Art of Dying Art of Dying_Volume III_joomag - Page 31

My magical utopia is a conservation cemetery, saving endangered land through green burials. The opening of green cemeteries across the United States affirms the growing demand for natural burial. But when you have something that is this difficult to talk about, the needle is not going to move quickly. We’re running a marathon, not a sprint. I worked in a funeral home where you would buy advanced cremation plans that insulated the spouse and kids from the death experience. The person who bought the plan was thinking, "I'm so generous. I've put everything in place so my family doesn't have to do a single thing when I die." There are families who really want to do something, who really want a task. It's the task of grieving. It's the task of mourning. It's the task of being involved when someone you love dies. Maybe these plans remove the burden of funeral costs, but they also remove the option to experience significant tasks and rituals. There are people who value embalming and it's still going to be available to them, but there are so many people who don't realize what embalming is. They don't realize how much it's going to cost. They don't realize what their other options are. Embalming, especially to younger people, doesn't have any meaning. They don't like that the embalmed body’s not really grandma and it creeps them out. There's a place for death doulas. Many death doulas consider themselves ritual experts. There are deeply meaningful ceremonies relating to the body that they perform with the family. But many families are more secular and self-reliant. They want to know all of the things they have to do but they want to be alone with their loved one’s body. It's physically easy to be with a dead loved one’s body. It's closing the mouth. It's closing the eyes. It's dressing them in their favorite sweater before they go into rigor mortis. Honestly, it's simple stuff. That's the fallacy of the funeral industry. You don’t need professionals to do this. Anyone can do it. It doesn't mean that it's emotionally easy. If it's your mom, there’s the hard work of grief. My funeral home, Undertaking LA, reintroduces rituals that give people something to do around death. We don't offer embalming and we don't offer traditional burial, so if you're going to have a burial it's going to be a natural or green burial. Otherwise, it will be a cremation. If you come to us, we start with the premise that you want to be more involved. Part One of a conversation with John Wadsworth. Part Two to be featured in Art of Dying Volume IV. CAITLIN DOUGHTY Caitlin Doughty is a mortician, activist, and funeral industry rabble- rouser. In 2011 she founded the death acceptance collective The Order of the Good Death, which has spawned the death positive movement. Her first book, Smoke Gets in Your Eyes and From Here To Eternity, was a New York Times best-seller. She lives in Los Angeles, where she runs her nonprofit funeral home, Undertaking LA. Caitlin's webseries "Ask a Mortician" and her work to change the death industry have led to features on National Public Radio, BBC, The New Yorker, Vice, The Atlantic, the New York Times, and Forbes. She frequently gives talks on the history of death culture, rituals, and the funeral industry, presenting for groups as diverse as the TED, SXSW, The Upright Citizen’s Brigade, and universities and libraries all over the world. VOLUME III | 31