Caring for your Dead At Home, from the Local Gurus

Local Austin folks, you won’t want to miss out on this opportunity to learn the ins and outs of a home funeral, courtesy of Austin home funeral experts Sandy Booth and Donna Belk.


Home Funeral Workshop


If you’ve toyed with natural/green burial at Eloise Woods (but didn’t know how to manage this part), or are just curious about home funerals as low-cost, intimate way of doing the last bit of caring for your loved one, you don’t want to miss this event.

This workshop is sure to fill up, so email Sandy and Donna now if you’re interested!

I’ll be there–will I see you?

Don’t Take Betty Boop With You!

Among the most interesting end-of-life options I’ve run across in 2015 is the newly launched National Association for the Preservation of Skin Art.

This US-based group, founded by a tattoo parlor owner from Ohio, is on a mission to save the works of art folks choose for their bodies, much as one would preserve more traditional artwork to pass on to future generations.  The founder, Charles Hamm, explains:

“This is a passion of mine. We’re all about making sure that you can have a solid memory of somebody.”

As explained by this article in Scene, the group has designed a kit that funeral homes can use to retrieve the desired tattoo, and then ship it back to NAPSA for preservation.   Hamm, who has had test preservations done on his own skin with the help of plastic surgeons, says the collection process is simple, and the colors in a cut tattoo stand out even more than previously.

preserved tattoo

If you’re interested in preserving a portion of your (or a loved one’s) body art for future generations, NAPSA’s services are offered by membership only–you can find out more here.

I’m not personally a tattoo fan, so I won’t have anything to preserve;  I have seen some beautiful skin work, though, which clearly involved a large commitment of both hours and money, and may trigger the desire to do this sort of preservation work.  What about you?  Do you or a loved one have body art which you want to save?

Already, though, in my suburban mom world, having lived through the crazy scrapbooking 2000’s, I often wonder, “Who, two generations out, will want all these giant books full of paper and pictures?”

I can imagine me having much the same conversation about preserved skin art–would you want to inherit responsibility for something like that as a family heirloom?!

The Power of Ritual in Grief

Raw and powerful, the honoring of a beloved teacher with a traditional hapa tribute.  Most of these high school boys probably haven’t had a ton of experience with death (one would hope, anyway), but they relied on their community and their heritage to give them ways to voice their grief and respect.

What is it in your world that would allow you to do so?   Is it different for your kids, your grandkids, your spouse?  Is there any part of those rituals that would make you angry/upset/uncomfortable, would dishonor your memory?

Have you talked about that with your loved ones?

Let’s have those conversations now, while there’s time to talk it through.

Cremation–a TRULY green option?

Living here in Austin, the call (demand?) to live green is all around.  We don’t get plastic bags at the grocery (or department stores) any longer–reusables are where it’s at.  Recycling is widespread, encouraged, even demanded, but still not done enough.  Our car use, while still ridiculously high, is a constant source of discussion and attempted modification, to cut down on emissions. Everywhere you look, natural/green/organic/earth-friendly is the trend, and folks are doing what they can to get onboard (or maybe sometimes, being dragged onboard?!)

In much the same vein, nationwide, traditional burial is declining, and cremation is skyrocketing in popularity.  After all, no toxic embalming fluid, no expensive, needy grass lawns to lie under, no exotic wood and over-shellacked casket permanently in the earth–a much greener choice, better for the earth, right?   Combine this lack of fuss, the minimal processing of the body, and the substantially lower cost of cremation, and it seems to be a slam dunk, better all around.

But witness, this chart.

(And although its data is UK focussed, the similarities in our burial practices make it pretty applicable to US practice as well)


This information, from UK natural burial site and advocate–makes it clear:  there are better, greener ways, secret option C.

Cremation generates emissions, requires lots of energy to accomplish, and can also unleash other pollutants (mercury, in particular) into the air.  While it refrains from injecting other toxins deep into the ground, and doesn’t necessarily require high-maintenence spaces forever, there are still substantial ecological costs to the low dollar cost of cremation.

If all you want is a simple, relatively green, reasonably-priced disposal method, cremation certainly fits the bill.

But if you’re truly looking to go natural and honor the earth, why not consider recycling yourself (and the valuable energy and nutrients that were loaned to you) directly back into the soil?

(As an aside:  you do realize that cremation burns up all the yummy goodness that you are, right?  That whole romantic ideal of “oh, plant a tree on top of my ashes so I can nurture it and you can be reminded of me..”–unless you’re planting a tree that loves alkaline soil, your ashes really won’t do a doggoned for that tree, because you already disposed of all the good stuff in the fire!)

Check out the good news in that Natural Burial column in the chart up there:

  • direct contact with soil for nutrient transfer
  • perfect depth for natural decomposition
  • no artificial anything getting in the way.

You want to be green? Looking to grow some lovely leaves? Done with those minerals and vitamins?

Natural burial all the way.

Grief, and the Lessons of an Unexpected Death

Amongst all the practical considerations of this blog, of my consulting business–the funeral planning and advanced directives and green burial research–it’s easy to lose myself in the practical and forget that death, first and foremost, is about loss, loss of love, grief.  And the practical is important, but only in that it simplifies and makes a very awful process less traumatic.

But the true work of going through a loss is emotional.

Hannah Richell, in these raw, open musings on the first anniversary of her husband’s death, brings that back, in words wiser than mine.  For all the practical preparation I urge on you, her experience speaks louder and is far far more important:

Grief is a landscape none of us can prepare for. It is as unique and personal as the individuals we mourn. But when it comes, it’s a wasteland, without maps or guides. It is a giant sinkhole, opening up where normal life once stood. You teeter at the edge and try not to fall.

I know now that the pain will never end, because the love I hold for Matt will never end. Both circle back endlessly. There is no joy now without a shadow of bittersweet sorrow, but I experience my feelings more fully; as if a dial has been turned and my emotions amplified — the good and the bad. All is transient and, yes, life is chaotic and fragile, but in my stronger moments I know such pain is a small price to pay for such love. I would not un-wish my life with Matt to not feel this way now.

I want you to be ready, prepared for a loss, because I think it’s wise and smart.

But I more want you to read this work, so you know you’ll survive the loss.