Ever since my book club read Being Mortal, I’ve thought about what I’d like my elder years to look like (should I be lucky enough to have them) and what constitutes a good death, specifically, MY good death.
And that leads me to consider, even more specifically, what I’d like to happen in the hours and days after I die.
DIY in the Death Industry
I’ve explained before that I’m not too keen on burial and my kids are not too keen on “carmation.” Curious about alternatives to embalming (in preparation for either burial or cremation), I came across a New York Times article about the home death movement.
“The Rise of Back-to-the-Basics Funerals” reveals an emerging phenomenon. Baby boomers, the eldest now in their 70s, are trending toward simpler funerals and DIY body preparation/disposition. Why? Three reasons: it’s more natural, it’s more green, and it’s less expensive.
…the funeral industry is responding to a widespread desire for greener and more meaningful send-offs. In Sebastopol, Calif., Jerrigrace Lyons advocates home funerals and encourages families to spend more time with the body. Nature’s Casket, outside Boulder, Colo., makes rustic, handmade pine coffins that can be used premortem as bookshelves. Eternal Reefs, near Atlanta, helps clients turn cremated remains into personalized, eco-friendly “reef balls,” which are placed on the ocean floor, aiding the growth of coral reefs.
(I’m kind of diggin’ the wicker casket pictured in the article.)
Death as a Family Matter
I didn’t even know do-it-yourself body preparation (and, in some states, disposition) was a possibility. Did you? Boston’s WBUR* says that in most states, it’s legal to care for our own dead.
*Alert: The WBUR story begins with the death of a child. Skip the click if you need to.
This “personal funeral” or “home death care” movement involves reclaiming various aspects of death: for instance, keeping the dead body at home for some time rather than having it whisked it away; rejecting embalming and other environmentally questionable measures to prettify the dead; personally transporting a loved one’s corpse to a cemetery; and even, in some cases, home burials. Families are learning to navigate these delicate tasks with help from a growing cadre of “death midwives” “doulas” or “home death guides…”
…Each case is fiercely personal — there’s no playbook — but they all share a very intimate sense that death should unfold as a family matter, not as a moment to relinquish loved ones to a paid stranger or parlor.
Does Involvement with the Body Help or Hinder Grieving?
The article asks why, when we are not compelled to eat restaurant food or have our oil changed in a shop or our nails done professionally, why do we assume we must go to a third party for funeral services?
Some of it is an erroneous assumption of the law, and some of comes from an “assumption that the grieving are simply too fragile to cope with death head on.”
WBUR points out that in reality, the DIY aspect supports the grief process for those who choose to go this route.
Over My Dead Body
I do not want my body taken away by strangers to a sterile place. I do not want my body pumped full of chemicals and violated in so many ways [warning: graphic descriptions].
If my loved ones are amenable (I cannot yet have that talk with my children), I prefer to be put on ice for a few days while people gather. Then they’d sing some of my favorite songs and maybe even dance with both joy and sorrow. And finally, they’d put my body in a cardboard box they’ve decorated (see video below) and take it to a crematorium.
Either all that, or I donate my body to Body Worlds, with the stipulation that I spend eternity in a yoga pose.
(Yes, I see the disconnect about chemical injections).
Have you thought about what you’d like for your own body disposition and funeral? Are you drawn to any aspects of a home death?
- Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers by Mary Roach (she takes a heavy subject and makes you laugh)
- Undertaken with Love: A Home Funeral Guide for Families and Community Care Groups by Holly Stevens (I have not yet read this booklet.)
- National Home Funeral Alliance
- “I’m going to build my own pine coffin.” (New York Times)
- So you think you want to be a tissue donor (NPR)
- Video about the home death movement
Lori Holden, mom of a teen son and a teen daughter, blogs from Denver. Her book, The Open-Hearted Way to Open Adoption: Helping Your Child Grow Up Whole, is available through your favorite online bookseller and makes a thoughtful anytime gift for the adoptive families in your life.