The Moddey Dhoo


G’day all,

-This is Joey, proud son of Rebecca, wishing you all a very happy new year~

To wrap up 2017, tonight we’ve shared on You n’ Taboo a little story written by Jonas Kyratzes called ‘The Moddey Dhoo’, in reference to the Manx folktale.

I stumbled upon this article by complete accident only a couple of months ago. I was feeling awfully nostalgic at the time, so I decided to revisit some old flash games I enjoyed when I was in primary school. One in particular was called ‘The Fabulous Screech’, and I remember it as one of the first games that emotionally affected me.

Upon revisiting it, however, I discovered that it was not a standalone title. Rather, it was a part of a collection of games and short stories collected under the title- ‘The Lands of Dream’.

Since then I have downloaded and played all the games I could, pertaining to The Lands of Dream. They are wonderful, by the way. I recommend them to anyone interested in good, meaningful ‘interactive novels’, as they are called. (As they are more like books than games.)

As for the short stories, (all compiled under the heading: ‘The Oneiropolis Compendium’), they are equally as flavoursome and anecdotal as the games- if not more so. This particular story is a favourite of mine, as it puts a refreshing spin on the classic Manx story.

We learned about The Moddey Dhoo during our time on The Isle of Man. Whilst there, we visited the beautiful Peel Castle, or the ruins thereof. Mum and I headed down some crumbling brick stairs that were far, far older than us and we came to a dark, dank cellar dug out on the edge of a cliff face, so that the barred windows overlooked the rough ocean.

We spent quite a bit of time in that cellar, and from a plaque we learned that the area was used as, as well as a cellar, a prison and a guard house in its lifetime. While we were chatting about how we ‘couldn’t imagine anyone spending more than a few hours down here at a time’, a father and two small children- a girl and a boy- came lolloping down the stairs.

“Okay kids, let me tell you a story…” the father began, and mum and I decided to listen in. I sat down in a corner and watched.

“…this room was used as a guard house many, many years ago. One cold, dark, rainy night, four men were all sat around a fire pit, over where that boy over there is sitting-”

(That boy was me.)

“-taking turns patrolling the castle. Every hour they would change patrol. At midnight, they all heard a big, loud barking and howling from outside.    They were all frozen-   with fear.    The person that was meant to be outside didn’t come back, so one brave man decided to look for him…   after half an hour, the same thing happened. There was a loud barking, and the man never came back…”

At this point, my mother, the two children and I were completely wrapped with what he was saying.

“…the third man sitting around the fire decided to look for the two missing men, and the same thing happened again.     So the two guys left are looking at each other, frightened of what was out there, when all of a sudden-

pat.. pat.. pat..

-they hear something walking down the stairs. Do you know what it was…?”

(A pause, for effect)

“…it was a big, black dog. Bigger than you or I; it was as big as a car and as dark as night. And its eyes were two burning flames. It didn’t attack the men, though. It simply crept up to the fire and sat with them.    Well, the two men tried to reach for their gun, but every time they moved, the dog started growling at them…

…in the morning, when the next group of guards came to swap posts, the dog was nowhere to be seen, and all they saw were two dead guards-     who died of fright.”

That, we later found out, was the legend of The Moddey Dhoo, more or less.

So, in conclusion, what can we take away from this? I would say this-

Death is both scary and romanticised in many different ways and in many cultures, all around the world. This is, at it’s core, because death is a hard beast to understand. We spend our entire lives living and no one knows why it is that all living creatures must stop. It is scary because we don’t know, and will never conceivably understand what lies beyond death, because as far as we know it’s a one-way door.

There is, however, light at the end of this tunnel. Through tales such as The Moddey Dhoo we get to see death in a different way, one that makes it a tangible, understandable thing. We are reminded that death is but a mere part of life, and that fear of death is the only thing stopping us from truly living.

Find where the original inspiration came from at – http://landsofdream.net/the-oneiropolis-compendium/the-moddey-dhoo/

Grief at Christmas


“Christmas Grief” by Christy McMillan

I know the lights upon your tree, won’t seem so bright this year

And carols that the children sing, you may not want to hear

The holidays bring back the pangs, of grief within your heart

And once again you’ll question why, your loved one had to part

We are gifted loved ones, but they leave us all too soon

Then Christmas seems to reinforce, your world is out of tune

Hold tight to friends and family, they’ll shelter you with love

Through them you’ll sense your loved one’s heart, from their resting place above.

 

For some of you this will be your first Christmas without one of your loved ones.

If you struggle with grief at Christmas time, this is for you.

It is a difficult time especially if that person was one who you shared all or many of your Christmases with; someone who was a special part of your festive time. They have left a hole that will never again be filled. Their place may be taken by someone new but no one else can ever fill that gap in the same way.

I trust that, being very close to Christmas Day, you have given thought to how you will negotiate all the activities of the day and how you will navigate all the thoughts and feelings that are beginning to flood your mind.

Here’s a few suggestions –

  1. Be kind to yourself. If you think it is just too much to face people on the day, don’t plan to do so. You may need to take this Christmas off from celebration. On the other hand, there may be close family and/or friends who know, understand and love you who you can trust with your raw feelings and emotions. Spend as much time as you can with them and accept the healing and cathartic experiences that are a possibility.
  2. There will be particular times or happenings that you know you will struggle with. Maybe your loved one had certain roles or tasks throughout the day that they had made their own. Give that some thought and work out a strategy as to how you may be able to prepare yourself for the inevitable rush of emotions that will come when those times arrive. Place yourself in a position, emotionally and physically, where you will be better able to handle the situation, hopefully with someone close who will understand.
  3. It is probably not a good idea to completely isolate yourself for the day. Be prepared to push yourself a little. Be honest with your family and friends with how you are feeling and coping.
  4. Do something that you know you will enjoy. Get out of the house, even if it is to go for a walk or a drive to somewhere you love being. Allow yourself to feel the weight of your emotions, even just a little, don’t be afraid to let them out. Lifeline and other organisations offer telephone counselling services all year round and it may just be enough for you to give them a call and tell the person on the end of the line just how you are feeling and your fears. They are trained to listen and be gentle. And they may even be able to offer something to help you in your struggle.
  5. Christmas is a time of memories. You have created so many of them throughout your life of Christmases gone by. Maybe now is the time to fashion some new ones. Consider creating a space for the one you have lost in some way. Perhaps you can think of something that represents their presence or contribution to past Christmases that you could place as a special memento in their honour; their favourite Christmas hat, their wine glass or fresh new potatoes like dad always supplied. Even a simple verbal acknowledgement of their absence this year and the way you will miss them is healing. I have had the moving experience of having everyone who would like to, share what they are feeling, missing or remembering. Maybe having a candle burning as a symbol of their presence is enough.
  6. Another idea I have heard of is to have an empty seat at the table, a powerful symbol of your loved one who is absent.

Whatever you choose to do try to make some tangible acknowledgement of the deep loss you are feeling. The externalising of the turmoil within is a healing experience. Eventually, you will yourself experiencing brief moments where you may find yourself laughing or smiling and those moments will become more frequent. Your will remember the past with fondness and sadness and the fondness will grow stronger. Death doesn’t stop for holidays, but it will not always haunt you either. What you need this year may be different to what you needed last year and what you will feel like next year. That is part of forming new traditions while walking the path of a healthy bereavement.

Captivating Eulogies


This weeks blog post is bought to you by Edwin Quilliam.

Captivating Eulogies.

I’ve been to a few funerals in my day. I’ve been involved in the funeral industry for around ten years. I’ve lead around eighty funeral services in the past three or so years…  and a few before that as well. So I’ve heard and presented quite a number of eulogies over that time.

Now I’m not proposing that a funeral service or the eulogy delivered as part of a funeral service is a performance but I do strongly believe that a eulogy should be prepared and delivered in such a way that it is engaging, somewhat entertaining whilst covering off on some basic components.

By way of definition, does this help?

“A eulogy is a speech or writing in praise of a person, especially one who recently died. It is a speech given at a memorial or funeral service that commemorates and celebrates the life of the deceased. It is essentially a way of saying farewell to a person who has passed away by expressing and sharing thoughts, feelings and experiences that honour and respect the deceased.”

One eulogy I remember very well and no doubt everyone who was present that day does as well, was delivered by a close family member who was very creative, artistic and engaging. The first few minutes were very entertaining, the first ten minutes had us intrigued, after the first half an hour we were starting to tune out and by the time forty-five minutes had passed I was well zoned out, and it still wasn’t finished. Take-home message: make it as performance-based as you like but also make it succinct, punchy and memorable (for the right reasons).

I have found the best eulogies are sprinkled with tears and laughter. They should be as the person’s life was. There are not too many people whose lives aren’t sprinkled with happy times, sad times, hilarious moments, stressful experiences, momentous occasions, devastating tragedies and many more. A good eulogy will reflect their life experiences even if it doesn’t elaborate on them all. Because, of course, it can’t.

It is amazing the amount of ground that can be covered in six to ten minutes if a eulogy is properly prepared and well delivered.

I usually find that a person’s life story has a certain theme. If I am to prepare and present a eulogy I generally spend an hour or so talking with family members and sometimes other people who knew and loved the deceased person and madly scribble notes most of that time. When I sit down to write their story it is useful to go over the notes and mark them. I will mark the characteristics/attributes of the person with one colour. Then I will see if their life story slots into eras or sections or emphases and mark relevant things accordingly. Things that highlight the outstanding feature of their life and would make a powerful ending, I will mark specially. Basically, I look for the themes of a person’s life.

Most often I do not start with, ‘John was born on 6th February 1945 to Bill and Joan in Perth, WA……’ and work through their life in finely tuned chronological order. I will usually begin with some story, event or characteristic that is a feature of their life and then work their life story into the main body of the eulogy, sometimes in no particular order at all.

Like any good speech, a eulogy needs a strong opening, good structure in the body of the speech and a strong, memorable ending. A good way to end is with a brief summary of what has been said and highlight their family relationships, if they were positive, and they generally are.

I strongly recommend that a family member presents a eulogy. Now that is a BIG ask for many people but with lots of encouragement and as much help as they think they need, there is usually someone who can do it. I don’t always insist on this myself when I am asked to conduct a service and am asked to do the eulogy as well. But I have spoken to one experienced funeral celebrant and seen a documentary of another who both insist the family take this role and are prepared to give all the time, assistance and encouragement required for family to be involved in doing so (See the doco, ‘Zen and the art of dying’). As hard as it can be, it is a very fulfilling and healing thing to do and I would like to get to the stage where I am able to at least strongly urge my families to do their own. A family member or the celebrant standing close by to place a hand on their shoulder and whisper assurance will help them get through the hard, emotional times. People don’t regret speaking at a funeral, they can regret not speaking.

Some of the memorable eulogies presented by families have been shared. All the siblings or all the deceased’s children or grandchildren can follow each other to the lectern and say their piece. And it works very well for them all to stand together and ‘tag team’ the entire presentation. That way they all feel the reassurance of each other and can offer a hand of comfort if needed.

I trust this is of some help if you are struggling to find the courage to present a eulogy for a loved one or know that you may be asked to do one sometime soon down the track. And I’m sure you are aware that there are many more resources online to help you. The most important requirement is to have the people around you who you can rely on to give you every help and encouragement you need.

Edwin Quilliam

Natural Burial Adventures Part 4


The very last Natural Burial Ground we visited was not the one we’d originally planned on.

We’d had a wonderful afternoon the day before which included a long lunch with a lady by the name of Rosie who heads the Natural Death Centre Charity in the UK. It was on her suggestion that we got up the next morning and headed in exactly the opposite direction to which we had originally planned. It made for a long day of travel and a late arrival in London but it was exceptionally worth it.

Higher Ground was the name of this Natural Burial Ground but it is also much more. The name really struck me because here they are doing exactly that, taking the higher ground.

Here they provide people with options for their natural burial. They have a wildflower meadow which they alternate with cutting hay in the summer and at least two (maybe more) paddocks that they are regenerating into natural woodland. In the woodland burial section, families get to choose from a range of trees native to the area which are planted at the head of the grave. Each parcel of land is divided with tall hedges and the pasture has a gentle slope to it so that in parts you can see over the hedges into the paddock beyond. They also provide a stunning chapel for services to take place on site. The chapel started as a hay shed for the farm and has gradually been extended and enclosed providing a beautiful space for ceremonies. There is solar power, a composting toilet and a wood heater in there for the winter. They have the ability to play music for people and have a microphone for the front. The huge glass doors not only provide lovely natural light but they also open out to a backdrop of the burial ground. And, there is more. A few years ago, they made the decision to take the leap and offer funeral services as well for those who want to be buried here in their ground. So, they built themselves a basic mortuary, modified a vehicle for transport and now they offer care for the dead as well as the burial. All natural. All ecologically friendly and sustainable.

The have natural mortuary practices, no packing, stitching, eye caps… they use damp cotton wool over the eyes and leave the body in as much peace as they are able. As little disturbance as necessary. It is surprising when you start to consider the real minimum that is needed for mortuary care, how much we truly overdo it all in the western world. And its not about hygiene. Its not about dignity. Often, it is just about making things easy for funeral professionals who are charging the earth for unnecessary procedures. But more about this another time….. (we’ve yet to tell you about some of the fabulous funeral directors we met along the way).

At first we met Tom, a very clever fellow and son of the owner, he did much of the building work and vehicle modification himself (he modified a hearse to double as a transfer van and even built the mortuary fridges himself from flat pack!). He showed us around their Chapel of Rest and as we went we talked about how they do what they do. He walked us through his mortuary, their practices and the services that they offer. The language was quite different here, in fact all through the UK we were interested to find that they don’t refer to viewings much as viewings, they are called ‘visits’ and they call a viewing room a ‘chapel of rest’.

Higher Ground offer a prepaid funeral and prepaid right of burial and people can choose what field they want to be in. They do all their digging themselves, they have a digger to do it but they try to rotate the paddocks of their ground so that no one piece of land is getting overused with people traffic and thus avoiding mud in the colder months.

In their burial ground, they run the plots by grid – old style, with string. They have guide markers plotted out down the sides of the paddock and so for each grave that is dug, they run the string and accurately pinpoint the dimensions. They also allow a little more room than the other burial grounds we visited, here they allow 4m from the centre of one plot to the centre of its neighbour.

They allow for markers here at Higher Ground, a natural wood block with a plaque attached which sits flush on the ground. It is with a little difficulty then that they maintain the ground for cutting hay but it is not such a loss to have to cut the grass a little higher than is would usually be.

They are very strict with what goes into the ground, among other things, they will not allow plastic under any circumstances and they talk people through what will and will not be accepted well ahead of time.

When a family arrives at Higher Ground for a burial, or a service there concludes and it is time for the burial, the body in its shroud or coffin is placed upon a bier and walked through the ground to the place of burial. Family can accompany the bier or indeed lead it themselves. There is a wonderful focus here on family involvement and they work with people to make sure that the family walk away with a little peace at having laid their dead to rest in a beautiful place, in a natural way and by doing do so, performing a gift of giving to the earth.

                         

                    

Natural Burial Adventures Part 3


Welcome to UK natural burial ground number three!

The third natural burial ground that we visited while in the UK was in South-East Cornwall – right on the edge of the famous Bodmin Moor,  a place called Pentiddy Woods.

In true natural style, there was nothing imposing about this place, it was tucked away on a quiet road – very unassuming. There was a small car park area set aside across the road and as we parked there was only one other car there beside our own. We had made a time to meet with the owner a little earlier in the morning, as they were expecting a family for a burial in an hour and a half hence.

We arrived and approached the most beautifully secluded spot, lined with hedges and off to the side a stunning arch, covered in vine, spanning a gate that could only be described as having such a quaint country charm. We ventured in, the owner was not there yet and so we wandered around.

Eventually the owner arrived and started showing us around. You could see where the more recent burials had been, the soil still being raised a little from ground height and trees were planted at the head of these graves as well. The ground had a gentle slope to it and on the top side had been placed a small stone circle, with 2 larger stones forming a kind of natural alter style stand – flat enough for a coffin to be placed on while a ceremony took place.

Pentiddy Woods has been operating for 8 years. Officially. They had facilitated burial there before turning it into a public ground. It took them 2 years to get all of the permissions and authorisations required to begin as a natural burial ground but they have not looked back. In the last 8 years they have had over 90 burials and sold about 150 prepaid plots. Like the other places, they have an ‘at need’ interment and digging fee, only the right of burial is prepaid.

They mapped the land and bury by grids, which seems to be the most common method in non-woodland grounds and the calculations of bodies that are able to be buried there seem to be similar as well, working on about 600 bodies per acre. The really interesting thing here that we were so impressed by was the fact that they dig every grave by hand. No matter the rock content. We were lucky enough to be there on a day when a grave had been freshly dug and it was the first time we got to have a look at what a shallow depth grave looks like in real terms. It is such a different feel to those in Australia where you can nearly get vertigo standing at a graveside – its just so far down. The shallow depth felt warmer, kinder, less harsh. I could imagine a family lowering their loved one into the ground there and not being daunted by the visual impact.

The idea at Pentiddy is to turn the land into a woodland. They are planting trees native to the area as they perform burials with the idea of regenerating the paddock into a natural wild ecology for the community and the wildlife to enjoy. At the time of our discussions, he was in the process of getting another parcel of land approved and that was going to be a wildflower meadow.

Everything done to the land has been by hand. Even in his dual use of the land, he has been cutting, turning and baling the hay by hand. He has been grazing sheep but not using any machines or bikes to round them up or move them and as i said before, even the graves have been hand dug.

A little way off beyond the burial ground, within the grounds of his farm, he has an old store roundhouse which he has been making available to families for gathering, ceremonies or coming to spend time in remembrance. They do not allow markers in the ground there but as you go into the ground – through that lovely arch – there is a wooden stand on the right and on it are brass plaques – all with names and dates of those buried within. It is a beautiful ‘roll of honor’ style creation and it silently lets you know that the woodland being created before you is the legacy of all these people listed here.

What a gift it is as well.

Perfectly positioned with a picturesque pastoral outlook beyond, we sat on those rocks a while and drank it all in. One side of the ground was the most magnificent stone wall and the other 3 were hedge. Because of the slope of the land you could see beyond the hedge to pastures in the distance. Now if a view is a consideration for your final place of rest, there are certainly worse places than this.

                                                      

Death Adverse Language and Actions


We avoid death with language, we think it softens the blow.

Passed away, flying with the angels, gone to a better place, gone, lost, departed, promoted to glory, born into eternal life, passed on, kicked the bucket, pushing up daisies, resting in eternal peace, entered their peaceful slumber, graduated to heaven, called home, gone to the happy hunting ground in the sky, breathed his last, bid farewell to the world, didn’t make it, lost the battle, gave up the ghost……… I have always been fascinated by the language of death. The words we choose to associate with the state of being or becoming dead.

The language of death avoidance is perhaps never more evident than it is in most daily papers. The standardized formatting of most death and funeral notices have become ridiculous. Not often, but sometimes I read one that really makes me smile, in just a few words I seem to have quite the sense of the person who has died. But how many people ‘passed away peacefully’? The more I spoke with families who had experienced the death of a loved one, the more I knew it was often not that simple. Sometimes it was not even that peaceful. And yet, somehow, as a society, that is what we expect to read when we turn to the death notices in a paper. The couched language has some kind of hidden message, of wrapping the death with love and kindness not to offend the readers… and yet more and more I spoke to families who wanted their notices to be honest. Personal. Reflective of the life and death of the dead. It’s a brave move to write a death notice that way but there is a raw honesty to it that seem to help people begin to look at the days and weeks ahead – because the reality is that the death notice is often the first thing that family will write. Before a eulogy or tribute, before they plan a funeral or ceremony, often before they have made any of the decisions they are going to be called upon to make in the time ahead.

But it’s not just language, we can avoid death in how we treat it as well. Many people don’t like to think of their own death, they feel as if they are tempting fate or they are so terrified and uncomfortable they find they are unable to negotiate their way through the necessary thoughts and decisions they will eventually be called upon to arrive at. So we lock it away, we put it in a box, we know it’s there but the longer we can go on ‘living’ without it, the better. Or so it seems.

Death is our constant companion. It is never far away – as resilient as the human body is, it is also incredibly fragile.

DEAD.

There are many reasons we should call things what they actually are.

When it comes to children, there is a necessity to have them understand the nature of death and what it means for the one who has died and for them to live on. Parents have been told for decades now in relation to children and various subject from body parts to social situations that a child’s development will always be better if the right language is used with them from a young age. Death is no different. So many times I have heard adults talk about how they remembered experiencing the death of a relative but only from a distance and usually they were left wondering ‘where is this better place grandma went, can I go there… and when will she be back?’ Even in my own young childhood I was kept at home away from the death of my grandfather and his funeral – it deepened my trauma and sense of loss, having been quite close I was essentially denied the opportunity to say goodbye along with everyone else. To experience that grief as a family and learn about that imperative step in the grief and loss process. I am glad however that I was never given any illusion that he was gone away. It would not have been softer. I knew he was sick, I knew he had been in terrible and unmanageable pain. I had sat with him daily when nurses would come to change his gangrenous wounds. And I am grateful that I was told he was dead, no longer suffering.

The same can be said for the disabled community. As a funeral director I have seen many times when well-meaning carers and family members come in to arrange a pre-paid or ‘at need’ funeral and have someone with them who required a form of disability support. Quite often they are unintentionally shielded, talked over, left without explanation – this can exacerbate their trauma and grief – it is unnecessary. In an effort not to upset the sensibilities of these people we can actually do more harm. Recently we attended a forum and one of the speakers told of how she was approached after a talk she had given about death to a group of disabled people and, in short, the gentleman asked if she would be able to help him find his mum who he ‘lost’ 10 years ago… That’s a decade of abandonment issues on top of grief because no one wanted to tell him ‘she died’.

It is very evident within some nursing home facilities as well. A nursing home is exactly that, it is the home of sometimes a large number of people. Dementia issues notwithstanding, if you were to live with 20-40-60 odd people for any length of time, take meals with them, watch movies of a  night, do arts and craft… you’d notice when Jim no longer sat at the table with you or Mary stopped coming to exercise class or someone called Joan started sleeping in the room where Beryl had been two days ago. When someone dies in a nursing home they are often whisked away, behind closed doors. It is not uncommon as a funeral director, to be told not to come at certain times because people might see, or to be asked to wait while the nurses go ahead and get the residents into their rooms to shut the doors. Most always the nurses will accompany you out of respect for the dead, but not often are the residents given that chance to say goodbye as well. Their neighbour was simply there one day and not the next. There seems to be this idea that talking about it will upset people. Every 6-12 months most facilities will have a service or a ceremony to honour those left but at the time, it’s quite a managed kind of grieving. It is not uncommon for a picture and candle to be placed on a table for a few days – and then it is gone. I once arrived to collect the body of a gentleman and as we entered we walked past a picture of him – already on display. Only twice have I heard of places letting the residents know that someone has died and allowing them the opportunity to line up as a kind of guard of honour to say goodbye. To acknowledge the death.

Grief is natural and it can be healthy. It is possible to move into a healthy state of bereavement when your grief is not over-complicated or stifled by these death avoidance tactics.

Natural Burial Adventures Part 2


On the 26th July 2017 we visited a brand new Natural Burial Ground. It was in Wales, called Hay Meadows. And that is exactly what it was. Only recently, had the owners cut a whole crop off hay off the field.

This was our first encounter with the idea that not only could the land be used for more than one purpose, but it actually didn’t have to be woodland or bush at all. Any paddock could be a natural burial ground and the potential existed for not only hay, but sheep grazing, flower meadows or complete land regeneration into bush land.

Hay Meadows only opened its gates in January 2017 and in those few months there had been 2 burials. The owners completely privately own the land and they plan to keep it in the family. He told us that eventually he would like to plant wildflowers there – and indeed only about 2 weeks ago, he involved the local school children and they all walked the paddock scattering wildflower seed.

Once again, we were amazed at the openness, the honesty and the hospitality of these people. The owner knocked off shearing his sheep to take us inside his home, give us tea and talk us through how he set up Hay Meadows, how it runs, the problems they have had and the benefits they have discovered. Here, he digs the graves himself. He has the machinery and he has an intimate knowledge of the plan and lay out and he is able to control the depth this was as well. He allows 3ft from the top of the coffin to the top of the soil.

He had built quite a decent sized car park at the gates, although there would only have been space for maybe 15 cars once you got a hearse in there comfortably. They are such narrow little country lanes about those parts, not room for 2 cars to pass each other and both stay on the road… so room for a hearse to turn becomes quite important.

The owner told us about his grid system, he allows the same space for burial, each plot being 1.5x3m and he works in 12 plot squares. That way, if one plot ends up a little off the grid center, every 12 plots he has the opportunity to start again. The little bits of left over land on the edges of the paddock he has earmarked for baby burials and the burial of ashes. He is quite particular about what goes in the ground and he has strict guidelines. To that effect, he has met with several of the local Funeral Homes and keeps that communication open with them.

As we walked the burial ground we could see the little markers he has laid out indicating the corners of the grid squares, from these he is able to locate the plots. The grass there was lovely. There were some pretty blue wild flowers already but looking a the ground, surrounded on 3 sides by beautiful tall thick hedges and with sheep grazing on the rolling hills in the background, i can only imagine how pretty it will be once all of the newly scattered wildflower seed strikes.

We had just over an hour with the owner, he left us with a copy of his purchase agreement – very interestingly, he has a clause in his which says that if after 30 years the plot has not been required and he has not heard from the owner, he will make every effort to contact them but should that fail, the plot will be forfeit. It makes sense when you consider how much people move about these days, and how lovely to have a way to keep people connected to their burial ground, even if it is only once in every 30 years! Like us, he was keen not to re-invent the wheel, so to speak. He had done a lot of research and has many hours talking to owners of natural burial grounds, finding out what worked and learning from their mistakes.

It was lovely to see such a small and family operated venture in the new and exciting stages of development.

                         

     

Natural Burial Adventure part 1


Dalton Wood, Cumbria.

This was the very first natural burial ground that we visited in the UK.

A 30 acre portion of a much much larger Estate that has been in the same family ownership for over 700 years.

When we arrived here the gate was locked (we found out later that it was only to guard against people dumping unwanted goods, all families still have access all the time). I was a little dismayed, wanting to explore, but not to be deterred Edwin, Joey and I climbed the style and into the grounds. There was a little stand with pamphlets within, we picked up one and started to go for a bit of a wander. Edwin called the number on the back of the pamphlet and 15 minutes later we were shaking hands with the owner of the entire estate -some 2000 acres.

Frances was delightful and more than willing to show us around and answer all of our questions.

This land had been natural woodland for as long as anyone can remember. Walking through the paths here, it was so pretty, still and quiet. There were birds, a breeze blowing through the trees and in true poetic style the sunlight struggled down between the branches.  There was a softness to this place and a certain kind of reverence – a place so ancient and somehow lost in time. And here was Frances bringing such a lovely sense of life to the old woods with natural burial.

The tree roots are quite the challenge, the site is set out by grid and when it comes to digging a plot they move the plot a little to the side as needed. Every year the land is re-surveyed and the exact locations are recorded exactly on the master map which he updates through the year as burials occur. He has a grave digger, they dig with machinery as there is a fair content of rock in the ground, the rock gets removed but everything else is put back when the grave is filled.

This burial ground allows markers, a flat stone – locally sourced slate rock to be precise – with a few lines of engraving that is placed on the head of the grave. The stones he says, are an important part of the ecology here as many insects, bugs and the like live under them. It is their habitat.

The graves are 1.5 x 3m in size and they generally go east to west (interestingly, this is quite traditional as Christian burials are done facing east).  Wicker and willow coffins are allowed as are shrouds – natural fibers and contents are encouraged. The tried and not-so-true paper veneer particle board coffins (with the plastic handles) which are an industry mainstay, or the solid wood, stained with metal handles are not allowed.

What we were really encouraged by was that he allows the burials for family led funerals. He will always meet with a family, prior to a burial whether they chose a funeral director or not, but Dalton Wood is completely open to people who want to organise the funeral and burial themselves. He will assist a family and help them wherever he can.

As a business model, natural burial makes sense. It is socially responsible and ethical – not just for the environment but for people as well. It is an affordable and financially viable alternative to traditional burial but more than that, there are at-need costs of digging and interment fee are always paid at the time of burial (only the plot can be prepaid) and he can claim a kind of tax break/refund as he has the ongoing obligation to maintain the burial ground. The digging and interment fees are not expensive but they are a guaranteed future income source which as a business makes sense.

It felt really lovely to walk the paths in this woodland, just the three of us, often alone with our thoughts and the music of the birds to set our pace by. Certain trees here are marked with the red and white flag symbol – known all over Europe as the marker for walkers to say ‘this way’… and the peaceful feelings that we left with after having wandered under the thick and unbroken canopy of trees, such vibrant shades of green at every turn, through the moss covered rocks stones and untouched detritus made our time there so nourishing.

There is a rich ecosystem teeming with life under those trees and seeing how shallow depth natural burial is adding to this precious ecology was a real experience.

We walked away with some questions answered, more developing and also full of ideas and wonder about how this could work in the Australian bush.

Death On Screen


Good evening!

We have had a big day!

Today we held our November event, Death on Screen. It may have been the cold that kept some of you away but all in all we have to say the day was a success. About 20 people in total braved the cold to join together to watch ‘A Will for the Woods’ and ‘Zen & The Art of Dying’ with a few more turning up for the second screening.

There was an incredible flood of emotion in response to the journeys in the film, the first one in particular.. and all through there were shared laughs and knowing nods of agreement from the audience. But, one of the things I enjoyed the most was the conversations that went around during the lunch break and after each movie. There is so much about the Death and Dying conversation that is of interest to people and we find it so humbling and special that people continually want to share their own experiences and stories. That’s such an important thing, we can learn so much from each other if we are open to both sharing and listening to the experiences of others.

Today we talked about family led funerals, the benefits and complications of doing it yourself… natural burials, bad funeral experiences, the role and relationship of celebrants, and what we would like to see done differently. It was encouraging to see so many new faces who has not attended one of our events before, the word is definitely spreading.

If you’d like to be a part of the conversation, please join us!

Thank you all…

Goodnight x

The Hobart Show 2017


Happy Sunday Afternoon!

We have had an exhausting week but it has been made incredibly worthwhile by all of you – the people we have met have gone a long way to prove to us once again what an incredibly important job we are doing.

Everyone has a story, and overwhelmingly it is a story of something not quite right. Death not done well. A journey from grief to bereavement that was unhealthy and unhelpful. Thank you all for sharing your stories and experiences, through talking about these things we can all learn so much. To the little boy who told me about his dad who died a few weeks ago, to the parents who shared their story about their daughter loosing her fight with cancer, to the nurses who shared their experience in the palliative and critical care space, to the elderly man who shed a tear with me about his mum, to the young parents we spoke to who had suffered stillbirth…. thank you. Thank you for your bravery, for your words of support, encouragement and solidarity for our cause.

We do not do death well in this country. That’s not to say that we can’t. Or shouldn’t.

Our vision is to reach a point that when someone dies in a nursing home or hospital, the question is not ‘which funeral home do we call?’ but ‘do you want to use a funeral home?’ Families should know that they are not completely powerless in the face of the death of a loved one. They do not have to ‘hand everything over’ to anyone and if they choose to engage a funeral home, it can be to do as much or as little as they choose. At the end of the day it doesn’t matter what choice a person makes – as long as it is an informed one. We are happy to talk people through their options then assist and support them in those choices – we believe this is all a part of helping people become informed and empowering them to make the right choice for them.

By becoming comfortable with the conversation of death and dying people can become educated around their right and options – something that has emotional, social and financial benefits at the end of the day.

Over the last four days we have been having these conversations time and again and while some have found it hard and confronting, we have been met with a consistent level of interest and amazement and a real desire for people to know more.

To all of you who said ‘keep up the good work’ and ‘don’t stop spreading this message, it is too important’ …. we wont.

Bec and Edwin x

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