The Order of the Good Death – Being Death Positive While Remaining Genuine About Death

The Order of the Good Death
The Order of the Good Death

This will be a brief post on a great site/idea that I’ve come across in my search of the internet for information on death culture that isn’t too dark or either too campy – a place that’s just REAL about death. Anyways, the website is called The Order of the Good Death. I found out about this group of death-positive morticians, green burial enthusiasts, and advocates for practical funeral planning through a series of videos on YouTube entitled Ask a Mortician in which the eclectic mortician and all-around death culture guru Caitlin Doughty answers any and all questions about death, the dead, funeral planning, and the funeral industry. The videos range from anywhere from “ew, gross” to compelling to laughing out loud. The Order of the Good Death are also active on Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, and Pinterest. Check them out for some entertaining and compelling death-positive content.

Preparation | Making Your Final Arrangements – You're Never Too Young To Plan…Or Die

This is the first in a series of blogs on preparedness. I felt the need to write these because, though I was a Boy Scout, I didn’t very far up the ranks and my preparedness is extremely lacking. As I research these topics, I’ll be sharing my findings with ya’ll. 

dead cartoon face

Everybody dies. Why not plan your own going-away party?

As I kick off this series of blogs about preparedness, I find it necessary to start out with one thing that everyone will experience and should plan for as weird as it seems – your own death. Nobody gets out of this world alive, so why not take some stock in what happens after you kick the bucket? For those who are creeped out by death or don’t want to have to think about it, you’d be surprised how much peace can come out of knowing exactly what will occur with your family, friends, and your remains after you’re long gone. 

“I’m only in my twenties. Isn’t that a bit early to be making final arrangements?”

For the record, I’m only 25. For those of you who think that’s too young to start planning for your own death, keep in mind that we’re not all going to die in our sleep at age 80+. After having been to funerals for friends who have either died in automobile accidents and have been the victims of other tragic mishaps, it’s extremely evident how little thought most younger adults give to their final arrangements. Most people my age don’t even know what kind of options are out there or how much they’re going to end up costing the family you leave behind – especially since most of them have little to no savings at this stage in the game. 

“I’m not married and don’t have any kids. Why should I start planning for death?”

A big argument I’ve heard against making any kind of final arrangements while you’re young is because most younger people have no significant other or no children to worry about including in a living will. Even if you don’t want to mess with legal details, just writing up some form of letter or other document outlining what you’d want your last wishes to be can not only be extremely helpful for the people you leave behind, but can also give you some peace of mind. If you’re married later and have kids, you can always revise the document and make the necessary legal changes down the line. I’ve been to a few funerals that were completely arranged by someone’s family that was a ceremony I know didn’t reflect the person they were mourning. If you’re not sure whether or not this may be the case, just think what kind of service your mom would plan for you if you died tomorrow. Is that really you? Is the burial in line with your current beliefs? 

“Whatever they choose is fine with me. I trust them.” 

Funeral home casket showroom.

In my experience with loved ones who have died as well doing research and talking with a funeral director buddy of mine, people are at their most financially vulnerable when they’re at their most emotionally vulnerable. Nobody wants to be seen as being cheap and even trying to get the best deal on a casket or burial service is seen as being tacky or even disrespectful to the memory of the deceased. This is a ploy that the funeral industry is just fine with as it allows them to mark up their products and services exponentially. People are taken for a ride especially when the deceased had no final arrangements when in actuality, if they were still alive, they’d more than likely yell “WHY ARE YOU SPENDING SO MUCH ON ME?! I’M DEAD!” Because that voice of reason is nowhere to be found for fear of being seen as cheap when wanting to honor the deceased, some of these funeral homes can get away with highway robbery with drastic markups and unnecessary services. By planning before hand and trying to get the best deal for yourself, you can save your loved ones a lot of attentional time, money, and grief. 

“How many options can there possibly be for final arrangements?”

A natural burial green burial site.

 

The funeral industry is constantly looking at new ways to customize and personalize the final arrangements of its clients. One reason for this is to deliver the most meaningful service possible to their clients, but other one is simply because it allows them to sell your family more products and services. These days, most people in America are embalmed, prepped for a viewing and/or open-casket service in a sanctuary or funeral chapel with them in an air-tight casket, and then are buried inside a concrete vault in a grave in a well-manicured cemetery. The second most popular opinion is being cremated with the cremains (cremated remains) stored in a decorative urn either with the family, scattered, or buried in yet another well-manicured cemetery. Most people aren’t even aware that there are even more options out there. Another form of funeral and burial option becoming more popular with the economically and environmentally conscious is natural burial, also called “green burial.” With this option, the body is not embalmed and is buried in the ground in a biodegradable casket or burial shroud directly in the ground in a “green cemetery” – a burial grounds that resembles a nature reserve for it’s lack of grave markers and landscaping. Other options for burial are only limited by local laws and finances, but doing a just
a little bit of research can go a long way towards helping you decide on what method best reflects your last wishes and/or the amount of money you want to drop on your burial or other funeral arrangements. From being shot into space to being dumped in a hole while wrapped in a sheet, check out your options. 


“Thinking about my final arrangements creeps me out. I don’t want to think about dying.”

A hearse at a cemetery.

Most people, especially younger people, just don’t want to think about dying. They’re in the prime of their lives and feel the most alive, so they feel that preparing for their own death can almost drag them down. For these people, it’s important to remember this fact: everybody dies. Everybody will die. You will one day no longer be alive and your body will either be ashes, decomposing in the soil, or slowly withering away inside an air-tight casket…which will, one day leak and fill with water. Still, when it comes to making your final arrangements, there are two benefits to doing this now: 

1. Making your final plans now will save your family the hassle of trying to figure out what you wanted. Your family will be devastated by your passing – the last thing you want to do is force them to try and figure out what you may have wanted at a price that won’t put clean out their savings. Today, you’re in your right mind and you want the best price. Your family will be beside themselves and won’t want to be seen as being cheap. 

2. At times, some people aren’t as creeped out by the concept of dying as they are about what happens to their bodies after they die. Lots of unknown pieces of information can make people anxious about dying. 

 “Where do I even begin in making final arrangements?”

Many think that making your final arrangements is an appointment with the funeral home to look at caskets. Giving your loved ones an idea of what you want can be as simple as writing up a grocery list of things you want and things you don’t want. It can be a letter or a note just leading your family in the right direction. You don’t have to choose between a periwinkle blue steel and mahogany in order to start making final arrangements. It can be as simple as some of my own personal arrangements I’ve made know with my wife and other members of my family:

“Upon my death, if health regulations allow, I desire to have my body returned to my family for final preparations for burial. This should only be the case if I die in such a manner that my body is not severely disfigured or in a way where a home funeral is not possible. If the cause of death makes a home funeral not possible, my body can be washed, dressed in plain clothes, and placed in a burial shroud by funeral professionals where is it not visible. Under no circumstances is my body to be embalmed. If the condition of my body allows, it is my desire for my body to washed and prepared for burial and dressed in plain clothes by my family members and close friends. In a room removed from the rest of the house, those who desire to see my body and spend time saying good-bye and obtaining closure should be allowed to do so, but this decision is to be left up to the individual as the appearance of the body may be disturbing to some due to a lack of embalming. The funeral service is to take place in the home, the body is to be completely covered by a burial shroud. It is my wish to be buried in a natural burial or green burial cemetery with no vault or grave liner. The Shema and other assorted passages from Psalms and prayers are to be recited before the grave is dug. Able-bodied family members and friends are to dig the grave, lower the body into the grave, and shovel the soil back into the grave. If there is any grave marker, it is to be something natural, such as an inscription on unhewn stone or a planted tree.”
 
With a little bit of research and planning, some very simple steps can be made on your part to save your family lots of money and grief as well as give you a little bit of peace of mind.

What We Leave Behind: Going Organic Even in Death

These days, people are starting to realize that incorporating more natural ways into their lives is very beneficial. I’ve spoken with more people in the past couple years that have reduced the amount of fast food they eat, preferring organic alternatives in the grocery store, and some even (like myself) drinking untreated raw milk (which I’d recommend for the flavor alone; it’s delicious). People are opting for more fuel efficient cars and as well as looking for more ways to help sustain the planet for the future generations. Most people I know with any kind of forward-thinking consciousness have grown to understand that organic foods, biodegradable products, and less consumption of goods and resources is not only a means of helping the environment, but can also be a way of caring for what God has given us. Some people can adopt this way of thinking into every aspect of their lives, but there remains one place where this concept of responsibility to nature suddenly drops off: death.

Even some of the foremost proponents of environmental sustainability and natural living for the sake of caring for what God has provided for us will be the first to put in their final arrangements that they wish for their body to be drained of its natural blood, to be pumped full of highly-toxic chemical preservatives, be made to look alive with post-mortem cosmetic devices and substances, placed in a sealed steel box, have that steel box placed in a concrete or other steel box, and have that planted into the ground forever. Why does one’s own respect for the Earth God gave us suddenly stop with our last breath? Why do we feel that we have outsmarted God and nature by creating a process of our own for the disposal of our Earthly remains? 

As B’nai Yisrael, it especially troubles me when a Jew who loves God, the Torah, and the people of Israel, decides upon a burial that more closely resembles that of the traditions of the Egypt that God delivered us out from under. Before I ever begin to judge, I do have to remember that most people do not know that there is another way. Most people in America today do not know that they have the ability to return to the Earth in the simple way that the Bible spells out. 

 

בזעת אפיך תאכל לחם עד שובך אל האדמה כי ממנה לקחת כי עפר אתה ואל עפר תשוב

“By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread, till you return to the ground, because from it you were taken; for you are dust and to dust you shall return.” – Genesis 3:19

In the United States today, along with the desire to eat food grown from the Earth and animals raised on the Earth without industry interfering with the process, there is also a movement of individuals that desire to allow human remains to return to the Earth in the same manner. Known widely as “green burial”, a natural burial is the means by which the body of the deceased loved one is allowed to forgo standard embalming procedures and is buried in a shroud or other biodegradable capsule (a casket made of pine, wicker, cardboard, etc.) in a natural setting without the use of a concrete vault or other style of grave liner. Not only is this method of burial substantially less expensive than a typical burial (which can range anywhere between $5,000-$10,000), but is also more in line with Scriptural standards for burial as well as being better for the environment. The body is allowed to break down naturally in the soil and becomes one with the landscape. These special “green cemeteries” are natural lands; typically meadows or nature reserves. 

No casket necessary.


Though the concept of being buried or having a loved one buried directly in the ground without any “protection” for the body seems somewhat new, it’s more of a return to the way it had been done up until around the middle of the 20th century. Green burials are not a new environmentalist fad, but rather a means of getting back to the roots of humanity and the progression of nature. For those alive around the time of the demise of the “pine-box burial”, this probably isn’t nearly a unsettling as it could be to those who live in this era of hiring professionals to carry out the process of laying the dead to rest in the earth. Then again, why are we so unsettled by the concept of burying our dead this way?

Because of the way society’s thought process has been reshaped by the funeral industry, many have been lead to believe that funeral arrangements in the form of embalming as well as burial in a sealed casket and concrete vault is a way to preserve and respect the dead. Why do we invest so much of our money into preserving that which we cannot physically hold onto? Many casket and vault makers boast about selling a product that will not leak for maximum preservation of the body inside. Many individuals grimace at the thought of groundwater or dirt leaking in to Grandma’s casket. Many feel the need to protect their loved ones from the elements when they don’t want to stop and accept the fact that no matter how hard they try, that body is going to eventually wither away into nothingness; leaving nothing but a concrete chamber and a steel box to take up space for future generations to deal with.

The standard “green” cemetery. This is a photo from one in Houston, TX.

Some people picture comfort and serenity being laying in a cushy bed adorned by silk and satin sheets. This is the reason why the inside of caskets are filled with pillows and billowy material that do nothing for the body inside. Personally, my ideal sense of serenity is laying in the tall green grass of a prairie with the soft dirt below conforming to the shape of my body while the wind whistles through the blades, birds’ songs being heard in the distance, and broken bars of sunlight jutting through the leaves in the trees. Letting the shroud function as my last picnic blanket, I would find nothing more respectful than being laid to rest in a place dug out by the sweat of familiar brows, lowered into it by the braun of those who knew me, and cuddling up with the Oklahoma soil.

If the regular way people are laid to rest these days doesn’t sit easy with you, don’t write it off as just being creeped out by death. There’s nothing natural about today’s “traditional” burial system. As natural burial (aka: green burial) becomes more popular, it is becoming more easily attainable for those who desire such arrangement for themselves or loved ones; not to mention extremely affordable in comparison to a mainstream American funeral. Do not let the funeral industry tell you that green/natural burial is not a realistic, respectful, or legal option. It most definitely is available in most states and areas.

Not only does the laying to rest of a body in the dirt serve a benefit to the environment, but also shows a special respect for the Creator’s cycle of nature as well as providing respect for the blessing of the body. It isn’t a decision to taken lightly, but then again neither is a mainstream modern-day burial. Only after much prayer and meditation is such a decision to be made. For more information about such a burial and making arrangements a natural/green burial, log on to the official website of the Green Burial Council.

For you fellow Okies out there, you have a few options. One is Dillion Smith Funeral Services in Sand Springs, OK – where green burial in a green burial cemetery is an option.  Green Haven Cemetery is also happy to accommodate you and your loved ones for burial. Because they’re a non-profit organization, there are no pushy sales tactics and burial is very affordable.


As you consider the benefits of a natural/green burial, also be thinking about the benefits of having a home funeral. Still, that is a blog for another time. 

Shalom.