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Author Topic: Dealing with death in the community when there is no coroner or mortician  (Read 362 times)

R.R. Book

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In the past, it was common in remote rural locations for there not to be any authorities or modern "death specialists" around to do the hands-on work of caring for the dead.

Our forebears would not even have been able to imagine such a time as these, in which contemporary figures routinely step in and remove the physical reality of death from our direct experience.  It was an act of love for them to bathe and dress the body of a family or community member who had just passed.  Not just that, but it was part of the grieving process to be directly involved with the remains of the dead.

I can personally attest that it is a shock to speak with a dying family member one minute, and then suddenly have his or her remains whisked away.  How many of us have experienced fleeting moments, perhaps for years afterward, of spontaneously picking up the phone to call Mom after she had passed, only to remember that it was no longer possible?  There is a lag in internalizing the loss when someone else does all the work to care for the remains.

Those who have livestock already have some direct experience with death, because the animals generally don't outlive their owners.  While more hardened professional farmers may regularly cull their stock as an economic necessity, those who choose not to cull must at some point bury or burn a carcass, or allow nature to feed upon it.  Burial is quick and simple.  We save old worn out pillowcases and sheets for that occasion.  One family member will wrap the animal's body, while another digs the hole.  The body is then lovingly placed in the hole and covered with soil and a heavy rock to prevent heaving during a freeze-thaw cycle.

That nearness to nature segues into the greater complexity of dealing with the death of a human, especially when there are no modern conveniences available:

*If the eyes of the body are still open, we gently close them with our thumb and fingers.

*We might allow a few minutes to be completely certain that the death has indeed occurred, and then another few respectful minutes to honor the rite of passage of the soul, and if it was a loved one, to savor the possibility that the spirit remains in the room with the body a little while.  As part of the grief process, the conversation can shift from being with the person in his body, to being with him/her outside of the body, allowing our own psyche to accept that this transfer has been accomplished.  Some faiths might be more comfortable with a prayer at this time instead.

*We have between 2 and 6 hours before rigor mortis sets in to handle the body: two hours for the head and neck, and 4 to 6 hours for the remainder of the body.  That means that mouth care and possibly a shampoo come first.  If the departed one, for example, had dentures, then they might be washed and placed in the mouth before the jaw stiffens.  We might begin to shift our conversation from talking to the spirit of the departing one, to beginning the reminiscing process, as it is both physically and psychologically helpful for at least two to be present to do the work.

*Next the body is undressed and bathed, often by the womenfolk, which can be as simple as a bed-bath using a washcloth and basin.  Then the body is dried and dressed in appropriate burial attire.  One should not be startled by any involuntary motion of the corpse at this time; morticians will explain that it happens all the time and is natural, including possible evacuation of the bowels and bladder.  Care needs to be taken from this point onward with handling delicate tissues which are no longer receiving a blood supply, as they can easily be damaged, and the goal is to have the body in the most presentable condition possible.

*Depending upon the time of year, the body may be permitted to lie in state for a day or so, allowing visitors to pay their respects and comfort the family. 

*A group of the men, if available, should work together to dig the burial site.  This serves a dual purpose, permitting the men, who may not be able to grieve as easily outwardly, to work out their emotions with the shovel and to be in hands-on contact with the earth. 

*In a green burial, a blanket is wrapped around the body in lieu of a casket.

*The burial can be accompanied by a hymn, a Psalm, a prayer, a reminiscence, or a short sermon if desired.  Those who are not traditionally religious may have alternative rituals which may be appropriate.  A lovely Native American tradition, for example, is the Naming of the Ancestors, in which the loved one may be commended back to his or her forebears of the same gender, as many generations back in time as can be named (daughter of _____, daughter of _____...).  The four sacred herbs may be included in the grave as well (white sage, Montana sweet grass, cedar, and tobacco), and a smudging might be done as the Four Directions are called to (sometimes the Six Directions if above and self / earth are considered).

A traditional ceremony can be very simple.  One common reading is Psalm 23, which often can be recited from memory in unison by all present.  A common, unaccompanied hymn or two might be sung.  Appropriate examples might include Blest Be the Tie, Rock of Ages, Amazing Grace, Abide With Me, How Great Thou Art, It is Well With My Soul, Just a Closer Walk with Thee, Old Rugged Cross, and Will the Circle Be Unbroken.

*Led by the head of the family, each family member including very young children might toss a flower into the grave, as a final gift.  Then the men present may begin scooping earth into the grave, until it is all or partially filled.  Boys from preschool age through the teens should also be included, as their grief is just as real as that of the adults, and we want them not to be isolated from the process. 

*An invitation should be given by a member of the community to join together for a meal if possible, allowing continued opportunities to remember the loved one, and to care for the remaining family.

*Follow-up care of the family is usually appropriate and appreciated, especially in the form of meals, which might be offered for several weeks.  For a year after the death, the family passes through the first year of grief, and it is appropriate to be sensitive about birthdays, anniversaries, and traditional holidays.

*Someone in the community will need to top off the grave with soil periodically for a while as subsidence occurs, and then flowers or a tree may be planted if desired.




« Last Edit: March 11, 2019, 10:23:27 AM by R.R. Book »

Solani

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In the past, it was common in remote rural locations for there not to be any authorities or modern "death specialists" around to do the hands-on work of caring for the dead.

Our forebears would not even have been able to imagine such a time as these, in which contemporary figures routinely step in and remove the physical reality of death from our direct experience.  It was an act of love for them to bathe and dress the body of a family or community member who had just passed.  Not just that, but it was part of the grieving process to be directly involved with the remains of the dead.

I can personally attest that it is a shock to speak with a dying family member one minute, and then suddenly have his or her remains whisked away.  How many of us have experienced fleeting moments, perhaps for years afterward, of spontaneously picking up the phone to call Mom after she was dead, only to remember that it was no longer possible?  There is a lag in internalizing the loss when someone else does all the work to care for the remains.

Those who have livestock already have some direct experience with death, because the animals generally don't outlive their owners.  While more hardened professional farmers may regularly cull their stock as an economic necessity, those who choose not to cull must at some point bury or burn a carcass, or allow nature to feed upon it.  Burial is quick and simple.  We save old worn out pillowcases and sheets for that occasion.  One family member will wrap the animal's body, while another digs the hole.  The body is then lovingly placed in the hole and covered with soil and a heavy rock to prevent heaving during a freeze-thaw cycle.

That nearness to nature segues into the greater complexity of dealing with the death of a human, especially when there are no modern conveniences available:

*If the eyes of the body are still open, we gently close them with our thumb and fingers.

*We might allow a few minutes to be completely certain that the death has indeed occurred, and then another few respectful minutes to honor the rite of passage of the soul, and if it was a loved one, to savor the possibility that the spirit remains in the room with the body a little while.  As part of the grief process, the conversation can shift from being with the person in his body, to being with him/her outside of the body, allowing our own psyche to accept that this transfer has been accomplished.  Some faiths might be more comfortable with a prayer at this time instead.

*We have between 2 and 6 hours before rigor mortis sets in to handle the body: two hours for the head and neck, and 4 to 6 hours for the remainder of the body.  That means that mouth care and possibly a shampoo come first.  If the departed one, for example, had dentures, then they might be washed and placed in the mouth before the jaw stiffens.  We might begin to shift our conversation from talking to the spirit of the departing one, to beginning the reminiscing process, as it is both physically and psychologically helpful for at least two to be present to do the work.

*Next the body is undressed and bathed, often by the womenfolk, which can be as simple as a bed-bath using a washcloth and basin.  Then the body is dried and dressed in appropriate burial attire.  One should not be startled by any involuntary motion of the corpse at this time; morticians will explain that it happens all the time and is natural, including possible evacuation of the bowels and bladder.  Care needs to be taken from this point onward with handling delicate tissues which are no longer receiving a blood supply, as they can easily be damaged, and the goal is to have the body in the most presentable condition possible.

*Depending upon the time of year, the body may be permitted to lie in state for a day or so, allowing visitors to pay their respects and comfort the family. 

*A group of the men, if available, should work together to dig the burial site.  This serves a dual purpose, permitting the men, who may not be able to grieve as easily outwardly, to work out their emotions with the shovel and to be in hands-on contact with the earth. 

*In a green burial, a blanket is wrapped around the body in lieu of a casket.

*The burial can be accompanied by a hymn, a Psalm, a prayer, a reminiscence, or a short sermon if desired.  Those who are not traditionally religious may have alternative rituals which may be appropriate.  A lovely Native American tradition, for example, is the Naming of the Ancestors, in which the loved one may be commended back to his or her forbears of the same gender, as many generations back in time as can be named (daughter of _____, daughter of _____...).  The four sacred herbs may be included in the grave as well (white sage, Montana sweet grass, cedar, and tobacco), and a smudging might be done as the Four Directions are called to (sometimes the Six Directions if above and self / earth are considered).

A traditional ceremony can be very simple.  One common reading is Psalm 23, which often can be recited from memory in unison by all present.  A common, unaccompanied hymn or two might be sung.  Appropriate examples might include Blest Be the Tie, Rock of Ages, Amazing Grace, Abide With Me, How Great Thou Art, It is Well With My Soul, Just a Closer Walk with Thee, Old Rugged Cross, and Will the Circle Be Unbroken.

*Led by the head of the family, each family member including very young children might toss a flower into the grave, as a final gift.  Then the men present may begin scooping earth into the grave, until it is all or partially filled.  Boys from preschool age through the teens should also be included, as their grief is just as real as that of the adults, and we want them not to be isolated from the process. 

*An invitation should be given by a member of the community to join together for a meal if possible, allowing continued opportunities to remember the loved one, and to care for the remaining family.

*Follow-up care of the family is usually appropriate and appreciated, especially in the form of meals, which might be offered for several weeks.  For a year after the death, the family passes through the first year of grief, and it is appropriate to be sensitive about birthdays, anniversaries, and traditional holidays.

*Someone in the community will need to top off the grave with soil periodically for a while as subsidence occurs, and then flowers or a tree may be planted if desired.


Thank you R.R. That was beautifully written and heartfelt. I know that death in the-after time will be something we all will have to deal with, even though it will be more personal and "hands on" as you write. We will all have to go back to how it was when our ancestors lived. Meaning that we won't have "others" to perform the actual dealing with the body. Today, I don't even think we're allowed to take care of our dead ourselves, regardless of if there needs to be an autopsy or not. I know that in the US you are allowed to "go home to die", as that was what my biological mothers husband did and the whole family was there around his bedside when he crossed over. In Sweden, that is not allowed. If you are in the hospital and on your deathbed, that is where you stay until the mortician comes to collect your remains. Which I've always felt was odd since you are allowed to give birth at home, if you have a Midwife and most of the time a Doula (don't know how to spell that) I can think of A LOT of things that can go wrong during a birth but not so much that can go wrong while dying... Oh well...

Anyhow, thank you for writing this as it will be something we will all have to deal with, one way or another. I believe we will see life and death in a whole new different way... And yes, it is and will be very important that our young ones aren't left out of the circle of life. <3 <3

//Solani
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Yowbarb

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R.R. thank you very much for starting this Topic, posted Today at 01:53:20 PM

Over the years on the Town Hall there have been a just a few posts about what to do when a family or group member dies, during a cataclysm or afterwards. Not much of a discussion thus far, though so this topic very much needed.
This will be a good place to put any more ideas and helpful information.
I feel survival shelters, underground or not need to have a plan in case someone dies during extreme events.
Body bags and a built in area attached to an underground shelter could be incorporated into people's plans.
When the group is able to be outside after a cataclysm, or if the death occurs on a normal day, some people may want cremation.

- Barb T.

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RE Cremation: I would appreciate any ideas on how to do this, on one's own property.

"The cremation rate in the United States has been increasing steadily with the national average rate rising from 3.56% in 1960 to 48.6% in 2015 and projections from the Cremation Association of North America forecasting a rate of 54.3% in 2020"

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_countries_by_cremation_rate

Yowbarb

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Some people's religion may forbid cremation.
It would be preferable for people to let someone know perhaps two group leaders could keep the info,
on whatever the person's final wishes are.

Jimfarmer

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Quote
RE Cremation: I would appreciate any ideas on how to do this, on one's own property.

I attended my mother-in-law's cremation in Fiji.  it was just a large bonfire with the body in the center.  Nothing left but ashes, which were cast into the sea with prayers.

Yowbarb

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Quote
RE Cremation: I would appreciate any ideas on how to do this, on one's own property.

I attended my mother-in-law's cremation in Fiji.  it was just a large bonfire with the body in the center.  Nothing left but ashes, which were cast into the sea with prayers.

Jimfarmer, thank you for sharing this.

R.R. Book

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Quote
RE Cremation: I would appreciate any ideas on how to do this, on one's own property.

I attended my mother-in-law's cremation in Fiji.  it was just a large bonfire with the body in the center.  Nothing left but ashes, which were cast into the sea with prayers.

What a beautifully simple ceremony Jim.

Solani

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Quote
RE Cremation: I would appreciate any ideas on how to do this, on one's own property.

I attended my mother-in-law's cremation in Fiji.  it was just a large bonfire with the body in the center.  Nothing left but ashes, which were cast into the sea with prayers.

What a beautifully simple ceremony Jim.

I second that! I feel that the traditional ways of how one honored our passed loved ones are many times more beautiful and have a deeper underlying meaning (Ritual) and not only show more respect for those we love but also defines us as a people/clan in coming full circle. I believe in passing down traditions throughout the generations and keeping traditions alive. Granted, some of the old traditions can be seen as quite morbid, looking through the eyes of a more "modern" society and I'm not saying that we need to keep all old traditions alive but, they should still be kept intact in the history of how our ancestors used to do things. I believe that most of us have lost our connections with our roots/history/traditions, many times making us feel lost and out of place.

My son back in Sweden would want to have a full Viking funeral, as in being laid to rest on a replica of a Viking ship and be set afire in the middle of a lake but, that is not allowed so, he has been researching if it would be possible to have a funeral pyre, perhaps similar to how Jim describes his mother-in-law's funeral but he's running into all sorts of bureaucracy.

Me, I've always wanted to be cremated and my ashes strewn in various places that have had a deeper meaning to me throughout my life. Beginning in the swamps of Florida, to other places which have had meaning to me. I also know that at least 2 of my children want to keep some of my ashes and I'm fine with that as long as they don't put me in the ground in a cemetery...  I've told them if they do that, I WILL haunt them. I don't want a fixed grave, as in a specific place where my remains are to be/stay. I want "freedom" even in death, even though it would be symbolic since, I do believe that even if you are put in a designated place i.e. cemetery, your soul/spirit is free. I however do see the actual cremation as a freeing of the spirit/soul...

I don't know the current laws in regards to having a cremation ceremony on your own property either here in Canada or in the US, or any other country for that matter. I do believe however that one would really need to research how to go about it, which types of wood would create enough heat and how much to fully be able to burn the body down to ash. I do know from collecting the huge amounts of bones and burning those out here after our winters providing for the predators, that the bones themselves are quite easy to burn, as they have no meat/flesh left on them. One does however need to keep a respectful distance to the burning bone pile as the bones do sometimes explode when the marrow left inside a few of them expand and "shoot out". You don't want to get in the "line of fire" when it comes to those, as that is the same as getting burning hot oil on your skin. OK, I'm aware that this is not the same as a funeral pyre but still comparable to how to go about burning remains and how to do it. We use hard woods and woods that that produce pitch as the pitch creates a hotter fire and also fuels the fire to burn longer. There is not much left when the fire has died down. those ashes when they have cooled down, are then scooped up and strewn on the fields/garden. 

I also agree with that as a future community, whoever is the "Elders/Leaders" should make sure to include such things as how our community members wish to have their funeral services, depending on their religion or just how they want it to be, regardless of religion. Same as records need to be kept of both births and deaths, as well as other happenings within the community.

//Solani
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R.R. Book

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I'd also prefer to be cremated.  Maybe a pyre might draw unwanted attention though in the early Aftertime?

ilinda

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Like most of you, I prefer being cremated to: burial, funeral, cemetery plot, constant mowing for upkeep of cemetery, etc.

I've never assisted in a cremation, but hubby had to cremate one of our goats who died in summer and with not enough time to dig hole, etc.  He said it seemed to take forever, but that's because we're so busy on farm, and you squeeze in events like cremation, into your already tight schedule.

But with planning, one thing I would always gather is wood.  Not just big hunks of it, but a huge amount of smaller and very dry "sticks", as the smaller the diameter, the hotter it seems to burn.  A set of friends came upon me cooking down maple syrup one year, and I was sitting by the cauldron, with a huge stack of small sticks, and they told me later they thought I was nuts because they didn't see any huge logs. 

The reason is that I had visited other friends one time when they were cooking their own maple sap down into syrup, and noticed the huge fire, but it was barely hot.  It was a dull red, the "coolest" of fires.  That's when I got the idea to build a HOT fire that had lots of orange and yellow in it.

So the same thing would apply to burning a body--find the things that will burn the hottest and maybe fastest.  Think of dry straw, dry hay, dry sawdust (be careful with some sawdust that seems to always remain moist), dry leaves, dry grasses, etc.  When hubby helped with some "controlled burning" at a park, he said it was astonishing to see what happens when the fire gets out of control and into a grassy field which was not part of the planned burn.  He said you'll see flames shooting straight up in the air like a geyser.  That dry grass is total tinder, which is OK, if the perimeter around it has been wetted down with water..

As for a funeral pyre attracting attention from the wrong people, one consideration would obviously be as Solani mentioned, a floating pyre on a body of water--at night.  If the night is expected to be calm, with little or no wind, that would be ideal.  Yes, fire can be seen and smelled at night, but smoke cannot.  Smoke is what people mostly see in daytime and would draw them to an area to investigate.

The service for Jim's mother-in-law sounds ideal.

Yowbarb

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I'd also prefer to be cremated.  Maybe a pyre might draw unwanted attention though in the early Aftertime?

R.R. I hear ya on that...
I definitely do not want to be buried.
Re a big old attention-catching funeral pyre: You are right about that.
Maybe some more hidden, underground way of doing the job...

Yowbarb

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Quote
RE Cremation: I would appreciate any ideas on how to do this, on one's own property.

I attended my mother-in-law's cremation in Fiji.  it was just a large bonfire with the body in the center.  Nothing left but ashes, which were cast into the sea with prayers.

What a beautifully simple ceremony Jim.

I second that! I feel that the traditional ways of how one honored our passed loved ones are many times more beautiful and have a deeper underlying meaning (Ritual) and not only show more respect for those we love but also defines us as a people/clan in coming full circle. I believe in passing down traditions throughout the generations and keeping traditions alive. Granted, some of the old traditions can be seen as quite morbid, looking through the eyes of a more "modern" society and I'm not saying that we need to keep all old traditions alive but, they should still be kept intact in the history of how our ancestors used to do things. I believe that most of us have lost our connections with our roots/history/traditions, many times making us feel lost and out of place.

My son back in Sweden would want to have a full Viking funeral, as in being laid to rest on a replica of a Viking ship and be set afire in the middle of a lake but, that is not allowed so, he has been researching if it would be possible to have a funeral pyre, perhaps similar to how Jim describes his mother-in-law's funeral but he's running into all sorts of bureaucracy.

Me, I've always wanted to be cremated and my ashes strewn in various places that have had a deeper meaning to me throughout my life. Beginning in the swamps of Florida, to other places which have had meaning to me. I also know that at least 2 of my children want to keep some of my ashes and I'm fine with that as long as they don't put me in the ground in a cemetery...  I've told them if they do that, I WILL haunt them. I don't want a fixed grave, as in a specific place where my remains are to be/stay. I want "freedom" even in death, even though it would be symbolic since, I do believe that even if you are put in a designated place i.e. cemetery, your soul/spirit is free. I however do see the actual cremation as a freeing of the spirit/soul...

I don't know the current laws in regards to having a cremation ceremony on your own property either here in Canada or in the US, or any other country for that matter. I do believe however that one would really need to research how to go about it, which types of wood would create enough heat and how much to fully be able to burn the body down to ash. I do know from collecting the huge amounts of bones and burning those out here after our winters providing for the predators, that the bones themselves are quite easy to burn, as they have no meat/flesh left on them. One does however need to keep a respectful distance to the burning bone pile as the bones do sometimes explode when the marrow left inside a few of them expand and "shoot out". You don't want to get in the "line of fire" when it comes to those, as that is the same as getting burning hot oil on your skin. OK, I'm aware that this is not the same as a funeral pyre but still comparable to how to go about burning remains and how to do it. We use hard woods and woods that that produce pitch as the pitch creates a hotter fire and also fuels the fire to burn longer. There is not much left when the fire has died down. those ashes when they have cooled down, are then scooped up and strewn on the fields/garden. 

I also agree with that as a future community, whoever is the "Elders/Leaders" should make sure to include such things as how our community members wish to have their funeral services, depending on their religion or just how they want it to be, regardless of religion. Same as records need to be kept of both births and deaths, as well as other happenings within the community.

//Solani

Thanks for your post, Solani and I agree some of the older ways were probably better... and surely less expensive... I like that Viking funeral idea...

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