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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Beekeepers or beeminders

To appreciate that we are a part of nature and not apart from nature the starting point is the realisation that non-human animals are not all that dissimilar to us and in the case of bees, they have brains and can think and communicate and be aware of their surroundings in ways that are way beyond our understanding.
In this short but moving film, Telling the Bees, directed by Australian movie maker, Amy Browne, we find that:

At least twice in our short history honeybees have attended their beekeepers funerals. In 1934, when Sam Roger’s died in Shropshire, England, his bees paid their farewell at his graveside funeral. They landed on a nearby tombstone and as soon as he was buried they departed.

When John Zepka of Berkshire Hills near Adams, Mass. died on April 27, 1956, thousands of his bees clustered inside the tent at the open grave site to pay their respect to the beekeeper who never wore any protective gear. As his coffin was lowered into the earth, the bees left the tent and returned to their hive on Zepka’s farm.

Trust, honour and respect evolves into inter-species collective consciousness. Accepted in most primitive cultures a hive mind is often ridiculed by skeptics in our modern rational existence.

There was once a European tradition ‘telling the bees”.  When a member of the family dies, the bees must have their hive draped in black cloth, lest they leave for good. As one northern European song goes:

“Honey bees, honey bees, hear what I say!

Your Master, poor soul, has passed away.

His sorrowful wife begs of you to stay,

Gathering honey for many a day.

Bees in the garden, hear what I say!”

To view this short film, click on:

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I wish I knew

Things I wish I knewIt seems like we regularly go over old ground, revisiting the same subjects as if we don’t already know the answers.  Strange as it might seem, there are no definitive answers when it comes to death and dying and disposal.  Death is one of those areas of life that needs to be pondered and mulled over as part of the journey to our ending of days.

And so this story is another case in point.  Wiriya Sati tells us about her father’s dying days and laments not knowing what she now realises would have been helpful to her as his condition deteriorated.

In: Things I wish I knew about dying to suppport my dad (ABC Life, 23 May 2019), Sati offers up these insights:

Saving and prolonging life isn’t always helpful

Support and eduation can help you advocate for yourself and your loved one

You can die at home

Signs and stages of death that can help you know it’s coming

Water and touch can prolong life (quality of life)Things I wish I knew, no2, jpg

There are alternative funeral options

Planning for death helps with letting go.

While ever our western society continues to medicalise, commercialise, corporatise and privatise end-of-life times and we don’t personalise and become sufficiently familiarised with our ending, we will be stuck in this current rut of denial and self inflicted limbo land.

Wiriya Sati is now an advocate for planning ahead.  Her experiences are not unique and yet they are unique – if you get the drift.  Each of us has to come to terms with this time in our own way.  Her story will now help inform the conversations she has with her family and friends.  Because she has been willing to write them up and share them with us, we are the richer for her having ‘passed this way’, even though millions have passed this way before.

To read the full story click on the link:  Things I wish I knew


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Buyer beware remains the message when a loved one dies

After so many instances of people needing a funeral, who leave it to the last minute to make arrangements, is it any wonder that the industry takes advantage of their vulnerability.  Of course funeral providers deny any suggestion that they overcharge, but it makes you wonder, as this story by Michael Atkin: ‘Charging like wounded bulls’: Calls for greater transparency in the funeral industry to protect vulnerable customers (ABC tv 7.30 Report, 6.06.19).

The main points included:

  • Calls for national standards for the funeral industry
  • Funeral costs vary widely between states and service provider
  • Main complaint about the funeral industry are overcharging and bad service.

There are some good people working to disclose more of what goes on.  Once of them is Colin Wong who …  ‘runs a website called Gathered Here, which compares the cost of funeral services,’ says Micheal Atkins.

He has obtained the prices from 825 funeral homes across Australia, which he collected by cold-calling companies because not all of the information was transparently provided online.

He said the professional service fee was often significantly more with a premium funeral director.

“The reality is that this is where the larger funeral homes and the more expensive funeral homes will add in extra amounts for things like their brand name premium, their offices in marketing, and where they can generate and add more profits to the bottom line,” he told 7.30.

Mr Wong is also the author of a new report called Funeral Prices in Australia, which he has provided exclusively to 7.30.

The program could be watched via iView.  Or for what is close to a transcript click on the link: Greater transparency needed for funeral industry


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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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