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.
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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: It’s 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 an 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 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, and 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. It’s so nice to meet you in person … Having stalked you a little bit on Instagram for a while now, and then discovering that you were just a neighbor, practically [crosstalk 00:01:40]-

Shawn LaValleur-Adame: Thank you for having me.

Kelly MacLean: 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.”

Shawn LaValleur-Adame: Right.

Kelly MacLean: I think that, like, probably a lot of America thinks of those as their options.

Shawn LaValleur-Adame: Correct. That those are their only two options, most people think-

Kelly MacLean: Right.

Green Burial

Shawn LaValleur-Adame: They don’t realize there are other options, such as green burial, full body burial at sea. Even things to do with loved ones ashes after they’ve been cremated, there’s a volcano scattering … There’s all kinds of things-

Kelly MacLean: Yeah. Tell us more … A little bit more about each of those interesting things that you guys did there, and that are options available.

Shawn LaValleur-Adame: Sure. Well, one of the most proudest things that I think I’m proud of when I was there was the fact that we got a client, or a case, that wanted to do the lunar burial. So, what that is you purchase a small space on the rocket, and your ashes would go to the moon-

Kelly MacLean: Yeah. I … When you said lunar burial, I thought of, like, you know, a bunch of hippies, like, topless, burying their loved one on the full moon outside, or something.

Shawn LaValleur-Adame: Oh, no.

Kelly MacLean: I had no idea that that’s a thing-

Shawn LaValleur-Adame: Yeah.

Kelly MacLean: That you can actually-

Shawn LaValleur-Adame: Yeah. Your ashes can actually go to the moon, so that every time you look at the moon, you can be like, “There’s my loved one, and I … “ You know?

Kelly MacLean: That’s incredible.

Shawn LaValleur-Adame: Yeah. It’s only a small amount, unless you pay to have more-

Kelly MacLean: Yeah.

Shawn LaValleur-Adame: It’s only a gram of ashes. So, in a sense, it’s a memorial keepsake that goes up there-

Kelly MacLean: Yeah.

Shawn LaValleur-Adame: So, it’s not like the whole body can go up. If you want, I’m sure they could, but it’s in the millions for that-

Kelly MacLean: Right.

Shawn LaValleur-Adame: Because you’ll have to pay like-

Kelly MacLean: How much did it run for it to have just the-

Shawn LaValleur-Adame: Just the small amount? I think the price is still going for 12,500.

Kelly MacLean: Wow.

Shawn LaValleur-Adame: Yeah.

Kelly MacLean: Well, in funeral world, that’s not that much money. I mean-

Shawn LaValleur-Adame: Right.

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

Shawn LaValleur-Adame: Correct.

Kelly MacLean: So, how does it work? There’s a rocket that … Goes up-

Shawn LaValleur-Adame: Yeah, there’s a-

Kelly MacLean: For this specific purpose?

Shawn LaValleur-Adame: Well, I’m assuming that the rocket is going up for other things, as well.

Kelly MacLean: Right.

Shawn LaValleur-Adame: We’re just purchasing the space on the rocket to get it to the moon-

Kelly MacLean: Yeah.

Shawn LaValleur-Adame: And then, from my understanding, that there’s a rover that would be released on the moon that will then retrieve each canister of the loved ones that have been … That are participants to go to the moon, and then they will be somehow placed on the surface of the moon. I’m not so sure the technicalities of it … If it goes in the soil, or if it’s just left there, how that works … But granted that the rocket makes it to the moon-

Kelly MacLean: Yeah.

Shawn LaValleur-Adame: You know, we don’t have any, you know, explosions, or anything, you know.

Kelly MacLean: Right.

Shawn LaValleur-Adame: But then they would be there forever. There’s another option where the ashes could circle the moon, and then come back. You have going into deep space-

Kelly MacLean: Wait, circle the moon, and then come back?

[00:05:00]

Shawn LaValleur-Adame: Yeah. My understanding that the other option … There’s two lunar options-

Kelly MacLean: Yeah.

Shawn LaValleur-Adame: And I’d have to triple check on the one that goes … It circles the moon-

Kelly MacLean: So, it’s like an ashes joy ride?

Shawn LaValleur-Adame: Right, right.

Kelly MacLean: And then you get them back?

Shawn LaValleur-Adame: Right.

Kelly MacLean: That’s … That’s a little funny. [laughs]

Shawn LaValleur-Adame: Right, because there also are a couple of other ones where the ashes would go up to the stratosphere, and then come back down, like a burning star, back into the atmosphere.

Kelly MacLean: But they’re shot out? Or they’re like … They come back in a capsule that your loved one keeps?

Shawn LaValleur-Adame: They’re … They come back in a capsule-

Kelly MacLean: Wow.

Shawn LaValleur-Adame: That your loved one keeps, and then you get a certificate that it had done that.

Kelly MacLean: Uh-huh.

Shawn LaValleur-Adame: So, they plan it just right, so they know where to retrieve it, and-

Kelly MacLean: Wow.

Shawn LaValleur-Adame: Yeah, I haven’t sold-

Kelly MacLean: That’s pretty cool.

Shawn LaValleur-Adame: That one, but just the lunar one, which was cool.

Kelly MacLean: Is there something where you can shoot it into space, and just have it be returned to stardust?

Shawn LaValleur-Adame: Yeah. There’s an option of that. I’d have to look them up, what they’re technically called. But there’s an orbit, and then there’s an earth rise, where they would come back, and burn up as they come back into the atmosphere, and you wouldn’t get anything back, it’s just a matter of-

Kelly MacLean: Right, but you just know that they-

Shawn LaValleur-Adame: Yeah … That they did that, and then the last one would be that you go into deep space, and you just forever go out into space.

Kelly MacLean: Wow.

Shawn LaValleur-Adame: Yeah.

Kelly MacLean: And so, you had one client that did this?

Shawn LaValleur-Adame: Right. One-

Kelly MacLean: Were there ones that did something other than the lunar? Or-

Shawn LaValleur-Adame: Not through us at the time, no.

Kelly MacLean: Okay. Yeah.

Shawn LaValleur-Adame: Oddly enough, we had just opened, and he just put that on the website, and the family … The lady had not passed, and she had said she wanted this. Shortly thereafter she passed, and so, then we met with her, and did the whole cremation. She’s also buried at Riverside National, and then the small portion I packaged myself. There are two companies that specialize in this. One is Elysium, and I believe they’re in the San Francisco area-

Kelly MacLean: Huh.

Shawn LaValleur-Adame: And then the one that we work with is out of Texas, and they’re Celestis Memorial-

Kelly MacLean: Cool.

Shawn LaValleur-Adame: Spaceflights.

Kelly MacLean: That’s amazing.

Shawn LaValleur-Adame: Yeah.

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

Shawn LaValleur-Adame: Oh, she loved it. The daughter was just like, “Oh, this is exactly what my Mom wants.” And, you know, as we were meeting with her every once and a while, we’d joke about, “To the moon!” And-

Kelly MacLean: Oh, I love that!

Shawn LaValleur-Adame: You know-

Kelly MacLean: There’s this kind of joyful blast off quality-


Shawn LaValleur-Adame: Right.

Kelly MacLean: Which is missing from death.

Shawn LaValleur-Adame: Right.

Kelly MacLean: I remember when … Who was it? There was somebody … I think it was one of the Arquette children died-

Shawn LaValleur-Adame: Mm-hmm.

Kelly MacLean: David Arquette, and-

Shawn LaValleur-Adame: His siblings … Rosanna Arquette.

Kelly MacLean: I think it was one of the Arquettes. Yeah. And I think it was the … Alex, who I think was Trans, and was dying of a, you know, slow terminal disease, and had requested that the moment of death that all the siblings cheer, and said, you know, kind of-

Shawn LaValleur-Adame: A good send off.

Kelly MacLean: Gave him a good send off, like, “Wahoo, you did it!”

Shawn LaValleur-Adame: Right. Right.

Kelly MacLean: Just like if an astronaut was blasting off. So, I love that idea.

Shawn LaValleur-Adame: Yeah.

Kelly MacLean: And also how fortunate for the daughter that she knew what her mother wanted, because actually, we don’t always have these conversations-

Shawn LaValleur-Adame: Right.

Kelly MacLean: With our loved ones. I’m sure you know better than anyone-

Shawn LaValleur-Adame: Right.

Kelly MacLean: That some people come out going, “Huh?”

Shawn LaValleur-Adame: Yeah, 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 their mind.

Kelly MacLean: Right, or it’s awkward, or it’s morbid, or you don’t want to seem like-

Shawn LaValleur-Adame: Right.

Kelly MacLean: People … I’ve said this before on the podcast, but people think that death is contagious, or something-

Shawn LaValleur-Adame: I’ve had that.

Kelly MacLean: And when you start talking about it-

Shawn LaValleur-Adame: Yeah.

Kelly MacLean: That, “Oh! Then it’s going to happen!”

Shawn LaValleur-Adame: Right.

Kelly MacLean: Like maybe the Grim Reaper. You know, like in Harry Potter where if you say Voldemart, like, people get really freaked out, because they think he’s going to appear, or something. It’s a little bit like that with death, I feel-

Shawn LaValleur-Adame: Right.

Kelly MacLean: That people are actually that death phobic-

Shawn LaValleur-Adame: They are.

Kelly MacLean: That they’re just like, “Don’t talk about it. Don’t think about it.”

Shawn LaValleur-Adame: Right.

Kelly MacLean: And as a result, it’s actually really painful at the end-

Shawn LaValleur-Adame: Correct.

Kelly MacLean: For people who didn’t …

Shawn LaValleur-Adame: Because you don’t know if you’ve honored them properly, because you weren’t aware of what they would have wanted. So, you’re coming to assumptions, and most people are basing those assumptions on their lack of knowledge of options. And they’ll go to the first funeral home that they find in the phone book, or the one that they … Most people have mentioned. So, then they reach out to that one, and in reality, there’s so much competition in the funeral industry, because there’s so many different things, and types of services, and memorial options. But overall, the majority of them are kind of like you mentioned before where it’s the traditional burial in the ground, in the vault, in the casket, or the cremation, and-

Kelly MacLean: Yeah.

Shawn LaValleur-Adame: Even a cremation, I mean, you can have a memorial prior, or a funeral prior to a cremation, and some people don’t realize that. They just want the least expensive option possible.

[00:10:00]

Kelly MacLean: Really? Oh, that’s sad.

Shawn LaValleur-Adame: Yeah.

Kelly MacLean: Yeah. Absolutely. We did … You know, for the deaths in my family we’ve done ceremonies, you know, with the body, and we’ve also done one post-cremation with the ashes there.

Shawn LaValleur-Adame: Right.

Kelly MacLean: That was for my uncle, and we actually … He was a super big diver, scuba instructor, sailor, and so, we did … We put him in a Himalayan salt urn that was really beautiful-

Shawn LaValleur-Adame: Nice.

Kelly MacLean: That pink salt, and then his diving buddies took him out to his favorite spot, and dropped him there.

Shawn LaValleur-Adame: That is so cool.

Kelly MacLean: Which may or may not have been legal in that particular spot-

Shawn LaValleur-Adame: [laughs]

Kelly MacLean: But-

Shawn LaValleur-Adame: Right. It depends where they took him, but-

Kelly MacLean: Yeah. There are legal ways to do the sea burial, as well.

Burial at sea

Shawn LaValleur-Adame: Right, right, and even full body burial at sea. I had an opportunity to do quite a few of those at Argos, as well.

Kelly MacLean: Amazing.

Shawn LaValleur-Adame: Those are … Those are like … It’s a whole other … Gosh, they are just beautiful. I mean, some people may get a little sea sick if they’re not prepared, but overall just the … The fact that you’re stuck on this yacht, out on the ocean, and there’s nothing else around you, but you, your loved one, and your family, your extended family, and your … We encourage the family to engage in the disposition in placing the loved one into the ocean, and-

Kelly MacLean: Mmm.

Shawn LaValleur-Adame: You do a similar service as you would on land. I mean, 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.

Kelly MacLean: Where is the drop off point?

Shawn LaValleur-Adame: It has to be in at least 600 feet depth of water, so you usually go out well past three miles, and then once you find the location, you do kind of drift a little further out, so you end up being between 600 to 1000 feet of depth of water-

Kelly MacLean: Mmm.

Shawn LaValleur-Adame: I’ve done a few in Morro Bay.

Kelly MacLean: Oh, beautiful.

Shawn LaValleur-Adame: Yeah. That was really nice. As you leave the harbor to go out-

Kelly MacLean: That’s a very special moment, [inaudible 00:12:20], and then you can go to Morro Bay, and-

Shawn LaValleur-Adame: Right, and it is beautiful up in Morro Bay. The other one I did was in San Diego, which was even more beautiful. I mean, especially if they are military … Of military background, because as you leave the dock, you’re passing the naval base, and most of the military bases are down there. So, that’s another bonus. And 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, and we jumped through so many hoops to make sure that happened for that lady, because-

Kelly MacLean: Mmm.

Shawn LaValleur-Adame: Unfortunately, the person we were working with through the Morro Bay burials, his price was twice as much as what we now charge, and he’s from back east, so-

Kelly MacLean: Mmm.

Shawn LaValleur-Adame: You know, we had to cut him out in order to please this family, and get her what she wanted, and she was overly thrilled, because it went exactly how she envisioned.

Kelly MacLean: 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 envisioned? Or what they spoke about with them, versus kind of just doing whatever they-

Shawn LaValleur-Adame: Right.

Kelly MacLean: Think is what you do in this situation?

Shawn LaValleur-Adame: Right. 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. I personally, even though I worked in the mortuary that I handled a lot of my loved ones through, I still felt kind of restricted, because we don’t normally offer that type of service, or just wasn’t something that nobody … No one at the time had discussed. So, I had to go through the regular types of services. Like, I really would have loved to have brought my brother home, and cared for him at home-

Kelly MacLean: Mmm.

Shawn LaValleur-Adame: And done a home funeral, prepared his body ourselves, and done the … That type of service, versus just having him in the refrigeration next to my office every day until disposition, which was kind of awkward-

Kelly MacLean: [laughs]

Shawn LaValleur-Adame: But also, at the same point, I knew that he was there-

Kelly MacLean: Yeah-

Shawn LaValleur-Adame: You know-

[00:15:00]

Kelly MacLean: It is kind of awkward, and weird, and at the same time, for those of us who’ve had brothers in someone else’s …

Shawn LaValleur-Adame: Right.

Kelly MacLean: Next to someone else’s office, it’s also a luxury, because at least you could be-

Shawn LaValleur-Adame: Right.

Kelly MacLean: Knowing what’s going on there. It’s not a mystery. For us it was like … No idea what this person looks … You know, particularly if the coroner is involved, like-

Shawn LaValleur-Adame: Right.

Kelly MacLean: I don’t know, you don’t meet the coroner, and make a connection-

Shawn LaValleur-Adame: Right.

Kelly MacLean: You don’t get a sense that they’re going to be particularly loving to, you know-


Shawn LaValleur-Adame: Right.

Kelly MacLean: So, really wonderful that you, you know, got to have that-

Shawn LaValleur-Adame: Right.

Kelly MacLean: Connection, and on the last podcast that we had on the show, somebody said … Which actually hasn’t gone out yet, but will … She said, “If I have one bit of advice, like, working with death: Make friends with a mortician.”

Shawn LaValleur-Adame: [laughs] Yeah.

Kelly MacLean: She’s a death writer.

Shawn LaValleur-Adame: Yeah-

Kelly MacLean: She’s a-

Shawn LaValleur-Adame: It definitely is good to have a director-

Kelly MacLean: Yeah.

Shawn LaValleur-Adame: In your back pocket.

Kelly MacLean: Yeah. That’s the real secret reason-

Shawn LaValleur-Adame: Right.

Kelly MacLean: We invited you over. [laughs]

Shawn LaValleur-Adame: [laughs] Right. Well, like when he, 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-

Kelly MacLean: Oh.

Shawn LaValleur-Adame: After having this paper work filled out, but being as I represented the mortuary, and was a licensed funeral director-

Kelly MacLean: Yeah.

Shawn LaValleur-Adame: I was able to just take him directly from the floor home. Well, not home, but to the holding facility. I wish I would have been able to bring him home.

Kelly MacLean: Yeah. Absolutely.

Shawn LaValleur-Adame: I had asked, but the … His wife didn’t want him at the house, unfortunately. She didn’t want to have, like so many people, they don’t want death around them, as if it’s somehow contagious, or-

Kelly MacLean: Yeah.

Shawn LaValleur-Adame: It’s going to contaminate their environment. So …

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

Shawn LaValleur-Adame: Right.

Kelly MacLean: At that point, the whole thing, you know, gives people the heebie jeebies, or maybe they just don’t know how to relate to it-

Shawn LaValleur-Adame: Right.

Kelly MacLean: Whereas in cultures that are more tribal, historically, around the world, you know, and cultures that have death happen more often at younger ages, right, with lower life expectancies-

Shawn LaValleur-Adame: Right.

Kelly MacLean: It’s pretty ordinary for the kids-

Shawn LaValleur-Adame: Right.


Kelly MacLean: And they might play next to the dead body-

Shawn LaValleur-Adame: Right.

Kelly MacLean: And they might, you know, ask questions, and have questions answered, and then when it comes around for them, there’s this kind of Lion King “circle of life” understanding-

Shawn LaValleur-Adame: Right.

Kelly MacLean: That we’ve robbed our children of.

Shawn LaValleur-Adame: Which a lot of times is the case, unfortunately. When my husband’s father had passed, he was kept from everything, even knowing that he 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-

Kelly MacLean: Oh, gosh.

Shawn LaValleur-Adame: Of that fact that they’re no longer coming back-

Kelly MacLean: As a child?

Shawn LaValleur-Adame: As a child.

Kelly MacLean: This happened as a child?

Shawn LaValleur-Adame: Right.

Kelly MacLean: Oh, that’s so-

Shawn LaValleur-Adame: Yeah.

Kelly MacLean: Sad.

Shawn LaValleur-Adame: And so, even having my brother pass … I don’t know why, but we sent one of his daughters home with the sister-in-law, and it was, maybe 20, 30 minutes before he actually left, and had she been there, I think it would have been more healing for her, because she could have physically touched him, and saw that he’s no longer in that vessel.

Kelly MacLean: Yep.

Shawn LaValleur-Adame: Yeah. I don’t know how she deals with it, and if she has any issues, to be honest, because as a whole, our family kind of had a falling out over my brother’s passing, but-

Kelly MacLean: That’s so sad to hear, and, you know, it’s sad, but also how common that is-

Shawn LaValleur-Adame: Right.

Kelly MacLean: You hear that a lot-

Shawn LaValleur-Adame: Right.

Kelly MacLean: And that’s also not to be discounted, because … Because we don’t know how to deal with death, it … When it does come up, it can be very divisive, and I know-

Shawn LaValleur-Adame: Right.

Kelly MacLean: With my friend, Jill, the death doula down the street, that’s why she got into it, was being close to a death that completely tore a family apart, and she thought, “This is not how-“

Shawn LaValleur-Adame: Yeah.

Kelly MacLean: “It needs to be.”

Shawn LaValleur-Adame: It shouldn’t be that way. I mean, people should embrace death. I mean, it’s the one for sure thing in our life. It’s our biggest event in our life, other than giving birth to a child, but …

Kelly MacLean: Sometimes the two go hand in hand. [laughs]

Shawn LaValleur-Adame: [laughs] Right. Yeah. But that was my main reason for going down now the path that I’m on, on training to become a death doula, or a midwifery service. I want to incorporate that into the funeral industry, and wanting the families, even 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, that they don’t take any negative thoughts, or feelings in with them, into the next life-

[00:20:00]


Kelly MacLean: Right.

Shawn LaValleur-Adame: Some people believe that, you know, this is it, this is all we have. Some people believe they go to Heaven, and everything’s honky dory there, or some people believe you come back in another life form-

Kelly MacLean: Mm-hmm.

Shawn LaValleur-Adame: And I believe anything is possible. Really, I’m not sure, and I really look forward to it-

Kelly MacLean: Mmm.

Shawn LaValleur-Adame: Kind of strangely, like-

Kelly MacLean: Yeah.

Shawn LaValleur-Adame: I have absolutely no fear of dying, and I … On one hand, I can’t wait, but I would love to in the meantime do as much as I can to change people’s perspective on the funeral industry, and dying, and that it’s not something to be hush-hush, and whisk the body away as soon as it’s passed. You know, we’re there-

Kelly MacLean: Mm-hmm.

Shawn LaValleur-Adame: When they’re born, we’re there when they’re young, we’re there when they’re ill, and in good health, and bad, and why not be there when they’ve passed? And take care of them in a manner you would if they would still be breathing? So …

Kelly MacLean: Right, and it’s … 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, I hadn’t been close to anyone … The snorts in the background are our special guest, Luna, the Chihuahua.

Shawn LaValleur-Adame: [laughs]

Kelly MacLean: Yeah. He … 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 anyway, and she was very old and sick, so it was it’s own thing, and this was the first, you know, really close death, and it was this car accident-

Shawn LaValleur-Adame: Oh.

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


Shawn LaValleur-Adame: Right.

Kelly MacLean: 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-

Shawn LaValleur-Adame: Right.

Kelly MacLean: I knew would make it so real, and it was just so unknown, and foreign to me. It scared the shit out of me. And my-

Shawn LaValleur-Adame: Yeah, I can imagine.

Kelly MacLean: And my mom was like, “This is just Andrew. This is just Andrew’s body, and you love Andrew, and you love Andrew’s body, and you’ve … You know, you’ve hugged this body many, many times, and you still love this body, and it’s, you know, it’s going to be different, and it’s also going to be the same.”


Shawn LaValleur-Adame: Right.

Kelly MacLean: And that really quelled my freak out. By the way, I was the only one in the family that was really freaked out-

Shawn LaValleur-Adame: Oh, really?

Kelly MacLean: On that level about seeing the body. And it was just totally fine, because it really was just him, you know? And it was also very disturbing, and … There were things that had been done to his body by the mortuary that were not … That were actually pretty disturbing. Like, they had sewn his lips up, and done a kind of sloppy job of it, and, like, that’s disturbing.

Shawn LaValleur-Adame: Yeah, yeah, yeah.

Kelly MacLean: And there had been an autopsy, and it hadn’t fully been-

Shawn LaValleur-Adame: Closed up.

Kelly MacLean: Like, the skull hadn’t been, so, there was like a distorted quality … They did later close it up, which was fine, but-

Shawn LaValleur-Adame: Right.

Kelly MacLean: But overall, it was kind of a profound realization to go, “Oh, it’s just … It’s actually just my loved one.”

Shawn LaValleur-Adame: Right.

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

Shawn LaValleur-Adame: Right. I also find that it’s kind of interesting that sometimes it helps you realize that you … Even though we are in these bodies, 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 is really cool-

Kelly MacLean: Yeah.

Shawn LaValleur-Adame: But when you see a loved one in that state, that is somewhat disfigured, and manipulated, you realize those things, I find that. You know, that … Yeah, that was their little vessel, but they’re no longer there. They’re no longer in that pain, that 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 that, you know, you still have a lot … A profound sense of respect for their vessel, but you also know that that’s all that it is, is a vessel for us.

Kelly MacLean: Yeah. Has that view developed, and deepened over years of working with bodies?

[00:25:00]

Shawn LaValleur-Adame: Yeah, and seeing them in different states of decomposition, and different, you know, circumstances of their death, and then going through the doula training, and realizing that they we are our soul, and that this is the vessel. That we should honor it, but there’s so much more than just this body, and that … 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 a whole difference when you go to the next life, or to your next journey, whatever you want to call it.

Kelly MacLean: Mm-hmm.

Shawn LaValleur-Adame: Yeah.

Kelly MacLean: Can you tell us a little bit about your vision for DIY Dying? That will be launching soon?

Shawn LaValleur-Adame: Well, I hope to help one person at a time, basically. I look 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, and then to assist the family with their own caretaking of their loved one within their home, and then once we’ve come up with the death certificate, and their final disposition, to then assist the family in having that come to fruition, whether it be a cremation, or a green burial, or a full body burial at sea.

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

Kelly MacLean: So, those are green burial?

Shawn LaValleur-Adame: For the green burial.

Kelly MacLean: Yeah.

Shawn LaValleur-Adame: Yeah. The competition in LA is very high for the green burial, because there’s only a few of us that are offering it, and then the price is just crazy at some of the cemeteries, so-

Kelly MacLean: So, yeah … Green burial is actually significantly more affordable, in general. And by the way, sea burial is a form of green burial, right?

Shawn LaValleur-Adame: It is. Yeah, yeah.

Kelly MacLean: If it’s done properly.

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

Kelly MacLean: Can you describe the shroud?

Shawn LaValleur-Adame: It’s just like any other shroud, basically. It’s like a canvass material.

Kelly MacLean: It’s white, usually?

Shawn LaValleur-Adame: Yeah, usually white. They do come in different colors. They do come in different shapes. I would assume different materials based on the coloring that you’re selecting. And then we would weight you down with either stones, or, like, little canon 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.

Kelly MacLean: Yeah.

Shawn LaValleur-Adame: Yeah.

Kelly MacLean: That’s so cool, and 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-

Shawn LaValleur-Adame: Sure.

Kelly MacLean: And lunar burial, and sea burial?

Shawn LaValleur-Adame: Right. Well, I … It’s not an option for everyone, and I’m not too positive right now on the name of what it’s called, but where you are laid out above ground, and you’re allowed to decompose naturally above ground. That I kind of dig, 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 Texas, or not Texas. Forgive me. Tennessee … The body farm, where-

[00:30:00]

Kelly MacLean: Right.

Shawn LaValleur-Adame: They do scientific research, but I’ve heard that there’s a … I think it’s in Oregon, where they allow you to do that kind of burial-

Kelly MacLean: Cool, and then there’s also a woman named Katrina Spade, in Seattle, is also working on “recomposition,” she calls it-

Shawn LaValleur-Adame: Yeah, recomposition. That would be another thing-

Kelly MacLean: With the wood chips-

Shawn LaValleur-Adame: Yeah.

Kelly MacLean: And then you basically decompose into soil, and the family gets the soil back.

Shawn LaValleur-Adame: Right, right, right, right.

Kelly MacLean: Yeah. That’s pretty amazing. And what about the volcano one? Also, never … I love this. It’s so wild.

Shawn LaValleur-Adame: Right. Well, you don’t actually go to the summit of the volcano, because it’s kind of dangerous, but you go somewhere up on the side of the mountain, or the volcano, rather, where there’s a safe enough point where you can scatter, and they do offer it in Hawaii. There isn’t like this crazy permit, or anything that you need to get. 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. I haven’t done it yet, but I did reach out to see if it would be possible, and I met a woman there that does do it, just as you can get scattered in the ocean in Hawaii as well. Just figured something else that’s different.

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


Kelly MacLean: Right.

Shawn LaValleur-Adame: Yeah.

Kelly MacLean: And then I heard you mention in the video, that you guys were featured on the news locally, and you mentioned doing Viking-

Shawn LaValleur-Adame: Right.

Kelly MacLean: Funerals. What’s the deal with that?

Shawn LaValleur-Adame: Okay-

Kelly MacLean: Did that become a reality?

Shawn LaValleur-Adame: No, it did not. I actually-

Kelly MacLean: [laughs] Shame!

Shawn LaValleur-Adame: Right.

Shawn LaValleur-Adame: And the reason it’s not a reality is because of the burning of the-

Kelly MacLean: Right. So, will you say what a Viking funeral is for those who may not know?

Shawn LaValleur-Adame: Sure. Well, what a Viking funeral would be is you’re laid out on a little wooden boat, so to speak, and then you’re out at sea, and 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-

Kelly MacLean: Pretty-

Shawn LaValleur-Adame: In a perfect world-

Kelly MacLean: Pretty cool.

Shawn LaValleur-Adame: 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 temperature. So, there’s other things to consider, like we were going to douse the body in a certain chemical that would burn it quicker, but like I said, in looking at the EPA’s website, I see that that’s just not possible right now, because of the restrictions on the fire, and the smoke, and-

Kelly MacLean: Ah.

Shawn LaValleur-Adame: The burning of unnatural things out at sea.

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

Shawn LaValleur-Adame: You know, I haven’t looked into that-

Kelly MacLean: Yeah.

Shawn LaValleur-Adame: But it could potentially be-

Kelly MacLean: Cause-

Shawn LaValleur-Adame: Which is maybe why they have the restrictions.

Kelly MacLean: Right, but then it’s really bad already cremating. Like, it’s-

Shawn LaValleur-Adame: Right.

Kelly MacLean: It’s a lot of carcinogens that you’re-

Shawn LaValleur-Adame: Right.

Kelly MacLean: Dumping out there. I think I heard one cremation is the equivalent to a road trip from LA to Boston, or something.

Shawn LaValleur-Adame: I wouldn’t doubt it. I wouldn’t doubt it. Yeah.

Kelly MacLean: And as it becomes more common, it’s quite a thing, but-

Shawn LaValleur-Adame: Right, but now we have the water cremation versus-


Kelly MacLean: Right.

Shawn LaValleur-Adame: Fire cremation, which is not at all as bad for the environment-

Kelly MacLean: Right.

Shawn LaValleur-Adame: So-

Kelly MacLean: And we have … It’s legal here in California now-

Shawn LaValleur-Adame: Right, right.

Kelly MacLean: But-

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

Kelly MacLean: Right. Probably in the future it’ll become more-

Shawn LaValleur-Adame: It’s more prevalent in the pet industry. Yeah-

Kelly MacLean: Right.

Shawn LaValleur-Adame: And the pet cremations.

Kelly MacLean: For little pets.

Shawn LaValleur-Adame: Right.

Kelly MacLean: Well, I for one hope that the Viking funeral happens, and that we figure that out, because that’s pretty-

Shawn LaValleur-Adame: Well, they do have in-

Kelly MacLean: Epic.

Shawn LaValleur-Adame: In Colorado, the outdoor cremations, where you’re put on a pyre, and you’re lit there-

Kelly MacLean: Yeah. My husband’s mother died of cancer when he was 20, and we had her … He and I were not together, but friends at the time, and they had her burned out doors-

Shawn LaValleur-Adame: Oh, wow.

Kelly MacLean: And it took many hours, and it was really sacred, and powerful-

Shawn LaValleur-Adame: Right.

Kelly MacLean: And much more meaningful.


Shawn LaValleur-Adame: Right. Right. I think that would be so cool to witness.

Kelly MacLean: Yeah.

Shawn LaValleur-Adame: Because when you’re at a crematory, you know, once the little chamber closes, you’re not really seeing the cremation take place.

Kelly MacLean: It’s pretty frickin’ unromantic.

Shawn LaValleur-Adame: Right.

Kelly MacLean: I mean, I …

Shawn LaValleur-Adame: Right.

Kelly MacLean: And then you think, “Should I stay for the whole time?” But then they’re like, “It’s going to be four hours, five hours.”

Shawn LaValleur-Adame: Right.

Kelly MacLean: So, you don’t really want to sit in a-

Shawn LaValleur-Adame: No.

Kelly MacLean: Very industrial-

Shawn LaValleur-Adame: Yeah. It’s usually in a very industrial environment.

Kelly MacLean: Back area, and the noise is intense-

Shawn LaValleur-Adame: And the heat is-

Kelly MacLean: And the heat is intense-

Shawn LaValleur-Adame: Yeah.

[00:35:00]

Kelly MacLean: And you’re like, “Should we go get brunch?” Like-

Shawn LaValleur-Adame: [laughs] Yeah. Usually they don’t let you stay, anyways-

Kelly MacLean: Ah.

Shawn LaValleur-Adame: You can witness the insertion of your loved one in-

Kelly MacLean: Right, which we did, and-

Shawn LaValleur-Adame: Yeah, 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 them going in, and then you’re asked to leave, basically.

Kelly MacLean: Right. Yeah. That’s what we did with my brother, Gregory, second brother who passed away this year-

Shawn LaValleur-Adame: Mmm.

Kelly MacLean: And actually that 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 area, where we had permission, I reached in, and the first … I was the first one to take a handful, and I got this-

Shawn LaValleur-Adame: Oh, wow.

Kelly MacLean: It’s a Dorje. So, it’s a Buddhist little iron sculpture-

Shawn LaValleur-Adame: Very cool.

Kelly MacLean: And it was pretty shocking-

Shawn LaValleur-Adame: Yeah. It’s interesting-

Kelly MacLean: [crosstalk 00:36:01] never burned.

Shawn LaValleur-Adame: That it was still in with the remains.

Kelly MacLean: Yeah.

Shawn LaValleur-Adame: Yeah.

Kelly MacLean: So, I, you know … It probably still has some of his ashes on it, and I was … I was like, “I got the cracker jack prize!”

Shawn LaValleur-Adame: Yeah. [laughs]

Kelly MacLean: [laughs]

Shawn LaValleur-Adame: You did.

Kelly MacLean: That just made me think of that.

Shawn LaValleur-Adame: Right. Usually we remove the metals out of the ashes-

Kelly MacLean: Right.

Shawn LaValleur-Adame: So, it’s odd that-

Kelly MacLean: You would think-

Shawn LaValleur-Adame: They would have left that there.

Kelly MacLean: I thought it was odd, too.

Shawn LaValleur-Adame: It was meant to be, though. I mean-

Kelly MacLean: It was.

Shawn LaValleur-Adame: That’s the coolest thing, that you were able to pull that out.

Kelly MacLean: It was, and it felt like a little communication from him, and-

Shawn LaValleur-Adame: Right, a little full circle [crosstalk 00:36:34], there.

Kelly MacLean: Yeah, and he had a kind of a … Twisted sense of humor, so-

Shawn LaValleur-Adame: Mmm.

Kelly MacLean: It felt like something that might happen-

Shawn LaValleur-Adame: [laughs]

Kelly MacLean: In the wake of his-

Shawn LaValleur-Adame: Right.

Kelly MacLean: Presence … But, yeah … If we could have done that not in an industrial setting, I really would have preferred it.

Shawn LaValleur-Adame: Right.

Kelly MacLean: It’s quite a weird … I mean, the hospitals are similar, right? When you’re dying-

Shawn LaValleur-Adame: Right, right. They are. Yeah. And that’s the unfortunate thing, is this is such a special moment in a lot of people’s lives, that when designing a funeral home with a crematory, that they don’t consider that aspect, and think about the environment that the chambers are in, so that it could be more welcoming, and more … Therapeutic, versus you feel like you are in an industrial area, and you just kind of 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-

Kelly MacLean: Oh.

Shawn LaValleur-Adame: Preserve, and I want to 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 to that nature, but to make it a park for people to come and go, and to know that people are buried here, and that makes it even more special, you know, and hopefully in doing that I can maybe design a mortuary with a crematory on the property to facilitate everything for the families-

Kelly MacLean: That’s beautiful.

Shawn LaValleur-Adame: For those that want to be cremated, as well as buried.

Kelly MacLean: And as a doula, it’s your vision also to be able to be there with the person as they die-

Shawn LaValleur-Adame: Right.

Kelly MacLean: And help with the funeral planning, and then have it be like a one stop shopping-

Shawn LaValleur-Adame: Yeah, one stop-

Kelly MacLean: Last stop shopping. [laughs]

Shawn LaValleur-Adame: Last … [laughs] There you go. Last stop shopping. Yeah.

Kelly MacLean: You can use that.

Shawn LaValleur-Adame: Oh, that’s a good one. I hadn’t thought of it. Yeah. So, the DIY is just that. It’s either, you know, some people can look at it as design it yourself, or do it yourself, and-

Kelly MacLean: Yeah.

Shawn LaValleur-Adame: 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 yeah, I can file the death certificate for them, so they don’t have to do that tedious aspect of it, or the transportation, if necessary … The legalities for them, but everything else I hope to be able to give them the power, and the knowledge, and the understanding that it’s … Everything … Anything is possible, and everything is okay.

Kelly MacLean: I love that. Cool. Well, you can do that for me should that happen too soon. [laughs] That sounds pretty good.

Shawn LaValleur-Adame: [laughs] Yeah, not anytime soon.

Kelly MacLean: Hopefully not … But that sounds like-

Shawn LaValleur-Adame: Right.


Kelly MacLean: Really something I would wish for a loved one. Yeah. That’s exactly the kind of experience I would want.

Shawn LaValleur-Adame: Right.

Kelly MacLean: Because it’s hard enough, right?

Shawn LaValleur-Adame: Yeah.

Kelly MacLean: Even with everything going beautifully-

Shawn LaValleur-Adame: Right.

Kelly MacLean: And with so much meaning, and ceremony infused to it-

Shawn LaValleur-Adame: Right.

Kelly MacLean: Still sucks. Still devastating. I mean, it’s also … It’s also magical, beautiful time, but-

Shawn LaValleur-Adame: Right.

Kelly MacLean: Still really hard, so-

Shawn LaValleur-Adame: Right.

Kelly MacLean: Why not create the most beautiful, easy way to do deal with it? So-

Shawn LaValleur-Adame: Right.

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

Shawn LaValleur-Adame: Thank you.

Kelly MacLean: Yeah.

Shawn LaValleur-Adame: Yeah.

[00:40:00]

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

Shawn LaValleur-Adame: 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 that they can do a green burial of some sort for me, given wherever I may pass, if it’s in California, or if I have to move somewhere else to find my land to preserve-

Kelly MacLean: Yeah.

Shawn LaValleur-Adame: 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 green burial, or full body burial at sea. So, one or the other.

Kelly MacLean: Hmm. Beautiful.

Shawn LaValleur-Adame: Yeah.

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

Shawn LaValleur-Adame: [laughs]

Kelly MacLean: So, double points. [laughs]

Shawn LaValleur-Adame: Thank you. Totally forgot about that appointment.

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

Shawn LaValleur-Adame: Wonderful. Thank you for having me.

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