Easier said than done? Absolutely. It can feel like everything—laws, bureaucracy, cultural pressure, fear, lack of resources—is stacked against achieving a death and a funeral that are affordable, purposeful, and in line with your values.
How do we even begin to tackle the good death when we live in a culture that hides our dead behind closed doors and insists that speaking openly about death makes you morbid?
The Order of the Good Death was founded in 2011 with the following goal:
The Order is about making death a part of your life. That means committing to staring down your death fears—whether it be your own death, the death of those you love, the pain of dying, the afterlife (or lack thereof), grief, corpses, bodily decomposition, or all of the above. Accepting that death itself is natural, but the death anxiety and terror of modern culture are not.
Back then the Order’s founder, Caitlin Doughty, was a young funeral director working in Los Angeles, where she witnessed firsthand how the funeral industry set families up for failure both financially and emotionally. But let’s be honest, “funeral industry reform” is not a fun, sexy topic for advocacy. The problems are entrenched, and the public has reluctantly accepted that a funeral will mean huge expense, few opportunities for participation, and little space for grief.
So the Order began to build and feature a community of funeral industry professionals, academics, and artists who were exploring ways to reframe what was possible at the end of life. People who are at the forefront of changing perceptions, from a designer who creates clothing and shrouds that decompose at the same rate as your corpse, to a professor who studies how energy captured from crematoriums can heat pools and homes, to an architect who designed a method of composting the dead in urban spaces.
It was this community that would grow and expand into the Death Positive Movement, a term that began here at the Order. In the years since, death positive has become an international Movement that includes everyone from high level practitioners to members of the public. In 2014 Caitlin teamed up with Sarah Chavez, now the organization’s executive director, to further expand what the Order of the Good Death offers, including educational content, guides and resources, information on how to protect your rights before and after death, in-person and virtual events, grants for death positive practitioners, and a home for all who say “if speaking rationally and openly about my inevitable mortality is morbid, then morbid I shall be.”
Recent projects and focus have included advocating for legislation to legalize greener death options, funding for the research and preservation of Black burial grounds, creating a comprehensive toolkit and resources around Covid-19, providing financial support for other nonprofits working to make a good death more equitable in marginalized communities, creating resources and a guide to inform Transgender people of their death rights, and producing Ask a Mortician, a YouTube documentary series that answers questions about mortality, the funeral industry, and death history.
If you agree with what you’ve just read, you may already be death positive!
There are many ways for you to get involved in the Death Positive Movement and help make the changes that will allow you, your family, and your culture to die better.