Myths & Facts

Myth: Corpses are dangerous and can spread disease.

Fact: The vast majority of dead bodies are 100% safe to be around after death. In fact, the living are far more dangerous vectors for disease than the dead. The reason for this is twofold. First, corpses are not actively coughing, sneezing, or pooping—sending disease into the air or water. Second, most bacteria and viruses die off once their host dies. The few diseases that can survive and spread postmortem, like Ebola and Avian Bird Flu, are unlikely to be the cause of death in your area. Even decomposition, while smelly and potentially hard to face, is not dangerous.

Myth: Embalming corpses protects the public health and is required by law.

Fact: As previously stated, the dead body is not dangerous, and doesn’t need to be made safe through the embalming procedure. Embalming is used for preservation of the body, not safety. The embalming process can actually be detrimental to the embalmer, who must don a protective suit and wear a ventilator because of the toxic chemicals used. In most U.S. states, embalming is never required unless there is a significant delay in the body’s final disposition (and refrigeration is almost always a non-invasive alternative).

Myth: You have to hire a funeral home and funeral director for every death.

Fact: Not every death has to result in a $10,000 funeral. There are varying degrees of DIY death care available to your family. The most well known is a home funeral, or caring for the body at home. Home funerals are legal in all U.S. states, and can be a powerful, less expensive way to mourn. For other aspects of the funeral, from filing the death certificate and transporting the body, unless you have planned in advance it may be easier to hire a funeral home, especially in larger cities. There are currently nine states that require you to work with a funeral director on some aspect of the funeral, learn which states they are and more about home funerals here.

Myth: Prepaying for my funeral is a good investment. When I die everything will be paid for.

Fact: Prepaying for a funeral is a personal choice, but you should be aware of some realities. To start, prepaying for a funeral does not mean that all costs will be covered upon death. Autopsies, obituaries, flowers, grave opening fees, and crematorium fees are not accounted for as they come from third party vendors. These will create surprise costs for your family at death. If you were to die in a different city, state, or country or change your mind about your burial preferences it is likely that you would not get a full refund. Perhaps most distressingly, prepaid funerals are not protected against embezzlement in most areas.

Myth: A “protective” or sealer casket will preserve and protect the body.

Fact: Though funeral homes offer sealed caskets, often for an additional several hundred dollars on the price of the casket, they cannot preserve the body. Corpses—even embalmed ones—will decompose eventually. As for preservation, sure, a casket can seal the body from the elements (air, rain, moisture, wind, etc) but even that is only temporary, especially since the rubber sealer will often decompose faster than the metal around it, letting the elements in. Funeral directors cannot legally tell you a sealed casket will better protect or preserve the body.

Myth: Decomposing bodies pollute the soil and groundwater.

Fact: Even if a body is buried straight in the ground, as is often done at a green burial ground, it will not affect the soil or groundwater. No contamination has ever been found or reported at a green burial ground in the U.S., Canada, UK, or Australia. However, water and soil contamination are found from historical embalming fluid and the metal from caskets, both forbidden at a green cemetery. Unembalmed, uncasketed bodies actually help the soil to flourish by creating their own biome. Decomposition attracts all sorts of plants and creatures—there is a reason many Indigenous people used dead fish to fertilize crops.

Myth: Cremated remains must be interred at a cemetery or kept in an urn.

Fact: While this is true in some countries, the U.S. has some of the most permissive cremated remains laws on the books. While state burial permits may ask where you plan to keep, scatter, or store cremated remains, the ashes themselves can be kept in any receptacle you wish—cookie jar, Birkin bag, hourglass—the limit is your creativity. It is always legal to scatter or bury cremated remains on private property. If you want to scatter cremated remains on public land or at sea check with the local government to see what restrictions are in place. Just don’t scatter them at Disneyland or the Met, please.

 


Edward Okuń, Four Strings of a Violin, 1914, The University of Arizona Museum of Art, Arizona

Death with Dignity


How should I plan for my end of life?

Besides having a solid Advanced Directive in place it’s important to have conversations about what you want your final days to look like. A “good death” rarely happens by chance, especially when you’re dealing with the modern medical system.

If you or someone you love is entering hospice, read What You Need to Know About Hospice Care, and look into The Coalition for Compassionate Care which promotes high-quality, compassionate care for everyone who is seriously ill or nearing the end of life.

Of course, not everyone has equal access to quality end of life care. Here are specific resources for some of those.

  • Unable to afford end-of-life care
    What do people do when they do not have health insurance and cannot afford end-of-life care?
  • People with disabilities
    Supporting and Improving Healthcare Decision-Making and End-of-Life Planning for People with Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities
  • The LGBTQ+ communities
    Know-Your-Rights Guide for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Elders in California

If you are a care-giver supporting someone at the end-of-life, Our Turn 2 Care is a wonderful resource. Created by a care-giver, Our Turn 2 Care was designed to provide accessible and culturally competent information to young adults, carving out additional spaces for marginalized groups, including people of color and members of the LGBTQ community.

If you find yourself in a position where you need to make treatment and care decisions on someone else’s behalf, head over to Compassion in Dying. This organization is UK based, but has universal information and guidance.

What do I need to know about Death With Dignity?

More and more countries and states are legalizing life-ending drugs for terminal patients with a small time left to live. This returns power to very sick people to end their suffering, and takes the stigma of “suicide” (which is not what this is) out of the equation.


Advanced Directives


Why are Advanced Directives important?

An Advance Directive is a document that allows you to decide what happens to you if you cannot make decisions about your medical care, and how you want your body to be handled after death.

To give you an overview, start with this video about the importance of Advance Directives.

a dark skinned hand holds a pen and writes on a white sheet of paper

Taking action to ensure your end-of-life and death care wishes can be daunting, but we assure you that it can be done, and we’re here to help. We all have the right to have our ultimate wishes respected, but to ensure that they are, you’ll need to take action by creating your Advance Directive, appointing a health care proxy, and in some states, designating a funeral agent.

And for the many of you who have expressed that “I don’t care what happens to my body after I die, I’ll be dead!” (we see you!), to you dear friends, our director, Sarah, has this to say: “Your death matters. You can choose something that will reflect the values and beliefs that you held in your life, and translate them into your death. What you choose to do, is your final act, your final gesture on this earth. It does matter. You matter.”

When you create your Advance Directive/Living Will, it will help ensure that your wishes are protected, in writing. Our friends at Cake explain:

Step One: Advance Directive/Living Will Form

What you would want regarding care at the end of your life.

  • May also be known as: Advance Healthcare Directive, Personal Directive, Personal Wish Statement, Medical Directive, Life-Prolonging Treatment Form.

Step Two: Designating a Health Care Proxy

Who you trust to make medical decisions if you can’t speak for yourself.

  • May also be known as: Medical Power of Attorney, Healthcare Power of Attorney, Healthcare Agent, Healthcare Surrogate, Healthcare Representative, Healthcare Attorney-in-fact.

Selecting a Health Care Proxy, someone who can speak for you when you cannot, is a big decision.

Your proxy will be making decisions about medical treatments, surgeries, life sustaining interventions, funeral arrangements, and more.

Here’s a short video from The Conversation Project that can help you determine who might be a good fit for this important role. Now that you have a few choices in mind, check out this list of good traits for a proxy, as well as ones you’ll want to avoid. They also address alternative options for those of us who can’t think of anyone to fill this role.

Once you’ve decided who you want to be your proxy, you’ll need to ask for their consent and discuss your wishes. Here, you’ll find helpful advice for starting this conversation with your chosen person—and, as for those of you who are considering taking on the responsibility and privilege of being a proxy.

Step Three: Designating a Funeral Agent

The person who will make decisions about your funeral.

  • May also be known as: Personal Preference Laws for Body Disposition, Appointment of Agent to Control Disposition of Remains.

Part of creating an Advance Directive is ensuring who will make decisions about your funeral. In most places, including many states in the U.S., the person you name as your Health Care Proxy will be the person authorized to make funeral arrangements on your behalf—they will have to make decisions like:

  • How to handle your body after death (burial or cremation)
  • Whether to hold a funeral or memorial service
  • Whether your funeral follows religious or cultural customs
  • Where all services take place

Some places require that you list a designated funeral agent in your living will, while other places have a separate Appointment of Agent to Control Disposition of Remains form, and some places are not bound by law at all to recognize the authority of your funeral agent or Health Care Proxy after your death. One more reason Advance Directives are so important. Better to have your wishes stated somewhere than not at all.

To give you an idea, here is a list breaking down how each U.S. state handles Personal Preference Laws for Body Disposition.

Regardless of where you live, it is never a bad idea to write down your wishes before death. Even if they are not bound by law, your trusted Health Care Proxy or funeral agent should know what you want.

“Taking a few minutes to review your state [or local] laws helps you know what to expect when the time comes. Whether you’re preparing for your own funeral or helping with a loved one’s funeral, every step is important. Don’t leave your family in the dark when it comes to your end-of-life planning.”


Ready to create your Advance Directives? Visit this page we created in collaboration with Cake, and click on your state of residence to get started.

Covid-19 NOTE: With office closures and social distancing requirements still in place, in-person meetings can shift to video platforms and/or telephone connections. Draft documents can be sent via email or U.S. Mail. Additional. See details.


Advanced Directives can be especially crucial for the LGBTQ+ communities. From Health Care Proxy:

It is especially critical for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people to know that if you do not create a Health Care Proxy naming your partner or a friend as your agent, the hospitals and courts will look to your closest biological family member to make health care decisions for you, and your partner or friend will have no legal right to make such decisions. Also note that a Health Care Proxy becomes ineffective at your death and it is, therefore, critical that you also have a will.

As a Trans or non-binary person, how can I ensure my identity and end of life wishes are protected?

Photograph of queer couple sitting on couch looking at each other.

Photo by Zackary Drucker for The Gender Spectrum Collection.

We’re so happy that you’ve decided to take action on your end-of-life plans.

Taking action to ensure your end of life and death care wishes can be daunting, but we assure you that it can be done, and we’re here to help. We all have the right to live and die confident in our identity, and have our ultimate wishes respected.

To make things as easy as possible we’ve teamed up with Cake to provide this simple and free resource to help you find relevant forms in your state.

Forms like:

  • Living wills
  • Health Care Proxy forms

Once you’re finished, we hope you’ll spread the word! This is information that everybody should know. It is not privileged information. These are your rights, your community’s rights, your human rights.

According to the experts at Cake, “Advance Directives are documents that express your wishes for medical care in the event of a medical emergency where you can no longer speak for yourself. These documents can also express what should be done with your body after death.”

You can also watch a video that explains what an Advance Directive is, why it’s important to have one, and how you can create your own—it’s easier than you think!

Our team here at The Order suggests you begin by creating your Advance Directive/Living Will, this will help ensure your wishes are protected, in writing. Cake explains:

Step One: Advance Directive/Living Will Form

What you would want regarding care at the end of your life.

  • May also be known as: Advance Healthcare Directive, Personal Directive, Personal Wish Statement, Medical Directive, Life-Prolonging Treatment Form.

Step Two: Designating a Health Care Proxy

Who you trust to make medical decisions if you can’t speak for yourself.

  • May also be known as: Medical Power of Attorney, Healthcare Power of Attorney, Healthcare Agent, Healthcare Surrogate, Healthcare Representative, Healthcare Attorney-in-fact.

Selecting a Health Care Proxy, someone who can speak for you when you cannot, is a big decision.

Your proxy will be making decisions about medical treatments, surgeries, life sustaining interventions, funeral arrangements, and more.

Here’s a short video from The Conversation Project that can help you determine who might be a good fit for this important role. Now that you have a few choices in mind, check out this list of good traits for a proxy, as well as ones to avoid, from Cake. They also address alternative options for those of us who can’t think of anyone to fill this role.

Once you’ve decided who you want to be your proxy, you’ll need to ask for their consent and discuss your wishes. Here, you’ll find helpful advice for starting this conversation with your chosen person—and, as for those of you who are considering taking on the responsibility and privilege of being a proxy.

Step Three: Designating a Funeral Agent

The person who will make decisions about your funeral.

  • May also be known as: Personal Preference Laws for Body Disposition, Appointment of Agent to Control Disposition of Remains.

Part of creating an Advance Directive is ensuring who will make decisions about your funeral. In most places, including many states in the US, the person you name as your Health Care Proxy will be the person authorized to make funeral arrangements on your behalf—they will have to decisions like:

  • How to handle your body after death (burial or cremation)
  • Whether to hold a funeral or memorial service
  • Whether your funeral follows religious or cultural customs
  • Where all services take place
  • And perhaps most important to Trans or non-binary people: how you will look, be named, and be remembered at your funeral or viewing.

One more reason it is so important to trust your Health Care Proxy.

Some places require that you list a designated funeral agent in your living will, some places have a separate Appointment of Agent to Control Disposition of Remains form, and some places are not bound by law at all to recognize the authority of your funeral agent or Health Care Proxy after your death. One more reason Advance Directives are so important. Better to have your wishes stated somewhere than not at all.

To give you an idea, here is a list breaking down how each U.S. state handles Personal Preference Laws for Body Disposition from the Funeral Consumers Alliance.

Regardless of where you live, it is never a bad idea to write down your wishes before death. Even if they are not bound by law, your trusted Health Care Proxy or funeral agent should know what you want.

As Cake advises:

Taking a few minutes to review your state [or local] laws helps you know what to expect when the time comes. Whether you’re preparing for your own funeral or helping with a loved one’s funeral, every step is important. Don’t leave your family in the dark when it comes to your end-of-life planning.


Cake has also created a checklist to guide you through each step of the process.

Covid-19 NOTE: With office closures and “social distancing” requirements, in-person meetings can shift to video platforms and/or telephone connections. Draft documents can be sent via email or U.S. Mail. Additional details HERE.

We have numerous articles on our website, including Trans Death Rights Are Human Rights in which questions about dying queer are answered by experts like lawyers, death professionals and cemetery workers. Or, this recent article in which Transgender people share their death plans and why this can be an empowering final statement of rebellion. In addition to these you can also read Dying Trans: Preserving Identity in Death, and “What is it like to die queer in 2018?”


For those of you in the UK:

Things are a little different, but the basics of planning—preparing your documents ahead of time, appointing people you trust to carry out your wishes, and being explicit in your death care desires are just as important.

One notable difference in the UK is the “next of kin.” In the UK you can choose to appoint your next of kin—they don’t have to be a family member, they can be a friend or partner. Your next of kin is the person who will register your death, receive your death certificate, and give the death certificate to the funeral director. Only after the funeral director receives the death certificate from your next of kin, can the funeral legally happen.

While the next of kin will not have any legal rights—if you want them to have legal rights you need to grant them what’s called Lasting Power of Attorney—they will be the person who interacts with the funeral director and arranges your funeral. So it’s important to make sure your medical records are up-to-date with the person you want to be recognized as your next of kin.

To get you started, here is the Queer Funeral Guide by London funeral arranger, Ash Hayhurst.

Soulton Long Barrow, UK


Dying fat: what are your funeral options?

Even during a terrible time we want everyone to have the best experience possible at funeral homes. There can be difficult surprises at the end of life if the deceased was fat and requires additional accommodations and funds. Be prepared for these realities in advance with a video made to address many of your questions and concerns.


Death Certificates 101


What is a Death Certificate and Why Do I Need One?

Think of Death Certificates like magic keys that are necessary to unlock things you’ll need, like receiving benefits and life insurance, transferring titles of ownership for things like cars and property, and much more.

But, what exactly is a death certificate? This is a government issued document that states the time, place, and cause of death of an individual. While some states require that a funeral director is contracted to file a Death Certificate on your behalf, you should note that funeral homes themselves do NOT issue death certificates.

Although the process looks a bit different in every state, there are a number of steps involved, (as well as people), which means the process can take some time, so be patient. You’ll also want to be sure that all of the information provided is correct and any forms you are asked to complete have no mistakes or missing information, signatures, etc. as this can cause delays.

To complete a certificate, information about the deceased is gathered including date of birth, race and ethnicity, etc. Next, a doctor or medical examiner must confirm and sign off on cause and date of death. Once that is done, the certificate may need to be certified by a registrar. Once these steps are fully completed, the certificate is registered with the state and then official certified copies can be made for your records and use.

For you fellow death history nerds, here’s a detailed history of how Death Certificates came to be.


Body & Organ Donation


Photo of a tombstone that reads

How can I donate my body to science?

Start with this primer on Scientific Body Donation.

It’s important to know that even if you donate your body to a medical school or private donation company, they can reject it for any reason at time of death. Too large! Too old! Too unique a cause of death! So, make sure you have a back up plan.

Perhaps you’d like to decompose in nature—in that case, maybe donating to a Body Farm is for you, which is discussed in this video, Open Eye Wakes & Body Farms. This used to be just an option for Americans, but now they’ve opened facilities in Australia, Canada, and Europe as well.

How can I donate my organs?

We strongly encourage you to consider donating your organs. Information on organ donation and transplantation in the U.S. plus how you can sign up to be a donor, details on the donation process, and much more at organdonor.gov.

If you’re planning on a home funeral or want to keep the body at home, and want to consider organ donation, you do have options! Watch a video about this subject, or read about them in Organ Donation and Home Funerals.


What about my online and digital legacy?

As we live more and more of our lives online and in front of a computer, protecting your digital legacy will only become more important.

Death Goes Digital provides practical help and answers to many questions regarding your digital legacy, (including bitcoin). To look into even more options here are 7 Resources for Handling Digital Life After Death.

Remember to Plan Your Digital Legacy and Update Often, and here is how your fave social media outlets Facebook and Twitter will handle your death.

Illustrations of tombstones with social media logos

Infant & Child Death

This can be one of the most difficult deaths for many reasons but especially because of the shameful silence around child loss. Parents are often made to feel like their grief cannot be open and valid. It’s important to seek communities, even online, to know you are far from alone. Two resources we suggest are the MISS Foundation and Sisters In Loss.

For indigenous people, other people of color, and Black mothers particularly, have a disproportionately high risk of maternal and infant mortality rates. Learn how to be an advocate for yourself or others, using this tool-kit put together by the Black Mamas Matter Alliance.

Remember, you have the right to bring your stillborn or infant home with you.

Because many hospital staff are simply unaware that taking your baby home is very much within your rights, you might experience some confusion or pushback; like this family. Just know that not only is taking your baby home common in many cultures and places around the world, but having that time to create memories with your baby can be very healing. You can find more information about how to navigate this here.

Through the years some parents we’ve talked to have found that having a local death doula or home funeral advocate who knows your state laws and can advocate for your family and your rights with hospital staff has been extremely effective. You can find someone in your area in the National Home Funeral Alliance directory.

You can also find out if a Cuddle Cot, a bassinet equipped with a cooling mattress, is available for loan in your area.

If you would like your child photographed for remembrance, look into this free portrait service provided by Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep. This organization will send out a trained photographer to you, to take remembrance portraits of your baby and family. Hospitals often partner with NILMDTS, or similar programs to offer remembrance portraits, so be sure to ask hospital staff.


Fetal Burial Laws

“In creating an abortion restriction that invokes death, lawmakers provide cover for these laws—they rely on people’s reticence to understand death and their rights when it comes to end-of-life care.”

– Caroline Reilly

As more states restrict reproductive health care, new laws around the disposal of fetal tissue have also emerged. Fetal burial laws—often included in legislation restricting abortion access—now require fetal tissue to be buried or cremated as human remains, rather than handled like medical waste. These mandates are popular among anti-choice advocates because they place legal and financial burdens on both providers and patients, increasing the stigma on abortion and acting as a deterrent to the procedure. This stigma also extends to our culture’s largely fearful perceptions of death and burial practices.

Arkansas, Indiana, Ohio, Louisiana, Tennessee, and Texas have all passed legislation regulating the disposition of fetal tissue, while various other states have proposed similar mandates. Under these laws, certain medical providers are required to dispose of fetal tissue from surgical abortions by cremation or burial and cover the costs involved. The patient is allowed to determine the method and location of the disposal, but will have to pay if the choice is different from that of the provider.

Fetal burial restrictions have by far the most impact on vulnerable communities, such as Black, Indigenous, and other people of color, the LGBTQ community, disabled people, undocumented immigrants, as well as poor, and unhoused people. For these groups, gathering the funds and resources to cover abortion care within such a limited time frame is extremely challenging. The added burden of being forced to conduct a burial or cremation for a terminated pregnancy makes the otherwise safe and legal procedure even more confusing and traumatizing.

With the government limiting access to basic reproductive healthcare, a swift community care response is necessary. If you are a death doula or full spectrum doula, particularly in states with fetal burial laws already in place, we encourage you to think about providing support and services for individuals impacted by these laws, and explore the possibility of creating partnerships with reproductive health clinics to support people in need. Many birth doulas have been doing this work in reproductive loss and justice, like The Doula Project, for decades.

To learn more about how the Death Positive Movement and these issues intersect, read What Is Progressive Death Care-and What Does it Have to Do With Abortion? 


Below you’ll find some articles and resources to get you started.

If you are:

  • A death or full spectrum doula/midwife located in Arizona, Louisiana or Texas and are willing and able to provide guidance and support surrounding fetal burial laws and would like to be listed here please contact us.
  • Or, you prefer not to be publicly listed, but would like to provide us with your contact information so we can refer people seeking help to you, please get in touch.
  • A death or full spectrum doula/midwife interested in connecting with others to work in community to share ideas, information, and create resources to protect the health and welfare of pregnant people in your community please email us at info@orderofthegooddeath.com

If you live in:

Additional Resources

  • The Doula Project
    An organization working to create a society in which all pregnant people have access to the care and support they need during their pregnancies and the ability to make healthy decisions for themselves, whether they face birth, miscarriage, stillbirth, fetal anomaly, or abortion.
  • Radical Doula Guide
    An introduction to full spectrum doula work—supporting people during all phases of pregnancy, including abortion, miscarriage, birth and adoption—as well as a discussion of how issues like race, class, immigration, gender and more.

Pet Death

There are numerous considerations depending on if you are planning for your pet’s end of life, or including them in your own plans in the event of your death. For most people pets are cherished family members and it is important to take into account many of the same considerations we do for ourselves, or human members of our family.

We’ve found that many people have misconceptions about pets and death plans so it is crucial to do your research. For example, you cannot leave money or property to your pet since they can’t make decisions (or represent themselves in a court of law), but you can designate a (human) executor who can make sure your pet’s needs and care are being met and that they’re financially provided for. Another assumption, that can be tricky is in some states or counties (like Los Angeles), if police arrive on the scene they will not release your pet to anyone other than a member of your family, (that means no trusted friends or a neighbor), unless you’ve created documentation giving custodianship to someone prior to your death or hospitalization.

A good place to begin to plan for your pets in the event of your death (or if you are hospitalized for an extended period of time), is this guide created by NYC Bar. Here, they go over everything from designating a caretaker, to providing care funds, and how to create a note to place in your wallet in case of emergency.

Illustration of

By Silent James Live Illustration

Ok, friends, this brings us to one of the really hard parts—when or if you should consider euthanasia for your pet. In this article veterinarians “were asked to answer some of our deepest—and, frankly, sobbiest—questions about pet euthanasia.” Being a good caretaker means making informed and often heartbreaking decisions. Please reward yourself with a pizza, or a drink afterwards—you deserve it.

Seattle’s Resting Waters have numerous resources on their website, including answers to questions about providing euthanasia at home, to details about aquamation (or, water cremation for pet disposition), to a variety of options for grief support (both both kids and adults).


Grief Resources





First, we are sorry that you have experienced the death of someone you love. There’s nothing we can do to make this easier, but we’re proud of you for seeking help and resources. As Robert Frost said, “the best way out is always through.”

The Order does not specialize in grief, but here are some organizations that we recommend for people experiencing a loss.

  • A Sacred Passing
    A community death care organization that provides a non-medical listening line, a “safe neutral place” for people to call or text.
  • Refuge in Grief
    Led by Megan Devine, this is an online community that provides resources and support through the grieving process. “If your life has exploded into a million little bits, you don’t need platitudes. You don’t need cheerleading.” Learn more here.
  • Being Here, Human
    Focused grief support for BIPOC and LGBTQ communities. “Grief is not optional, it’s the price of admission.”