Processed: death resources and a little inspiration

I am just about to head off on a much anticipated adventure to South Carolina (and Savannah!), and I have a ton of open tabs here on the ol’ MacBook so clearly it’s time to download.

Since I last blogged my time has been spent focusing on art and death. I’m working with a ton of amazing people to build an event called the Festival of Life and Death, and my job is to lead the Arts programming team. Go me! So, lots of research, and I’m still falling down rabbit holes, but now at least all of those rabbit holes have something in common. And it’s fascinating!

First up, I’m super inspired by the folks at the Groundswell Project. This is not the first time that I’ve wished Australia was closer so I could activate some awesome collaborations. Australians seem, on the whole, to be much more aware of quality of life issues than we are in the states. When I was doing programs and survey research for the nonprofit organization I founded a few years ago, I ran across studies and agencies and all sorts of people who were deeply concerned with figuring out ways to enhance people’s quality of life. I love that. The Groundswell Project is working to erase the stigma surrounding death as a topic, and a lot of that work is through events and interactive art projects. Awesome stuff!

The Get Your Shit Together site has been on my radar for a while, and I’m thinking I’d like to host a gathering sometime this fall for people interested in Getting Their Shit Together in a group setting. The site helps you put all of your affairs in order, so that if the worst thing happens and you are in a coma or have died, your partner or parents or friends aren’t on the spot, trying to figure out what bills to cancel, whether or not you had life insurance, and how you’d like to be memorialized, all through their tears. The story of the woman who set up the whole GYST thing is really sad, and very much illustrates why it is so important to GYST now, while you’re still perfectly healthy. Nobody wants to burden their loved ones with having to sift through the detritus of their lives while grieving.

While the GYST website is very much DIY, there are other resources out there that can be really helpful to people with some money to spend. One that I find particularly interesting is Everest, which seems to be partnered with quite a few big life insurance companies, although it looks like individuals without life insurance can still use their services. The easiest way to understand what Everest does is to think of them like a death concierge service. When a loved one dies, you can call them and they will pretty much walk you through every step of the funeral process. They’ll help you find a funeral home, select what sort of service you want, compare prices, that sort of thing. Still, having your shit together prior to that is still key, and if you pre-plan with a funeral home you can bypass the need for Everest. It’s nice to know what options are available, though. People come at death differently.

I think that the best possible scenario is to get your shit together, pre-plan your funeral, and then go to this great site I found called EverPlans and store all of your critical information there. Everplans pretty much acts as an online safe for all of the important information you generate as you get your shit together. They allow you to designate “deputies” who will be brought into your circle and informed about how to access your EverPlan if you die. It looks like a really secure site, too, which is important because pretty much your whole life will be living in there and it would beyond suck if a hacker got a hold of that info.

Okay, so all of this is great info as far as funeral arrangements and taking the burden off of loved ones, but what about the nitty gritty? What about right after the fact? If you die in a terrible accident or in the hospital or a nursing home, the coroner is either on the scene or the staff of the facility knows what to do once the life has left you. But what if you die at home?

According to a CHCF survey of Californians conducted in late 2011, 70% of those surveyed said they would prefer to die at home. However, of deaths in California in 2009, 32% occurred at home, 42% in a hospital, and 18% in a nursing home*. Clearly a large majority of people would rather die at home than in an institution, but there’s a disconnect. People are not getting what they wish for. A lot of that has to do with the way the healthcare system works, as outlined in this great New York Times article that came out yesterday. But let’s say you get your wish and die at home, in your own cozy bed. Who does your loved one call once you’ve passed? Well, I’ll tell you one thing right now in case you don’t feel like clicking through to the articles: don’t call 911! Not unless you want to watch them perform CPR on your loved one’s lifeless body. No, at the very least you have to get a death certificate, so you’ll need to call a doctor (if you want to do a home funeral), or a funeral home (if you want their staff to take care of the washing, preparing, and storing of the body until the service). There are a couple of good little articles about what to do immediately after someone dies at home, so I’ll just leave the links here and here.

As a finisher – a little palate cleanser, if you will, since that last topic was pretty heavy – I’ll leave you with two articles. One is about American attitudes towards death that I found very interesting, and another is one that got passed around quite a bit a while ago but is still very valuable: the Top 5 Regrets of the Dying. That’s not as much of a downer as it sounds; think of it instead as your call to action to go out and make sure that you don’t lie on your own deathbed with those same regrets. It’s never too late to change your life!

That’s it for me, time to pack for my trip. If you want to see some amazing photos of the Bonaventure Cemetery (featured in Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil), which I will be visiting next week, please follow me on Instagram. I’m @wanderingwonton.

*More here:




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