In less than 600 words, find out about family led death and funeral care and natural burials
In recent times, family led funeral practices have become increasingly popular as our society becomes more environmentally conscious and personalisation of services has become an expected part of life. With the environmentally friendly preference often comes a preference for a different kind of ‘death care’. Families are seeking to take back as much care for their deceased loved one as possible.
It was the corporatisation of the funeral industry that occurred in the 70s here in Australia that really moved death and funeral care away from families and into the hands of professionals.
Washing and dressing a loved one is one way families can be involved with death care. As is having viewings, vigils, parties or ceremonies at home – sometimes over a number of days is another. There are some factors to consider when exploring these alternatives. The first is the practical experience of respectfully handling a deceased person’s body. Another is to understand the realities of what happens to a person’s body after they have taken their last breath – especially if they have undergone significant medical intervention in the final weeks or days leading up to their death.
Decomposition is a clever and fast evolutionary tool that means that humans can go back to the earth as quickly and expediently as possible. There is a conflict between the processes that can allow a deceased person to remain in a home environment (embalming), the Australian climate – particularly in the warmer months, the additional equipment that can be brought into the home to assist in maintaining an appropriate body temperature and the desire to keep care of a deceased person as simple and respectful of traditional care practices. Caitlin Doherty from Undertaking LA in Los Angeles notes that there is very little risk of airborne contaminants or viruses spreading by the natural decomposition process but that it can produce less than pleasant odours.
Along with family led death and funeral care comes natural burial. There are a number of cemeteries in and around Melbourne that accommodate natural burial practices. The fundamentals of natural burial involve burial vessels that are easily broken down upon burial. A body would not be embalmed before a natural burial. Graves in natural burial areas are shallower to allow for natural decomposition process and it is usual for there to be no marker, plaque or headstone at the burial site.
Not all funeral directors are willing to support families in achieving their stated desire for involvement in the death care process. If the first or second funeral director you contact is unable to be of assistance, then keep looking. Doing this when a death has just occurred can be a difficult process. So, if you or a family member have expressed a preference for natural of family led death and funeral care it’s a good idea to start the conversation in order to find a funeral director that is willing to support you. It must be said that sometimes there is a fine line between a family continuing to explore their preferred options and heeding the advice of a funeral director who may point you in a different direction based on your individual circumstances. If in doubt, always ask for a second opinion. That’s one way an independent funeral advocate can help you navigate the more unique and personalised preferences you have relating to death and funeral care.
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Just One Life… doing and designing dying and death differently and with dignity and distinction.
For more information on doing dying and death differently or to start thinking about how to handle a death of a loved one before you are overtaken by grief, organise a conversation with Jacqui today.
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Jacqui Chaplin is a Lifetime & End-of-Life Commemoration Specialist (a funeral celebrant among other things) based in Melbourne, Australia. She loves capturing stories about the nature of life and being human, as well as, celebrating and commemorating well lived lives and lives that have ended. Jacqui has a passion for bringing the conversations that many of us find difficult to think about, let alone speak about, out in the open so we can see how our stories, values and beliefs influence our attitudes.
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