Thursday, 23 January 2014

The Business of Dying

It is estimated the costs associated with the "death industry" now sit at an estimated 1.3 billion in this country and climbing. In other words, it ain't cheap for people to kick the bucket and the push for some elaborate and costly event that would rival a modern wedding remains very strong for the hundreds of funeral homes across the country who make a killing promising the finest of materials (if you really love someone, one wouldn't want to be thrifty about it) and elaborate ceremonies worthy of a minor celebrity.
My amazing family physician, Leah Norgrove, who also happens to devote a significant portion of her time and energy on the hospice program she oversees through Saanich Peninsula Hospital, talked to me yesterday about some of the mechanics of my own demise and the foundations of the palliative care movement which advocates for the normalization of death as part of the natural journey of life - not a distasteful sales opportunity preying on people's guilt and discomfort with mortality. Currently, the bureaucracy around the process is, as ever, confounding which is why for me it was important to pick options that make sense for my family and I and more importantly, won't lead anyone to bankruptcy. There will be no elaborate hand-hewn urn collecting more dust on someone's mantle - no silk-lined coffin wrapped in mahogany, no giant stone that says I graced the planet on certain dates. I will have none of it...and thankfully I have had the time to actually think about it, pick an option (cheaper the better) and have the people who love me fully on board.
The influence of other cultures can only help to enlighten our view of death as part of the human experience - where approaches and rituals seem infinitely more civilized to me. Including asking why it is necessary in this country that you have to incur a cost to drag Aunt Mary's body to a crematorium or funeral home and face the third degree for transporting the body yourself if you are able (this would involve forms to fill out etc) all part of the politics of keeping death as some mysterious netherworld that only those in the business of it could possibly manage. Making decisions about your wishes (and budgeting accordingly) also serves to protect the ones who love you from facing the pressure of such decisions when they are grieving - which one hopes will be their only job after the fact.


  1. Gabe informed me several months ago that he would like to be buried in the back yard when he dies. I did suggest the neighbours might frown upon a body being buried next door... I do welcome his musings -- not from an absence of my own fears and sadness surrounding death and loss, but from a need to teach him that it is a normal and inevitable part of life. That even if I don't believe we live on after death, we do live on in the minds and hearts of those we leave behind.

    1. It is wonderful that you are so open with Gabe and that he feels comfortable enough to raise it with you. I know all kids wonder about it (as do many of us!) so great to open up the dialogue...