Do you feel like our current death system is a wee bit broken? Would you like to see death and funerals be more inclusive, more intimate, more meaningful? You are very not alone. In fact, you are part of a movement of people all across the world.
Maybe you know you want to help things change, but don’t know how to help.
Our advice: just start. The action you take can be simple, creating your own death plan and helping others do the same. It may be tempting to think, “If I’m not becoming a mortician or starting a conservation burial site or investing in a resomator so I can aquamate my hometown [after they die], then what am I even doing?” But those huge undertakings (pun intended) aren’t the beginning and the end of the movement. If all you ever do is work with your family (parents, chosen family, online family, whoever they are) to create death plans with them, you’ve done something that is vital and exemplary. Throughout the year we’ll be rolling out inspiration, ideas, and concrete things you can do during this Year of Action. When the right bit of inspiration comes to you, you’ll know it!
A warning: Once people find their passion in the death community, they tend to become very involved. But we want you to be happy, balanced advocates with income and sanity and meaningful relationships. When considering how you take action, we only ask that you are truthful with yourself about how much you can handle and how far you can push yourself. Truly, the best way you can promote the movement is by taking action in a way that best serves YOUR strengths, passions, and talents.
A second warning: Again, while becoming an alternative mortician may seem glamorous (kidding, no one thinks it’s glamorous) it’s not for everyone. Watch “EASY STEPS to becoming an Alternative Mortician” before you decide you want to pursue a full career in this work.
Below is a list to get you started. It is by no means complete or exhaustive. There’s a ton of specific good opportunities out there we couldn’t list, like “Wix for Death” website builder or “The Organization for Death Positive Arabian Horse Owners, Manitoba Chapter.” (Ok we made those up.) Maybe those are your calling. Whatever it is, we’re excited to see how you choose to take action.
Yours in life and death,
Caitlin, Sarah, & Louise
Whether you’d just like to volunteer or if you are seriously considering pursuing a career in hospice care, volunteering with seasoned professionals is the place to start. Hospice training requires long hours and a commitment to serve people on both their good and bad days. While hospice workers must be comfortable with working in close proximity to death and dying, being comfortable with mortality is not the only requirement. A hospice worker must have a genuine desire to serve people, be both emotionally engaged but also keep a professional distance; have sympathy for people at their best and worst; not pass judgements on how a person chooses to die.
Hospice work is grueling, both mentally and physically taxing, and takes a huge time commitment. Hospice volunteering is not quite so intense of course, but it still asks for a similar level of emotional and mental fortitude.
Some hospice organizations to look into in the United States:
Hospice Training UK
Grief Support/Supporting Others in Grief
The methods to support someone in grief are rather simple. But simple, as our friend Megan Devine has said, does not necessarily mean easy. Having something like a “script” can help. More likely than not, there will come a time when we would like to be there for a loved one who is grieving. Educating oneself in how to be a companion to someone in the midst of grief could be one of the most useful things you can learn as a death positive advocate.
Train as a Home-Funeral Facilitator
Home funeral facilitators may do a variety of work, including being present during the actual dying process or coming into help support a family to care for a body at home. As this role is unlegislated there is no official national certifying board or “certification,” but there are many workshops and classes you can take to help understand the laws and learn how to care for a body.
Post-Death Care Education
Canadian Integrative Network for Death Education and Alternatives (CINDEA)
Some of our trusted colleagues offer training and education online and in-person.
Death Doula Training in the UK
Get Involved as a Funeral Assistant UK
Pet Hospice and Palliative Care Training
Unless you are a licensed veterinarian, you cannot become a certified pet hospice and palliative care practitioner. However, if animals are important to you, that does not mean that you shouldn’t educate yourself in what is involved in pet hospice and palliative care. A clear understanding of how an animal experiences death can only benefit future pets or animals you help.
International Association for Animal Hospice and Palliative Care
Spirits in Transition, “options in end-of-life care for our companion animals”
Green Pet Burial
Not everybody knows that green burial is an option for their beloved pets, a lot of your work will be getting the word out. Getting involved with a green pet cemetery could mean volunteering with an actual burial ground, raising awareness by talking with veterinarians or other animal organizations, or it could mean helping with fundraising.
Volunteer at a Green/Natural/Conservation Cemetery
As a volunteer at a green/natural/conservation burial site there are number of things you could end up helping accomplish. You might help set up for a funeral, you might help run a funeral, you may actually help bury a person. You could be photocopying programs or putting up flyers. Point is, you may actually get to work in the cemetery, you may not. Most places will likely let you get involved on the grounds if you ask. But realize that there’s more than just burial involved in operating a smoothly running cemetery.
Not only will you learn a lot about the history of graves, headstones, and cemeteries, but you will see firsthand how badly some cemeteries need to be protected. Although the first thing that comes to mind regarding cemetery preservation might be tasks like scrubbing graves, clearing overgrowth or garbage, or repairing headstones, there are many different ways to contribute. From transcribing old handwritten cemetery records so they can be accessible to historians, genealogists and families online, to fulfilling photograph requests from family members who are unable to travel to visit a loved one’s grave.
Start Your Own Green Burial Ground
Depending on where you live the process could prove to be quite complicated, but completely worthwhile if you’re up for a challenge.
Creating your own or someone else’s shroud can be a meaningful experience that adds a personal touch to mourning. Shrouds can be as simple or as personal and elaborate as you wish.
Getting into Funeral Service or Attending Mortuary School
American Board of Funeral Service Education
Planning a Funeral, Planning for End of Life
The death positive movement is obsessed with helping you help inside your own community. Talking about death, thinking about death, planning for death, making sure your loved ones are taken care of – these are the things that are at the core of the death positive revolution. This could be some of the toughest action you could take, but also the most important. And if you plan for death and talk with people about it, you might embolden and inspire others to do the same. Look at you advocating for a death positivity!
The Conversation Project Starter Kits (health care proxy, talking to your doctor, conversations with an ill child, Alzheimer’s patient)
Donate Your Body, Organs
You may go your whole life never feeling like you got your hands dirty in the death positive movement, but if you willing and able to donate your organs or body to medicine or research, it could be one of the most death positive things you could ever do. Not only could you save a life, but with the gift of your body you might allow scientists to better understand decomposition and how a body reacts in extreme situations. Your death could help solve crimes! It should be noted that not all body donation organizations are the same (and neither are all “body farms”). If you know of a specific way that you want your body to be used for research, take the time to find a facility that does that work. Also, make sure your family knows that they may never get your remains back.
Organ, Eye, Tissue Donation
MTF Biologics – Bone, organ, eye, skin, VCAs donation
Human Decomposition Research Facilities “Body Farms”
You get out there, deathlings! We’ve got a lot of work to do.