Monday, December 14, 2009

Green Burial

*Photo Courtesy of Ramsey Creek
Today, December 16th, 2009, I launched my first e-zine, here is the complete featured article.

"Green Burial"
You might have heard of this...or maybe it's a totally new (and weird-sounding) concept. It's a relatively recent 'meme' in the world of sustainability. But it's really a very old idea. When we think of burials or cemeteries,we don't immediately think "green". Connecting the word 'green' with 'death' might bring to mind something left too long in the back of the refrigerator, rather than ecological burial practices! But let's give it some thought.

If you’ve lived a whole life aimed toward living lightly on the earth—recycling your trash, eating organic food, avoiding chemicals and pollutants—why would you abandon all of that at the end?

So what is a Green Burial? Here's a basic description. The body is not embalmed. A biodegradable casket, shroud or other burial covering or container is used. There is no 'grave liner'. And it's best if the grave is less than the proverbial "6 Feet Under",to give the microbes responsible for that 'ultimate act of recycling' a fighting chance. (Be honest, that gave you a little shudder, didn't it?--But you might think of it this way; It's your last and precious gift to the earth to let her digest your remains to make new soil!)

I know most of us don't give much thought to the lack of biodegradable containers for burial, or the toxicity of embalming fluid. Even if you've thought ahead and chosen a simple wooden casket, you may not be aware that it will probably be encased in a concrete "grave liner" rather than lowered directly into the earth.

This lack of awareness is partly because as a culture, we're in a lot of denial about death. We don't examine these options until we’re actually making arrangements for the death of someone we love. (not the best time to make an informed choice). And in many modern funeral homes and cemeteries, our choices are fairly limited. But that is beginning to change as the generation who invented "Earth Day" begins to face mortality.

The good news is that the number of Green Burial sites here in the U.S. is growing. Conventional cemeteries are even starting to dedicate sections for green burial. If you're Jewish, you've got a head start on this. Jewish burial custom includes all of the above---simple wooden box, burial shrouds, no embalming and the casket in direct contact with the earth, and Jewish cemeteries have long been managed accordingly. Many of the new Green Burial sites go so far as to stipulate no headstones, just grass, trees and native plants or flowers. Graves are mapped, for ease of location. (sometimes GPS is used) Some allow a tree, plant, or flat indigenous stone to serve as a simple marker. The idea is that the land used this way creates a nature preserve for generations to enjoy strolling, hiking, picnicking or simply contemplating. In this way, we honor both the living and the dead...right there altogether, where we belong.

This is the extended article from the E-Zine of a Fine Farewell . We post there twice a month, with additional information included in this blog, I invite you to subscribe here.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Over My Dead Body~Through the Portal

Hello Friends,
Long time, no post... It's been a very busy summer at A Fine Farewell. I've got a new website! Please visit . You'll find more photos, more information and resources as well as links to upcoming events and classes.
Something I've been working on most recently is an art installation designed to inspire people to (of course) think differently about Death. It's happening in what was once a retirement home which is slated to be renovated into live/work spaces for artists. The event is called "The Manor of Art" and houses 100 installations by 100 local artists. If you're local, stop by! Info at . It's open all week, through the 22nd. Here's what the Portland Mercury had to say about it...
"Possibly the most fitting show for an old retirement home, Marian Spadone is displaying her biodegradable burial shrouds and caskets. Using two rooms and the connecting hallway, Spadone takes on death as a transition, "using organic materials to create a quiet, earthy meditative environment in the first room while the hallway will feature a lighter tone, leading to a room that suggests how a 'home funeral' might play out." While many artists take on death and the spiritual, Spadone does so directly, without hesitation, bringing calmness to the transition."
The exhibit features a beautiful new shroud I've made (I'll post a picture this week) and I've had lots of opportunities to do what I to people and hear their thoughts, feelings and stories about Death. I get to be there all week! Drop on by.
Thanks for checking in. Blessings to all of you.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Shroud Lady talks about Art and Death in Arcata, CA!

Shroud Lady talks about Art and Death in Arcata, CA!
(Photo graciously offered from Frisco Ramirez...whose site I will talk about in another posting soon!)

"Funeral fun at the Fellowship Saturday"
That's the headline on page three of the

Arcata Eye...the local community newspaper. I'm the keynote speaker here for the annual meeting of the Humboldt Funeral Consumers Alliance. I'm pleased to have been invited by member Charlotte August who has put together the program with the theme of Death and Art.

(And yes, those are bones in the picture!...from the Seldec Ossuary in the Czech Republic)
I'm happy for the chance to develop an area of my presentation that I usually only touch on...and I've had great fun collecting images (obviously!) to illustrate my premise, which is that

'Making art from and for the post-mortal body is a deeply human impulse'.
It seems to me that art and creativity are most excellent tools with which to address death and grieving....and that humans have known this for a very long time. Along with the simple and dignified process of caring for the body of someone we love who has died, creating art that expresses our feelings is something that people have done since the beginning. Neanderthal humans buried their dead with flowers. 17th century Romans and Parisians laid their dead to rest in the catacombs, visiting the dressed skeletons and arranging bones of older 'residents' into elaborate patterns and archways and murals. Mid 19th century Americans made elaborate photographic portraits of their dead loved ones....and also made 'mourning jewelry' from their hair, intricately woven into bracelets and brooches. That's just a small smattering. It turns out that Death can really fuel a creative impulse!
I call myself an Artist but I don't think that means that I have the market cornered on creativity. Being creative is a function of being human. So tomorrow, when I speak, I'm going to share a few of the more startling artistic expressions I've found addressing Death... and hopefully inspire people to unleash that well of powerful inspiration that can bubble up as we take a closer look at our feelings about the ending of a life.
So go on! make that chandelier out of those skeletons you've got hiding in your closets!
I'll let you know how the talk goes!

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Big Doings at A Fine Farewell!


First, oddly, I can't seem to correct the date on this post! It's actually Sunday, April 19, 2009!
So... in this time of spring, Easter, Passover, and general indications of "risin' up from bein' dead", I'm wanting to report some new developments for A Fine Farewell. Today I am featured in an article in the NY Times, Business section, about funeral alternatives,
I've also launched my new website, (version one, anyway!) in time for this incredible opportunity.

Today's picture is the one from the article, taken by photographer
Brian Lee, Brian's a pleasant fellow based here in Portland. The Times sent him out on Monday and we had a lively couple of hours yakking and snapping pictures in my new studio. And here's one more of those little 'confirmations' from the Universe that I am so often startled and delighted by.... Brian's assistant, Scooter, (he never did tell me his last name!) told me he had been in the military and been part of the Honor Guard. According to Wikipedia; "The primary purpose of an honor guard is to provide funeral honors for fallen comrades." Now, how 'coincidental' is that? I can't tell you how many of these sorts of 'coincidences' arise as I pursue this work.
He told me some wonderful information about the symbolism in the stately, comforting ceremony that is offered for the families of our military dead. And I thanked him for the gift he'd given to those soldiers and their families.
It's Sunday, and I'm headed to my Sunday dance 'reset button' for the week. Enjoy the article, and remember to take a peek at my new website!
and I'll be having a 'guest blogger' for my next posting...stay tuned!
Blessings to all,

Monday, April 6, 2009

Green Burial at the Green Festival!

GREEN Burial at the Green Festival!
Hello My Friends!

I'm back from the Green Festival in Seattle, which was last weekend. You can see me in the picture, with Char Barrett, from A Sacred Moment. There we are, under the banner of the People's Memorial Funeral Cooperative...the Seattle chapter of the Funeral Consumers Alliance.
The whole Festival was just a splendid experience! I'm thankful to Char for inviting me up there to help out in the booth. She prominently displayed one of my shrouds, which she uses in teaching her home funeral guidance workshops. In addition, we had two different biodegradable caskets in the booth with us. One made of wicker and the other of sea grass. And a projection screen with a cool video running. It made for a pretty eye-catching display!

In terms of my mission, I must say that this was a great experience for me. It was such an interesting place for us to be... sharing our message where it was least expected!
I had the experience countless times each day of watching people move toward our booth, watch the video on the screen (from one of Char's workshops), and then try to 'grok' what they were seeing as they looked at the shroud.
I'd walk toward them and say something like "Not what you were expecting to see at the Green Festival, eh?" They'd look at me and say "No! It's not!"
And then I'd say; "Think of it like this...if you live most of your life trying to embody principles of sustainability, why would you stop at the very end? "

The light would just go *on* in that moment and we'd begin talking. As all of us in the booth fielded questions and helped people to get over this little 'hurdle' of not quite believing they could actually stand there and talk about Death, we heard the most heartful expressions of gratitude! We'd talk about the People's Memorial, about Home Funerals, Green Burials...about the choices and options people have for (literally!) 'Going Green'. (that got a few laughs). We answered lots of questions, we listened to poignant stories, we passed out cards and brochures, we made contact with many hearts, and we helped open many minds.

It was extremely satisfying to see people walk away from our booth feeling relieved and empowered.
* Relieved to know that they have options to personalize and"re-sacralize" the experience of a death and funeral ceremony.
* Empowered to make a sustainable choice for the end of their lives or the lives of those they love, and also empowered to wake up from this pervasive cultural trance around the subject of death.

I am still so moved by this! Lately I've been in another swirl of intense focus on the 'left brain details' of building my business. There at the festival I was nourished by all of those people sharing all of their stories. That's why I do this work. Sometimes I think of my work as simply giving people "permission" --to honor Death in ways that are sacred, creative and satisfying.
( and, to be honest, I'd really like to add "fun" to that list!)

Thank you again,Char, for inviting me, and thanks too, to Jan, John Eric and the others who helped out in our booth.
Blessings 'til next time,

Monday, March 2, 2009

Gone But Not Forgotten... Our Military Dead

Gone But Not Forgotten...Our Military Dead
The news reported the other day that our President had requested a policy review which led to lifting a ban from the press. The order banned showing photographs of the flag draped caskets of our military dead in our newspapers and magazines. Thank You, President Obama and Defense Secretary Gates.
I've written before about the gag orders on the press regarding the showing of bodies. Not only of our military dead, but also, for instance, the bodies of people who died during Hurricane Katrina.
I see this censorship as a symptom of the larger 'dis-ease' of denial. I believe that the lifting of this ban will help all of us to achieve a measure of spiritual and cultural maturity by looking clearly at something that is uncomfortable to see.
If we are never allowed to see the bodies of our dead, if we are never allowed to be present to the vast variety of feelings that can arise for those left behind, if we are told as a child, that looking at something that has died (even a bug, a bird, a chipmunk on the road), is 'bad' or 'dirty' or 'disgusting', then we have no context within which to put the experience of death when it happens to someone we are close to. It's not the time, when a death occurs, for us to do a lifetime's worth of work toward understanding, incorporating and accepting the presence of Death in Life.
It's too much to do in that one moment.
Integration of an idea...
Ideally, we could simply accept the presence of Death in Life. Here is a way of thinking about it... What if we imagine death as a door that opens and closes? And what if the door we go through when we die is the same one that opened to let us in when we were born? What if we come into this dimensional world from the same place that we return to? This might mean that when we die, we arent' going somewhere unfamiliar! I'm just offering another way of thinking on this. And as you know by now, another 'take' on it all is what I'm after.
Perhaps you have seen some of that colorful Mexican artwork of skeletons dressed in clothing--wearing tuxedos or hardhats or evening gowns or other types of clothing. At first I just didn't "get" these images. I was sort of 'afraid' of the skeleton, expecting it to 'harm' me in some way--because that's what skeletons do! (I'd been shown and taught this many ways by my culture). But these images ...they're just so whimsical! I mean some of them are really funny! If we think of Death in this way, engaging our humor, it makes room to also feel our power and our creativity. If we can accept Death enough to joke with it,( "Never knock on Death's door: Ring the bell and run away! Death hates that!")* to talk about it, to poke fun at Death in the way those dressed up skeletons do, we can begin to accept its inevitability. We can stop wasting the huge amounts of energy we spend pretending we can forestall or prevent death. We can begin using that energy to creatively engage in how we want to LIVE...and as in my previous post, what kind of "Going Away Party" we might want to have when the time comes to die.
Morbid, Melancholic and Morose?
Look, I want us to develop a relationship with Death. I want to be able to say 'Death is around us all the time' without having someone think I am morose. I'm not morose. In fact, I think we could all lighten up a bit about Death.
Let me be clear. I am not poking fun at people who have died, or the people who miss those people. It's not that I think we shouldn't grieve when someone we love dies. On the contrary! I think that if we accept the presence of death, then we are free to feel all of the feelings that arise when it happens to someone we know and love. We can say out loud "They died". We can use the actual words, "She's dead." "His death."
If we don't have to hide the word, and we don't have to hide the images of death,
then we don't have to hide our feelings about it either. When we actually see more images around us of the death that occurs daily, we are not so fearfully 'surprised' by death. We don't imagine it as an adversary engaging us in a fight we must win at all costs. (how impossible that is!) This is how we might heal and grow and come into that spiritual maturity I talked about earlier. And this is why I do what I do. I want all of my work to give people 'permission' to see and honor death in ways that are sacred, creative, satisfying and real.
So Thank You, President Obamba and Secretary Gates. I'm very grateful to have the chance to see and honor and yes,
grieve for those soldiers and their families by simply being visually present to the fact of their deaths. I offer my thoughts of love and appreciation to all of them and my wish for the families to move with grace and support through their time of grief.
Blessings to all,
*quote from Matt Frewer