Putting the FUN in funeral
October 1, 2018 1:25 PM   Subscribe

Nearly a million people have downloaded the starter kit for the Conversation Project, (previously) a guide to discussing plans for the end of life. Others use the popular WeCroak app, which sends five daily reminders that we are all going to die. All share a common idea: that Western culture has become too squeamish about talking about death, and that the silence impoverishes the lives leading up to it.

The Positive Death Movement Comes to Life (John Leland, NYT)
posted by Johnny Wallflower (40 comments total) 54 users marked this as a favorite
 
sends five daily reminders

Anybody that sends me five daily reminders of anything is not long for my world.
posted by spacewrench at 1:29 PM on October 1 [64 favorites]


I000,0000 TYs or in Irish 'Cead Mile, Mile Buiochas duit' for this post.


as an Irish woman in a senior NHS position for the SE of England for End of Life Care workforce transformation, it utterly, utterly horrifies me how far we have come from allowing children and young adults access to normal physical decline, ill health and death so that as they become adults they are horrified, squeamish and avoidant of those very concepts.

here's a simple starter course free for everyone to consider when's a good time to raise those conversations ...

if anyone is interested I can e-mail you a 20 pg directory of free resources about death and dying and how to train people to have better conversations so they don't inflict the indignity of a CPR which in TV land is 3-4 times as successful than in real life.....

I will never forget the horror in the voice of a young male surgical trainee with the medic- heroic mindset who threw a 93 yr old dying of cancer on the ground to perform CPR because her notes were not clear about her status.

"she was like a little bird, I could feel & hear her bones crack as I did it........knowing if I even achieved ROSC she'd prob die in pain of what I was doing....that's just torture.."


for the both of them I'd argue but in this case as in the VAST majority of other CPR episodes she didn't make it.

Please, please talk to your loved ones about your wishes....
posted by Wilder at 1:40 PM on October 1 [26 favorites]


Recently I've been really intrigued by the idea of "death midwives" or "death doulas" (which I first learned about from this video.) I don't personally have a ton of intimate experience with death and I feel really unmoored as my first parent struggles with their health. Despite how common I know it is, I just don't feel like I have a lot of cultural touchstones or reference points or passed-down wisdom, most of the time, and (when things get there) I would really value having someone more experienced who could provide some guidance for everyone.
posted by mosst at 1:45 PM on October 1 [6 favorites]


As if me reading Mainlander and Schopenhauer wasn't enough.
posted by symbioid at 2:21 PM on October 1 [1 favorite]


We suck at doing people. We really do. For animals, we can sometimes do better.

I spent Sunday putting down my twenty-year-old mare. It was the best I could make it be, the good times for certain.
posted by which_chick at 2:30 PM on October 1 [26 favorites]


I stand by this.

It's easy to romanticize death or overvalue what is to be learned by facing it directly, I think, as 21st century Westerners.
posted by ryanshepard at 2:36 PM on October 1 [6 favorites]


That was a beautiful essay, which_chick. Thank you.
posted by Johnny Wallflower at 2:58 PM on October 1 [3 favorites]


It's easy to romanticize death or overvalue what is to be learned by facing it directly

We overrate what can be learned about ourselves by exposure to the deaths of others.

Death is opaque.
posted by Modest House at 3:23 PM on October 1 [1 favorite]


The naming troll strikes again.
posted by Baeria at 3:40 PM on October 1


The death of my mother's twin felt way too much like a rehearsal.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 3:43 PM on October 1 [3 favorites]


In a similar vein to the Conversation Project, Get Your Shit Together (Previously on the blue)
posted by namewithoutwords at 3:54 PM on October 1 [3 favorites]


This is silly. Decorate a coffin? Listen to a talk? Give me a break. This is so sanitized and western I can’t even.

Go to a family funeral. Someone you knew. See their body. Feel the permanence. All the things you didn’t say. All the things they were in the middle of. That you continue to age while they are always 34. Their nephew is now 14. A sample of their handwriting, that will write no new things.

Then know you are next.
posted by St. Peepsburg at 4:00 PM on October 1 [12 favorites]


I have held my dead brother's hand as we all waited for the funeral home to pick him up. People used to die of cancer with a lot more pain and gruesomeness; pain relief is a blessing. I'm in the rage against the dying of the light camp; I want to be alive every second possible, but death always wins n the end.
posted by theora55 at 4:27 PM on October 1


Is the WeCroak app supposed to be the modern equivalent of the guy who repeatedly whispers in the ear of the recipient of a Roman triumph "Remember, you are mortal" throughout the ceremony?
posted by Selena777 at 4:32 PM on October 1 [4 favorites]


I wonder in how many ways this death movement might unfold.

The linked article mostly describes a New York (city; the rest of the state isn't mentioned) death scene.

Making an appearance in the piece is also Ask a Mortician (previously). Is a Los Angeles positive death movement emerging?

Meanwhile, many many American veterans have experienced deaths that are neither musty nor antiseptic. What role does their perspective play?

And that's just the US. Death Cafes are London in origin, aren't they?
posted by doctornemo at 4:33 PM on October 1 [1 favorite]


My body's being whisked away to a medical school. If my sister wants to have a memorial, she knows she's free to do it in whatever manner is most helpful to her. She's also free to do nothing if that's what helps her.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 4:41 PM on October 1 [1 favorite]


The above site is a good intro, but it needs more.

Talk with your loved ones and doctor about your end of life wishes. Please.....ALSO Have a legal document that is enforcable in your state or country so your wishes are respected.

Everyone should have an advanced directive, and these are amongst the best (ignore 1990's website, it's the text that counts).
posted by lalochezia at 4:51 PM on October 1 [6 favorites]


I have a Durr. It doesn't make me think of death, but it absolutely makes me aware of time and how I use it. In fact, I'd say it changed my life for the better, making me much more introspective. I rarely leave the house without it and it is but a handful of items in my life that I consider indispensable.
posted by dobbs at 6:01 PM on October 1 [2 favorites]


My grandfather was a casket maker, so I probably grew up with more openness around death than many of my peers. My parents once gave me a cemetery plot as a gift; when my grandfather died and was buried in a newly-opened cemetery, the entire family was offered a great deal on bulk plots. (I later donated mine to a relative who died suddenly; my parents traded theirs to a great-uncle for some of his paintings.) My parents are in their mid-60s and I am an only child; they have already shared with me their post-death plans, which I have legally witnessed. It is my duty, assuming I outlive them, to carry out their 'unusual' wishes re: disposition and memorialization (or lack thereof) and fend off any attempts by well-meaning extended family to intervene. (BTW, my county library system here in Northern Virginia is hosting a Death Cafe next weekend, so it does seem to be spreading.)
posted by candyland at 6:27 PM on October 1 [2 favorites]


Funerals are so boring, my family does drunken Irish wakes that are cathartic for us. Locally, rivers are starting to clog up from all the flowers and ashes being thrown in as Ganges substitutes. We also have quite a number of thanadoulas
posted by saucysault at 6:35 PM on October 1 [2 favorites]


Your Favorite Funeral Sucks
posted by We put our faith in Blast Hardcheese at 6:51 PM on October 1 [5 favorites]


We definitely need to talk more about death, but I don't think we need to more positive towards it. Death is fucking horrible. We need to fight it tooth and nail. Do not go gentle into that good night.
posted by Joakim Ziegler at 7:14 PM on October 1 [4 favorites]


It's easy to romanticize death or overvalue what is to be learned by facing it directly, I think, as 21st century Westerners.

I agree. I've been dealing with my mom's death for over a year now, and all the "positive death" movement seems like it would do for me would tell me I should be happier. I wasn't too removed from the specifics of her death. I held her hand as she died and laid in her arms afterward while the hospice nurse told us we could take as long as we needed before they took her away. I'd like more access to discussions and mental health care that acknowledges the very real trauma associated with being present for a death. I think I have some mild PTSD from the experience and haven't found any of my therapists or doctors to offer useful help to deal with that specifically, even though this must be a very common thing to happen when people live through relatives' deaths, especially for people who are present at the actual event.

I can't see what a "positive death" movement would have to offer me and I resent its implication that I'm just not seeing death the right way. Maybe it's just not for me, which I guess is fine. Or maybe I'm misunderstanding its goals. But it's hard to read things like this and not feel bitter that the help I actually need in the wake of a major death doesn't seem to exist, but hey! we're decorating coffins so everything's great.
posted by augustimagination at 8:03 PM on October 1 [15 favorites]



We definitely need to talk more about death, but I don't think we need to more positive towards it. Death is fucking horrible. We need to fight it tooth and nail. Do not go gentle into that good night.

Other orators argued that the dragon has its place in the natural order and a moral right to be fed. They said that it was part of the very meaning of being human to end up in the dragon’s stomach.
posted by bbuda at 8:32 PM on October 1 [4 favorites]


I'd like more access to discussions and mental health care that acknowledges the very real trauma associated with being present for a death. I think I have some mild PTSD from the experience and haven't found any of my therapists or doctors to offer useful help to deal with that specifically, even though this must be a very common thing to happen when people live through relatives' deaths, especially for people who are present at the actual event.

Yeah, I would love to be able to under my aunt's body. Her death was agonizing and un-peaceful, and it showed. Every time I try to remember her as she was in life, the image in my mind always jumps to what she looked like afterward.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 8:32 PM on October 1 [2 favorites]


Yeah, I would love to be able to under my aunt's body.

Damn autocorrect. Unsee, not under.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 8:41 PM on October 1 [2 favorites]


these comments above really underline for me how privileged some aspects of growing up in Ireland in the 70/80s were, I was exposed to all sorts of deaths and even the worst before the advent of adequate painkillers or worse the fucking 'prolifer' senior Irish obstetrician who refused an 88yrs old screaming in agony dying from cervical cancer, telling us it was due to addiction concerns..... she was a single woman, no children and whether anything in the physical demonstrated otherwise as I suspect (I have no idea of the science of when HPV started to be related to sexual activity but if you do this was 1986)

It was sheer anger at the injustice that covered up the harrowing grief, but I completely see how someone not seeing death more than 1-3 times across your whole life up close can be traumatised even without extreme endings.

It really is hard to figure out what normal grief is and when it might be something more. I think the advent of Doulas and Death Cafes are wonderful to explore this so I encourage anyone thinking along these lines that they might need counselling to approach a death doula, they're certainly cheaper and my experience to date as I look into their education and training here has been very positive. (CAVEAT! Remember I have to really dig down as we set standards although as yet we have not made a decision to standardise this role, it was the earliest stages of investigation and so more was shared than might otherwise) Majority female, a few slightly on the Buddhism/humanist side a spectrum, a tiny number a bit who-wooo themselves but never shared inappropriately with families unless appropriate cues are there, they literally take their lead from your beliefs and your needs. These were teaching faculty as there is a course in my patch. We hope it organically develops they way birth doulas do and they now have some core competencies and recognised courses. The closest in the UK to that is this organisation.

I credit the absolutely cathartic Irish wake for most of the easier transitions for me. When the only member of my family for whom I was special and loved (my Nanna) became very frail and close to death I was TERRIFIED I would lose my reason, I genuinely thought of it in that sense. Her best friend Auntie Mary (every friend of a relative was your Auntie or Uncle, even the neighbours got that title) sat with me throughout and told me utterly rib-cracking stories of their youthful shenanaigans...I cried and laughed so hard during those 28 hours after the funeral and my mental imagination formed these hilarious images, assisted by a few pictures of them as girls, extremely few but just enough to make those pictures for my own head.

that's part of what we lose when longer family units develop into more nuclear ones, but I think many non-traditional families are showing us the way as they may have to find other links to nourish them in often hostile social circumstances that will serve the same role as extended multigenerational families.
posted by Wilder at 12:58 AM on October 2 [9 favorites]


Please let me die doing something wild and mildly dangerous, something that I love doing, with my eyes and memories bright and my friends near, or not too far.

If you find my corpse please don't give any kind of a shit about it. I've already exceeded my expected life span. I've had a pretty amazing and interesting life.

If at all possible feed my old vacated meatsack through a sausage grinder, wood chipper or other pulverizing method and turn me immediately into fertilizer and feed me to a tree or a murder of crows or something. Let coyotes or bears eat me and gnaw my marrows. Fix my nitrogen back where it belongs, in the dirt.


Most seriously: I've been comfortable with my own death for a long, long time. I really have had a good and unique and interesting life. I'm not in any real hurry to go, but I'm not afraid of going.
posted by loquacious at 1:48 AM on October 2 [5 favorites]


I was a kid in the Sixties, growing up in a large family when large families were still fairly common. That meant I had a huge extended family, too. Which meant that from as far back as I can remember, we went to funerals. We looked at the dead bodies of our relatives. We understood what death meant at an early age. We also understood that death didn't just happen to old people: Aunt Mary, age four. Uncle Clarence, age twenty six. Uncle Joe, age thirty eight. The neighbors' son, age sixteen.

And thus, we were okay with it. Death wasn't scary, and it was something that happened to everybody. Including my dad, when I was nine. His death was upsetting and sad, but not frightening. The scary part was a household with nine kids trying to get by afterward without his income.

Death doesn't have to be glamorized, it doesn't have to be talked up. It just has to be accepted. I like James Randi's perspective on death: people need to die in order for other people to be born and experience life in their turn. Really, that's all it is.
posted by Lunaloon at 5:02 AM on October 2 [5 favorites]


Death doesn't always involve choices but when it does we should have the ability to make them, or have someone designated and informed have the ability to make them. I am not scared to die, I am scared to lose control over what happens to me when I am still alive. I'm hoping that talking more about how things GO when we die will make it possible for me to just go when the going is good and right.
posted by wellred at 5:35 AM on October 2 [1 favorite]


The guy who started the "Body Worlds" exhibition (which freaks me out no end) has died, and one of his wishes is to be skinned and exhibited. But it is his partner who would do the skinning, which seems (how shall I put it) just a trifle insensitive.

Unless, of course, she *really* didn't like him at all, in which case, carry on.
posted by 43rdAnd9th at 5:36 AM on October 2 [2 favorites]


Am I the only person for whom the drunken Irish wakes are less an occasion to joyfully remember the dead and more of an incredibly dry tinder for restarting vicious family fights? I hear my grandmother reduced my aunt to tears at the last one. Oh, the white wine flows like water at those shindigs!
posted by sciatrix at 6:10 AM on October 2 [3 favorites]


Less bitterly... I'm of two minds. I have grown up steeped in the Catholic dogma that life is always worth fighting for, no matter the quality or the cost or the likelihood of even winning that fight. Looking at the sins yielded by that mindset--the decades of pain wrought by insisting life always bloom even when the circumstances are poor; the endless suffering of the dying ministered to by people who think pain is holy and death is the greatest enemy, the deaths that happen but don't need to because the appearance of preserving life is more important than the reality...

I don't think that mindset yields to unalloyed good.

I work with animals. I don't fear death. There's a point at which delaying death is only a license to encourage pain to sit a spell. There's a point at which a good death is all I can offer to an animal under my care.

I do, however, fear the people who might declare themselves called to choose death for me. I think of eugenicists, of people who would gladly take my self determination if they were able; I think of people who so fear pain that they encourage people with autistic children to murder them "so they can be free." I think of disability history, in which observers are so afraid of the theorized pain of a disabled person that they encourage death without bothering to make an effort to ask the person or aid in the disabled person's started requests to make life worth living.

I'm not afraid of pain, either. I'm not eager for it, you understand, but again: I was raised to believe pain is holy. It is not. It is, however, a part of life. When children are occasionally born without pain, they destroy their bodies: they chew away their cheeks unthinkingly, or lean against hot plates, or don't readjust their seat when blood flow becomes compromised.

The opposite of life is not death: it's cancer. The opposite of pain is not joy: it's numbness.

I haven't worked out everything I feel about death: certainly an app to remind me that I am mortal on a daily basis feels like fixating far too much on a transition at the end of what I hope will be a long life. I think death and pain exist as counterbalances to one another, though, and that they do fundamentally highlight the joys of life by their contrast.

Funerals, on the other hand, are for the living. I have repeatedly stated that I want my body to be as useful as it can be to my own loved ones: I'm on record as an organ donor, and I intend to donate my body to anyone who wants it, at least once I'm done with it. But barring that? Whatever makes the people who mourn me grieve easier.
posted by sciatrix at 6:17 AM on October 2 [3 favorites]


Yeah the effectiveness of the catharsis seemed to depend a lot on how well your family did catharsis or just...you know, feelings. There were three walk outs at my grandfather’s funeral. The wake was grim.

I will say, though, that I went to a lot of funerals when I was young, and not a single one of those deaths was handled well by me or anyone around me — so, plenty of trauma — and I still have a noticeably different attitude toward death than many peers. Familiarity does take away a lot of the inexplicable terror. I’m not entirely sure this isn’t a side effect of simply shutting down, but I’m not entirely sure of anything. We’ll see, I guess.
posted by schadenfrau at 6:20 AM on October 2 [1 favorite]


The Undertaking: Life Studies from the Dismal Trade by poet/undertaker Thomas Lynch is an excellent book about this. (NYT review)
posted by kirkaracha at 7:00 AM on October 2 [1 favorite]


We definitely need to talk more about death, but I don't think we need to more positive towards it. Death is fucking horrible. We need to fight it tooth and nail. Do not go gentle into that good night.

Other orators argued that the dragon has its place in the natural order and a moral right to be fed. They said that it was part of the very meaning of being human to end up in the dragon’s stomach.


On one hand, sure. On the other hand science advances one funeral at a time. We have a bit of a gerontocracy already in Congress, and it has not been an improvement. With very long life spans, given resource limits, you'd need to really restrict people's strong natural inclination to have kids if you didn't want to destroy the planet through overpopulation.
posted by leotrotsky at 7:43 AM on October 2 [1 favorite]


at my funeral, i want a closed casket the organist to start playing "pop goes the weasel" really slowly, until everyone is staring at the coffin in dread anticipation
posted by entropicamericana at 7:46 AM on October 2 [25 favorites]


Other orators argued that the dragon has its place in the natural order and a moral right to be fed. They said that it was part of the very meaning of being human to end up in the dragon’s stomach.

I really appreciate you sharing this fable, bbuda, even though I don't agree with the author's aims. I thought at first it might be about American institutional attitudes towards pain management, in which case I would have been on board. But natural death itself? It isn't a dragon. It isn't (as I think wistfully sometimes) a redeemer or a long-awaited friend. It is simply what becomes of the body. A few organisms seem to float beneath it, but none of them are vertebrates. They simply drift in the sea, metabolizing particles, discarding ctenophores. It might be a nice way to live, but it's not the one we've got.

But then, I must be what the author would call a deathist. I never wish for any individual death, God knows -- I have seen it take place; I have kissed the dead bodies of my loved ones. I miss people bitterly. And yet I don't wish this world upon them as it is. Our political systems haven't adjusted for the longer working lives of politicians, and the idea of today's wealthiest people buying themselves even more years of youth is horrific. I try to see the world as it is, which is why I have been pricing Himalayan salt urns and checking out offshore scattering regulations.
posted by Countess Elena at 8:00 AM on October 2 [2 favorites]


at my funeral, i want a closed casket the organist to start playing "pop goes the weasel" really slowly, until everyone is staring at the coffin in dread anticipation

My plan was a trust funding an annual croquet tournament on the anniversary of my death, with an open bar, the winner of which receives a cash prize and a trophy (which also functions as my urn).
posted by leotrotsky at 10:16 AM on October 2


This is really close to me, as I work for the Dying Matters campaign in the UK, and as such worked with Jon Underwood, mentioned in the article as the founder of the Death Cafe movement. He was a great guy to work with, and we all still miss him. Our campaign is all about getting people to talk about death, and as this article suggests, there's a lot going on in this area.

But as some of the responses above show, death sometimes isn't that simple, especially when it comes to grief. Human relationships can be complex, and sometimes the death of someone we care about can be accompanied by a feeling of relief, or even a kind of joy, as well as sadness.

I could go on about this all day (since that's my job) but I'll just say thanks for posting this and remind all of us to get our affairs in order.
posted by YoungStencil at 11:02 AM on October 2 [4 favorites]


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