Death and After Death Care

As you think about being kind to those you leave behind, consider the question of what a “good death” might look like for you. Would you prefer to die at home, surrounded by friends and family, if that were possible? Or would you like just one or two people by your side, and if so, who? If there is pain to manage, do you prefer to die consciously, or would you like to be comfortable, even if that means you are not present?

Death is not a medical event; it is a human experience. For most people, it isn’t something that happens to us; we participate. Although many of the circumstances surrounding it may be beyond our control, letting those who care about us know what we want, and planning ahead, can make a tremendous difference for us and our loved ones. At the time of need, you may not be able to communicate your wishes.

After your death, how would you like your body cared for? Would you like a wake? Is burial preferable, and if so, conventional or natural? Do you know the difference between these choices? If conventional, what type of casket would you like, and what could be written on your tombstone? If natural, would you like to be buried in a simple shroud, or in a biodegradable box? Is there someone you know who would be honoured to build it? If cremation, where would you like your ashes laid to rest, or spread? If you’d like a funeral home involved, have you made inquiries to determine which one suits you best? Can you make an appointment to plan ahead, and does it make sense for you to pre-pay? Perhaps you would like to learn more about burial at sea, being laid to rest on your own land, or donating your body to science.

What sort of reception aligns with who you are: friends gathering at a beach and singing around a fire, a tea in your garden, or a dance in the community hall? Do you have songs or poems that are particularly meaningful to you, a type of food you enjoy? Can you gift those you leave behind with a song, video, or blessing?

These are very personal decisions and the best person to make them is you, while you are healthy. When emotions are high and grief disables, relying on others to determine what you might have wanted can lead to disagreements, and invariably cause people to spend money unnecessarily.

We may think asking that there be no fuss or tears after we are gone eases the loss, but that is likely not true. It is far better to let people know what you want, write it down, and leave this world in the most thoughtful and kind way possible.

Grief and gratitude are two sides of the same coin. If you loved and were loved, grief is a natural response to your death. It is helpful when there are opportunities for tears to flow, love to be expressed, and beauty celebrated. Don’t be shy about asking those close to you to wash and shroud your body, or take you on a last tour of the island before arriving at the cemetery, or line your grave with cedar boughs and flowers. These are meaningful ways people can participate and share grief. It may not be possible for your wishes to be honoured, though you can let folks know that this is okay, too

Because we don’t talk about death, many people are not aware of the choices available to them. In the Western world this isn’t a subject easily broached. Yet, invariably, people find that talking, learning, and preparing for death lightens its shadow and sweetens our days. Thich Nhat Hanh said that if you cannot look death in the eye, you can’t really live, either.

To learn more, we invite you to the third session in the Be Kind To Those You Leave Behind Series, which is about Death and After Death Care. This workshop will take place on Saturday, March 23rd in the Lakeview Room of the Linnaea Education Centre, starting with a free community lunch at 12:00 noon. From 1:00 – 2:30 or so will be a presentation with time for questions and answers, followed by an opportunity to discuss and write down what’s important to you. We will provide child care, as this is an important session for everyone in the community, regardless of health or age.

We are grateful for the SRD Grant-In-Aid, making it possible to offer this valuable event to our community at no charge.