Sunday, November 24, 2013

DIY Funerals

A new, but old tradition is on its way back out to the masses. Something by most standards, that is considered very taboo. Can you imagine from the actual minute of death, to burial- handling your own dead? While anyone who may not have really heard the details of a DIY funeral, may think this sounds morbid, it really is a beautiful last gift to our loved ones.

Last night I came across an article, DIY Death: Natural, At-Home Funerals And Their Boomer Appeal. At first I admit upon reading its title, I honestly breathed a "WTF". With many satire pages gaining popularity, I admittedly thought this was one of those. Once I began reading I was blown away at how much this idea appealed to me.

The first family they talk about is the Van Meter-Fox family, who lost their daughter to a rare genetic disease. A quote he made, made total sense to me. It sparked something in me that inspired me to look deeper into the unheard of subject, and look deeper within myself. What if I lost one of my children? How would I feel? Mr. Van Meter says, “We took care of Adelaida when she was an infant, we took care of her when she was healthy, we advocated for her in the hospital, we took care of her when she was sick. Why wouldn’t we take care of her when she was dead?” It suddenly made sense to me. Why would they want to hand their child over, that they created and loved, to strangers who would only place her on a cold table, among other dead bodies, number her, and store her away until her turn was up to be embalmed? I understood. An overwhelming sense of admiration to these parents overwhelmed me. I continued to read, and with every story the pieces came together. At home funerals. They made sense.

My Own Loss, My Parents

Being someone who's dealt with a personal home death (my dad), and also worked in nursing facilities and hospitals, I cannot count the number of times I've seen a loved one whisked off prematurely. When my dad died, I laid next to him for around 15 minutes or so. I remember the words reverberating through my body like ice cubes being dropped in a glass, "The coroner will be here soon." This was my father, the man that raised me! I had 25 years with him and a stranger was going to put a deadline on me saying goodbye? I remember watching him being removed from the home and thinking to myself he was being moved like heavy furniture. I wanted to remember him in his natural state. I never wished to see either of my parents made up like dolls by people who knew absolutely nothing about them. I wanted to remember then the way they were. Even my mom, dying in a hospital hooked up to tubes, I had no desire to see her embalmed and made up by a person who never knew her in life. What I wouldn't have given to have the time I needed to accept they were gone. No faster than I could cry my first cry over my loss, they were both gone....forever. And I knew I could never get that moment back.

How Families Handle Their Experiences With DIY Funerals

Many of the families that are featured in this article, talk about their experiences with their deceased loved ones at home. Many talk about an intimate bathing of the body which consists of varying techniques including using oils and flowers to bathe their loved one. They are then placed in comfortable clothes of choice, by the family. No suits or fancy garb, simple and personalized wear to honor their loved ones. They are then wrapped lovingly in blankets and surrounded by tokens of love such as flowers, pictures and other mementos. Religions and beliefs also seem to play into their individualized rituals. In private ceremonies, family and close friends participate in these wakes. The deceased are sometimes placed in handmade coffins or biodegradable Ecopods, or banana leaf urns, provided by at home funeral organizations..

Yes, these organizations do exist!


Now I guess something that many people would sensibly ask is, is this legal? The answer amazingly is YES! It is absolutely legal, and in all 50 states. Of course there are many factors that play into this. We cannot simply say, "OK Tommy is dead, lets go bury him in the backyard", and that's it. A medical examiner must sign off the death certificate and a permit must be obtained to transport the body to a cemetery or crematorium. There are other small legalities I'm sure when it comes to causes of death and such. Hospice or expectant deaths, I'm sure, would be much easier. If a death comes unexpectedly with a healthy individual, a medical examiner would need to determine cause of death. But after all is said and done, you are able to take your loved one home, and handle the details on your own. Many don't know that with embalming, you are not legally obligated to do it. Preservation of the body is something that has become popular after the boom of the funeral industry, but it is NOT necessary. To some, this is an unnatural part of the death experience. Why preserve a body that is going into the ground, never to be seen again? Normal practice is keeping the body refridgeratred or chilled on ice to slow decomposition times. This can easily be achieved with absolutely no odor.

As for burying the dead on your property, yes this is legal as well. But of course there are standards that must be met. I am sure that homes within city limits would not allow this, as most do not even allow you to bury a pet at a home within "city limits. But for example, Bill Cosby buried his son Ennis at him family property in Shelbourne, Mass. While city officials seem to mostly attempt to discourage families from this, it is truly legal to do.

Who is someone else to decide what is right for an individual or a family? I'm guessing that people's personal standards for ethics is what ultimately plays into what they think we can or cannot do.This doesn't makes these practices unethical. It just makes them different from what we're TOLD is right or wrong.

If we are allowed to care for our dying at home, why are we not capable of handling them once they have passed away? I think this is mainly because a lot of people have been programmed not to ask questions, nor do they research for themselves. Most people do not look into such things, as death is typically unexpected. The mentality seems to be- If this is cut and dry, and this is what I have been told we "need" to do, then we must do it. I have never been one of these people. I'm a questioner. I question everything. I buy into nothing. I always seek more information. Why must home funerals be any different than home birthing, or Hospice care for our loved one? Is it not the ultimate act of love to be with them on this journey?  

I think any parent or child of an elderly dying parent, especially, could understand. Its so personal it gives me goosebumps. I cannot imagine just handing my child over to a stranger who knows nothing about them, nor the struggles or achievements of their lives. Although I realize many don't have this choice, or this just wouldn't be for them, I feel its worthy of thought. I don't judge anyone for what they do or how other people feel. I feel it might be right for me, but I guess I wouldn't know unless I was in that position. There was a time it was exclusively the families "duty" to handle this. Even in present cultures today, this is still common practice.

A natural, unaltered, undramatic transition. What an act of love.

 Cultural Differences

In Hispanic cultures, a large portion of afterlife care, is handled by loved ones. Wakes are held in homes, which turn into more as social events, rather than a time of mourning. Family and friends use this time to reflect on the life of the individual and celebrate. Many religions prohibit embalming, including Eastern Orthodoxy, who strictly forbids it. Iglesia ni Cristo, allows embalming but prohibits autopsies and cremation. They feel these practices are disrespectful to the dead. Most Neopagans discourage embalming, due to it being believed as unnatural. Arabic Bahá'í Faith, also discourages embalming. Instead the body is washed and placed in a cotton shroud. They also forbid cremation. Jewish tradition forbids embalming and cremation. They usually bury their dead within the first 24 hrs after death. A Rabbi is sought in cases of delayed burial. During this time, shomrim recite Psalms within earshot of the deceased. They are then dressed in a white robe and covered in a cotton shroud. Coffins in the case of Jewish burials are simple and natural to permit natural decomposition. Muslims also do not practice embalming. The body is cleansed and perfumed by relatives. They are also wrapped in a white shroud called a "kafan". No coffins are used traditionally for Muslim deaths.

In many of these cultures and religions, funerals or wakes are held in a family home. 

Victorian Era "Home Wakes"

The 19th century was a time that was shrouded in death. Many illnesses were at their peek and medical advances, just weren't that advance. Child mortality rates were staggering. The practice of at home funerals and wakes were nothing out of the ordinary. Many traditions we use today stem from Victorian era funerals. The differences? We count of funeral homes to weed out the daunting details to avoid further emotional trauma to family, or so many think.

Most wakes would last anywhere between 3-4 days. This was to ensure that the dead were in fact deceased, and not in a coma-type state. This is the reasoning behind the name "wake" or wakening. Flowers and candles were used to masked odors. Icing the body was used to slow down the decomposition of the body. Once a wake had concluded, the dead were carried out feet first to prevent the spirit from looking back and prompting other family members to follow them to death.

As I previously said, in the 19th many lives were cut very short by disease. For many, this was one last shot of spending time with a loved one. This time was used to photograph the body in life like poses, as photography was expensive, many families did not have photos of their loved ones alive. This photography has been coined "Memento Mori" photography. 

To me, home funerals are not that strange. It is society itself, that make it strange or macabre. Preconceived notions that death is taboo and is better handled by professionals, seems to play a factor into peoples view of handling the dead. While, yes, I believe there should be certain regulations concerning disposal of the body, and determining causes of death- I believe it should ultimately be up to the individual and their family to figure out what is best for them. Governments should not be able to micromanage how we tend to our loved ones after death. Death is just as personal as life itself, and should be handled accordingly. It should be made to cater to those who must live with the fact that their loved one is gone. It is them, that must face that this will be their one last gift to their beloved. No one should be rushed to say goodbye. No parent should have to send their child away to a mortuary to be placed on a stainless steel table and placed among other strangers (corpses). If a family chooses to keep that child with them, in a dignified manner, I see nothing wrong with it.

Funerals are extremely expensive. These funerals can be very low cost. I think its important people at least know that there is an alternative. I see so many distraught families lose a loved one unexpectedly and left with the burden of how they will bury their loved one. Who hasn't participated in a car wash or other funeral fundraising effort? It doesn't need to be this way.

We live in such a judgmental society who would be more apt to tell another what is right for them, rather than minding our own business. Imposing our own beliefs on someone else because we don't agree with it, is ridiculous. What can this loving act do for a grieving family? I believe in giving back a family their control, and saying what goes. I 100% support DIY Funerals.

MEMENTO MORI: Remember than you will die.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Life is Beautiful; Death Quotes

“Life is pleasant. Death is peaceful. It's the transition that's troublesome.”
― Isaac Asimov

“If there are no dogs in Heaven, then when I die I want to go where they went.”
Will Rogers

“Every man's life ends the same way. It is only the details of how he lived and how he died that distinguish one man from another.”
― Ernest Hemingway

“Nobody owns life, but anyone who can pick up a frying pan owns death.”
― William S. Burroughs

“A man with outward courage dares to die; a man with inner courage dares to live.”
― Lao Tzu, Tao Te Ching

“For what is it to die but to stand naked in the wind and to melt into the sun? And when the earth shall claim your limbs, then shall you truly dance.”
― Kahlil Gibran

"No one wants to die. Even people who want to go to heaven don't want to die to get there. And yet death is the destination we all share. No one has ever escaped it. And that is as it should be, because Death is very likely the single best invention of Life. It is Life's change agent. It clears out the old to make way for the new."
― Steve Jobs

"The fear of death follows from the fear of life. A man who lives fully is prepared to die at any time."
― Mark Twain

"The fear of death is the most unjustified of all fears, for there's no risk of accident for someone who's dead."
― Albert Einstein

"Death is no more than passing from one room into another. But there's a difference for me, you know. Because in that other room I shall be able to see."
― Helen Keller

"While I thought that I was learning how to live, I have been learning how to die."
― Leonardo da Vinci

"Our dead are never dead to us, until we have forgotten them."
― George Eliot

"The life of the dead is placed in the memory of the living."
Marcus Tullius Cicero

"Let no one weep for me, or celebrate my funeral with mourning; for I still live, as I pass to and fro through the mouths of men."
Quintus Ennius

“Death is contagious; it is contracted the moment we are conceived.”
― Madeleine L'Engle

"Death will be a great relief. No more interviews."
-Katharine Hepburn

"Cowards die many times before their deathsThe valiant never taste of death but once."
-William Shakespeare, Julius Caesar

"Death is a natural part of life. Rejoice for those around you who transform into the Force."
-Yoda, Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith

“After all, what's a life, anyway? We're born, we live a little while, we die.”
E.B. White, Charlotte's Web

“The death of a beautiful woman is, unquestionably, the most poetical topic in the world.”
Edgar Allan Poe

“A single death is a tragedy; a million deaths is a statistic.”
Joseph Stalin

“Our lives can't be measured by our final years, of this I am sure.”
Nicholas Sparks, The Notebook

“Death is so terribly final, while life is full of possibilities.”
― George R.R. Martin, A Game of Thrones

"I've never killed a man, but I've read many an obituary with a great deal of satisfaction.”
Clarence Darrow

“The phoenix must burn to emerge.”
Janet Fitch, White Oleander

“Death didn't bother me much. Strong Christian and all that. Method of death did. Being eaten alive. One of my top three ways not to go out.”
Laurell K. Hamilton, The Laughing Corpse

“Those who shun the whimsy of things will experience rigor mortis before death.”
Tom Robbins

“Enjoy life. There's plenty of time to be dead.”
Hans Christian Andersen

“Death is not the greatest loss in life. The greatest loss is what dies inside us while we live.”
Norman Cousins

"No one can confidently say that he will still be living tomorrow."

“It's better to die laughing than to live each moment in fear.”
Michael Crichton

“When we die, we will turn into songs, and we will hear each other and remember each other.”
― Rob Sheffield

“Life is too short when you think of the length of death”
Sean Mangan

“It is nothing to die. It is frightful not to live.”
Victor Hugo, Les Misérables

“No one here gets out alive.”
Jim Morrison

"Those who have the strength and the love to sit with a dying patient in the silence that goes beyond words will know that this moment is neither frightening nor painful, but a peaceful cessation of the functioning of the body."
― Elisabeth Kubler-Ross

"For death is no more than a turning of us over from time to eternity."
William Penn

"The day which we fear as our last is but the birthday of eternity."
― Lucius Annaeus Seneca

"From my rotting body, flowers shall grow and I am in them and that is eternity."
Edvard Munch

“I'm not afraid of death; I just don't want to be there when it happens.”
Woody Allen

“To the well-organized mind, death is but the next great adventure.”
― J.K. Rowling

“I'm the one that's got to die when it's time for me to die, so let me live my life the way I want to.”
― Jimi Hendrix

“It is a curious thing, the death of a loved one. We all know that our time in this world is limited, and that eventually all of us will end up underneath some sheet, never to wake up. And yet it is always a surprise when it happens to someone we know. It is like walking up the stairs to your bedroom in the dark, and thinking there is one more stair than there is. Your foot falls down, through the air, and there is a sickly moment of dark surprise as you try and readjust the way you thought of things.”
― Lemony Snicket

“Love is how you stay alive, even after you are gone.”
― Mitch Albom

“It is said that your life flashes before your eyes just before you die. That is true, it's called Life.”
― Terry Pratchett

“I do not fear death. I had been dead for billions and billions of years before I was born, and had not suffered the slightest inconvenience from it.”
― Mark Twain

“When he shall die,
Take him and cut him out in little stars,
And he will make the face of heaven so fine
That all the world will be in love with night
And pay no worship to the garish sun.”
― William Shakespeare, Romeo and Juliet

“You only live twice:
Once when you're born
And once when you look death in the face.”
― Ian Fleming

“Each night, when I go to sleep, I die. And the next morning, when I wake up, I am reborn.”
― Mahatma Gandhi

“Death is not the opposite of life, but a part of it.”
― Haruki Murakami

“No one really knows why they are alive until they know what they'd die for.”
― Martin Luther King Jr.

“People living deeply have no fear of death.”
― Anaïs Nin

“It's better to burn out than to fade away.”
― Neil Young

“Reality means you live until you die...the real truth is nobody wants reality.”
― Chuck Palahniuk, Survivor

“Fear not death for the sooner we die, the longer we shall be immortal.”
― Benjamin Franklin

“When you're dead, they really fix you up. I hope to hell when I do die somebody has sense enough to just dump me in the river or something. Anything except sticking me in a goddam cemetery. People coming and putting a bunch of flowers on your stomach on Sunday, and all that crap. Who wants flowers when you're dead? Nobody.”
― J.D. Salinger, The Catcher in the Rye

“To live in hearts we leave behind is not to die.”
― Thomas Campbell

“The funny thing about facing imminent death is that it really snaps everything else into perspective.”
― James Patterson, The Angel Experiment

 A Beautiful Death - mono edition, by Terry Fan

Memento Mori; remember that you will die

Saturday, November 2, 2013

Noviembre 1-2; Feliz día De Los Muertos

Día De Los Muertos- Day of the Dead

Halloween, All Hallows Eve, All Souls Day, Samhain, Oiche Shamhna, Hallowe'en, All-hallow-tide, Hallowtide, Hallow-mas, Hallowmas, Alhallow ene, Hollantide, Todos Santos, La Toussaint, Nos Calan Gaeaf, Araw ng mga Patay, Feast of All Saints, Snap Apple Night, Hop Tu Naa, Native American Ghost Suppers, Shuma Sashti:

No matter where you're from, there's one thing all these holidays have in common. All of these celebrations believe that the time just before winter, is the one time the veil between the living and the spiritual world is at its thinnest. November 1st marks that day. While some of these holidays celebrate the day, some celebrate the eve of November. This is also a time of renewal. The point where mortality is brought to light and and awareness of the life cycle, from life to death is one. In winter, the world goes dormant. This night is the night before that process. The old dies out to make room for the new come Spring. Death is simply a continuance of life. Another plane of existence. 

Being November 2nd. I will highlight Dia De Los Muertos, which is a Mexican holiday that loved ones from the afterlife, are united with those who are still earth bound. On this night (November 1st) it is believe that the veil is lifted, and all are able to share this day together. Far before Mesoamerican cultures began, the indigenous people such as the Nahu, celebrated this holiday.  This tradition is more than 3,000-4,000 years old, and is just as strongly celebrated today as it was then. Indigenous people did not believe that the soul dies, but that they continued on living in Mictlán, a Place of Death. On one special day of the year, ancestors and loved ones are able to return to Earth and visit. 

Aztecs had a celebration of Mictecacihuatl, Lady of the Dead. The Aztecs believed that the dead preferred to be celebrated rather than mourned. This celebration would last an entire month. In 1521, the Spainards came to South America and conquered the Aztecs. The Spainards believed that the Aztecs were Pagan barbarians.  Once the religion of the Catholics was introduced to the Aztec beliefs, a comprise was reached.  Mictecacihuatl became the more modern "Catrina",  which is the figure that is typically depicted today. She is very ornate, covered in fancy clothing and flowers. She serves as a reminder that death is eminent. No one can avoid it, not even the rich.

Unlike many cultures, death is not taboo to the Hispanic culture. People do not fear death, and "Death" himself is a part of art and legend. Death is viewed as a celebration, rather than a time of mourning. Death takes on a colorful happy persona versus the dark looming figure that it does in our own American culture. He is often depicted playing with children, playing instruments or gleefully drinking and celebrating. Depictions of sorrow or weeping is considered disrespectful to the dead who are coming to visit. 

Elaborate altars are set up on this special night to commemorate these deceased loved ones. Candles are set up in masses to light the way for their souls to return to family and friends. Momentos, personal belongings, and food are left as offerings and to honor the dead. Marigolds are offered to help guide them to where the celebration is. Loved ones share stories in order to evoke spirits to come forward and visit. It's thought that on this magical night, our deceased celebrate with us. The young are taught about those that came before us, and we all are together.
(click on photos above to enlarge)

Noviembre 1, 2013

Last night was the first Dia De Los Muertos celebration that I have attended. We start our night at a local restaurant in Old Sacramento, La Terraza. A beautiful elaborate altar is set up in the restaurant as an offering to the dead. In the last few years, the popularity of the Day of the Dead has become very mainstream. Sugar Skulls are on nearly everything from clothes to kitchen towels. Calavera face paint has become very popular, especially in tattoo culture. My love for death has certainly made the draw of the holiday, huge for me. 

Today I want to use this day as a time for learning, to understand this culture I'm drawn to. To understand it, and participate in it. I admit at first I wonder how I will be received as a blond haired white girl, coming to a Day of the Dead event. I imagine with its new commercial attention, that possibly Hispanics may feel that the new attention is disrespectful. How many people have a Dia De Los Muertos tattoo, but how many actually understand the culture behind it? 

As a people, do Mexican people find this lack of knowledge discourteous? I can't say that I blame them if they do. 

But as it goes, I feel I should experience it. Not as a fad, but as a life experience. I honor death. I honor culture. I feel respect.

As I walk up, it's just as I would expect, predominantly Hispanic. I feel no funny looks, (except for the fact I have white contact lenses, and get the occasional stare or thumbs up). I sense no discontent. I feel welcome. I notice these beautiful altars full of flowers, mostly marigolds. Being Pagan/Christian, (no I'm not confused, but thank you if you felt concerned by that) I understand altars and honoring what we love. I feel a comradery here. I approach a table offering flowers and cards to attach to these altars. I ask about the custom and I am openly welcomed to join in. I look around and I am not the only Caucasian participating. I feel the new wave of commercialism is somewhat welcome by those of us attending, simply because we are honoring and showing respect. We are taking the time to learn. We celebrate on this night, together, to honor our loved ones- no matter our ethnicity. 

My daughter and I use this night to honor two people very important to our lives, my mom and dad. My dad she calls grandpa Ed, my mother she never knew, Grandma Linda. We participate in the altar ceremony and put a flower up for each of them. A traditional marigold for my dad and a purple freesia for my mom. Rayanna writes Grandpa Ed's and I write my mom's for us both.

The altar is beautiful. I walk around. Some cards are written in Spanish, some English. All beautiful sentiments for those who have left their earthly bodies. No matter what the words say, all are out of love and honor.

Aside from altar making, there is also Calavera painting, which are also known as Sugar Skulls. Its neat watching people paint them, especially the older ladies. I watch them chatter and smile as they make these happy little decorative faces. It's said that these Sugar skulls represent the dearly departed. They can be given as gifts to both the living and the dead. They are placed on ofrendas (altars) for the dead, but also given to the living in honor of their deceased loved one. Sweets and toys are thought to be left for any loved ones, but especially deceased children known as Los Angelitos "the Little Angels". For adults, gifts are left in the form of tequila, mezcal and trinkets. 

My night was a wonderful and spiritual experience I will not forget. And I do intend to return annually. Even if I am not Hispanic, I love any holiday that honors our beloved dead.  I am at one with any tradition that celebrates our life cycle. Pagan beliefs are not much different than that of the Mexicans, after all the same roots are there. I honor death. I celebrate life. Death is part of life. 

Memento Mori; remember that you will die.