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Are You Afraid to Plan for Your Own Death?

Posted on Mar 27, 2010

By Frankie Colmane

(Page 3)

I asked Lyons if there is any possible collaboration with funeral homes. “Some funeral homes are starting to offer home funerals. One woman, whose father owns a mortuary in the Midwest, took our class and wants to bring in the home funeral aspect. Some people see that this isn’t going away. There is a difference in the quality of care. I know some funeral directors are well-meaning but they don’t realize that they’re disempowering families. They think they’re taking the burden off of the family. When we teach, we talk about the difference between funeral directors and home funeral guides. It’s important to guides that the family is made to feel that they are in charge, that they are making informed decisions and that everything is done legally and correctly. We guide, we facilitate but we don’t direct.”

Home funeral educators and guides also have to contend with people’s resistance to the inevitability of death. Our consumer society would rather have us focus our energies and money on the possibility of delaying the aging process rather than on facing the reality that we are born to die. “Lots of people come to our workshops because they have aging parents and they want to know how to take care of them, so they’re not caught off guard,” says Lyons. “Other people do it because they want to prepare for their own death. We never know when we’re going to die. In our culture not many people acknowledge that.” Lyons likes to quote this Buddhist commentary: “America is the only culture that considers death as optional.”

Lyons is in the process of forming a California Home Funeral Alliance to organize the community of home funeral educators and guides, as well as friends of the home funeral movement. Currently she relies on her educational workshops and private grants to keep her organization going. Lyons deplores that foundations offering funding for death and dying projects do not as yet include categories for after-death care, and home or family-directed funeral guidance.

There is an urgent need to educate hospitals, hospices and coroner’s offices, who often don’t know that families have the legal option to care for their dead. At the time of death, they usually give the grieving relatives a list of local funeral homes to choose from. On the Funeral Consumers Alliance Web site a chaplain working in a Georgia hospital leaves a comment asking for help in the case of a family member who requested to take the body of their dead relative. The chaplain admits to being “unprepared for that” since they always release the body to funeral homes. Lyons contends that people can’t be blamed for being uninformed when nobody wants to talk about death.


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“We don’t have any death education in school, yet every one of us is going to die,” Lyons says. “We have sex education but no death education. If we introduced this reality at an early age we’d get more comfortable. In my workshops, I show the first episode of Greg Palmer’s four-part series ‘Death: The Trip of a Lifetime.’ In it a teacher, after the death of a colleague, decides to instruct his 4th-graders about death and dying. She has them write their own epitaphs, what they’d want people to say about them at their funerals, what would be on their grave site. The kids get to be so comfortable with the whole concept of dying. That’s where it needs to begin.”

There are currently 54 listings under “Home Funeral Guides and Consultants” on the Home Funeral Directory Web site and many books on the subject of do-it-yourself funerals are widely available. A new edition of Lisa Carlson’s Caring For The Dead: Your Final Act of Love, published in 1998 is in the works and the Funeral Consumers Alliance adds updates on its Web site to changes in state laws since the publication of the book. The site also lists local organizations available for counsel and information is readily accessible from the Consumer Protection branch of the Federal Trade Commission as well as your local Department of Consumer Affairs.

“No one can care for our loved ones as tenderly as those who have loved them,” says Beth Knox. Olivia Bareham founded Sacred Crossings, a company offering cost-effective alternatives to current funeral practices, in the wake of her mother’s passing. Since she died at home, the nurse asked Bareham if she would help her bathe the body. “I had never seen my mom’s naked body! I don’t regret I said yes. The experience was unforgettable and deeply honoring of my mother.”

A young woman was originally “creeped out” when her mother told her she wanted to have a home funeral for her husband who succumbed after a long battle with cancer. Upon viewing the body of her deceased father peacefully laying on his bed on the day of his passing, she spoke these words to me: “My dad worked so hard, he started out with nothing and he took good care of his family; he bought this house, this is his home; for him to pass here is safe for him, and safe for his spirit to relax for a few days. I wouldn’t want to have it any other way.

“Since we’re all going to die, Jerrigrace Lyons wisely advises that we should have a death plan. Waiting to be grief-stricken or dead to get informed and shop for funerals is a bad idea. But beyond the financial aspect of after-death care, what these guides are asking us to consider is why would we want to miss out on this last chance to care for those we love? Maybe because we’re all so busy working full-time jobs and conforming to society’s material demands that we hand over one of our most important rites of passage to strangers at a significant cost to our own evolution.

Frankie Colmane lives in Los Angeles, where she reports on local independent artists and activists. Links to her stories can be found on The Smiling Spider blog.

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By TAO Walker, March 29, 2010 at 5:48 pm Link to this comment

Here in Indian Country we don’t fear death.  We know, though, it’s just damned foolish to “plan for” it.

Time was, before the arrival of the tormentors, when our Women giving birth had the only ‘say’ about who got in here, there were pretty strict ‘admissions standards’ for Human Beings, and not just anybody could make it….especially on the first try.  On the other hand, getting out was easy and natural as could be.

It’s one of the signature features of the virtual world-o’-hurt where our tame Sisters and Brothers only half-live that male-dominated “medical science” took CONtrol of the entry Way in most “developed” places, and its practitioners take great pride (antecedent to a great FALL?) in letting-in all comers.  Meantime, even those sick and tired of being sick-and-tired play bloody hell trying to make-good their escape, as “science” and religiossified make-believe CONspire to prolong the agony….at-least ‘til “the money” runs-out.

That more-and-more of the captives are ‘pushing-back’ against both these gratuitous insults to their Humanity is indeed a good sign….here in these latter days.


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By Blackspeare, March 29, 2010 at 9:21 am Link to this comment

Direct cremation remains the most economical end of life process.  However, if you want to be real thrifty then donate your body to science or medical school and when they finish with the body it is cremated and returned to the family in a plain brown wrapper for eventual dispersion of the ashes——hopefully the ashes are the right ones, but mix-ups do occur.

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By NYCartist, March 29, 2010 at 6:46 am Link to this comment

I have signed a document requesting cremation (required in NYS).  Gerard, see  This article is not about “assisted suicide” but Not Dead Yet is, plus more.

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By gerard, March 28, 2010 at 5:06 pm Link to this comment

It appears that I may live so long that I may reach the point (due to illness, pain, deterioration etc.) where I will wish I could plan my own death (as “assisted suicide” etc).  And I realize the great values of other cultures where people, unlike European/Americans with their avoidance techniques, take personal care of their family members up to and including the end and beyond. But ... we are a long way removed from it in this country, and used to the slithery blandishments of “funeral directors”.  It would take some tender assistance to return us to less commercialized, more humane and loving ways to die.
  Planning my own funeral (quite another thing) doesn’t interest me.

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By skulz fontaine, March 28, 2010 at 10:05 am Link to this comment

Watch how quickly the mortuary industry pitches one histrionic fit about we
simple folk not knowing the ins and outs of death. “They” being the professionals
of course and we little people being just ignorant simpletons and unskilled in the
art of burying the dead. Laws will be passed rapido and then and as is said, that
will be that. Bring out you dead will become another government mandate. Of
course and obviously, a mandate is not an evening with George Clooney.

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By doublestandards/glasshouses, March 28, 2010 at 7:51 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Cremation is a very simple process.  They’ve been doing it in India for millenium without help from
funeral homes or morticians.  It will be intersting to see Americans reacquainting ourselves with the facts of life.  Once we learn to take death away from big business maybe we could take life back, too.

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By G.Anderson, March 28, 2010 at 7:28 am Link to this comment

Actually, no….I’ve given it lots of thought, and I wonder, like many in my generation, if there will be anyone around to burry me when the time comes.

Will the Earth, become instinct, ending the lives of it’s billions of inhabitants in one fell swoupe, or will we all fall victim to some dire plague, a super H1N1 like virus, as happened in the Eukraine?

or will the LHC create an interdimensional breach into desitter space, turning the space we inhabit to a quazar for several parsecs? Or create a self replicating strange particle that turns the earth into a massive strange planet. Or will the Sandia Z-Machine turn itself into a white hole vaporizing the western states?

Will the methane trapped in the deep ocean, suddenly be released, destroying all the air we breath? Will the honey bees die off along with the bats, leading us to starvation? Or will the planet Nirubu return, as many predict, crushing the earth into millions of pieces?

Along with alien invasion from outerspace, and a plain old nuclear war, will there be anyone left to care who gets a casket or not, if any one of these scenarios comes to pass?

But you see, thinking about death is one of our larger industries in this country, especially for the movie industry.

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