New Year ritual not everyones cup of tea

Coffin, funeral_for_the_living_3_0In times past, before access to technologies like the internet, we tended to live in our somehwat isolated little bubbles believing that most other people were probably not all that much different for us.  This is no longer the case.  At the click of a ‘mouse’ a whole world of difference is revealed.  For each of these ‘different’ groups what we might consider odd or bizarre they consider to be not only normal but traditions and rituals to be cherished and practiced as if their lives depended on them.  Not unlike the traditions and rituals that we engage in. Such is the power of belief and the influence of groups to convince us to behave in certain ways, irrespective of whether or not these beliefs make sense to others.  This story demonstrates the strength of beliefs to influence our behaviour.

Thai people organise own funeral, lie inside coffins to ring in new year (Hindustan Times, New Delhi Jan 01, 2019)

“Even as the rest of the world rang in the new year with fireworks and countdowns, a suburban temple in Thailand’s Bangkok witnessed a peculiar ritual: worshippers lying inside coffins to participate in traditional funeral rituals. What may appear to be eerie to many is, in fact, a Thai Buddhist ritual held every new year.

The ceremony, worshippers believe, symbolises death and rebirth, which helps them get rid of bad luck and be reborn for a fresh start in the new year.

Participants held flowers and incense in their hands as monks covered them with pink sheets and chanted prayers for the dead.

Phitsanu Kiengpradouk, a 67-year-old retired policeman, was ready to welcome the new year with his own funeral.

“Laying in coffins means we are letting go of our suffering, from our body, and from our mind. We come here to lay in coffins, so we can have better luck and a better life,” said Phitsanu. Busaba Yookong, a 30-year-old who attended the ritual with her family said attending her own funeral was not as eerie an experience as one would presume.

The Takien Temple saw hundreds of worshippers flocking to it to take part in the Thai Buddhist ritual.

This is a ritual that has endured for years. Here we have a group of people within Thailand who believe that lying in a coffin is the right way to start off the new year.

In Thailand’s Coffin Ceremony for the Living, Roy Cavanagh (June 2, 2011) reports that: “Thailand is a country with many superstitions and beliefs and the coffin ceremony is just one example. There are some provincial temples in Thailand, such as this one at Nakhon Nayok that specialize in the coffin ceremony with Buddhist monks providing the blessings. For a fee of around 200 Baht (a merit-making donation to the temple) participants lay in the coffin holding flowers. The lid is then shut as the monks chant death rites.    Just over a minute later as the monks chant about new life, the coffin is opened and the participants are ‘reborn’ leaving behind their bad karma. If, in future years, the participant endures a spell of bad luck or misfortune, they may again opt for the coffin ceremony to bring about a reversal in their luck.     It should be pointed out that not all Thai people believe in the power of the coffin ceremony. There are plenty of Thai Buddhists who view it as a bad omen for a living person to lie down in a coffin.

Read this story at various places on the internet as well as this one from ABC News, scroll down to Thailand … Religious ceremony


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The town with a community operated funeral service

Funeral scene, Back Rds LR, ABCtv 11.18.docxWhat to do when the closest funeral provider is an hour away, when local residents can’t afford the expense of the commercial operators?  Tough bikkies, is what some people would say, but not a town that is known for its can-do approach to life.

And so it is, for 20 odd years Lightning Ridge, in northern NSW, has applied the can-do attitude to one of the greatest essential services that any community can provide – a funeral service. That it is of the people, by the people, for the people, makes it an outstanding achievement and an example of what can be done when others shy away or turn up their noses. As if to say that this is unpalatable or not normal.  It was once not only normal it was expected of everyone to be involved in farewelling those who had died. Done in-house, there was no outsourcing like we do today.  Needless to say, it cost next to nothing.

It was during the opening scenes of the ABC-tv program Back Roads with Heather Ewert (10-12-2018 and later on iView) that we find out how the Lightning Ridge community under the guidance of Mayor Ian ‘Woody’ Woodcock, do funerals with down to earth panache – nothing overly fancy, but with genuine respect and dignity as a given.

We have transcribed the spoken portion of the program here.

Lightning Ridge Funeral Advisory Service (LRFAS)

Time: 2:00 – 2:40 opening segment, then 2:41 – 5:00 min

Featuring – Ian ‘Woody’ Woodcock, Mayor, Lightning Ridge and President LRFAS

HE: I’ve got to ask the obvious question – what are we doing in a hearse?

IW: Lightning Ridge has always been a do-it-yourself community – we do our own funerals – most things are done by the community …

HE: Woody is taking me to the centre of town and would you believe it, we’re going straight to the morgue …

IW: This is where the work room is …

HE: Oh my God – what a work room … (Display of coffins)

IW: Pick your box …

HE: The nearest funeral director is an hour away in Walgett, so Lightning Ridge decided to set up its own funeral service, run by volunteers, Ormie Molyneux (OM) an Opal Miner and Tommy Urqhart (TU) the town’s retired butcher … how did you get roped into it?

OM: One of my uncles was a co-founder and we just tagged along for the ride …

HE: How about you Tommy?    TU: I was dragged in by Ormie …

IW: They just came to give us a hand – we didn’t say what for …

TU: After 38 years being a butcher, nothing really shocks me …

HE: It must be really hard because you must know most of the people that you’re burying?

IW: Yes, that’s probably one of the good things about it …

TM: It’s easier for the families – we all know each other – they feel more comfortable with us rather than the undertaker with the top hats ‘n’ tails …

HE: These men carry out about 20 funerals a year – all up they’ve buried 550 people – even built their own fridge … (Morutary with fridge)

IW: It used to be housed down at the Lions Park until we built the morgue here – they used to keep their beer cold in it, so that’s good news – so that’s what it was used for …

HE: I don’t believe it …    OM: A very versatile fridge …    HE: There’s nothing in there?

IW: No one’s in there – it’s run at 0 degrees all the time …

HE: And you actually have to prepare the bodies and dress them – you do that to …

IW: If we have to – if a family request that we dress them and do their make up or whatever the case may be .

HE: Do make up? Seriously?    IW: Yes we do …    HE: Who taught you how to do make-up?

IW: I used to watch my wife in front of the mirror …

HE: Well that’s got to be a first …..

Later … after hitching a ride back to Lightning Ridge ..

24:45 – 25:45

HE: I find ‘Woody’, Ormie and Tommy out at the cemetery – the town’s oldest resident has died at the age of 100 – there’s sadness of course – but also a celebration of a life well lived in Lightning Ridge  [Grave marker inscription:  RIP  Peter Verkroost – 26.12.17 – 15.7.18]

IW: A very good innings when you can reach 100 years – he got a letter from the Pope, a letter from the Queen, a letter from the Prime Minister – so he was thrilled …

HE: Some weeks this trio have to help bury 2 or even 3 of their friends.  Lightning Ridge is lucky to have them.

And a story that appeared in the SMH 22 June 2016.  Lightning Ridge volunteers bury the dead in town with no undertaker

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When loaf takes on a new meaning

Coffin bread, spinach dipEvolution is not only confined to the biological world, there is evolution within language as well. Who would have thought that the humble loaf would have anything to do with our discussions about dying and death?

In The Story of English in 100 Words, David Crystal explores how words have evolved from times past and how they fall in and out of favour. Loaf is still in vogue but this is not so with all the associations that have been attached to it.

When we think of loaf the first thing that comes to mind is a loaf of bread.  From this connection with food we get a connection with money as in breadwinner and we get the connection with our state of mind, knowing on which side ones bread is buttered on and level of achievement, the best things since sliced bread.

Continuing on down through the ages and we have different kinds such as white loaf and brown loaf, loaf tin and lately mini-loaf; today there is the meat-loaf and so on it goes.

“But nobody could have predicted the 20th century use of loaf in Cockney rhyming slang.  The popular sounding loaf of bread replacing head. It soon reduced to simply loaf, especially in the phrase: Use your loaf, meaning ‘use your common sense’ “, writes David Crystal.

To top off our discussion we find that one usage had loaf of bread replacing dead.  “You can find it in Auden and Isherwood’s play The Dog beneath the Skin (III.iii.123):                   Oh how I cried when Alice died, The day we were to be wed! We never had our Roasted Duck, And now she’s a Loaf of Bread.”

In the new year we will continue to post stories about how the use of words relating to dying and death have been around for centuries.  That we tend to shy away from using the D-word does us no good.  We will continue to ‘expose’ all manner of D-words ‘going forward’  as the jargon would have it.  Suffice to say that in doing a spot of research for this post we came across many images for coffin bread as it is called in many Asian countries. Another subject to explore in coming months.


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When the coffin becomes a tourist attraction

Bizarre, ridiculous, crazy, disrespectful, commercial madness, tourism gone too far.  However you like to describe it the coffin races at Manitou Springs, Colorada are something to be seen to be believed – at least for those of us not used to such antics.

The 2018 event was held on 27th October and attracted a large number of entries. The race is held to honour Emma Crawford, “a young woman seeking the mineral springs “cure” from tuberculosis. Emma came to Manitou Springs in the 1800’s. Sadly, Emma passed away in 1890. Before passing, Emma asked her fiance to bury her on top of Red Mountain. Her wish was honored, and her remains rested peacefully atop the mountain until 1912. During the early 1900’s, the Louisville and Nashville Railroad Company began building an incline to the mountain top, forcing her coffin to be moved. She was reburied on the south slope of the mountain. After several years of rain and harsh weather conditions, Emma’s remains slid down the mountain into the canyon below, where two young boys found her name plate and the silver handles from her casket.

Manitou Springs, in honor of Emma Crawford, celebrates this fun and crazy event of the Emma Crawford Coffin Races and Festival, now in its 24th year.  Up to 70 teams compete in the races.  For more: Emma Crawford Coffin Races

A similar event is held at Denton on its annual Day of the Dead Festival.  For more: Denton Day of the Dead Festival

Denton DoDead Coffin race entrant1

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Mere Mortals on stage

The Direcor, 10511232-3x4-largeA former undertaker and an artist get together to present a delightful take on the subject that many people shy away from.  Let’s hope this continues to demystify the D-word in all its manifestations. The Director is one of two shows playing at the Art House, North Melbourne Town Hall, Victoria.

Mere Mortals is the working title for two plays focusing on the concept of morality, living, dying, and everything in between.

“Across museums, film – and even in our own state legal system’s changes towards dying with dignity – death is a hot subject right now,” said Arts House Artistic Director, Emily Sexton.

“Yet in an increasingly secular Australia, it remains a taboo and shocking event. Mere Mortals sees artists explore this topic from a range of angles through a series of informative and expansive works designed to illuminate the darkest times,” said Sexton.

Die! Die! Die! Old People Die! is a simple but paper-fine portrait of a timeless trio: a love triangle cursed to eternal life without eternal youth, in an age where death and the forgotten art of grieving have been medicalised out of existence. Flagship UK theatre company, Ridiculusmus (The Eradication of Schizophrenia in Western Lapland; Give Me Your Love), returns to Arts House to reclaim humankind’s last taboo from its imminent eradication. Indie theatre legends, David Woods and Jon Haynes project into 120-year-old versions of themselves in a seriously funny work about hanging on, dying and grieving, played at 33rpm. Amid fumbling, daily rounds of coffee, call centres and cat food, their rants, dribbles, pills and cough bombs litter an ambling blend of symbolist mysticism and synesthesia that has the fear of an ageing population in its sights and oozes with the positivity of elderhood and good deaths.

The Director is a bold new performance starring charismatic ex-funeral director of 21 years, Scott Turnbull, and artist Lara Thoms. Taking up a universal experience and taboo topic, Turnbull and Thoms demystify, expose and expand elements of the death industry, using humour and first-hand knowledge to dig a little deeper on what happens after we go. Nothing is off limits, including the smell of a crematorium, the tools of the mortuary, and driving tractors into a funeral chapel. At a time when dying costs an average of $10,000 and funerals happen within a week, death can seem like a very expensive drive-thru meal.  Blurring the roles of funeral director and theatre director, Thoms and Turnbull ask each other to perform tasks, share knowledge and give feedback on each other’s actions. Balancing macabre reality, playfulness and the tragic elements of death, the result is a spiky, funny and invigorating performance.

Die! Die! Die! Old People Die! –  20–25 Nov 2018; The Director  –  21 Nov–2 Dec 2018

Arts House, North Melbourne Town Hall, 521 Queensberry Street, North Melbourne
Tickets$25 – $35 (plus transaction fee)


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Nature inspired grief relief

There’s the death of the person who has died and there’s the death space that is left within those who remain behind to grieve.

When Dr Ross Dyer died, his daughter Jo Dyer came to terms with it by doing what many people do, return to their place of origin – nature. In her case it was the garden.

In this story by Melinda McMillan: Nature at the heart of art born from deep grief (The Star, August 15, 2018) we find that the peace found within, is expressed outwardly through art inspired by nature.

“My father was a big nature lover, he loved the bush and he loved the beach,” Dyer said. “He was quite adventurous and was passionate about nature and connected to nature.
“It might sound strange, but I think he died the way he would have preferred to die doing something he loved, out in the waves.
“Following his death I felt this intense desire for solitude.
“I did spend time in the studio but felt this intense need to connect with nature. I did that through gardening.
“I started sitting in my garden and drawing my plants from life and actually creating some of the works in my garden.”

The exhibition is a fundraiser for Global Gardens of Peace, an organisation that creates green-spaces for disadvantaged communities.

“It’s an Australian charity … starting with a project in the Gaza Strip,” Dyer said.
“One of the founders went there and saw children playing in the rubble and went and visited a cemetery – it was literately the only green-space in the community.”
Read the full story here:

  Artist Jo Dyer

View some of the art here:

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Recompose your thoughts for this one

Recompose, fallen+log+cropped+-+labeled+for+reuse.pngThis is a good news story that we hope comes to fruition – literally bears fruit of the earthly kind. While it is all taking place in the United States, it is great to know that good people are working to bring about change in an area that desperately needs it.

First, a bill to legalise recomposition has been drafted and will be introduced during the January 2019 Washington State Legislative Session. The team at Recompose has been meeting with lawmakers all over the state, and it’s been fantastic to hear their support for this environmentally-aligned death care choice.

Second, the group is wrapping up a research pilot with Washington State University, and the results have been excellent.

Recomposition has been proven safe and effective; it’s a natural and gentle way to return our bodies to the earth. We look forward to sharing the official results with the Recompose community in the next few weeks.

To learn more and find out who is behind this venture: Recompose for a gentler way of returning to the earth

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