer our service in the State of Washington. 

Natural organic reduction is the conversion of human remains into soil…but what does this really mean? Well, what happens to a body inside a Recompose System is a lot like what happens on the forest floor. With the right mix of carbon, nitrogen, and oxygen, natural microbial activity transforms dead organic material into humified matter (aka compost.)

Compost is an important building-block of healthy soil, which, of course is the basis for all of life on earth. But this beautiful cycle of life and death does more than create healthy soil, it sequesters carbon as well.

For each person who chooses the Recompose process over cremation or burial, we save approximately as much carbon as is absorbed by an acre of pine forest over an entire year.

Recompose, facility

All of this indicates that our end-of-life decisions have a significant impact on the planet. What we choose to do with our bodies after we die truly matters for future generations. We see this as a beautiful thing.

For more go to the website at:

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Bodies as bones as landscapes 

Life, death and landscapes

People, Jo Dacombe

Every now and again for whatever reason, we have those thoughts about where we fit into the scheme of things; the meaning of life; perhaps that we are in fact mortal beings; or even that there is little difference between us and the apes.

Jo Dacombe, an artist exploring sense of place, layers of history and the power of objects has had those thoughts and come up with some fascinating exhibitions using a variety of media.  One of them is bones.

“I often consider the continuum of time, and how the present is part of the past and the future, one influencing the other, both forwards and backwards,” writes Jo in: Bone Landscapes (Climate Cultures. 11th March 2019).

“Commissioned by Leicestershire Museums to create Myth Maps in 2011, in my proposal presentation for the project I drew a timeline on a sheet of transparent acetate. I held this up and explained that we experience time in a linear way, because of the way we think about it (by ‘we’ I refer to Western thinking; there are other ways of perceiving time, such as cyclical time; perhaps a subject for a future post). Then I folded up the timeline, so that you could still see the line but now it was concertinaed onto itself, and different parts of the timeline could be seen in the same place, one on top of each other. This, I explained, is how time is contained in a landscape.”

Digging deeper into what the future might look like she discovered that there is an: “the interrelationship between ourselves as material beings in a material landscape, and our modern world of mass production. It is to do with our mass production of food and how this affects what our bodies are made of.”

A fellow researcher is Dr Richard Thomas, a zooarchaeologist who has: “…  proposed the idea that one of the markers of the Anthropocene that future archaeologists will discover will be broiler chicken bones. The broiler chicken has a skeleton that is vastly accelerated in its growth, genetically engineered to reach huge proportions within a short life span in order to feed ever-increasing human populations across the world, cheaply. As he explains, there will be thousands of millions of broiler chicken bones deposited into the landscape over our time:

Over 65.8 billion meat-chicken carcasses were consumed globally in 2016 and this is set to continue rising… The contrast between the lifespan of the ancestral red jungle fowl (3 years to 11 years in captivity) and that of broilers means that the potential rate of carcass accumulation of chickens is unprecedented in the natural world.”

It all sounds bizarre.  Then again on reflection, so many things we are now engaging in our forebears would have said: ‘Don’t go there if you don’t want there to be these consequences.’

Says Dacombe: “I cannot imagine the piling of chicken bones of that scale, even for only one year of consumption. But humans have been eating animals and leaving their carcasses and bones for many centuries, and we do not find our landscapes overrun with bones because they decay and return to the earth. Won’t this happen with chicken bones too?

“Perhaps not, because our way of disposing of so much rubbish has changed; we put this in landfill, piling up all our waste in one place, which changes the way that they degrade. As Cullen Murphy and William Rajthe have written in Rubbish! The archaeology of garbage, “organic materials are often well preserved within landfill deposits, where anaerobic conditions mean that bones ‘do not so much degrade as mummify’”.

“In working with Richard, I came to realise that landscapes and bones, and therefore us, are inextricably linked. When we die, we become deposits in a landscape, and our bones become part of the layers in the earth. But before that, our bones are created from our environment; the minerals within the food and water we eat and drink and in the landscapes that we inhabit, actually create our bones. Archaeologists can work out the location of where an animal or human has been living by analysing the isotopes contained in the bones that they excavate.

We are, in fact, a part of our landscape in a material way, not just a spiritual way.

We are reshaping and reconstituting our landscape by the deposits that we make, including broiler chicken bones. But by doing this, perhaps we are reconstituting ourselves too. As our environment changes, how will we evolve as a part of this interconnected recycling of material that is the process of life, death and landscape?

Future landscapes will be made of bones, and our bones are made of our landscapes…

 As our landscapes become transformed by the plastic and metal remains of our technological objects, what will we become as animals living on and made from our landscapes?”

Food for thought.  A good reason to invite some family and friends over for dinner with a conversation reflecting on our ways of living, dying and leaving a legacy – of bones?

The full story: Bodies as bones as landscapes

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Less choice as funeral group gobbles up small regional providers

Book, 10 things funeral business doesnt

Note: This is a US publication, but the same principles apply.  By the way, it’s not a home – no one lives there.

The funeral industry is a massive for profit commercial activity with a 100% assured customer base. We all die. We all rely on someone, usually family, to dispose of our bodily remains.

In rural and regional Australia this end-of-life service has for many many years been delivered by local family operated funeral providers.  This is all about to change.  And no-one will know about it unless they have the curiosity to look behind the label.

Branding has become an important part of business these days.  Maintaining a well known and respected name can be worth millions.  This is not lost on the giant corporate funeral undertaker, Invocare.

With business slowing in the larger cities and with older people moving to large regional centres, Invocare has made the strategic business decision to buy up funeral providers in the ‘bush’.

Don’t be surprised if some old names get rebadged as Simplicity or White Lady. Equally don’t be surprised if existing business names remain – with the Invocare name shunted off into small print at the bottom of the page.

Invocare already has a multiplicity of brands across Australia.  The big bloke in the funeral industry is simply widening its net of shop fronts, under the guise of giving customers more choice, to include your locally owned and operated family company.

This change in the ownership make up of Australia’s funeral industry is highlighted by Nick Bonyhady (With deaths slowing down, funeral group targets tree and sea changers, Business, SMH. February 22, 2019)

InvoCare reported a challenging year in its 2018 earnings report, issued on Friday. Revenue was roughly flat and profit was down as the company grappled with a mild flu season and effective vaccination program, writes Bonyhady.

Chief Executive Martin Earp said: “We’ve always said the market can fluctuate by plus or minus 5 per cent and we saw a downturn by about 3 per cent last year and that had an impact on our performance.”

“Generally speaking, the number of deaths does revert back to the long-term trend and the long-term trend is very positive for the industry with the number of deaths forecast to increase from 160,000 last year to 240,000 in 2034,” he said.

Nick Bonyhady reports that:  ‘InvoCare has bought funeral homes in Grafton and Port Macquarie in NSW, Ballarat in Victoria, Bunbury in Western Australia and Launceston in Tasmania, all of which have a large cohort of retirees.  … According to the company, three of the areas it is targeting for more acquisitions are projected to have much older populations than the rest of the country by 2036.’

Die-alogue Cafe has always been a strong advocate for doing your own research – get at least three quotes (make sure they don’t all have the same corporate investor behind the name), get a basics only quote and check what different providers include for the basic price – some include what others class as extras (and these can add up).

A bit of shopping around for what after all is an essential ‘service’ containing ‘products’ like coffins and flowers, makes good sense. Not only does it minimise costs, by being involved it helps us deal with the reality of the death and the need to get on with life, just as our forebears have done over the centuries before they could outsource this most normal of events within the human life cycle.

Price breakdown

This turning away from caring for our own by outsourcing funeral services to strangers, is not lost on the profit driven world of big business: Nick Bonyhady again: ‘A report by the government’s Institute of Health and Welfare found people in regional areas were more likely to smoke, less likely to get enough exercise and more likely to be overweight or obese than those who live in major cities.’

It would be rare to find a funeral company that has an interest in healthy lifestyles or minimising end-of-life medical and funeral bills or being hands on carers of the bodies of loved ones as was the norm in times past.

This is not about giving people what they want, it’s about creating a narrative that we can only get what we want by outsourcing it to a third party who supposedly has our best interests at heart – because it’s “oh so stressful and complicated.”  There is a big but here. It is this. When we peel back the veil another reality comes into focus – that we are creatures of the earth and that we go the same way as all other mammals.  The only difference is the way we dress it up.

Dignity and respect are not price dependent, but that’s not what a lot of people want to hear, and the Invocares of this world are more than happy to oblige.

For the full story click on the link:  Fewer people die in the cities

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Possession takes on a new meaning if we’re only passing through

Earth does not belong to us

We live at a time, as we’ve noted before, when we pride ourselves as having outlived myths.  We’ve grown out of believing in fairytales, we’re big people, grownups and don’t believe in the Santa Claus stuff anymore.  At least that’s the story we tell ourselves. Which of course is a myth.  If it were true, we wouldn’t fall for the story that the economy can grow – money grows on trees?  You must be dreaming.  But that’s what we believe if we subscribe to economic growth not being at the expense of nature’s capital contribution to our way of life. As Herman Daly reminds us: “You can’t grow a finite planet.”

If you can’t get something for nothing (the law of thermodynamics), but we act as if we can, then we believe in pixies at the bottom of the garden.

By extension we have also been fed the myth of possession.  It has never been fact, but we live as if it is.  All we can ever do is have in our ‘possession’ for supposedly safe keeping, a product or idea for a period of time within our lifetimes, before we have to relinquish this ‘possession’ and pass it on to the next baton carrier.  It is for this reason that some people think that intergeneration equity is compromised when one generation of ‘possessors’ mistreats ‘their possession’ such that it is not fit for purpose come the next generation.

It becomes more complicated when we attach emotional, sentimental value to items that are manufactured and in some ways non-essentials. These are – in the great scheme of things – not commons.  The commons include air, water, soil, forests, native birds and mammals. There are no substitutes for these. They are beyond pricing and yet when we give them no value we consider them up for grabs – especially in the case of mammals and the habitat they depend on for survival.

This notion of possession hit home in an article by David Astle: Yours to use, not own, individual ownership is the new luxury, or the old norm (SMH 29 Dec 2019).  “Ownership is a different animal in this digital age,” says Astle.  So much of what we think we own we in fact lease or buy time on or buy units of – take phone calls and data downloads as an example, we don’t own the telecommunications infrastructure, we buy time or megabytes to enable us to have a conversation or read a report.

“Buying therefore is not the same as buying in bygone days. The verb derives from Old English, bycgan – to acquire the possession of, in exchange for something of equivalent value. Sounds almost quaint, doesn’t it? Economists dub the traditional sense of buying as pre-purchasing future usage, gaining control over an item in perpetuity. Before the web intervened, owning an item meant you could lend the item out. That’s less the case anymore.”

We have to ask ourselves if we are happy about what we are creating. Is the society in service to the economy or the other way around?

“Call them purchases, if that lends solace, but the majority of things we own, we use by arrangement. We tick the box to play the song, the episode, operate the firmware, take the ride, the holiday. Ten years back, this truth was underlined when Amazon deleted copies of 1984, the e-version download, alarming customers under the delusion they’d owned Orwell’s nightmare for multiple visits. While remunerations were enacted, the sense of evanescence (a) was retained.”

Take the case of grave sites.  Once upon a time (how romantic it sounds) we would buy a plot of land in perpetuity.  These days we lease or rent a plot for 25 years and if the relatives don’t want to fork out the price of buying it again, well it goes back into the pool so to speak to get on-sold to the next family looking for a plot to bury their beloved.  Of course when we stop and think about it, the perpetuity was never forever.  If forever is for 10,000 years (or in the case of indigenous culture 65,000 years) then it was never going to be for that long.

So let’s talk about forever with our eyes wide open.  Forever in terms of possession and ownership is a myth. When we start to consider deep time and deep history we need to start thinking as our Aboriginal cousins think – not as being separate and apart from the rivers and the trees and the millions of non-human species we share this amazing earth with, but one of them.  I am not in possession of my life separate from those plants and animals that nourish and enrich my life.

It should come as a great relief to not have to work ourselves into the ground (no pun intended) so that we can be in possession of all this stuff that in the grand scheme of things we can’t possibly possess for longer than our fleeting life-times.

Philosophers have grappled with this over the centuries, cautioning against placing too much emphasis on the material aspects of our lives – acquiring stuff at the expense of building social and community connections and having a deep appreciation of the natural world. It was Einstein who said: “Look deep into nature and then you will understand everything better.” Inspiration for his writings, came from his long regular walks in the forest – these were his thinking walks.

People, Albert Einstein

I guess the take home lesson from this story is that the best and most profound discoveries such as those made by Einstein were not for possessing.  He didn’t keep them to himself but shared them with us all.  They were not intellectual property as we know it today.  They existed well before Einstein came along. They were universal truths that became known to us as a result of thinking walks.

Most able bodied people possess the ability to take one of these thinking walks.  Who knows what might come of this time walking in the footsteps of those who have walked this way before.

(a) After you lose a loved one, often you’re gripped with a fear of evanescence, or the rapid fading from sight or memory of that person.  Evanescence comes from the  Latin  evanescere  meaning “disappear, vanish.” Something that possesses qualities of evanescence, has a quality of disappearing or vanishing. The evanescence of a shooting star makes it hard to catch — it’s there one moment and gone the next. Evanescence is a word typically used to describe an event that fades from sight or memory, or sometimes the fleeting quality of worldly success.
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What to do when there is nothing more you can do

People, Troy Thornton

It’s all very well to say let nature takes its course.  It’s all very well to take what some see as the high moral ground, but when this impacts on another persons right to die with dignity, then we say it’s another matter.  There needs to be choice.

This story appeared on the ABC News website: ‘We should be able to choose’: Australian firefighter Troy Thornton dies in Swiss euthanasia clinic  (23.02.2019 – see link at the end of this post).   We quote: The Victorian man – Troy Thornton, 54 – said he wanted the nation to think deeply about the concept of dying well, and to challenge the notion that choosing death is somehow wrong.

He wanted to legally end his life at home in Australia, with all those he loved around him. But despite Victoria becoming the first state to legalise voluntary assisted dying, he did not qualify.

His disease — multiple system atrophy — is a progressive neurodegenerative disorder. There are no treatments and there is no prospect of recovery, but death can take years.

That’s where the Victorian laws fall down, Mr Thornton said. He could not find two doctors willing to say with absolute certainty that he would die within 12 months, which in his case is a condition to access the legislation.

To read the full story go to: Troy Thornton dies in Swiss clinic

In a similar vein comes the story by Anna Kelsey-Sugg and Joanna Crothers  (How Guy Kennaway came around to the idea of helping his mother die, ABC RN program Life Matters 24.02.2019) in which they report:  “Kennaway, an English author in his 60s, has been thinking more about death since his elderly mother, Susie, (aged 88) asked him to one day help her die.”

People, Guy Kennaway

“Guy Kennaway envisages a future where people preparing to die will hire ‘departure party’ planners for a literal last hurrah.

“As there will be forthcoming marriages and christenings in the newspapers, there will be forthcoming deaths, and we can have any ceremony we want, just like with weddings,” he says.

Susie had watched her husband Stanley — Kennaway’s stepfather — die in exactly the way she didn’t want to. Kennaway describes it as a “modern medical death”; protracted and “really painful”.

He says family surrounded Stanley in his last days, thinking, “Oh golly, I love him very much but it really is time now”. ….  “And then the door would fly open and the nurses and the doctor would fly in, and they were wonderful people [but] they would gee him up and keep him going for another few days,” he says.

AUDIO: Hear more of Guy Kennaway’s views on assisted dying.(Life Matters)

The process exhausted everyone, including Stanley.  “He was saying, ‘I want to die’, and there was no way of him dying,” Kennaway says.

Susie was “really sideswiped” by the experience, Kennaway says, and resolved that her own death would be different.  “She took me aside and she said, ‘This is what I’m talking about. I don’t ever want this to happen to me. I don’t want to go through this’.”

To get the full story, click the following link: Guy Kennaway and the idea of helping his mother die

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The nightly annihilation before I wake


“When we prepare for sleep, we strip ourselves of the accoutrements of selfhood: our clothes, glasses, make-up and false teeth. We bid goodbye to the people around us, lie down in stillness and return to our original solitary nakedness. As Heraclitus, the Greek philosophy observed: ‘The waking have one common world, but the sleeping turn aside each unto a world of his own’. Once the lights are out, and our eyes are closed, even the world as we’ve known it vanishes and the familiar ‘I’ evaporates. It is the nightly annihilation of daytime awareness, what Shakespeare called ‘the death of each day’s life’.  ….  Thomas Edison called it ‘an absurdity, a bad habit’.”  …

In The Secret Life of Sleep, Kat Duff, delves into why it is so important to get a good nights sleep.  She also reveals how some of us are having a lot of trouble coming to terms with sleep in case we never wake up.

Perhaps if we can appreciate that life is part of a greater whole, that having a sense of deep history, that knowing we are but one of billions of life forms that all transition from one form to another, we can better appreciate the need for sleep and the tenuous hold we have on life – because for a small number of people a normal nights sleep metamorphs into death and the next stage of this earths life.

“Whether we welcome or resist sleep, there is no escaping it. The longer we go without sleep, the stronger its power to overcome us …. Brief episodes of what sleep scientists call microsleep which last anywhere from a fraction of a second to thirty seconds, begin to intrude upon our waking awareness …”

Kat Duff notes that: “There is an affinity between falling asleep and dying that cannot be ignored. In fact the word sleep is commonly used as a euphemism for ‘death’; we speak of putting a pet to sleep, rather than asking a veterinarian to (kindly) kill him or her. As the Spanish writer Cervantes noted: ‘There is very little difference between a man in his first sleep and a man in his last sleep.’ Both involve lying down and staying still.”

What started out as a fascination with sleep expressed in an online blog has been expanded into this book covering all aspects of the subject.

People, Kat D Sleep Hypnos, Thanatos

Duff continues: “Death and sleep have long been linked. In the ancient Greek cosmology, Hypnos, the god of Sleep, and Thanatos, the god of Death, are twin brothers.  …. In some Hindu and Buddhist traditions, sleep is viewed as a spiritual practice that prepares us for the shifts in consciousness required after death …”

“It comes as no surprise then,” says Duff, “that bedtime prayers address the mortal dangers of sleep, like the popular poems first recorded in 1160AD:

Now I lay me down to sleep

I pray the Lord my soul to keep

If I should die before I wake

I pray the Lord my soul to take.

For those of us working in the end-of-life space we sometimes ask people to contemplate the reality of this piece of prose by taking it to heart, asking – If I should die before I wake ……  (write a short note to family and friends about whatever you think is important or words that you would like to have said but didn’t because of dying before waking).

To help us understand death it can sometimes be helpful to see it from a child’s perspective.

The Snoozeletter


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Resilience through ritual

resilience thru rituals, yes

There is a saying that goes: Failing to plan is like planning to fail.  That failure on our part has knock on effects that often results in ‘grief’ of some kind.

Grieving is a natural and to be expected emotion occurring after a death or loss of capacity.  How we do grieving, how we work through this time can greatly affect how we live going forward (to use the current jargon).

In times past it was taken as given that depending on family or cultural traditions particular rituals would be practiced to mark a death – the absence or non-presence of the person who has died.

These rituals are being shunned by families who are choosing to, as they put it, get on with life as if to suggest that this significant event never happened.  It’s a strange, somewhat odd approach when compared with the preparation and ritual (celebration) that takes place at the time of birth.   Considering that birth follows a 9 month preparation period it seems appropriate that after years – up to 80 or 90 in many cases – the extinguishing of a life is shrugged off as a non-event.  It seems disproportionate to the effort put into maintaining life over all this time.

While the reasoning for dismissing the opportunity for ritual boils down to ‘getting on with life’ the reality is that rituals actually build resilience and our capacity to cope with the stresses and strains of life. While rituals can be practised in a solitary way – sitting alone on a hill somewhere – it has its greatest benefit when practiced in community.  And part of the benefit of rituals is the act of planning and arranging such events.

people, ari honarvarThis story from Ari Honarvar Resilience Through Rituals, A grounding source for connection essential to our mental health, (Yes! No.88, Winter 2019) throws some light on why rituals still have meaning and are still  practiced across the world. “I don’t know if I could have survived seven years of my childhood without the soul-saving rituals of my Persian culture,” says Honarvar. “I grew up in the midst of the Iran-Iraq War, which ended up killing a million people. Besides the horrors of war, freedom of thought and expression were severely restricted in Iran after the Islamic revolution.”

So many rights were lost, but we .. “clung to 3,500-year-old Zoroastrian ceremonies that correspond to the seasons.”

“Rituals, which are a series of actions performed in a specific way, have been part of human existence for thousands of years. They are not habits.”  For one explanation about the difference, see: Three ways Rituals are Different from Habits.

Cristine Legare, psychology professor at the University of Texas, Austin (USA), says, “Rituals signify transition points in the individual life span and provide psychologically meaningful ways to participate in the beliefs and practices of the community.”

Honarvar goes on to report that, “While it’s not clear exactly how they help, rituals reduce anxiety, improve performance and build confidence.”

“According to Andrew Newborg, associate director of research at the Marcus Institute of Integrative Health, rituals lower cortisol levels, which in turn lower heart rate and blood pressure and increase immune system function.”

“We live in the midst of a loneliness epidemic where the lack of belonging and community has been linked to high suicide rates and an increased sense of despair.  …  while more Americans (read Australians) have become disillusioned with organised religion, as a broad and rapidly rising demographic consider themselves spiritual but not religious … many shared cultural rituals are falling away and with them a grounding source for connection and mental health.”

Honarvar provides examples of rituals that have helped sustain her through good time and bad.  “In this age of isolation, we need nourishing and uplifting means of creating community by bringing together members of different generations as our ancestors did  …  rituals can help by offering opportunities for healing and support.”

We need to build some simple rituals into our daily lives.  Planning for them, as well as participating in them, can be enriching for all concerned.

To read the full story click on:


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