Monday, August 30, 2010

Disposition of Remains

Hi Friends! Today’s topic is “Disposition of Remains”. This is the legal way of referring to how a body is cared for after death. ( i.e., transportation, embalming, burial, cremation, etc.) If you’re familiar with my writing, you know that I have made other observations of our cultural climate of ‘rampant professionalism’. Most people think they have no choice about this set of procedures…or don’t want to be the one to make these determinations. So the choice and implementation of these options is most often given over to a Funeral Director. But… if a family chooses a home funeral, then in nearly all states,(there are 7 holdouts) a friend or family member can preside over the process. Most states in which this is true have laws that determine the ‘statutory preferences of family members for this role.’ That means there’s an order or “chain”, of relatives who are legally “in line” for the job. This may be fine with you—or it may not. Each family is different. If your choice isn’t in line with the state’s, you can circumvent this by planning ahead-- choosing the person you want to be in charge, NOW. Before you die. Be advised though, that in order for this to happen, a legal form that names the chosen person should be filled out and kept on file.

Are You “Good to Go”?

Today as I was updating things on my website, I noticed that the links to some of the information were no longer active—and that the forms I was intending to share have become inexplicably more difficult to find, at least in my state (Oregon). So I thought I would do everyone the service of linking them to this article. First, the one I refer to above, for those of you wanting to have your close friend or non-traditional partner act as your ‘funeral director’ - i.e. preside over a home funeral- in the event of your death. This form is buried deep in the bowels of the “….” website, sandwiched between lots of legalese detailing the hierarchy of relatives to whom your body disposition rights revert in the absence of a document like this. The document is not offered in pdf or word form on the site, and the text is formatted strangely. You'd really have to work to find this and then put it into a usable format. Why? Well, I don’t know… but don’t worry; I’ve done it for you.

Fill It Out Now!

It’s easy! I made it into a PDF you can download, print and fill in. Appointment of Person So no excuses—Go do it now. Grab two witnesses, get them to sign it, and put it in with your other papers regarding your death plans. “What other papers?” you ask. Well, papers like your Death Certificate Worksheet. What’s that, you ask? It’s a list of all of the information needed to fill out a death certificate. States are pretty darn picky about how these forms are filled out, so doing this yourself now can save lots of time and stress on your loved ones when you die. Most of this information is known by you. It’s collected and used for the census, (why we need to be intruding on a family’s time of mourning, in order to collect census information is another question…but that’s how it is right now). I’ve given you Oregon’s worksheet here; you can find a link for Washington’s on the “Resources” page of my website under 'Legalities'…residents of other states will need to do a bit of sleuthing on your state’s “.gov” website. Try looking in ‘funeral law’ –or try the Department of Human Services or Vital Records in your state.

Estate Law

While looking for this information, I found the Oregon State Bar Association’s newsletter with a very helpful section on “Disposition of Remains”(excerpt). You might want to print this out as well -or at least read it thoroughly. I like that it’s pretty clearly worded.

Exit Plan

I’m just going to make the case here (again!) for talking about death-in-general, and our own death-in- particular, ahead of time. Do some actual preparation before the fact. We do so much other kinds of ‘planning ahead’…but when it comes to death, we’re strangely superstitious.
Our minds say something like; “if I plan ahead, it’ll happen sooner”. As if we’re ‘inviting it’ or something! It’s an interesting phenomenon. I mean. I’m not immune, there are some things I find myself a bit superstitious about too; I’ll admit it right here. For instance, someone recently shared a little internet ‘game’ with me called the ‘death clock’. You plug in a simple set of information and it “calculates” your “Death Day”. I have to say, I didn’t do it! That fell into the ‘not tempting fate’ category for me. But that’s a bit of pop culture…with no real relevance to the actual ‘nuts and bolts’ of a death occurring. As far as the real stuff…like that form I gave you the link to? I’ve got mine on file. Signed and witnessed.

Doing these ‘nuts and bolts’ tasks opens the door to other levels of contemplation. I might write my own obituary again. I’ve done one before and it’s an interesting exercise! You might spend some time choosing music you’d like to have played, or poems you’d like to have read at your funeral. You could imagine it like planning a really nice party for all of your friends. You want them to laugh, to cry, to be moved, to share some nice food and drink, to tell some good stories… and to send you off into (wherever it is we go when we die) in a style consistent with your whole life.

What do you think? Will you make a notebook and start your own “Exit Plan”?
Let me know! Participate in the conversation by commenting on this posting using the link below.

Until next time…
~ Marian

This is the feature article from the E-Zine of a Fine Farewell . We post there twice a month, with additional information included in this blog, where you are free to leave comments. I invite you to subscribe. here
Newsletter and blog content copyright A Fine Farewell 2010
Images are used under creative commons licensing through Flickr shares - listed in order from top to bottom: PineGroveCemetery_byKevinDooley, the queue_by Marfis75, paperwork_by Anniebby, Exit?_by Konstriktion. Inclusion of images in no way implies endorsement by photographers of AFineFarewell.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Behind the Mask of Death

Today I want to let you know I'm going to run my increasingly popular class; "Behind the Mask of Death" again on September 18th from 1-5! If you have heard of this and wanted to attend, here's your chance. If you haven't heard of it and are curious, the details are below.

I want to tell you that my intention with all of my classes and workshops is to create more
safe and sacred opportunities in which to contemplate our thoughts and feelings about death. That is my passion, my calling and my joy.
I've been a ritual guide for over 25 years and an artist most of my life. This workshop combines the two to illustrate one of my favorite maxims: "Use Art to make Ritual...and Use Ritual to make Art"™. To this end,we use collage techniques, and I provide simple mask shapes so there's no 'artistic training' necessary. There's real possibility for healing, for transforming fears and regrets, and for experiencing deep peace around the death of someone you love. When we take the risk to look 'behind the mask', and we're sitting in sacred space together, witnessing and supporting each other, amazing things can happen. Deep truths are accessed when we simply give our minds and hearts the space to open up and be with the discomforts of facing death. Anger, mirth, curiosity, grief, yearning, despair, all these and more combine to create a whole that is infinitely greater than the sum of its parts.

Quoting from my flier:....
"In sacred space, we’ll invoke the power and mystery ‘behind the veil’, and make our own simple masks that reveal what our Wise Self believes about the transition we call Death. Then we’ll journey together, following the sound of the gongs, and return with a gift from the beyond. Sitting in circle, we become a council of beings who have grown more curious, and less fearful, about the transition we call Death. In closing, we’ll witness and share the gifts of insight we have received."

I hope you're intrigued. Find more information and register HERE.
I'd love to take the journey with you! Bye for now...~Marian

Monday, August 9, 2010

This Mortal Coil

"If you're really paying attention, you have to learn to live each moment with a broken heart." ~Catherine Ingram

Well I’m still rolling with this theme of ‘arising and passing’. It’s been good to keep my attention on this and I’m glad for the boost that writing about it has brought to my everyday awareness. So here is the continuing saga of ‘all things must pass…’

This week, I’ve been blessed with what has been an annual event for the past 4 or 5 years… the blooming cycle of a kind of African lily that I have in a pot outdoors. I have managed to transport to and enjoy this in my last 3 homes. You can see in the picture… it’s a lovely 6 petaled orange flower, it’s not more than 2 inches across, it produces a liquid nectar that bees and wasps like, and it has freckles (like me!). This plant has become a wisdom teacher for me...because these flowers that I find so pleasing bloom for just one day. That’s it. One day.

Be Here Now
When this time of year comes, and the first one opens, I know I’m ‘in school’ for a couple of weeks of this profound daily lesson. I always think, "They’d make such a beautiful bouquet! I want to collect them! I want to bring some to my friend! I want to see a bunch of them blooming all at once!" Instead what happens is that, one at a time, a bud will swell early in the day (depending on how sunny it is), and fling itself open (I’ve never caught that moment), hang from the stem with it’s nectar glistening in the remaining sunlight, and then start to close up after dark. During the night the motion continues. They fold up in the most pleasing and ‘deliberate’ way… The petals shrink and spiral around each other to form a swirling coil. You can see this in the second picture. The first time this happened, I thought "Wow, are they just going to sleep for the night?" But they didn’t open again the next morning - all that elaborate beauty and function, for such a short time.
What’s funny to me is that even though I know about this plant behavior, every year I still want each bloom to stay open longer! I can’t help it…even though I know the cycle by now, I still catch myself feeling ‘sad’ if I ‘miss’ one (I even stopped just now to go outside and look at ‘today’s blossom’!) The knowing of it sets up a whole train of thinking in this mind that wonders how to get ‘more’ of the flower, and feels sad and a bit anxious, even, about missing one of them. It’s subtle, but I can feel it. It’s that place of ‘clinging’ that I keep examining. I’m clinging to something, craving something. Such a human feeling, this wanting, craving, yearning.
But look…the thing I am craving is right here in front of me! Something I already “have”. The flower is right here - right now! This habit of my mind cracked me up the first time I realized it. I was in the middle of an incredibly joyful experience of singing with a group of women, and I could feel the subtle quiver of anxiety, those little cracks in the heart that come from knowing something won’t last. I saw myself enjoying something so much that I began craving it and though "Huh?"

Constant Craving
Watch yourself sometime with this in mind. See if you can catch the moment when that utterly pleasant sensation of enjoyment slips over into clinging / craving. Can you notice your mind making little strategies to prolong, or remember every detail, or preserve the experience? (I think this is why the camera was invented!) Can you notice, like me, that in the middle of enjoyment, instead of just being completely IN the moment, we’re already starting to think of it ending? The comical, paradoxical result of this mental scrambling is that we are actually missing something- a person or an experience…while it’s here!

That is the essence of the mind that clings, isn’t it? The discomfort with the knowledge that something we love or like or enjoy is going to end. How to live with the knowledge of endings without letting that knowledge make us whiny or clingy or bitter? How to live in each moment, holding the broken heart and the full heart simultaneously? We get hundreds of opportunities to practice this every day. If we keep practicing, getting really good at this kind of presence, facing death has got to be easier. And that’s a great reason to keep practicing.
Okay, back to my flower….(which, yes, I did take pictures of for this article!) But Hey, wait! This flower really does only last for one day! It’s extra glamour is its ‘limited engagement’! Hah! Kind of like people! We’ve all got a ‘limited engagement’ here. What do we do with it? I could say we’re like this flower…we fling ourselves open, blaze our colors for one glorious ‘day’ and then curl into a spiral coil and send our energy back into the earth.

A coil! That word used to signify the troubles and stresses of daily life…its trials and suffering. Shakespeare's Hamlet spoke of death as ‘shuffling off this mortal coil’. And that’s what everyone does - everyone we love, everyone we don’t love, and yes, even us. Some day we just give our little shrug and off comes the ‘mortal coil’. So here I am again asking… is it okay to just know that (everyone - you, me, all of us) we’re all going to die? Can we feel the heart break of that and, at the same time, take comfort in the reliable rhythm of it?

Don't Forget to Laugh

Last time I said ‘It’s okay to Cry’… now I’m going to offer that it’s okay to laugh, too. They’re both good for letting go. My friend Gene Burnett is a singer/songwriter who also teaches Tai Chi in Ashland, OR. He says in his funny, witty, irreverent song “We’re All Gonna Die”…”we’re all headed for the soil, when we shrug this mortal coil”. If your heart could use a little irreverent push into laughter,
listen to his song here.**
** Adult language warning: The media link to Gene Burnett's song "We're All Gonna Die!" is hosted on his YouTube channel. Gene Burnett is a multi-faceted artist and writer. Some of the content available on his related videos list contain adult language and themes; watch at your own risk.

Til next time…

As ever, I enjoy hearing from you. What are you craving these days, while you've already got it? Share your cravings and your thoughts by using the comment link below.

This is the feature article from the E-Zine of a Fine Farewell . We post there twice a month, with additional information included in this blog, where you are free to leave comments. I invite you to subscribe. here
Newsletter and blog content copyright A Fine Farewell 2010

Friday, August 6, 2010

Natural Funerals in the Oregonian

Hello Friends! A great article was posted online and ran in the print edition of the Oregonian on Friday July 29.. "A Natural Return to the Earth". Yours truly, 'Shroud Lady' was quoted in it more than once! Writer Laurie Robinson featured many prominent Oregonians who have been moving the conversation about sustainable funeral practices forward. More and more people are investigating these options and, in fact, Portland's River View cemetery just last month began to allow natural burials anywhere within the cemetery.
This is an interesting idea--alternative to creating a specifically "green" section in a cemetery. There are varying opinions and lots of pros and cons...but in general I'm pleased about this. While I applaud the efforts of those who are creating fully natural cemetery preserves--conservation burial grounds, sustainable landscape management, native species restoration, etc... I also think that making the green option available for people who have already purchased plots in an established cemetery is a very good compromise. And I believe that other people seeing those natural burials, (without vaults, without embalming, using shrouds or hand made pine or willow caskets) .... will be curious and interested to inquire about those options when making their own funeral plans.
I think it's good to 'lay out a path' for people who are curious but maybe not ready to go "100%" toward a natural option. I mean, I prefer to eat all organic foods, but the organic version of every ingredient or product I use just isn't always available. Does this mean I'm a 'fake'? or that my efforts are meaningless? No, of course not. It's the same here, really.
I think it's important to provide ways for people to take steps toward sustainability, and to support and celebrate each of those choices. It's important for people to feel good about their funeral choices, not made wrong or feel intimidated for not being 'perfectly green'. What do you think?
Check out the article
...and remember to click the "Information" box link to find many providers in the Portland area.
see you soon....
Marian (a.k.a. "Shroud Lady")