A defining choice

As the number of billionaires increase, with ‘creations’ of material wealth seemingly out of thin air – buying and selling money to accumulate more money – it seems like a good reason to ask the question: How Will Future Generations Remember Our Time?

In this piece by David Korten (Yes magazine, Apr 17, 2019), he asks us to consider the implications of living out a story that is frankly out of this world.  The current story is so fraught with inconsistencies and myths that it makes you wonder how we arrived at this juncture in human history.  Then again, Korten charts the history thus far and says we need to: “Break the silence, end the isolation, change the story.” Says Korten:

“We face a defining choice between two contrasting models for organizing human affairs. Give them the generic names Empire and Earth Community. Absent an understanding of the history and implications of this choice, we may squander valuable time and resources on efforts to preserve or mend cultures and institutions that cannot be fixed and must be replaced.

“We humans live by stories. The key to making a choice for [an] Earth Community is recognizing that the foundation of Empire’s power does not lie in its instruments of physical violence. It lies in Empire’s ability to control the stories by which we define ourselves and our possibilities to perpetuate the myths on which the legitimacy of the dominator relations of Empire depend. To change the human future, we must change our defining stories.

And later …

The distinctive human capacity for reflection and intentional choice carries a corresponding moral responsibility to care for one another and the planet. Indeed, our deepest desire is to live in loving relationships with one another. The hunger for loving families and communities is a powerful, but latent, unifying force and the potential foundation of a winning political coalition dedicated to creating societies that support every person in actualizing his or her highest potential.

And to conclude:

In these turbulent and often frightening times, it is important to remind ourselves that we are privileged to live at the most exciting moment in the whole of the human experience. We have the opportunity to turn away from Empire and to embrace Earth Community as a conscious collective choice. We are the ones we have been waiting for.

Regardless of our age or cultural heritage, this is a thoughtful piece that is worth the ten minutes or so it takes to read what Korten has to say.  Find it at this link: How will future generations remember our time?

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Does it matter what a will is written on?

Will on phone

With up to 45% of Australians dying without a will – one that is written down in paper form and witnessed – perhaps it’s worth considering doing something rather than nothing, If that something is as unconventional as recording a video on a digital device like a smart phone or tablet, then so be it.

This story by Stuart Layt (Queensland court finds a phone video can be a man’s legal will, Brisbane TimesApril 18, 2019), tells readers what one person did and that a court has upheld its validity.

“A smartphone video shot by a man several years before he killed himself can function as his legal will, a Queensland court has found,” says Layt.

“Leslie Wayne Quinn took his own life in June 2015 aged 53, leaving behind his wife Leanne Quinn from whom he was separated but not divorced, and three sons: two with Mrs Quinn and an older son from a previous marriage. He did not have a traditional will, but four years before his death, apparently during a lunch break at his work in 2011, he quickly recorded a video leaving all of his worldly possessions to his wife.”

“In the event of my death, I would like all my goods, my interests in property … my share of those to go to my wife, Leanne Quinn,” Mr Quinn says in the video.

“Anything, any money that I have, cash, I’d like that to go to my wife Leanne.

“That, I think is basically it, so this is my only Will,” he concluded.

A Senior Judge Administrator of the Supreme Court of Queensland, Ann Lyons, said it was clear that Mr Quinn had intended the video to function as his will.

Document, Last will and testament

“In my view there can be no doubt that Mr Quinn made the recording to make clear what his intentions were in relation to the disposal of his possessions after his death,” she wrote in her judgment this week.

To read the full story go to: Phone video can be legal will

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Staying on top of it as we get older

Grandmother and granddaughter assembling jigsaw puzzle

It’s all well and good saying that we’d like to be all well and good, when asked the question “How are you?” but what does it take to be well and good when there are so many messages coming from so many different places especially health programs and the results of university studies, often sponsored by large corporations.

Well in this story by Jeanette Franks (6 Ways to stay healthy as you age, Yes magazine, April 16, 2019) she reports that: The general wisdom was, until recently, “If you want to live a long, healthy life, choose your grandparents wisely.”   It goes without saying that we can’t choose our grandparents, but we need to remember that, just 30 percent of physical aging is genetically predetermined – according to an eight-year study of 1,000 well-functioning seniors by John Rowe and Robert Kahn.

Franks goes on to say: And, keep in mind, genetics isn’t fate. While problems such as Alzheimer’s and heart disease do have a genetic component, lifestyle trumps genes. Physical aging is shaped by lifestyle choices in physical exercise, diet, attitude, and social support. Here are the highlights of the report.  There’s no magic, primarily common sense. For example:

1.Exercise: Brain and body are connected; what is healthy for one promotes fitness in the other.

2. Nurture friendships, not necessarily family: Evidence suggests that what enhances well-being is getting together, not the activity, the meeting up and sharing and keeping engaged with other people. 

3. Be mentally stimulated early on in life: language ability and verbal complexity predicted a lower risk of Alzheimer’s. When one researcher was asked what this meant, she replied, “Read to your children.”

People, Head crossword

4. Stay engaged for as long as possible: whether the activity is bridge or crossword puzzles, mental exercise may be a key to keeping the mind supple as physical activity is to the body’s functioning. 

Illustration by Gerard DuBois.


5. Eat a healthy diet: most of us know that a healthy diet means moderation in meat, sugar, and fat, and plenty of vegetables and fruit. But we might not know just how those fruits and veggies benefit the brain. And don’t forget hydration—most of us need more water than we drink. Dehydration causes cognitive malfunctions.

6. Kick nasty habits: don’t smoke. Smoking constricts blood vessels and may decrease cognitive capacity. A moderate glass or two of wine, though, may be beneficial.

 It’s a no-brainer: An engaging social environment, combined with good nutrition and daily exercise, helps keep the brain healthy. Older people who are involved with friends, physical activities, and lifelong learning profess joy at being alive. Wholehearted participation in these pursuits gives meaning to old age and helps elevate the quality of life for those years.

Read the story at the link: Ways to stay healthy

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Making the case for elderhood

It’s a sad state of affairs that at a time when senior citizens abound, elders are thin on the ground.

In his new book, Come of Age, Stephen Jenkinson makes the case that we must birth a new generation of elders, one poised and willing to be true stewards of the planet and its species.  Earth Day (April 22nd) reminds us that we are but one of many species and our welfare is inextricably connected with their welfare. At a time when so many species are suffering at the hands of humans, the call for elderhood has in many ways never been greater.

Come of Age does not offer tips on how to be a better senior citizen or how to be kinder to our elders. Rather, with lyrical prose and incisive insight, Stephen Jenkinson explores the great paradox of elderhood in North America (read Australia): how we are awash in the aged and yet somehow lacking in wisdom. Our own unreconciled relationship with what it means to be an elder has yielded a culture nearly bereft of them.

Meanwhile, the planet boils, and the younger generation boils with anger over being left an environment and sociopolitical landscape deeply scarred and broken.

Taking on the sacred cow of the family, Jenkinson argues that elderhood is a function rather than an identity–it is not a position earned simply by the number of years on the planet or the title “parent” or “grandparent.” As with his seminal book Die Wise, Jenkinson interweaves rich personal stories with iconoclastic observations that will leave readers radically rethinking their concept of what it takes to be an elder and the risks of doing otherwise. Part critique, part call to action, Come of Age is a love song inviting all of us to grow up, before it’s too late.

Working in palliative care for years, Stephen Jenkinson witnessed what he described as a wretched anguish amongst people facing death. In his new book Come of Age: A Case for Elderhood in a Time of Trouble he argues that our society lacks the kind of leadership we normally seek from our elders.

On Nightlife with Suzanne Hill (ABC local radio, 21 April 2019) Jenkinson shares some thoughts on what it means to be an elder. Listen here: This Mortal Coil: Stephen Jenkinson on the dearth of elders in our society

Duration: 33min 23sec  Broadcast: Sun 21 Apr 2019, 10:00pm

And this is the invitation to hear Stephen at Clemenger Theatre, St Kilda Rd, Melbourne VIC. April 26th.

For most of the 200,000 years of human life on earth, we have learned from our elders. We have been cared for, guided by, challenged and initiated into the world by the wisdom elderhood gifted to us. Our lives and our communities have been strengthened by those who have come before us.

Today, the journey of personal development surrounds us with self-help books, leadership forums, retreats, therapists and life-coaches, yet there is a significant lack of intention to engage deeply with our elders as a key component of our education. Elderhood today is often understood more in terms of its absence rather than its presence.

In a pursuit to prolong human life through everything from bio-technology and pharmaceuticals to anti-aging skin creams, we are a culture increasingly obsessed with eternal youth. How does this compromise our ability to value age and the wisdom which comes from those who understand and respect the finality of life?

It is often said that age carries wisdom, yet at a time when we have more older people than we ever have before, why are there so few elders among us? What constitutes an elder and how do we re-engage with generational wisdom-sharing?  Stephen Jenkinson at School of Life

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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: https://www.recompose.life/

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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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