Americans are optimistic by nature, so death strikes many of us as some kind of defeat. I cannot count the times I have heard, “If I die.” The Death Care Industry knows this. It clouds the process in fancy obfuscations to make people feel comfortable enough to purchase a funeral or burial plan before they die. The industry uses the term “time of need” when talking about a person’s death. The sales pitch might go like this, “You can purchase this vault today it will be available at today’s price for the “time of need.” The person will think surely I do not need the vault today. I am glad it is purchased at today’s price for the “time of need” in the future. The whole process is called “preneed sales” and it fuels the industry. Purchase before you need. What is this need they speak of? It is our own death. If they spoke about death instead of need, who would sit down with them, hand over their money, and complete a plan for their loved ones for the time of need somewhere in the future. Few would be comfortable enough to do so.
A funeral sales pitch surely includes a pitch for embalming. What else is embalming if not a total negation of the natural process of death? Here we take a natural body, drain it of blood and replace the blood with chemicals. The industry can only guarantee preservation of the body for five days. What are we doing as a society when it comes to embalming? Why do we need to hang on to the bodies of our loved ones pumped full of unnatural chemicals? I don’t know. If the potential client does not choose embalming, then the sales person offers cremation as the other option of dealing with a body in death. Cremation uses a tremendous amount of energy (about the same amount of fuel it take to drive 600 miles) to cremate a human body. Both these processes distance our loved ones from our bodies in death. The body often is quickly taken away by the industry’s service providers and brought to a facility and a stranger, in whatever fashion the family has decided upon, prepares the body. We have separated ourselves so totally from the natural process of death that we cannot talk about it. Death, which is horrible on so many levels, gets pushed aside so that when we meet the death of someone we love, we might not have the vocabulary to discuss what is happening, and what we need to happen.
The alternative death care industry returns the power to families who face the death of a loved one. Death Doulas assist families in the care of the body and the legal process that follows death. The green burial movement connects the body back to the earth from where we come and to which we belong. Often people in our society forget that we are made to be part of nature and that our bodies are natural and biodegradable. The alternative death care industry promotes connectedness to life as well as allowing for a natural and simple way to deal with death that does not separate us from each other nor tries to hide that we are dealing with death, not something else. Next time people around you are talking about death, notice what terms they use. Be bold and enter into the conversation. Maybe even use the word death or dead. Changing people’s mindset is so important. Just keep in mind the tenderness of the topic. Some people cannot be moved to change. Some, however, might be willing. The more you speak honestly, openly and gently about death, the more you will learn how to talk about it and the more you can gage your audience. Change might be slow, but never hesitate to tell the truth.