The line between life and death is quite narrow. You’ve heard the old saying, “here today gone tomorrow.” A simple task such as going to the grocery for milk, walking down the stairs or eating a hoagie for lunch could go awry and suddenly become quite complicated for your family. What if you were involved in a fatal accident on the way to the grocery? What if, in a rush, you slipped and fell down the stairs? Perhaps you choked on the best hoagie of your life? What if you died?
We can’t live our lives on “what if’s” but it is important to understand that one way or another, some day we are going to meet our ends. What happens next can be up to us.
I once served a family whose father died an expected death as the result of a terminal illness. Before his transition, however, he conveyed his wishes to his heirs. There was no formal documentation (however that’s always a good idea) but he did take the initiative to talk about his death. He told his family exactly what he didn’t want and offered them a good idea of what he did. Had this not happened, things could have been dramatically different.
The healthcare system in our country is rigid and calculated for the most part, much like the funeral industry. Without details regarding their father’s wishes, this family would have been offered two options: funeral with burial or cremation. They would have been forced by the healthcare provider to choose a funeral home, and then pushed by the funeral home to choose embalming/burial or cremation. Everything would have happened quickly (because time is $$$) and before the family could blink their father’s body would be whisked away possibly never to be seen again. It’s an unfortunate reality experienced daily by many Americans.
Because this father was an avid environmentalist and nature lover, he told his family he wanted to be buried naturally without embalming and without a casket in a nature preserve. It’s called natural burial and it’s nothing new. Our ancestors practiced this tradition a century ago before the modern funeral industry and conventional cemetery system monetized sacred moments at the end of our lives. They fooled people into thinking that outsourcing death, sacred ritual and a family’s goodbye was the best thing to do. They are still doing it today. Not for this family though! They informed the healthcare provider that when their father died, his body would remain at home. He would be cared for by his family and he would be driven by them to his burial site in a natural burial preserve designed specifically to save land and protect the environment forever. With my assistance as a home funeral guide, this family created a sacred space to honor their father in his home. His daughters bathed and washed his body — the body of the man who cared so deeply for them during his life. Days after, following their own schedule, they walked with their father one last time in nature and lay his body in a grave beneath the trees and the open sky, with the sounds he loved so dearly holding him in eternal rest.
You may think that what happens after you die is out of your control or that it doesn’t matter. It does. Become educated about the options and discuss with your family your wishes. Your death can create new life through natural burial.
In my life I have witnessed many family members and friends battle horrific disease and ultimately die horrific deaths. I have also seen firsthand what disease can do to a body. Death with dignity allows the option of ending life before it becomes less than life… I believe in this option and I believe that people deserve the right to choose should life become unlivable.
In 1994, Oregon became the first state to legalize physician-assisted suicide. As a result, any individual whom two physicians diagnose as having less than six months to live can lawfully request a fatal dose of barbiturate to end his or her life. Since 1994, more than 500 Oregonians have taken their mortality into their own hands. In How to Die in Oregon, filmmaker Peter Richardson gently enters the lives of the terminally ill as they consider whether – and when – to end their lives by lethal overdose. Richardson examines both sides of this complex, emotionally charged issue. What emerges is a life-affirming, staggeringly powerful portrait of what it means to die with dignity. (visit the film’s site here)
What do you think? For more information about this topic please visit Death With Dignity National Center website. Below is an excerpt and trailer about the film How to Die in Oregon.
In the fall trees proudly shed their leaves. Displaying nature’s grandeur as vibrant greens slowly fade to yellow, orange and red. The forest becomes enchanting while autumn days shorten and summer fades away.
As human beings we can learn a thing or two from the trees. Just like the trees in the fall it is imperative to shed parts of ourselves that no longer serve us. I am not referring to allowing our hair to fall out or choosing to discount a finger. By shedding I refer to releasing bad habits and letting go of emotions and characteristics that prevent us from living our best life. By shedding we make room for new possibilities and prosperity.
The funeral industry is at a point where they would be best served by shedding a few leaves as well. From reducing the often over-utilized practice of embalming to minimizing the use of precious wood in the manufacture of caskets the industry could make strides to be more environmentally conscious. Also families deserve the opportunity to care for their own. As a funeral professional I see the importance of encouraging the participation of a family during the transition of a loved one in order to experience a richer present and allow for proper healing after loss.
Every time I see a golden leaf turn loose and float to the ground I will be reminded of the opportunity I have been given to let it go and make room for the new! I will strive to live my life more like the autumn trees. What will you shed?