Dealing With Death Can Prove So Innovative

Just when we think we’ve seen or heard it all about death these days, there is more to learn, to love and to laugh at about the way people are impacted and/or reacting to life’s final moments. Funerals are lightening up, obituaries are good reads going viral, dying days sometimes feature celebrations with friends, people’s last wishes defy imagination.

 

A couple of things that have caught my recent attention may be of interest.

 

  • A Farmville, Virginia, funeral home was offering drive-thru viewings. The Oliver & Eggleston Funeral Establishment – whose motto is “Services that is [sic] distinctive. Experience the difference” – came up with something different with this service: a way to view a loved one without leaving your car. What a concept! A story in The Huffington Post said that funeral homes in California, Louisiana and Chicago had similar offers. Indeed, Paradise Funeral Chapel does have a drive-thru window where you can roll down the window and pay your respects. Another home reportedly had a window where the body was projected onto a screen.

 

  • In Maine, carpenter Chuck Lakin’s caskets can be used for furniture until it’s time to “go.” One of the most practical pieces is the “bookcase coffin”; take off the shelves, put on the handles and you’re on your way. Lakin’s website (www.lastthings.net) suggests these innovative boxes “for those who want to be more in control of what happens to their own body after death…For those who wish options other than the standard funeral practices of our day…”

 

  • A 91-year-old gentleman in Virginia found it harder and harder to attend his friends’ funerals, especially when they were too far to travel. His solution was to video his remembrances and send a CD to the family. When two friends from Harvard Business School died – one in Montreal and one in California – Bob wrote out his fond “reminiscences of them and our life together at school” and had his remarks transferred to a teleprompter he could read from while being videotaped.

 

“They were dear friends and I just wanted to the extent possible be present at the service. … That was the best way possible. What I did was also send copies to the widows and children of these people so they would have copies of it, and all of them were most appreciative.” Now, Bob’s friend since kindergarten, through prep school, college and as best man in the wedding is in poor health in Mount Olive, North Carolina. “I frankly am expecting to hear about that (death) and of course I’ve been composing what I will say.”

 

  • Candy Chang, an artist in Louisiana, turned her grief for her good friend and mother figure Joan into a constructive, participatory project on abandoned buildings. Featured in a recent Ted Talk, Chang was teary as she described turning an old house into a giant chalkboard with this fill-in-the-blank question: “Before I die, I want to ­­­­­­­­­___.”

 

“I thought about death a lot and this made me feel deep gratitude for the time I’ve had…but I struggle to maintain this perspective in my daily life.”

In just one day, Chang said, the wall was filled with answers to “Before I die I want to …”

 

… Be tried for piracy.

… Straddle the International Dateline.

… Sing for millions.

… Hold her – one more time.

… Be someone’s cavalry.

… Be completely myself.

… Live off the grid.

 

More instructively, as Chang explained, “Neglected space became constructive one and people’s hopes and dreams…consoled me during my own tough time.

“It’s about a space for contemplation and reflection and what matters most to us as we grow and change.”

 

Similar walls have now been made – with Chang’s help – in South Africa, Australia and Argentina among other cities. As Chang told her audience (http://www.ted.com/talks/candy_chang_before_i_die_i_want_to?languag...), “Two of the most valuable things we have are time and our relationships with other people. … It’s more important than ever … to remember that life is brief and tender.

 

“Death is something that we’re often discouraged to think about or talk about, but I’ve realized that preparing for death is one of the most empowering things you can do. Thinking about death clarifies your life.”

 

***

Susan Soper is the founder and author of ObitKit™, A Guide to Celebrating Your Life. A lifelong journalist, she was formerly the Features Editor at the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, where she launched a series called "Living with Grief" shortly after her father died. Susan lives in Atlanta with her husband.

Image via Ted.com/Candy Chang

 

 

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