WYD Podcast – DIY Dying with Green Burial and Burial at Sea

Funeral Director Shawn LaValleur-Adame of DIY Dying discusses green burial methods like sending ashes to the moon, a volcano summit and the bottom of the ocean: burial at sea.

You can also learn about green burial, burial at sea, lunar burial and other alternative burial methods with Shawn LaValleur-Adame on their website.

DIY Dying with Green Burial, Burial at Sea and other Natural Burial – Podcast Transcription

Kelly MacLean:  Welcome to the When You Die podcast.  I’m Kelly MacLean. My guest today is Shawn LaValleur-Adame.  Now, that’s a fancy name.  Shawn is a funeral director who found her calling in the death industry in 2006 at the Omega Society in Orange County.  She was the area manager for Smart Cremation and Gateway Cremations, overseeing operations for multiple companies in their locations up and down the southern California coast.  She became a co-owner of Argos funeral home, which specialized in non-traditional, and generally awesome, burial methods, like lunar burial, where one’s ashes are sent into outer space.

Shawn left to pursue her own dream of comprehensive death support.  Usually dying and death have two totally different support teams, and Shawn’s Do It Yourself (DIY) Dying vision is to have a continuity of support, where you can go to the same team from the death bed through the wake, funeral and scattering of ashes or burial.  You can follow her @diydying.  I know I do.  Watch the vision unfold as she launches.  I learned a lot from Shawn in our conversation, and I think you will, too.

Thank you, Shawn for doing the podcast.  Having stalked you a little bit on Instagram for a while now, and then discovering that you were a neighbor, it’s so nice to meet you in person.

Shawn LaValleur-Adame:  Thank you for having me.

KM:  I was curious if you would tell us a little bit about what you did with the Argos funeral home?  Usually in this day and age when you think of what to do with your body, you think, “Okay, I could be buried in a traditional kind of casket ceremony in a cemetery, or I could be cremated, and my family can scatter the ashes, or put them in an urn.”

SL:  Right.

KM:  I think probably a lot of North Americans think of those as their options.

SL:  Correct.  Most people think those are their only two options,

KM:  Right.

Green Burial

SL:  They don’t realize there are other options, such as a green burial or a full body burial at sea.  Even things to do with a loved one’s ashes after they’ve been cremated; there’s a volcano scattering.  There’re all kinds of possibilities.

KM:  Tell us a little bit more about each of those interesting things that you did, and all the options available.

SL:  Sure.  Well, one of the things that I think I’m proudest of when I was there was the fact that we got a client that wanted to do the lunar burial.  For that you purchase a small space on a rocket, and your ashes would go to the moon.

KM:  When you said lunar burial, I thought of a bunch of hippies, topless, burying their loved one on the full moon night.

SL:  Oh, no!

KM:  I had no idea that that’s a thing.

SL:  It is.

KM:  That you can actually….

SL:  Yeah, your ashes can actually go to the moon, so that every time you look at the moon, you can think, “There’s my loved one.”

KM:  That’s incredible.

SL:  It’s only a small amount of ashes, unless you pay to have more.

KM:  I see.

SL:  It’s only a gram.  So, in a sense, it’s a memorial keepsake that goes up there.

SL:  So, it’s not like the whole body can go up.  If you want, I’m sure they could, but it would be in the millions of dollars for that.

KM:  How much did it run for a small amount?

SL:  I think the price is still going for $12,500.

KM:  Wow.

SL:  Yes.

KM:  Well, in the funeral world, that’s not that much money.

SL:  Right.

KM:  People forget, it’s quite an industry, actually.

SL:  Correct.

KM:  So, how does it work? There’s a rocket that goes up for this specific purpose?

SL:  Well, I’m assuming that the rocket is going up for other things, as well.  We’re just purchasing the space on the rocket to get the ashes to the moon.  And then, from my understanding, there’s a rover that would be released on the moon that will then retrieve each canister of the loved ones’ ashes, and then the ashes will somehow be placed on the surface of the moon.  I’m not so sure about the technicalities of it.  If they go in the soil, or if they’re just left there.  But given that the rocket makes it to the moon, that we don’t have any explosions, or anything, then they would be there forever. There’s another option where the ashes could circle the moon, and then come back.They would be going into deep space….

KM:  Wait, circle the moon, and then come back?

SL:  Yeah.  My understanding is that’s the other option.  There are two lunar options.

KM:  I see.

SL:  And I’d have to triple check on the one that circles the moon.

KM:  So, it’s like an ashes joy ride?

SL:  Right, right.

KM:  And then you get them back?

SL:  Right.

KM:  That’s a little funny.  [laughs]

SL:  Right, and there are also a couple of other options where the ashes would go up to the stratosphere, and then come back down, like a burning star, back into the atmosphere.

KM:  But they’re shot out?  Or they come back in a capsule that your loved one keeps?

SL:  They come back in a capsule…

KM:  Wow.

SL:  …that your loved one keeps, and then you get a certificate that they had done that.

KM:  I see.

SL:  They plan it just right, so they know where to retrieve the capsule.

KM:  Wow.

SL:  Yeah, I haven’t sold that one, just the lunar one.

KM:  Is there a plan where you can shoot it into space, and just have it be returned to stardust?

SL:  Yes, there’s an option for that.  I’d have to look it up, what it’s technically called.  But there’s an orbit plan, and then there’s an earth rise, where the ashes would come back, and burn up as they come back into the atmosphere, and you wouldn’t get anything back.

KM:  You just know that they…

SL:  Yes, that they did that.  And then the last one would be that they go into deep space and go out into space forever.

KM:  Wow.

SL:  Yeah.

KM:  You had one client that did this?

SL:  Right.  One.

KM:  Were there clients that did something other than the lunar landing?

SL:  Not through us at the time, no.  Oddly enough, we had just opened, and the owner had just put that on the website.  The lady had not passed, but she had said she wanted this.  Shortly thereafter she passed.  We met with her family and did the whole cremation.  She’s also buried at Riverside National.  And the small portion for the moon I packaged myself.  There are two companies that specialize in this.  One is called Elysium, and I believe they’re in the San Francisco area.

SL:  The one we work with is out of Texas.  They’re called Celestis Memorial Spaceflights.

KM:  That’s extraordinary.

SL:  Yes.

KM:  I really see the appeal there, actually.  How was it for the clients?

SL:  Oh, the family loved it.  The daughter said, “Oh, this is exactly what my Mom wants.” And, you know, as we were meeting with her every once in a while, we’d joke about, “To the moon!”

KM:  Oh, I love that!  There’s this kind of joyful blast off quality…SL:  Right.

KM:  …which is missing from how we relate to death.

SL:  Right.

KM:  I remember when… who was it?  I think it was when one of the Arquette children died.  A sibling of David and Rosanna Arquette.  I think it was Alexis, who was trans, and who was dying of a slow terminal disease.  She had requested that at the moment of death all the siblings cheer.  Kind of…

SL:  …a good send off.

KM:  Give her a good send off, like, “Wahoo, you did it!”

SL:  Right.  Right.

KM:  Just like if an astronaut was blasting off.  I love that idea.

SL:  Yeah.

KM:  And, also, how fortunate for the daughter that she knew what her mother wanted, because actually, we don’t always have these conversations with our loved ones.  I’m sure you know better than anyone that some people come out going, “Huh?”

SL:  Yes, and no one in the family really has an idea of what that person wanted, because maybe they’ve never discussed it.  It was just not a thought in anyone’s mind.

KM:  Right, or it’s awkward, or it’s morbid, or you don’t want to seem like, well, I’ve said this before on the podcast, but people think that death is contagious.  And when you start talking about it, people think, “Oh!  Then it’s going to happen!”

SL:  Right.

KM:  Like in Harry Potter.  If you say Voldemort, people get really freaked out, because they think he’s going to appear.  It’s a little bit like that with death.  I feel

that people are actually death phobic.

SL:  They are.

KM:  That there’s the feeling, “Don’t talk about it.  Don’t think about it.”

SL:  Right.

KM:  And as a result, it’s actually really painful at the end.

SL:  Correct.  You don’t know if you’ve honored them properly, because you weren’t aware of what they would have wanted.  So, you’re making assumptions, and most people are basing those assumptions on their lack of knowledge about options.  And they’ll go to the first funeral home that they find in the phone book, or the one that the most people have mentioned.  So, then they reach out to that one.  In reality, there’s so much competition in the funeral industry, because there are so many different types of services and memorial options.  But overall, the majority of them are what you mentioned before:  It’s the traditional burial in the ground, in the vault, in the casket, or the cremation.  Even a cremation can have a memorial or a funeral prior.  Some people don’t realize that.  They just want the least expensive option possible.

KM:  Really? Oh, that’s sad.  We’ve done ceremonies for the deaths in my family, sometimes with the body, and we’ve also done one post ceremony after the cremation with the ashes there.  That was for my uncle.  He was a diver, scuba instructor and a sailor.  So, we put him in a Himalayan salt urn that was really beautiful.

SL:  Nice.

KM:  It was made of that pink salt.  Then his diving buddies took him out to his favorite spot and dropped him there, which may or may not have been legal in that particular spot.

SL:  Right.  It depends where they took him.

KM:  Yes, there are legal ways to do the sea burial, as well.

Burial at sea

SL:  Right.  And even full body burial at sea.  I had an opportunity to do quite a few of those at Argos.  That is a whole different experience.  Gosh, they are just beautiful.  Some people may get a little sea sick if they’re not prepared, but overall, the fact that you’re stuck on this yacht, out on the ocean, and there’s nothing else around but you, your loved one, your family and your extended family, well, it’s beautiful.  We encourage the family to engage in the disposition, that is, in placing the loved one into the ocean.  And you do a similar service as you would on land.  People are speaking, there’s food that’s available, flowers, music, you can bring doves, too.  It’s a long trip.  It’s about a four-hour turn-around.

KM:  Where is the drop off point?

SL:  It has to be at a depth of at least 600 feet, so you usually go out well past three miles.  Then once you find the location, you drift a little further out, so you end up being in between 600 to 1000 feet of water.  I’ve done a few in Morro Bay.

KM:  Oh, beautiful.

SL:  Yes, that was really nice.  It’s beautiful up in Morro Bay.  The other one I did was in San Diego, which was even more beautiful.  It’s especially so if they have a military background, because as you leave the dock, you pass the naval base, and most of the military bases are down there.  So, that’s another bonus.  It’s interesting, as you go out, you have to cross over into Mexican waters, and then come back around to the United States waters.  But that was a fantastic service.  We jumped through so many hoops to make sure it happened for that lady, because, unfortunately, the person we were working with in Morro Bay charged twice as much as what we now charge.  We had to cut him out in order to please this family and get her what she wanted.  She was overly thrilled, because it went exactly how she envisioned.

KM:  Oh, that’s wonderful.  What do you think people get from doing a service that’s exactly what they envisioned?  Or exactly what their loved one who passed had envisioned?  Or what they spoke about with their loved one, as opposed to just doing whatever they think is what you’re supposed to do in this situation?

SL:  I think there’s a huge difference in having a vision of what you’d like, and being able to bring that to fruition, versus settling for options that are placed in front of you.  Even though I worked in the mortuary that handled some of my own loved ones, I still felt restricted, because we didn’t normally offer the type of service we’ve been talking about.  It just wasn’t something anyone discussed.  So, I had to go through the regular types of services.  I really would have loved to have brought my brother home and cared for him at home and done a home funeral and prepared his body ourselves.  I would have preferred that type of service, versus just having him in refrigeration next to my office every day until disposition, which was kind of awkward.  But also, at the same time, I knew that he was there.

KM:  It is kind of awkward, and weird, and at the same time, for those of us who’ve not had brothers next to our office, it would also be a luxury, because at least you could be near him and know what’s going on there.  It wouldn’t be a mystery.  We had no idea what anyone around him even looked like.  And particularly if the coroner is involved.  You don’t meet the coroner.  You don’t make a connection.  You don’t get a sense they’re going to be particularly loving to him.

SL:  Right.

KM:  So, in a way, it was really wonderful that you got to have that connection.  On the last podcast somebody said, “If I have one bit of advice for working with death: Make friends with a mortician.”

SL:  [laughs] Yeah.

KM:  She’s a death writer.

SL:  Yes, it definitely is good to have a director in your back pocket.

KM:  Yeah. That’s the real secret reason we invited you over. [laughs]

SL:  [laughs] Right.  When my brother had passed, normally he would have gone to the morgue at the hospital, and then the mortuary would have come the following day after having his paper work filled out.  But as I represented the mortuary, and was a licensed funeral director, I was able to just take him directly home.  Well, not home, but to the holding facility.  I wish I would have been able to bring him home.

KM:  Absolutely.

SL:  I had asked, but his wife didn’t want him at the house, unfortunately.  She didn’t want to have so many people.  And they didn’t want death around them, as if it’s somehow contagious, or it’s going to contaminate their environment.

KM:  I think that goes back to what you and I spoke about a little bit before we started rolling here about children not being exposed to death.  I mean, for a lot of people, they might not really have a death of someone close to them until they’re over 40 or 50.

SL:  Right.

KM:  And at that point, the whole thing gives people the heebie jeebies, or maybe they just don’t know how to relate to it.  Whereas in cultures that are more tribal and cultures in which death happens more often and at younger ages, it’s pretty ordinary for the kids to be exposed to death and they might play next to the dead body. 

SL:  Right.

KM:  And they might ask questions, and have questions answered.  And then when it comes around for them, there’s a kind of Lion King “Circle of Life” understanding that we’ve robbed our children of.

SL:  Which a lot of times is the case, unfortunately.  When my husband’s father had passed, my husband, who was a child at the time, was kept from everything, even knowing that his father had passed.  So, for many years, he would look around, looking to see, “Is that my Dad?  Is he coming back?”  So, there’s that disconnection with the fact that they’re no longer coming back.

KM:  As a child?

SL:  As a child.

KM:  This happened as a child?

SL:  Right.

KM:  Oh, that’s so sad.

SL:  I don’t know why, but we sent one of his daughters home with the sister-in-law, and it was maybe 20 or 30 minutes before he actually left.  Had she been there, I think it would have been more healing for her, because she could have physically touched him and seen that he was no longer in that vessel.  I don’t know how she deals with it, and if she has any issues, to be honest.  Because our family had a falling out over my brother’s passing.

KM:  That’s so sad to hear, but it’s also fairly common.  You hear it a lot.

SL:  Right.

KM:  Because we don’t know how to deal with death, when it does come, it can be very divisive.  I have a friend, Jill, who lives just down the street.  She is a death doula, and she got into that because she was close to a death that completely tore a family apart.  And she thought, “This is not how it needs to be.”

SL:  It shouldn’t be that way.  People could embrace death.  It’s the one certain thing in our life.  It’s the biggest event in our life, other than giving birth.

KM:  Sometimes the two go hand in hand.

SL:  Yes, but that was my main reason for going down the path that I’m now on:  Training to become a death doula, or a part of the death midwifery movement.  I want to incorporate that into the funeral industry.  I’d like to help the families, and the person who’s going to pass, to be able to let go of things, so that they can consciously die, and be aware that this is happening, and it’s natural, and to go with it.  So they don’t take any negative thoughts, or feelings with them, into the next life.  Some people believe that this is it, this is all we have.  Some people believe they go to Heaven, and everything’s hunky dory there, or some people believe you come back in another life form.  And I believe anything is possible.  I’m not sure, and I really look forward to it.  Strangely, I have absolutely no fear of dying.  On one hand, I can’t wait.  But, in the meantime, I’d like to do as much as I can to change people’s perspective on dying and the funeral industry.  That death is not something hush hush, and that we must whisk the body away as soon as it’s passed.  You know, we’re there when they’re born, we’re there when they’re young, we’re there when they’re in good health and bad.  Why not be there when they’ve passed?  And take care of them in a manner you would if they were still breathing?

KM:  Yes, it can be jarring at first.  When my brother, Andrew, passed away, I really hadn’t been close to anyone.  I was 28 at the time.  Yeah.  I really hadn’t been close to anyone who died.  I had lost my grandmother when I was 13, but I hadn’t been that close with her.  She was very old and sick.  When my brother died it was the first death of someone really close to me.  It was a car accident. 

SL:  Oh!

KM:  A sudden death, and I was pretty scared to see his body.  I was very afraid to see his body.

SL:  I understand.

KM:  Not particularly because I thought that there was going to be a zombie moment, or that I was afraid of some bad juju or something, as we sometimes are, but just the difference of seeing him that way.  I knew would make it so real, and it was just so unknown, and foreign to me.  It scared the crap out of me.

SL:  I can imagine.

KM:  And my mom said, “This is just Andrew.  This is just Andrew’s body, and you love Andrew, and you love Andrew’s body, and you’ve hugged this body many, many times, and you still love this body.  It’s going to be different, and it’s also going to be the same.”  And that really quelled my freak out.  By the way, I was the only one in the family that was really freaked out.

SL:  Oh, really?

KM:  On that level, that is, about seeing the body.  And it was just totally fine, because it really was just him, you know?  And it was also very disturbing.  There were things that had been done to his body by the mortuary that were actually pretty disturbing.  For example, they had sewn his lips up, and done a kind of sloppy job of it, and that was disturbing.  And there had been an autopsy, and it hadn’t fully been…

SL:  …closed up?

KM:  The skull hadn’t been, so, there was a distorted quality.  They did later close it up, which was fine, but overall, it was a profound realization to understand, “Oh, it’s just … it’s actually just my loved one.”

SL:  Right.

KM:  “And it’s this piece of them that they no longer need.”

SL:  I also find that sometimes it helps you realize that even though we are in this body, that we are not this body.  That we are something more than that.  That our spirit, our soul, or whatever you want to call it, within this body is really what our connection is to each other.  The fact that we have skin, and bones, and a little vessel that we can go through this thing called life in, is really magnificent.

KM:  Yes.

SL:  But when you see a loved one in that state, that is somewhat disfigured, and manipulated, you realize that was their little vessel, but they’re no longer there.  They’re no longer in that pain, even though it may look like they’re in pain, not being fully put back together.  But that’s something that I’ve learned in my many years of dealing with a lot of bodies.  You still have a profound sense of respect for their vessel.  But you also know that’s all it is, a vessel.

KM:  Has that view developed, and deepened over years of working with bodies?

SL:  Yes.  Seeing them in different states of decomposition, and the different circumstances of their death and then going through the doula training and realizing that we are our soul, and that this body is the vessel.  We should honor it, but there’s so much more than just this body.  And that’s why I’m so interested in the doula training, so that I can help people realize that we are so much more than our vessel.  That it’s so important, if at all possible, to die consciously, because that makes the whole difference when you go to the next life, or to your next journey, whatever you want to call it. 

KM:  Can you tell us a little bit about your vision for DIY Dying that will be launching soon?

SL:  Well, I hope to help one person at a time.  I am looking to offer my services to assist both the living, and the dead, either to incorporate the doula aspect into people’s services, or, like I say, to do the funeral service.  I want to be able to encompass it all.  So, I’d like to meet with people if they’ve been terminally diagnosed to help them get emotionally and physically prepared for that transition.  Then I’d hope to assist the family with their own caretaking of their loved one within their home.  Then once we have the death certificate and their final disposition instructions, to then assist the family in whatever that disposition might be, whether it be a cremation, or a green burial or a full body burial at sea.

I also want to incorporate as much American made, handmade, natural and repurposed materials in my funeral services as possible.  I’m not planning to offer concrete vaults or metal caskets.  I’m going to specialize more in shrouds, wicker baskets, pine boxes and things of that nature.

KM:  So, those are for the green burial?

SL:  For the green burial, yes.  The competition in LA is very high for the green burial, because there are only a few of us that are offering it.  And then the pricing is just crazy at some of the cemeteries.

KM:  So, green burial is actually significantly more affordable, in general.  And by the way, sea burial is a form of green burial, right?

SL:  It is, yes.

KM:  If it’s done properly.

SL:  If it’s done properly. There is an outfit in the Long Beach area that does full body burials at sea in the cemetery that’s between San Pedro and Catalina.  They have two separate boats.  The family is on one, and your loved one is in a casket, in a metal casket, on the other.  There are so many holes that are necessary to be drilled, and there is also weight that’s put in the casket.  But that’s not going to decompose at the bottom of the ocean.  So, I want to incorporate the shrouding.  That’s what I’m more familiar with, and I think it ties more into the green aspects of a burial at sea.

KM:  Can you describe the shroud?

SL:  It’s just like any other shroud.  It’s a canvas material.

KM:  It’s white, usually?

SL:  Yes, usually white.  They do come in different colors and in different shapes.  I would assume there are different materials based on the color that you’re selecting.  And then we would weight you down with either stones, or little balls, like cannon balls, so that when you go overboard, there’s no chance of you popping back up.  You’re weighted, you’re going to go straight to the bottom.  And then what happens is supposed to happen.

KM:  Before we move on, and wrap up, I’m wondering if you can throw out a few more out of the box options that you have offered, or come across, or even just know about, in addition to green burial

SL:  Sure.

KM:  For example, lunar burial and above ground burial?

SL:  Right.  Well, above ground burial is not an option for everyone.  I’m not too positive right now on what it’s called, but you are laid out above ground, and you’re allowed to decompose naturally above ground.  I kind of like that, myself, because I don’t necessarily want to go in the ground.  Although, if that’s all that’s available for me when my time comes, then that would be fine.  But there’s a place in Tennessee, a body farm, where they do scientific research on decomposition.  And I’ve heard that there’s a place in Oregon, where they allow you to do that kind of burial.

KM:  And then there’s also a woman named Katrina Spade, in Seattle, who is working on what she calls “recomposition.”

SL:  Yes, recomposition.  That would be another method.

KM:  With wood chips.  And then you basically decompose into soil, and the family gets the soil back.

SL:  Right, right.

KM:  Yeah.  That’s pretty extraordinary.  And what about the volcano burial?  I love this.  It’s so wild.

SL:  Well, you don’t actually go to the summit of the volcano, because it’s so dangerous, but you go somewhere up on the side of the volcano where there’s a safe enough point that you can scatter the ashes.  They do offer it in Hawaii.  You don’t need to get a permit.  You just have to pay the fee to be able to access the park, and then you can go out there.  You tell them what you’re doing, and then you go, and then you scatter the ashes.  I haven’t done it yet, but I did reach out to see if it would be possible.  I met a woman there that does do it, in the same way as you can get scattered in the ocean in Hawaii as well.

I mean, here in the United States, in California particularly, if you’re going to be scattered on private land, you need to have the permission of the property owner.  Or it’s possible to do the scattering at a National Park.  You just have to go through the right channels to get the right permission.

KM:  And then you were featured on the news locally, and you mentioned doing a Viking funeral.  What’s the deal with that?  Did that become a reality?

SL:  No, it did not.  I actually…

KM:  [laughs] Shame!

SL:  Right.  And the reason it’s not a reality is because of the burning of the body and the boat.

KM:  Will you say what a Viking funeral is for those who may not know?

SL:  Sure.  What a Viking funeral would be is you’re laid out on a little wooden boat and set out to sea.  Then, from a distance, you would be shot with arrows that have fire on them, and you would ignite, and then burn, and everything would go into the water.  In a perfect world.

KM:  Pretty cool.

SL:  Right.  It would be really cool, but the logistics of it are a little bit difficult, as the temperature of the body being burned needs to be at a certain level.  So, there are other things to consider, such as, we were going to douse the body in a particular chemical that would burn it quicker.  But like I said, in looking at the EPA’s website, we saw that that’s just not possible right now, because of the restrictions on the fire, and the smoke and the burning of unnatural things out at sea.

KM:  Is it actually worse than a cremation, in terms of greenhouse gases?

SL:  You know, I haven’t looked into that.  But it could potentially be, which is maybe why they have the restrictions.

KM:  Right, but then cremating is already really bad.  You’re dumping a lot of carcinogens out there.  I think I heard one cremation is equivalent to a road trip from LA to Boston.

SL:  I wouldn’t doubt it.

KM:  And as it becomes more common, it’s quite a thing.

SL:  Right, but now we have the water cremation, which is not as bad for the environment, as an alternative to fire cremation.

KM:  Right.  And it’s legal here in California now.

SL:  It’s just really expensive for the machine to do it in, so not very many funeral homes have that option for you.

KM:  Right.  Probably in the future it’ll become more usable.

SL:  It’s more prevalent in the pet industry.

KM:  Right.

SL:  And the pet cremations.

KM:  For little pets.

SL:  Right.

KM:  Well, I for one, hope that the Viking funeral happens, and that we figure that out, because that’s pretty epic.

SL:  Well, in Colorado they do have cremations where you’re put on a pyre, and you’re lit there.

KM:  My husband’s mother died of cancer when he was 20, and they had her burned outdoors.  It took many hours, and was very sacred, and powerful and much more meaningful.

SL:  Right.  I think that would be so good to witness.  Because when you’re at a crematory, you know, once the little chamber closes, you’re not really seeing the cremation take place.

KM:  It’s pretty unromantic.  And then you think, “Should I stay for the whole time?” But then they tell you, “It’s going to be four hours, five hours.”

SL:  Right.

KM:  So, you don’t really want to sit in a very industrial…

SL:  …Yes, it’s usually in a very industrial environment.

KM:  In a back area, and the noise is intense.

SL:  And the heat is…

KM:  …And the heat is intense.  And you’re thinking, “Should we go get brunch?”

SL:  [laughs] Usually they don’t let you stay, anyway.  You can witness the insertion of your loved one, and you can always come back once the remains are cooled down to pick up the same day, depending on the time.  But for the most part, that’s all you’re going to get is the visual of the body going in, and then you’re asked to leave. 

KM:  Right.  That’s what we did with my brother, Gregory, my second brother, who passed away this year.  And actually, this piece right here that you see, we burned him with this.  And when I reached in to scatter his ashes in the mountains of Colorado, where we had gotten permission, I reached in, I was the first one to take a handful, and I got this.

SL:  Oh, wow!

KM:  It’s a Dorje.  It’s a little iron Buddhist sculpture.

SL:  Very cool.

KM:  And it was pretty shocking…

SL:  Yes.  It’s interesting.

KM:  …that it never burned.

SL:  And that it was still in with the remains.

KM:  It probably still has some of his ashes on it, and I thought, “I got the cracker jack prize!”

SL:  Yeah.  [laughs]

KM:  [laughs]

SL:  You did.

KM:  That just made me think of that.

SL:  Right.  Usually we remove the metals out of the ashes.

KM:  Right.

SL:  So, it’s odd that they would have left that there.

KM:  I thought it was odd, too.

SL:  It was meant to be, though.

KM:  It was.

SL:  That’s the best thing, that you were able to pull that out.

KM:  It was, and it felt like a little communication from him.

SL:  Right, a little full circle.

KM:  Yes, and he had kind of a twisted sense of humor, so it felt like something that might happen in the wake of his presence.  But, yes, if we could have done that in a setting that was not so industrial, I really would have preferred it.

SL:  Right.

KM:  It’s quite weird.  I mean, the hospitals are similar, right? When you’re dying?

SL:  Yes, they are.  Yes.  And that’s the unfortunate thing.  This is such a special moment in a lot of people’s lives.  And when designing a funeral home with a crematorium, they don’t consider that aspect or think about the environment that the chambers are in, so that it could be more welcoming and more therapeutic, as opposed to feeling that you are in an industrial area.  You just want to get out of that situation.  It’s uncomfortable, all the way around.  So, my long-term goal, which I haven’t mentioned yet, is I’d like to own, or find a piece of land that I could preserve and make it a natural burial ground.  But I don’t want to disturb the land other than burying people, without headstones, or markers, or things of that nature.  I’d like to make it a park for people to come and go, and to know that people are buried there.  That makes it even more special, you know, and hopefully in doing that I could also design a mortuary with a crematorium on the property to facilitate everything for the families.

KM:  That’s beautiful.

SL:  For those that want to be cremated as well as for those who want to be buried.

KM:  And as a death doula, it’s also your vision to be able to be there with the person as they die?

SL:  Right.

KM:  And help with the funeral planning and then have it be like one stop shopping?

SL:  Yeah, one stop.

KM:  Last stop shopping.  [laughs]

SL:  [laughs] There you go.  Last stop shopping.  Yeah.

KM:  You can use that.

SL:  Oh, that’s a good one.  I hadn’t thought of it.  Yes.  So, the DIY is just that.  People can look at it as Design It Yourself or Do It Yourself.  Basically, I want to be there to help them do it themselves.  I want to show them the tools, so that they can feel that they are the ones that handled it.  And yes, I can file the death certificate for them, so they don’t have to do that tedious aspect of it, or take care of the transportation, if necessary, or any of the various legalities.  But for everything else I hope to be able to give them the power, and the knowledge and the understanding that anything is possible, and everything is okay.

KM:  I love that.  Well, you can do that for me should that happen too soon.  That sounds pretty good.

SL:  Not anytime soon.

KM:  Hopefully not.   But that sounds like something I would wish for a loved one. That’s exactly the kind of experience I would want.

SL:  Yes.

KM:  Because it’s hard enough, right?

SL:  Yes.

KM:  Even with everything going beautifully.

SL:  Right.

KM:  And with so much meaning and ceremony infused into it.

SL:  Right.

KM:  It still sucks.  It’s still devastating.  But it’s also a magical, beautiful time.  It’s still really hard, so why not create the most beautiful, easy way to deal with it?

SL:  Right.

KM:  I thank you for the vision you’re working on.  It’s very beautiful, and we need more options like that.

SL:  Thank you.

KM:  And for yourself, is there one wish, I always ask people, is there one wish that you have for yourself for end of life?

SL:  Ah.  Just that I am present in my dying process, and I am blessed with my family surrounding me as I go through my transition, and that they take on that role to care for my body, and that they find it in their hearts to do a green burial of some sort for me, wherever I may pass.  If it’s in California, or if I have to move somewhere else to find my land to preserve.  So be it.  But that’s what I hope.  If not, I told them, as I just had to do a death care directive for my training, that I want a green burial, or a full body burial at sea.  So, one or the other.

KM:  Beautiful.

SL:  Yes.

KM:  Well, thank you for sharing Shawn, and thank you so much for coming here post dentist.

SL:  [laughs]

KM:  So, double points.  [laughs]

SL:  Thank you.  I totally forgot about that appointment.

KM:  Well, we really appreciate it, and we’re very excited to see the launch of DIY Dying.

SL:  Wonderful.  Thank you for having me.


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