Sunday, March 23, 2008

Risin' Up from Bein' Dead

Some people call this Easter. This year Easter is unusually close to it's pagan 'counterpart', Eostara or Spring Equinox. Then too, we've had the full moon and I'm told, a few other interesting astrological occurrences in these last few days. All in all it's been a whirl of a week.
The Easter tradition that I grew up with is all about Death and Resurrection. The rituals in the church of my childhood took up most of this week with what we were taught to call the 'Passion of Christ'.
This signified the time in which this controversial fellow "...was crucified, died and was buried" and then ( here comes the clincher...) "on the third day he rose again from the Dead."

In one way, this sort of condenses the "story" that goes on in nature for the roughly 6 months between the Fall and Spring Equinoxes. ( In the northern hemisphere anyway). Not the crucifixion part literally, but the laboring and dying and fading away and then after a time, a rebirth. I love this time of year. I love the promise of it.

I think often about this story about Jesus and the impact it had on me as a child. I think about those women to whom the care of the body of Jesus was entrusted. It's kind of like it was the first 'home funeral' I ever heard about. They took him down from the cross. They bathed and anointed and wrapped his body in linen. They put him in a shroud. And they put him in a "tomb" and then rolled a big stone in front of it. I had so many questions about this! Was the tomb above ground or under? Was it a cave? How come it looked like that in the pictures in my missal? How did those women roll that big stone in front of the opening? How did they find a stone that big lying around?
Then after all that work...they go back a few days later and he's gone! Not just disappeared, no, he clearly must have "woken up" because got "undressed"~! He took off the shroud! He left the wrappings! This is big stuff for a small girl. I pondered the drama of this moment a lot. He woke up! From being dead! And took off his shroud!
When I first started to make burial shrouds, I wanted to find a picture or a pattern of one. At that time almost all of my searches ( especially on the internet ) yielded only entries and pictures of part of the very shroud that Jesus was to have left behind. It's now called the "Shroud of Turin" (because it's in a museum there) and is purportedly the cloth that covered Jesus in the tomb. They think this because the image of his face is somehow 'burned' or in some mystical way imprinted into the cloth. This is all quite fascinating, but it doesn't give much clue as to the design or pattern of a whole shroud. And there is of course controversy about the origins of this most sacred relic of the Church. But it's called a shroud. THE shroud. Hmmmm.....

I never know what I'm going to write about when I start these posts. I had no idea that this entry would lead me to this place but I'm smiling thinking of the way one thing can lead to another. I'd not ever thought of this link between me and Jesus and Home Funerals....But there it is.
OH! and Happy Easter!

Friday, March 14, 2008

Good Deeds

Good Deeds
What should I write about this week? I've been quite busy with the "business end" of things. Making a business that supports me from this work of my calling is being quite the journey.
It seems I've spent the first part of this "Fine Farewell" endeavor studying, and sharing what I've learned...getting the heart of the work established. I've been finding out what people think and figuring out what they might need to know in order for me to fulfill my mission of changing the way Western culture faces Death. This part, while not exactly easy, has been work that feels 'natural' to me. It's all 'right brain'. Juicy, connective. Guiding people into the contemplation of this mystery. I have an affinity for this sort of work. It makes sense to me.
At the end of last year I began focusing more and more on the 'left brain' aspect of it all...and it's been quite the challenge! How does one stay grounded ( yes, I did say grounded....) in the actual mechanics of transactions and negotiations while engaged so deeply in the emotions of this kind of practice?
I've made a lot of shrouds...I keep changing the design bit by bit. I've 'practiced' with them on various friends and neighbors (one of my neighbors in Ashland was quite the willing model...and he told me I should call my business "Duds for Dead Folks"-people just love to find humor in this!). And I've written recently that I'm making shrouds for pets as well. However, the truth is that I haven't sold a whole lot of them yet.
I understand's why I've spent so much time on the education part of this thing. But I want people to be using them.'s starting to happen.
Two weeks ago, my friend Kristin, the vet had occasion to use 3 shrouds in the space of 4 days. She was so pleased with them...and related that the families were also moved and truly helped by seeing their animals wrapped -or in some cases helping with the wrapping-in this way for burial or cremation.
Then something else happened that has moved me deeply. Last week I had the opportunity to offer one of my shrouds for someone who was homeless and had no next of kin to make any kind of arrangements for them. I was able to bring one of my shrouds to the funeral home and wrap this person in it, lacing it up, tucking it in and tying the ribbons. I tucked in a few sprigs of dried lavender tied with a ribbon, and then arranged three camellias I'd cut from the huge blooming bush outside my front door. It looked beautiful.
I didn't know how I would feel, I just knew it was a potent opportunity.
How I felt was deliberate, peaceful and very 'clean'. There wasn't any emotional 'stuckness'. There was just a sense of the honoring of this person's life and a gratitude for all the circumstances that led me to that moment to offer my presence.
What happened was a simple, fundamental human experience-- I got to perform a 'good deed'....and I felt a solid sense of having done something that will return to me in ways that I don't even know about yet.
Lucky me.

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Hospice and the Post Mortal Body

Hospice and the Post Mortal Body

"Dying Well" was the title of the radio program today, which interviewed the Executive Director of Oregon Hospice, Ann Jackson.
Two friends alerted me about it ( I'd already flagged it for myself) and I decided to try and participate. I didn't quite make if from the phone queue to being on-air but I did post online. (see "Think Out Loud")
I genuinely appreciate Hospice as a concept and the many compassionate and dedicated organizations providing Hospice care and education for people engaged with Death. I've been a volunteer, and my mother was cared for through Hospice in her dying process. In my experiences, and in conversations with many different folks,
I've wondered something about Hospice. Where is the line...and where might it be, with regard to Hospice care just after Death?

I live in Oregon, the only state where it is legal to obtain a physician's aid in dying. I'm proud of my state and I appreciate being here in this climate that nourishes my penchant for pushing the edge regarding how we face Death.
So I'm thinking today (again) about the potential role of Hospice in Home Care of the Dead.
First, it seems that some education is in order. From Hospice workers to doctors and nurses, from hospital staff and administrators to workers at the Department of Vital Records and even to legislators themselves, many people who are actually involved in the processes and 'regulations' connected with dying and death do not actually know what the law says in terms of what can happen with a post-mortal body. ( I'm sorry that was such a long sentence!)
As I've said here before, most folks simply call the funeral home and that's that...even if they might want to sit with their dead one's body. They think it's not really 'safe' or 'proper' or even legal to do so. In a case where Hospice is involved this process could be greatly helped.

The kind of care--the moving and bathing and dressing the body of someone who is dying--that kind of care which a family is already familiar with can be done in a loving and ceremonial way after someone has died. What's not clear to me (nor is it really clearly set out in Hospice guidelines) is whether a family can request help with this from Hospice and how far that assistance will go.
Of course, there are other considerations in a Home Funeral...and there are places to find out answers to those considerations. I'm not suggesting that Hospice would want to try to be involved in the Home Funeral movement... ( not right now, anyway! ). But they could help a family begin the process of caring for the body and they could be better informed to help families explore the options available. 'Seems consistent with their work to empower the family to further embrace the Dying and the Death of the person they loved.
I'll be meeting with various Hospice-connected folks soon to talk about this very thing. I'll let you know what I find out. Meanwhile, let me know what you think, too!