And finding a “place of rest” in the middle of things.
This theme keeps emerging for me lately: last night during Tucson Death Cafe as people shared why they came; today, while planning for a National Home Funeral Alliance board retreat; a couple of days ago during a conversation with a client about preparing for her husband’s death; or a couple of weeks ago at the International All-Choir Gathering for Threshold Choir (that I had the huge joy of attending!). Being with WHAT IS is a major thread running through all of these scenarios. Hearing people share about an experience they have had as caregiver or relative to a dying person, actively listening to their stories, bearing witness to the truth and meaning for them without trying to fix, save or advise. Being honest with the struggle and the work of it. And even still, finding a way to rest. Then continue.
Frank Ostaseski, founder of the Metta Institute speaks to this concept better than anyone I’ve ever heard:
He brings me pause.
How am I being honest with whatever struggle I face (or witness others facing)?
And how am I finding (and/or offering) a place of rest within the scene?
And naturally I wonder, how would the world be a different place if we all somehow had the courage to do this more routinely? Not only when it comes to the end of life, rather with everyday living.
Three words: honesty + basic transparency. What do these describe? The mission motivating Josh Slocum, the Funeral Consumers Alliancenational Executive Director. The FCA’s biennial meeting happened in Tucson this month. While attending a full day of the conference sessions, I heard Josh give two talks: ‘State of the FCA’ and ‘Going Green without Going Broke’. He has a dry wit that kills me (sorry), and he is wickedly intelligent. I am so grateful he strongly advocates for funeral consumers (both living and dead) across the country!
The state of the FCA is healthy and Josh happily reported the latest BIG news: his May 2012 interview with Anderson Cooper on 60 Minutes. The segment addresses the question: “Should you buy a plot ahead of time?” To which Josh consistently responds, “No.” If you want to learn more about his response and what kind of laws affect you locally, I recommend getting this book: “Final Rights: Reclaiming the American Way of Death.”Co-written by Josh and Lisa Carlson, it is an invaluable resource.
A new piece of Josh’s message resonated with me big time: bringing the FCA message about funeral rights to a younger crowd. By younger, I interpreted him to mean the two to four decades old crowd, rather than six to eight. I’m chewing on this idea and how I might be able to help my Southern Arizona FCA chapter achieve outreach to a younger set. He reminded us how the FCA founders were in their 30’s and 40’s with a purpose rooted in social and economic justice.
In the “going green” department, Josh says the best means is “maintaining the right to choose NOT to be a consumer.” So basic and honest, right? And so true. As funeral consumers, in nearly all states (41 to be exact) we can still be our own funeral directors. We can legally and naturally care for our own. Even in the states where a funeral director is required for some piece of the death care process, people can choose to be minimalist consumers with a lighter environmental footprint.
As a Life Cycle Celebrant, I serve people at all stages of life’s milestones: new life, love and loss. I recently completed in-depth training about caring for our own at home – to help families care for their own departed. Today I found relevant articles that revealed two themes underpinning why I do this work: choices and connection for bereaved families.
One tells of the burgeoning home funeral trend, where we are returning to practices we know from our ancestors. The sobering photo in the article shows an elderly rancher looking at his coffin, handmade by his sons. It is a still shot from the film “A Family Undertaking“, which offers glimpses into contemporary family-led funerals. The other article tells how families are decreasing their funeral or memorial spending out of necessity during this slow economy. According to the independent funeral homes interviewed, families are more frequently opting out of the costliest line items and simplifying by choosing direct cremation.
Is the slow economy the only driver, I wonder? Or is this trend away from heavy spending on energy and material intensive products (steel caskets, concrete vaults and embalming) really a broader indicator? Is it a wake up call for not only Baby Boomers – yet all of us – to notice how we may return to simpler, less costly choices at the end of the road? Choices that involve deep connections through family care, support from a home funeral guide and perhaps even natural burial?
An interesting convergence of themes I think, these choices and connections for grieving families. Is a home funeral right for everyone? Well, no. Yet, with healthy planning and families holding an intention for death care at home, the end of the road may potentially become more emotionally healing and less costly in many ways.