Making peace with transience

Transience, flowerAnd how do we keep a balanced outlook on life?   If you believe the song from Fiddler on the Roof, there is one word for it – TRADITION.

And how do we keep ourselves from falling into the trap of being overly self centred?  Well it might be worth keeping an open mind that includes making peace with transience. 

In: Most modern funerals make you feel worse, but my sister’s was different, Elizabeth Farrelly (SMH, November 9-10, 2019) suggests that “… we could learn much from other more earth-centred, less denialist cultures, including those that have cultivated Australia for 65,000 years.”

Get the full story hereBetter way to say final goodbye

In a related story: How to say goodbye for the last time, Katherine Fenney, (SMH, October 3 2014) Transience, mushroom

But the point is: We talk about it. We talk about the end, because without it, there can be no beginning, and there is no story in between. And what’s the point of living if you don’t have a good story to tell? Too many people are afraid to confront the very thing that unites humanity: The End.

More at this link: Say goodbye for the last time



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Coffin ready (tick). Not shying away from the fact we die

If the idea of having a coffin stashed away in the back shed freaks you out, then read no further. Because this coffin is not hidden away, it’s on show.People Bertran Cadart coffin 2

This is the story about French-Australian Bertrand Cadart, who, by his own telling,  has led “an incredible” life.  He is now doing what most people would think is not only incredible, it is more like crazy – certainly something they would not entertain (if that is the right way of putting it).

ABC reporter Jacqui Street tells his story in:  Coffin in the lounge room a reminder that ‘I’ll go with a bang’  (ABC Sunshine Coast, 29 Oct 2019).  

The 71-year-old organised a living wake and his own burial plot after a terminal cancer diagnosis; those advocating for better community discussions around death have applauded his approach, says Street.

Now, following a terminal cancer diagnosis, Mr Cadart has installed a large red coffin at his home in the Sunshine Coast hinterland.

“It’s not because I was morbid or anything like that,” he said.

“It was more about my children. I thought, ‘OK, I am lucky enough to at least have an idea of when I’m going to die’, so I have no excuse not to try to make it as easy as possible for my two children.

“Especially with the mechanics of it all. Funerals are incredibly stressful, very expensive, and it has to be done very quickly, because you can’t say, ‘Oh well, we’ll take six months to bury Father’ — Jesus, pee-eew!”

There’s no beating around the bush with this 71-year-old who said he liked the idea that the coffin would take about nine months to break down in the earth.People Bertran Cadart coffin 1

“I think it’s good that you come from nothingness and then one day you end up being a shrimp in some female womb, and you take months before [becoming] a little person,” he said.

“And I figured out it should take about the same time for when you’ve done your dash to go back to nothingness.”

I bought a cardboard coffin because I wanted something that would dissolve quickly,” he said.

Mr Cadart said seeing the coffin in his home actually helped him remain positive about his illness, by reminding him that he was still alive.

Read the full story here:  Red coffin in the lounge room


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Women are challenging traditional funerary practices

Poeple, women and deathWomen have always been at the forefront when it comes to caring for the sick and dying. And there was also a time when women were front and centre of the death industry, though it was hardly called an industry back then, which is not to undervalue the commitment of these women ‘workers’. It was due to their voluntary community values that made it vastly different to the commercial profit motivated industry of today. 

Back then, the ‘industry’ was more about the industriousness of the women who went about caring for the dead and caring for the immediate family and friends.  Some years ago this changed.  This story by Sarah Chavez: The Story of Death Is the Story of Women (Yes, Issue 91, 2019) charts how another change is taking place and how women are reclaiming their roles as the most appropriate people to lead us to a better place including a better death.

Chavez reports that: Olivia Bareham … “is just one of many women who are disrupting the death paradigm by challenging our traditional funerary practices and advocating for transparency, eco-friendly options, and family involvement. While White patriarchy has spent the past hundred years shutting the doors and pulling the curtain—obfuscating and profiting from one of life’s most significant milestones—modern women are questioning whom our current system is serving and telling the funeral industry that its time is up.People, Oliviabareham

Olivia Bareham has long sought to ease some of the fear and suffering surrounding death and dying.  In 2005 she founded The Sacred Crossings Institute for Conscious Dying, where she educates and and empowers families to care for their deceased loved ones and create meaningful home funerals.  Along with Caitlin Doughty, mortician, author and moderator of the websites: Order of the Good Death and Ask the Mortician they are two of those shedding light on the ‘mysteries’ of death and driving a wedge into what has been a closed shop industry.  Chavez says:

Feminist death advocates argue that the $20 billion funeral industry thrives on our society’s reluctance to face, or even think about, death. Although our fear of death is nothing new, our modern denial of death is.

Our current unfamiliarity with natural death has become more informed by horror tropes—including the dead returning to haunt us, or corpses suddenly reanimating to grasp at the living—than by facts. According to Ernest Becker, author of the Pulitzer Prize-winning book The Denial of Death, awareness of our mortality haunts us and motivates us. Becker argues that our actions are motivated by this fear, and in a desperate effort to mitigate our existential terror of ceasing to exist, we seek out distractions. We engage in what he calls “immortality projects” that help us establish legacies that will live on after we are dead, often through our work or by having children.

Because of this fear, and the established systems that shield us from healthy engagement with death, we’ve become death-and grief-illiterate. As a result, we have industry-led funerals that leave little room for meaningful family involvement and require costly products and services that are often unnecessary and can harm the environment.

Our recent cultural shift to ignoring or immediately disposing of our dead takes us further away from the reality of dying and death.

In countries like the US and Australia, says Caitlin Doughty, we have “created a hard boundary between ourselves and death, [but] for most of the world a softer line exists, creating space for the living to work through grief, begin to comprehend death, and come to terms with the fact that the bonds we’ve established with others do not dissipate at the moment of death.”  Chavez sums up with these words …

In the U.S. [read Australia], we’ve handed over this sacred space surrounding the corpse to the funeral industry. The women reclaiming this space are acting in resistance.

It is clear that our society’s current denial of death is not working. 

With women leading the way, we can create a future of death care that will improve not only how future generations die, but how they live. This is a legacy, and a feminist one at that, for which we can all be proud.

For the full story click on the link: Women and the story of death

Within an Australian context the most outspoken advocates for more community involvement and less industry intervention, include Zenith Virago (Death Walker) and  Molly Carlisle (Death Talker). For more click on the links:    Natural Death Care Centre   and  Death Talker



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You don’t have to sit in a lecture theatre to do this university course.

People, Naomi RichardsIf you have ever felt the need to be part of a bigger conversation than the ones taking place in your neighbourhood or state or even Australia, then here’s an opportunity to be part of a world-wide discussion about death and dying.  It costs nothing but a few hours a week.

The course writers note that:

With increasingly ageing populations, we are living longer but dying more slowly. You will discover the patterns and global trends taking place in palliative care, and explore these new approaches from a social science and humanities perspective.

Subjects will include:

  • Why is end of life care important, who provides it, and what is ‘dying’?
  • ‘Good’ and ‘bad’ dying
  • Hospital care at the end of life
  • How communities around the world are creating new ways to deliver palliative care
  • How ‘compassionate communities’ are forming to work alongside service providers
  • The world-wide interest in group conversations such as ‘Death Café’.
  • Many people want to take direct control over how they die. Where is assisted dying legal and what are its implications?
  • Rational suicide – an emerging response to the desire for direct control over the manner of one’s death, especially among older people.
  • How modern individuals seek to ‘curate’ their dying process and the rituals that follow it.

End of Life Care: Challenges and Innovation has been developed by the End of Life Studies Group based at the University of Glasgow, the fourth oldest university in the English-speaking world.  It’s free and available online.

To find out more, click on the link: Future Learn: End of life care

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To die with or without help – a conversation

For something a bit different here is a post that links to the audio feed of a radio program.

Josh Szeps (The People vs Death, ABC Radio National 15 September 2019) acts as the moderator of a conversation with a group of people talking about the issues that arise:

When an incurable condition gets its claws into your brain and you can’t look after yourself, remember what day it is, or recognise your loved ones, what should society do?

Would it be an act of grace, or a callous disregard for life, if someone helps you to die?

Victoria’s voluntary assisted dying laws came into effect in June this year, and Western Australia’s lower house passed proposed laws on voluntary assisted dying earlier this month.

How do we decide on moral questions about living and dying?

Guests include: Margaret Somerville, Professor of Bioethics, School of Medicine, University of Notre Dame, and Peter Singer, Ira W. DeCamp Professor of Bioethics, University Centre for Human Values, Princeton University.

Listen to the program at this link: The People vs Death



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Mobile mourning

Only-in-America is usually how we describe the odd or quirky, but for this story the phrase reads only-in-Japan.  Will it catch on?  Will this be the start of a new trend?

‘In a first for Japan,’ reporter Alex Martin, in, Japan drive-thru funeral home to serve less mobile mourners (KYODO News, December 16, 2017) ‘a funeral provider with a drive-thru window has opened in Nagano Prefecture, allowing mourners to pay their respects without getting out of the car.’

The operator said the drive-thru window is the first in Japan. It is primarily aimed at allowing seniors and the disabled to attend funerals, but may also be used in future by people short on time.

“(It’s good because it) responds to the feelings of people who have given up participating in funerals,” Kazuhiro Ogura, 30, said after joining the tour.

“I think the chief mourner would be also happy about the fact that they have come to the funeral (even if they didn’t get out of their car),” he added.

How times they are a-changing.  For the full story with extra pictures click on the link: Pay respects without getting out of the car

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Cough n up for coffins

What do weddings and funerals have in common?

Well for the most part the central focus of attention in thess putting-on-appearances times, is the brides wedding dress and the deceased persons coffin or casket.

We say for the most part, because there are some exceptions where a wedding dress is repurposed as formal evening wear for later reuse or perhaps it was hired in the first place.  But for all these instances, there would be tens of thousands of dresses languishing in wardrobes.

And we say for the most part in the case of coffins, because they could also be rented and then reused, or owned in common as is the case in some Muslim communities.  In the good old days there was the parish coffin that was used over and over again.

But today coffins are the focus of attention, sold as such by the funeral industry who make sure that the rules around body disposal requires a coffin / casket for transporting the deceased to the grave or the cremator.  Taking pride of place – centre stage – at the front of the church or chapel or even outdoor event, coffins are one of the big ticket items in the funeral product range, with markups of 100-500 per cent on the cost price.

Just as wedding formalities are changing so are funeral formalities.

The greener wedding is making inroads led by high profile people like Stella McCartney.  Her dress designer was a member of the Sustainable Apparel Coalition in the UK.  People like McCartney are requiring suppliers to disclose where they source their materials from, if they contain toxic chemicals, what conditions workers are labouring under.

We need similar disclosures for products used and sold in the funeral industry. The number of trees ending up as coffins and within days incinerated or buried, all in the name of keeping up appearances, as part of a final send off, says a lot about our vanity and willingness to be a participant in the commercialisation of death and body disposal events.

For millenia there were no coffins – a simple shawl, blanket or wrap was sufficient.  When the coffin did come on the scene as the one size fits all parish box, a pall was draped across the box – hence we had the pall bearers.

A modern response to bring community back into the picture has been the rise of Coffin Clubs in NZ and Tasmania.  They allow for control and provide an opportunity for people with woodworking skills to contribute in a creative way to the farewelling of loved one. (See the featured image)

We are on the cusp of more changes if the Aquamation and Recompose methods get some traction, since coffins are not required.

Cough n up for coffins will no doubt at some time in the future become a thing of the past. Trees have much greater ecological values than being turned into human and pet body boxes.

Let them play their part within a living balanced ecosystem sequestering carbon and contributing to planetary wellness, rather than being milled into slabs of timber, machined and crafted into products to satisfy the whims of the dead and their onlookers. A full life-cycle analysis would reveal that the carbon released re-enters the atmosphere as greenhouse gas – in the case of cremation – which is now the choice for up to 80 percent of grieving families.

The more enlightened Recompose method of body disposal has a lot going for it. More about Recompose here: Returning to the earth


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