Lets Talk About Death & Dying with Caitlin Doughty

The whole point of this
is we need to talk about important subjects, as a community, as individuals, as human beings, so, this is the second one. Because death happens to all of us. Now, I’m gonna disclose for those of you who don’t know, that between the time we started planning this program and today, my husband died, after a brief five day illness, that was totally unexpected. So, we really need to talk. Because, I get it now firsthand, about why it’s so important. It is not something to be avoided. It is something that we have to discuss. So, that’s today. If there’s sufficient interest, we’re gonna try to get Caitlin back, because I hate to say it, a bunch of us are like
Caitlin groupies, right? How many of you have read Smoke Gets in Your Eyes, raise your hand. That’s like the best
audience participation ever. It’s an amazing book, and I read it, I read it when it was new actually. I don’t even know how I found it. Whatever. I lucked into it, I read it, it’s a brilliant book, and it’s really an important book, and it’s important, I
think, for all of us. And if you haven’t read it, read it. There will be copies on
sale, after her program. Our friends from Avid Reader are here, selling the book, and she is available to sign a copy, if you wish to buy one. So, we hope you do that. Otherwise, check it out at the library. Download it. That’s what we’re here for, okay? That’s what we do. And I also, we’ve launched a website called let’s talk Sacramento, and
it’s actually hooked on to our website, and you wouldn’t know it has a different name,
and it’s got resources. For people to have these conversations. I mean, I’m not trying to be Monty Python Meaning of Life on you, if you’ve seen that movie, where they
go into the restaurant Oh, Kierkegaard! It’s not about that. It’s just about, using
resources in your community to make your life better, which is what I believe the library exists to do. It’s our purpose and mission. So, that’s why we’re doing this. We’re still figuring out how to do it. So bear with us. We want to take questions,
so I may interrupt our speakers, and say,
let’s have a question, and give the audience time. And I’m gonna be running around with the microphone, so I hope that’s okay. And, so now! Survey. Please fill out the survey. You do not need to say the date, the time, or the location, because
we know where you are. And we’ll take care of that. We’ll collect these afterwards, but we really would appreciate
your thoughts on today’s program, so that’s the survey. So now, with no further ado, let me get to the introductions. And I’ll move aside,
because there’s not exactly a step here. Alright, so Caitlin, there’s Caitlin! (audience clapping) Caitlin Dotty! Right? I’ve been calling you
Dough-tee, but it’s Doh-tee. Caitlin Dotty is of course, the best selling author of
Smoke Gets in Your Eyes, and Other Lessons from the Crematory. And, how many of you have visited her YouTube Channel, Order of the Good Death. Love it! And, she’s a licensed funeral director, mortician in Los Angeles. And she has her own
alternative funeral home, Undertaking LA. And, of course, (audience laughs) It’s pretty funny, it’s it? – Thank you. – It’s true, it’s pretty funny. And links to all of this information and a whole lot more is at
letstalksacremento.org, because, remember I told
you about the website, letstalksacremento.org. So, that’s Caitlin, we’re so excited. Like I said, we’re all
Caitlin groupies here. So, we’re very excited that she’s here. And, Jenny Ebinger, is… (audience clapping) come on Jenny! Jenny is an active law
enforcement chaplain and she does this as a volunteer for Plaster county, and she’s been doing it for more than ten years. And, she insists, assists
law enforcement officers by caring for victims
of tragedies and crimes. So, it’s pretty tough work that she does. For the huge pay of being a volunteer. Just want to tell you a
couple of other things about Let’s Talk. We have a Hemingway Exhibit coming up in July, we’ll have a program called: Could Hemingway Get Published Today? I think it’s gonna be really fun. And if you would please sign up for our newsletter, we actually have a newsletter at letstalksacremento.org, so if you haven’t signed
up for that, please do. We occasionally get really interesting and really profound authors, like today. We, you know, we wanna know what you wanna talk about, that’s the other piece of this. Because I think it’s important. I’ve already have some suggestions for next year, that actually scare me a whole heck of a lot more than death, okay? I’m just gonna be honest, but we’re going to have those conversations. Truly, email let’s talk at saclibrary.org and tell us what you think
we need to talk about because, we are you, this is your house. We are your library,
we wanna do it for you. And, we wanna make sure
we’re addressing issues that you think are
important to our community. So, go for it. Have fun, like I said, we
don’t know what we’re doing, so, I’m gonna jump up
occasionally and grab the microphone and have you raise your hand. Thank you so much! Welcome our guests, please! (audience clapping) – Okay. Well first, can you hear
me on this microphone? Okay. I think you should have it where it’s a surprise what we’re gonna talk about, so you have like, I
would have to talk about racism and someone else would have to talk about death. I don’t want you to actually do that. That sounds terrifying. – I have one more thing! – Okay. – Sorry, sorry, I forgot! You may have noticed we’re filming today. And because we’re gonna
be running around in the audience filming, if you really don’t wanna be on camera, just lean down and tie your shoe, make sure. We are a limited public forum, so move out of the range of the camera, if you really do not want to be on film, otherwise, please join us, and hey, if you’re in the back and wanna come a little closer, there are some seats up here, if you’re okay, great. – In the splash zone. Come on up! – They wanna know if
they can take pictures? – Yeah, I’m fine with taking pictures. – I’m fine with that. – If you get a picture
of me though, and I’m like, maybe don’t post that one on your Instagram? Maybe try again, because I’m just sitting here. Just a personal preference, thank you. Great, well thank you so much for coming, I live and work in Los
Angeles, so I had to get up very early this morning to come here, so if I get a little loopy at any time, someone in the audience just go like that. – Although, I’ve seen some of your videos, I think you’re loopy anyway. (audience laughs) – Yeah. Oh, coming for me hard, right away! Jenny, geez! Just ’cause you work with death. I would love to hear, we
were talking downstairs about what it is you actually do, and I would be really
interested in hearing a little bit more about that, because I think that’s
really fascinating and a much harder job than what I have. Which is when there’s a tragedy, you go in with law enforcement,
to the actual crime scene, to work with the family. And how does that
usually, do you get a call in the middle of the night, how does that work? – Sometimes. Has anybody ever experienced
having a chaplain? A few, you have? Typically, what we do
is, when law enforcement gets a call for any
kind of a death that is, weather it is accidental, at home, or homicide, suicide, stuff like that. What they’ll do, if
there’s a lot of family that’s involved, they will call the chaplaincy, and ask us to show up on scene with them. Sometimes we’re actually the ones who have to do the death notifications. But we always have a
law enforcement officer with us at the time. And then what we do is,
we actually work with the family members, make
sure that we can get them stable, get people around them, that helps support them, until, so that we can go ahead and leave. Some of the things that we’ll do is we’ll actually sit down and talk with them about different plans for them. Explain the process of, if somebody has died at home, the reason why we will allow them to release
the body to the family, versus whether or not they have to go to the morgue at the time. So, we do that, and then we also ride with law enforcement officers. And we’ll be part of homicides and suicides and things like that. And a lot of time, I’ll also be there for the officers, because, for their mental health as well. We’re working with the people on scene. – So, since this is a
let’s talk about program, I know you want us to focus on, what can happen if you don’t talk about death. Maybe we should each share a horror story. Of when people haven’t talked about it, and something has gone wrong. So, I have a whole, long list of these, but one just from this week, at my funeral home, is that we had a gentleman
who was indigent, which means he was homeless, essentially, and he passed away, and we got the call to take care of him. And he has eight brothers and sisters scattered all across the country. No parents, so his next of kin are just his eight brothers and sisters. Some of them live in like, the backwoods of Kentucky, some of them live in Canada, some of them live in Texas and we can’t perform a cremation, legally, until the majority of siblings not only agree on what we’re
gonna do with the body, but sign the proper paperwork. And these people don’t have fax machines, or if they do they don’t
know how to use them. As we have discovered, and the family has gotten really frustrated. And it’s totally understandable. And you have to work with people through these logistics, and
really one of the least glamorous parts of our job is the awful soul-sucking paperwork
that goes with a death. Because, I don’t wanna say the fun part, because no part of death is fun, but, being able to lay out the body, and have the family come in and really experience something,
either with the dead body, or to view the cremation, or to be there actually digging the grave for the burial, there’s something there that’s beautiful, that’s transformative. There’s nothing beautiful
and transformative about state of California
logistical paperwork. And, you don’t want to be doing that after someone dies. And if you can have a
way to figure this out, and there are such simple
things that you can do. But, we were talking
earlier about how terrified people are, that if they do it in advance, they’re calling death upon themselves. – That’s so true. – But I was just talking
to someone about this last night, if talking and thinking about death called it towards you, I wouldn’t have any friends or family left. Because this is what I
do all day every day. And nobody is dying at a
quicker rate around me. They’re not dropping like flies. So, that must mean,
from empirical evidence, that that’s not actually how it happens. Do you have a similar, I’m sure you have even more stories of unprepared people. – Well, I was sharing one with you downstairs that, people who have family members who are in Hospice, and the thing that I think was the hardest for me was, that one of my very first
calls, I went on a call and the woman had her husband at home. And he had been in
Hospice for several weeks, and he was definitely going to be dying very quickly, and when
I got there, she said I was, I’m taken aback. And he’d been diagnosed
being sick for like, six months, and so she knew it was coming, she wasn’t even prepared. She said, I don’t even know what to do. So, that was hard for
me, here you’re dealing with somebody who is, is in Hospice, and they didn’t know what to do. So, I know one of the
things you talk about, all of the different
paperwork that they have to do, but planning
prior to it is important. But what I’ve loved about working with the people at the mortuary is that you guys are very good about being able to guide them through different things that they are going to need as well. So, it’s not daunting for them at that point. – Yeah. We try to be. And, so, part of what
I do, some of you may know this, some of you may not, something that’s really what my
funeral home is about, is family being involved
in the death care. So, as much as a family wants to be involved, we allow them to be involved. The one thing that I wouldn’t actually recommend a family doing is filing the death certificate. Because in California, we’re all on an electronic system, and
it’s near impossible to do, if you’re family. So, if you’re gonna pay a funeral home a couple of hundred dollars to do anything, that’s what I would recommend. – I would recommend that too, definitely. – Which is a shame, you
should be able to just trundle on down to your
local health department, and hand it in. But the doctor needs to sign it, the doctor needs to fax it in, it’s just a really overtly technological, but also antiquated system at the same time. But yeah, I’m very into
family involvement, what I tell people is that you have to really think about what you can’t have, anything you really
want to do that’s really meaningful and involved, usually can’t be a surprise. You know, when someone is actually dead, you can’t be like, you know what? I think I’m just going to have a magical home funeral, because you wouldn’t have done what you needed to do to prepare for that. So, everything is about
pre-planning, I think. And it’s never too soon to start. I see some very young
people in this room today, probably because I am a young person, my funeral home gets
a lot of young people. Because their friends have heard about me or what I do. So, we actually have a
pretty depressing case list, at the moment, of who we– – Or conversation. – Yeah, or conversation,
of who we handle, because young people are coming to us, and that’s, of course, the hardest thing to do, but by coming to us, the family is really saying to us, we want to be more involved. And by more involved I mean, they can actually keep the body at home. They can wash the body, dress the body, be involved in that way. They can come to the
cremation, if they want. They can help dig the grave, out at a natural cemetery. And, people don’t really realize how much power they have around death care. – I agree with that, one of the things I love is that when I
go come into a family that has it all planned out, the stress level is different too. You know, when you have
somebody who is dying or just having a conversation
with your family, saying how you want to,
what your wishes are. It takes that stress
off of your loved ones, who are having to make those plans. And so, I’ve gone on scenes where people have actually had everything planned out. Whoever was dying told their family, how they wanted to die, how they wanted to be buried, what kind
of service they wanted, they had everything laid out for them. They knew exactly where, like, life policies, some of them even had funerals already arranged
and already paid for. And that alone is so phenomenal, because the people that are
left behind are the ones who are having to suffer through all that stress and stuff. So you kinda have to
alleviate all of that. – That is such a good
point, so you can have, when I do arrangement, you have two daughters and their mother is dying, you can have two daughters and their mother is dying and they haven’t done anything, and they come into arrange a funeral with you, and it’s just all tension and weird interaction and family dynamics that I’m not aware of. And then you have two daughters who have talked with their mother before she died, and they’re just sitting their chatting, like we’re at coffee or something. And they’re like, Tibetan sky burial? What’s that all about? You know? Like, I heard that you can have like decomposition, how do you decompose in space, we’re just interested. (audience laughs) Because they have that kind
of room in their brain, I guess is how I would describe it, they have room to just
be curious and involved and present because they’re not in hyper freaked out, what are we gonna do, are you gonna leave mom
on the side of the street if I don’t sign this paper mode. Which, of course, nobody is going to do. But your brain goes there
if you’re not prepared because you’re so freaked out. I also realize to, that when those things aren’t taken care of prior, it’s funny what death will do to a family, and the different
personalities that come out. And, you think everybody is getting along, and you find out that, you know, not everybody is getting along, and sometimes putting that together actually helps alleviate a lot of that. – It’s like herding cats, to try to get them to agree on something. – Yes, it is, everybody has a different perspective of how they
want it to be done. And a lot of times they do it because they want it that way, but they don’t know what a parent or the person who died wanted to have. – You said that you had an experience with your family that was kind of, do you feel comfortable talking– – Oh, I’ve had several. – Oh, okay. (laughs) – To be honest, well
you know, being in this field, I would say in the last ten years, it has really put a perspective for me. Because I’ve actually on scenes, with people who have no plans, they’re not prepared at all. And, I’ve had these conversations with my kids all the time. Every time I travel I tell my kids, this is where my trust
is, this is where my life insurance policy is,
this is what I want done, this is who to call. So, my daughter rolls her
eyes every time I leave to go on a trip, because I say, okay, I’ve moved the life insurance policy, it’s over here, to me, it’s important. So, my sister, who died about almost five years ago, I always talked to her about doing life insurance, because I do this as a volunteer thing, but I also am in insurance. To me, it was important for her to have life insurance policy because she was a single mom, and she had two girls, that she had, that she was raising. And she told me, I don’t wanna do it. Because if I get a life
insurance policy, I’ll die. – Not, how it works. – Uh-huh, and she died. And she had no life insurance policy. And I ended up raising her children. So, to me, it’s like, we sit there and we think about that, you know, but we really do need to remember that once we’re gone we’re gone. It’s the people who are left behind that have to actually
deal with all of that. – Yeah, don’t think about
your own discomfort, think about the absolute poop show, this is the library so
I won’t use the word I wanna use, but, poop show, left behind– – Yes. – For your friends, and your family, and your husband, and your
mother, and whoever it is. And my mother has been a really hard nut to crack on this. She’s still alive, but she really takes care of all of the bills, all of the logistics for my father. If he dies, first, going to be tragic, but, probably okay. If she dies first, I’m just gonna have to move home. That’s it. I’m an only child, like, he’s not gonna, he doesn’t know how to pay, his cellphone is only for butt-dialing me, that’s all he knows how to do, he doesn’t know how to use a computer, he knows how to turn on MSNBC and watch Rachel Maddow, that’s all he knows how to do. So, I’m gonna have to move home. And, when you put it in stark terms, and be prepared to be rejected the first time you come to your
parents, or your spouse, or your sister, whoever it is. Because they’re gonna
go, ew, that’s morbid. Or, ew, that’s weird, you’re bringing death upon our houses, by doing this, so you really have to keep coming back and believe in yourself, I guess? So, it sounds kind of cheesy, but believe in the importance of doing it, because if you don’t have that belief, you’ll just crumble under it, you’ll think, maybe I am morbid, maybe I am weird, maybe I shouldn’t be
having this conversation. No, no, you’re the sane one. You’re the sane one,
you’re the rational one, you’re the one who’s
figuring things out for your family, and just be that person, and be proud of being that person. Because that will shore you up, emotionally through the
rejections you experience. From people around you. – I have a question for you, though. As, is the job that you do, does it every take a toll on you? – Sure, yeah. As I said, we, in the
past couple of months, our cases have just been one more depressing than the next. It’s sort of like, could we just get a lovely 92 year old woman in Hospice, just once? You know, we’re getting
a lot of younger people, a lot of tragic deaths, and it does take a toll, especially when you’re dealing, we dealt recently with a girl who was an artist exactly my age. Who had brain cancer, and
was just gone in a month. From a totally vibrant vegan, you know, living her life out loud, to dead, in a month. And, it’s someone who you talk to her, and you talk to her fiancee, and you’re like, oh, we could have been friends. Like, very easily could have been friends. And I met some of her friends, who could have also been my friends, and it just felt so real. So, when you have situations, especially when they reflect back on you, I know that a lot of funeral directors who have children, I don’t have children, but if they have children, working on a child, is the thing that reflects
most harshly for them. Whereas working with
children is difficult for me, but I don’t have quite the same connection to it. – It’s the transference that we take on. – Yeah, oh, absolutely. – It’s how we’re able to
relate to those people. – And you can build the proper walls, but it’s impossible to completely do that. – And you just have to really take care of yourself, and really learn what it is that helps you to stay with it. – I know that with me, it’s funny, because when I go out on scenes, and I’m dealing with, you know, somebody who’s died at home, I find that, I can do really well, because I don’t have a connection with that person. And, I, I realize that the minute I start hearing family members stories,
you start listening to how they loved that person, or things that they did, and all of a sudden that
person gets real to you. So, if you only had to
deal with the science side of it, it’s good, because
you don’t have those connections and it’s, you know, you’re just doing your thing. But, when they come in, and they start telling you stories, it’s hard not to connect sometimes. And then you take on those emotions. – The message is to never
take on any stories, learn nothing. – So true. – There’s actually, a really fascinating program that I’m learning about now. So, you know, in medical school, they do autopsies, but, anatomy work, on dead bodies, so, they’ll get a cadaver at the beginning of their medical school career and over the course of the year, they’ll slowly dissect it to learn. And people donate their
bodies for this purpose. And traditionally, in medical schools, it’s been, you know, it’s been Jane Doe Number Five, Bob Johnson Number Two, completely anonymous cadavers with maybe a napkin over their face. And so, it’s been really
easy for the medical students to get further and further away from the understanding of this person as a person. And, there’s accounts from medical school of saying really tacky things around the body, and pretty disparaging things, and kind of making fun of the body, and it’s this weird place where they’re trying to deal with death, but also having to dehumanize this person. So, there’s this one medical school, affiliated, it’s the
University of Indiana, and, what they’re doing now, at the beginning of the year, they’re inviting their cadaver families in to meet all the medical students. They bring in pictures, they bring in home videos, they have a potluck, and they talk about… And it serves two purposes, one, to completely give a back story and life to this cadaver, and second, to try to train our medical professionals to be able to talk about death better with families. So, it’s kinda the first– – They’re working on the bedside manner. – Working on the bedside manner, exactly. So, it’s really the first
talk they have to have with the family, about death. Which I think is really, really brilliant. – Yeah, and I notice that,
with being in this field, whether it’s you, or law enforcement, or even chaplains, we tend to get a kind of quirky sense of humor. – You mean the gallows humor? – Yes. And it’s sad, but it’s out of necessity, to be able to function, and to be able to keep ourselves from going into that dark spot in our head, you know? And sometimes, we have
to do it by laughing, or joking around, because that’s what helps us to survive. You know, with the things that we are dealing with all of the time. So. – You ready from a question from our people here? – Sure. – Anybody have a question? – He had one. – [Male Audience Member] You had mentioned about being disconnected, with the body, and then, the next conversation was getting the medical professionals involved with family, isn’t there a conflict with that? – Yeah, I wasn’t serious when I said you should complete disconnect yourself from the, there’s that gallows humor of mine! Yeah, no, I think that it really, especially, I think
with the medical school, working on something long-term, it’s easy, for me, every time I get a new body, everything is so fresh,
the family is there, I’ve met them, it’s hard to have that disconnection. Whereas, even if I wanted to, even if either of us wanted to. That disconnection is just not possible. I mean, there is, you see it happening, I mean, you hear horror
stories, there are 24 bodies in a basement of a funeral home. Or, 100 sets of cremated remains that nobody has picked up. And you have to just
think, okay, that person has just been pushed so far, and has so little help for themselves, that they’ve had to completely shut down. But, I don’t think either
of us are in that place. And you really just,
you learn to balance it. So, I think it’s, it’s a balance between sympathy but controlling your empathy, if that makes since? So, seeing a family and saying, and having as much sympathy for them as you possibly can, and doing everything you can to help them. But empathy is really being able to put yourself in their shoes
and take everything on. And you can’t go too deep into that. Because you just lose
your mind fairly quickly. Or, do as most funeral professionals do, within five years of
starting, which is quit. Yeah, cause they can’t do it. – Okay. – [Male Audience Member
#2] So, I guess I’m interested in the sort of
flip side of that question. So, not so much the habits of mind that you two, as people who work
with death all the time. You were talking earlier about the process of bureaucratic paperwork
preparing for death, you know, don’t have to deal with the form on day one, sort of stuff. And I’m curious about the broader piece of that, do you find that there are habits of mind in families that are successfully dealing, especially with unexpected deaths? That happen more successful, that serve as a cultural, or sort of personal matter, that make more sense for folk to something I guess. – Let me make sure I
understand your question, is it how we’ve seen
unexpected death handled well? – [Male Audience Member
#2] Yeah, I supposed, I’m interested in, you talked about the,
not quite detachment, but you were talking about the need for sympathy rather than empathy, say, something something chaplain, but the family is experiencing death, what have been more successful habits of mind, you know is it stoicism, how do people do well? – Sure, do you have any thoughts on that or do you want me to…? – I’m still formulating that one. – Okay, sure, I’ll just start… Oh, sure, if you have something right now. – I actually do, because my husband died, fairly suddenly, and it wasn’t like we were morbid, we talked a lot, and we, because we have a daughter. We lost our son when he was 27, very suddenly, our daughter, you know, we consciously made the decision, you know, we’re putting together a trust, we’re
gonna have all this laid out I know exactly what I want. And we talked about it, all the time. And we had advanced directives, and it was all there, and so when he was hospitalized on December 30th, I was able to go home and get the advanced directive, because he promised, I took care of all the paperwork, he was supposed to give it to Kaiser and he never did. I went home, got it, we were able to have that conversation, and then after he died five days later,
we knew what he wanted. And so, while we’re
dealing with all of this, and it wasn’t like he was a young, young man, and it was sudden, he was in his 70s, but he was very robust. It just made it easier to know, here’s the road map, all I have to do is go straight here, and then do this, and then do that. And it’s been remarkably easy to sort of cope with all of that. Because grieving is
different for every person, and going through that part is you know, you’re dealing with a lot and I have a job, and it may be the best job in Sacramento, but still, you have to kind of compartmentalize things, and I think when you’ve had the conversation over and over beforehand, you’re able to do that compartmentalize, I don’t know what other word to use, compartmentalization, and move forward in a way that, it feels healthy for me, whether or not people think I’m weird is a different story, if they think I’m weird
anyway, so that’s okay. – I would actually say, you know, we can’t actually plan for a death, sometimes when you lose a child suddenly, or a parent that suddenly
hasn’t been sick, that conversation hasn’t been said, I think a lot of times,
people are in shock. And, they don’t know what to do. And I think it’s important for, like, when we go on calls like
that, we try to help them figure out what their next step is. Because, they’re not in that capacity to make those decisions yet. But also to be able to find friends and family that may have gone through something like that, because you even had mentioned that you had a friend who helped you, and being able to help somebody who’s already gone through it, who may be able to help you make those decisions, or give you ideas of how to handle things, because I mean, you know, sometimes death happens and we just don’t expect it,
period, you know, so. – And people around you want to help so bad, when something like that happens. And rely on them. I will say something a little, I guess, personal, which is a way that my life has changed, as far as I deal with grief in bad situations now. Which is that I really believe that the only way out is through. And sometimes that means
when something happens unexpected and it’s difficult, whether it’s in your personal life or in someone you love dies, just like belly flopping in the mud and crawling out of it, is the only way. Because you can float on the top for a little while, but eventually you’re going to sink. Because another phrase
I love is grief waits. Which is so sinister and so true. – [Jenny] Very true. – Because there’s nobody
who skips over grief. I mean, maybe it’s
possible for some people, but for most of us normal,
functioning humans, grief will absolutely wait. And, it’s easier to kick start the process if you get right into it right away when the whole thing starts. And allow yourself to go dark. Allow yourself to not be strong. Allow yourself to get into the muck of the grief right away. If you’re in shock, and you can’t, that’s okay, but as
soon as it does come up, don’t just like, push it down, push it down, I’m not
gonna deal with this. Just get in there, and start. Because it resolves itself quicker. It’s like pulling off a band-aide, just get in there and start and it may last months, it may last weeks, whatever it is. But you’ve gotten in
there, and you’ve started. And, that would be my
best advice for someone who had an unexpected death. I think. – [Rivkah] Question, okay, I think you had your hand up. – [Female Audience
Member] I read your book. – Thank you. – [Female Audience
Member] You’re incredible. – Thank you. – [Female Audience Member] Anyways– – You’re incredible as well. – [Female Audience Member] Oh, thank you. – I like your dress. – Thank you. So can you talk about the value of being with someone who’s died, from their death, until burial, and also, I wanted to know if you have any stories of any children who have been helpful in preparing a body, you know, maybe it was their grandma, or their parent, or even a friend, or something like that, or brother or sister. – I love children preparing bodies. That’s my favorite thing. I guess I have a different set of favorite things than most people. I like chocolates, puppies, children preparing bodies, yes. So as far as the value of the dead body. So, I think the value of the dead, being with the actual physical corpse, and I use the word corpse because that’s what it is. It’s not your loved one. I mean it is, it is someone you loved, but it’s also a corpse, I think it’s three fold. The first thing, is when you just take the time to really sit with the dead body, three things kind of shift. First thing, is that you realize that this person is no
longer here anymore. Because things definitely
physically happen when someone dies. They go down to room temperature, their eyes start to sink. If you keep them there for a day or two, you may start to see some smells. And what you definitely realize is that this person has left the building. They are gonzo, and whether you believe they have gone someplace else, is up to your personal beliefs, but, they’re gone. So you really get that, and you start to understand that. Second thing, is you look at this body and you’re like, oh right, I’m gonna die. This is gonna be me, someday. And I have to start thinking about how I’m living my life, because this is gonna be me. And the third thing, which someone brought up to me recently, which I think is so profound, is that you can also use that time to grieve all of the other people. In your life, whether
it’s people you didn’t get a chance to see, when they died, whether it’s your children, who will someday eventually die, no matter what you do, whether it’s the fact that all of humanity will probably die out someday. You can have that chance to do that. So, I think that the time with the body is some of the most
powerful magic available. In our society. And as far as children preparing bodies, I am completely for that. I don’t think you should force a child to get involved, if they don’t want to. – [Rivkah] We’ve seen the
Three Faces of Eve, thank you. – Yeah, by all means, also give them some blocks and toys, if they want. But there’s something
that I would absolutely recommend that you listen to. I don’t remember the name, but it’s also a Hospice chaplain, I believe her name is Kate, and she did a story on the Moth, I don’t know how many of you are familiar with the Moth podcast. So, I think if you just did, chaplain, Kate, Moth, on the Google, you would find this, and it’s an incredible story of how this young girl, probably about five or six, her very best friend in the world, who was her cousin, who was probably also about five or six, I believe he drowned. And, she goes up to his body, and she insists that she has to go in, and they lay him out for her. And she tucks him in, and she talks to him about heaven. And her parents say, now
that’s enough, time to go. And she says, nope,
I’m staying right here, you will like pack the tissues, because the story is incredible, but it really is, shows,
how much children can adapt to that when you give them the opportunity. And when you make it safe for them. You don’t make it like, it’s a casket, don’t go up children. But you make it safe, and loving, and a safe space to interact. Children are curious, and morbid, and weird, they want in on that, absolutely. And don’t force them to do it, but don’t be surprised or shame-y, when they do really want to be involved, and help them be involved. Because that, we talked about getting right into the grief, that can really help them do that. – I agree with that. – Do you have any– – No, I totally agree with that. It’s amazing to see how many
times kids ask questions and people go, oh, don’t, no, my thing is, if a child asks a question, I’m going to give them the answer. – Yep. – Because it’s better to be honest with them, up front, for them not to trust you later on. And I think death is just part of life, all the way around. And they have to learn it sooner or later. So, I totally agree with that. – What’s interesting is that, there are no children here today, right? I’m not missing any
children, in other countries, people bring their children to my events all the time. And they ask, not that
your questions aren’t fabulous, but they ask
really excellent question. – They’re very direct. – Like, decomposition,
and the weird colors, and like, they get into the real physical details about death, which a lot of adults want to know, but they’re
so sure they should ask. But kids don’t feel that pressure, yet, until we put it on them. – [Rivkah] Okay, how we doing here? – So, I’ve had different experiences of death, we have a daughter that passed away at two months, seven years ago, and my husband and I, we helped dress her, and
we had our experience, and then, a few years
later I helped with my best friend and helped prepare her mother’s body for burial. Two totally different
things, my baby was on a metal cart in a cold room, and they didn’t tell us we could
stay with her alone, the mortician could leave the room, having not experienced that, of course I didn’t really ask the questions I wanted to. We got some time with her, but not what we would have preferred. On the other hand with my friend, they had a beautiful table, the had private parts covered. Blankets, you know, respectful. It was like, you know, a beautiful room. What, how can we as a public, or your jobs, how can we, I don’t know, how can we inform, or just create a good experience, like you’ve created, what sounds like, a wonderful place that I would have loved to have been with our daughter. How can we bring more of those to the public, or how can we educate the, you know, so more people experience that kind of experience? – Yeah, it’s really, I think especially, with women who have lost children, and family who have lost children, that’s the one that breaks
your heart the most, when you find out they
had a negative experience. With the funeral, or what’s done with the body. Because, it’s not, you
know, an adult human, you know, is hard to move around, there’s a lot of logistics. That baby can go anywhere. And the family can do absolutely anything they want, they can bring it home. They can do anything and
take any time they need. And be as comfortable as they want. With, and that, it’s
proven again and again to be so healing. For the mother especially,
to have that time. And it’s devastating to hear, when that doesn’t happen. And I’m sorry that was
part of your experience. And, I think it just comes from people like you, now knowing that there is a difference, and we were talking about this earlier, once you, with your sister, you can now go out there and say,
this is what happened to me, this is how it can be different. Now, I know the laws,
I’ve experience this, and I’ve seen the promised land, it’s different than what I have experienced, and what you may have experienced. And we need so many more people working on this. And part of, a large part of my job, is kind of movement building. And, it’s not the most glamorous part of my job, but, if there is no movement, and people aren’t seeing
it, as a movement. Then the media doesn’t
cover it, then people don’t feel like there
is a place they can go, they don’t know what to Google, they don’t know what to research, but the more that we, you know, sing like the choir we are, the more people will automatically know that there is something more they can look into,
that they can demand, that they can ask for, when someone dies. So, I wish I had a perfect answer, but, really what it is is just creating more advocates, and creating more people like you, who have had this experience, and can speak to it, and any time now someone you know dies, you can say, you may have plans, already, you may have thought about
this, but if you haven’t can I share with you some things, that I know about this? – I agree with you completely. I think it’s important,
especially now that we’re talking about, you know, having the conversation with
our family and stuff, why not calling the mortuaries and asking what the rules are? Because to me, my thing is, sometimes we just don’t realize the things that we can do, or that we can push for. And a lot of times, we’re
not our own advocate. But, if we don’t know what’s out there. Like, you know, reading your book, I didn’t realize there was certain things we could do. So, I think it’s important for us to research and call and find out what their rules and guidelines are, and how much they would accommodate you,
I think that’s important. So, that you can have
the kind of end of life, or death or burial or anything like that, that you want. – And if a funeral home
doesn’t want to tell you, that’s not the funeral home for you. – Right. – [Rivkah] And also that’s
okay to say, is that the law? – Great. – [Rivkah] And if they
say, yes, it’s okay, to say show me, or site it, sorry I’m a librarian, sorry I’m gonna do that. I have a question here. – One thing we haven’t really talked about is
the long slow process of death of a person who is in a facility for example for a long period of time, and we get involved with some of the pressures of the facility, the medicalization, I would say, of our long downhills, and I just wanted to reinforce what you said, about having the conversation in advance. My mother, I had a conversation in 1993, my mother died in a facility in 1999. She’d been there for 18 months. And at the end, or near the end, there was a lot of medical pressure for nutrition and hydration and things like that, and I went down and got my mother’s, what she had written
down in her own words, it was beautiful, I read it to my sister, and that relieved my sister of, of the pressures, I would say, of the medical facility, and we were able to do
what my mother wanted. And it was just a wonderful thing, that had a difference between two siblings resolved entirely by the mother, because of what she said. – Yeah, that’s great, that’s the proof you were talking about. You know, you can actually show the proof, and it changed things. It’s that in action. – I think, when you plan like that, and you have those
conversations and stuff, it becomes more beautiful,
and more connecting with your family members
that are involved. So, you know, it becomes more of a bonding experience, instead of tearing a family apart. – Yeah. And I should say, one, it takes about twenty seconds to Google California advanced directive,
download it, it takes about, it takes about, probably
about twenty minutes to do, because you do have to think, do I want to donate my organs, you have to think about a couple of questions. You have to think about who you want to be in charge of your body. But, it will be 20 minutes well spent. And, when you’re done, it feels kinda, it feels good. You eat a brownie, you
know, like treat yourself. Be like, wow, I really
did something profound and important for myself and my family’s future today, like, great job me, I didn’t just watch Netflix. I did something. And it feels really good. – [Rivkah] We have a question over here. – Yes, I’m a former coroner. Sacramento county. And, couple of points. One, you haven’t discussed it yet, the anger around death, and it has a lot to do, in terms of the deputy’s death notification process, where you’re on scene and you’re trying to get the information you need, and how angry people are on unexpected deaths. So, I’m talking about motor vehicle accidents, especially, like, if a drunk driver is involved. Or a child’s death, or
the victims of a homicide. Tremendous amount of anger, and I’ve had my deputies attacked,
and scenes destroyed because of that anger. So, it’s a real human emotion, and it’s, it bubbles to the surface. The second thing, just in terms of points of information, it’s surprising how many people have second families that the first family doesn’t know about. – I’ve had a couple of those. – Yes. – So, think about that
when you’re with your first and or second family. – It makes it so awkward. It really does. – A lot of people get
really angry about that. Especially, we worked with a chaplain, Frank Russell, and they
were very, very helpful, it’s interesting too the change in the religious philosophy that
takes place around death. Some people blame God,
some people seek God, whatever culture is involved. – [Jenny] It’s true. – So, anyway, those are just a couple of points I wanted to mention. – You’re right. – Super interesting. Have you seen anger on the job? – Yes, yes. – Do you have any particular tales? – I’ve had a few swing at an officer. We’ve actually had a few pass out. So, there is a lot of, especially the unexpected ones. It’s pretty devastating when you show up on a, never like, if I go visit my friends, I never show up in this, because I don’t want them to think I’m coming to tell them that you know, I think Cathy has told me that a few times. Don’t show up at my
doorstep in that uniform. So, it’s not a pleasant time for us to have to go in and tell somebody that their loved one has died. So, we have all ranges of emotions. I remember one of my very first calls, I went out with an officer, and I was in training, and his, we had to deliver to a sister that her brother had died. And they were very close, and she’s sitting at the table,
and she’s just staring and he’s just going on and on and on. And I finally had to
put my hand on his arm and said, she’s not listening. She was just completely stonewalled. She just couldn’t get beyond. And we just sat there. And we were just quiet for a minute. And all of a sudden she just started bursting out crying. And then I looked at him and said okay, now you can. You know, we just have so
many different emotions, you know, when we have somebody who has died and we’ve been given that. So, yes, there are a lot. I had a woman who was, her son went before me, because they were a Hispanic family, didn’t speak much English. So, the son had actually witnessed his brother in a fiery crash. And, we had to go and tell his mom. And, I was trying to explain to him, let us go together, bring her out, let’s have her sit down. Well, she came out down the hallway, and he’s telling her in his language, and she just collapsed. And I had to get her up and on the couch. So, we never know how people are going to react, there’s just a lot of different emotions. – Yeah, and one thing a funeral director learns within the first couple of weeks on the job, is that anger can come out of
nowhere and strike you. And it really, it really, is a weird feeling, because you’re going along, and you’re the funeral director. And you’re doing the very best, or coroner, are doing the very best you can, to explain this process. And you’re good at your job, and you know you are. And then all of a sudden someone is full on screaming at you. Because they’ve decided that, the certified death certificates taking a week longer because of the country is something you are doing to them. You know, and it’s misplaced anger. Yeah, it’s misplaced anger, but it’s hard, speaking of not taking things on, that’s a really hard thing not to take on, when someone has lost their wife of, you know, 70 years, and they’re telling you what an incompetent young nothing you are. And then later apologize profusely. But, in that moment, you just feel like the worst person in the world. And it’s really hard not
to take that anger on, but death, death is the best of times and the worst of times, as far as people’s personalities. And you get people doing amazing open heart-open
Buddhist soul things, and then you get them being their worst selves, and you don’t know who is going to show up that day. – Or cracking jokes. – Or cracking jokes. Yeah. – Yeah. The one thing I’ve learned through being a chaplain for ten years, is the emotions that we have. And that there is no right or wrong way to grieve, there’s no time limit. And the one thing I think, the one thing I feel is the most important part of the grief process is laughter. Because laughter really does help us. To, you know, go through all of the emotional part of it. – Yeah, it’s interesting, you know, I’ve been doing this publicly for five years, and laughter is kind of the core of what I do, and people always comment on it, but nobody ever
has a problem with it. – I think– – Which means there’s
something at the core of all of us that wants that. – But I do come across quite
a few people who think, they feel guilty, because they can laugh. – Right. – And I always reassure
them that that’s all part of it, you know, that’s all part of that grieving process that
we have to go through that portion of it. – Because death is comedy and tragedy at the same time. – It is, I agree. Each one of them. – Well, every family has
some funny story to tell about their family when they die. – Or, their second family. (audience laughs) – Yep, absolutely. – Oh, not good. – [Rivkah] I have a question here, we’ll get, I’m so happy that you all have questions! – Hi, my name is Amber, and I have kind of two questions, the first one is, I am a woman studies major, and I saw your video on YouTube about death and feminism, and it
was interesting because my final paper for my BA., I did on death an feminism. And I did kind of the idea of consent after death. I know in other cultures and things, when we talk about death, and we know what we want, we can tell our family members what we want. But here in California, you have to have an advanced health care directive, a trust, a living will, some sort of proof, and lot of people have a hard time, making the connection
of putting it to paper. Rather than, I know what we want, but when we get involved with the institutionalization of death and things like that,
it gets more difficult. And, then, I also did a project on the marketplace of death, because I actually went through Fresno, and went to every single funeral home, and priced out every single thing. It is an actual marketplace. You are going in and things cost different prices, and it can really affect like, exactly what kind of final rights you wanna give your loved one. Whether or not you can afford it, there was a life insurance or not. And so, I was just, I have a million questions surrounding that, but I was just thinking, this is a very appropriate forum, but it is the education I am
worried about, and I think like, forums, do you think this should be talked about in schools by more health care providers? And do you think that, you know, when we talk about more general education, something like this
should be talked about, because it is a part of life. And then my second part
of the question is, I’m a crime scene cleaner. Sarah, are you here? My supervisor is here to. – Whole bunch of crime
scene cleaners, good. – And we do crime scene clean up, and so we experience
death in a different way. We go into people’s
homes, and the community after a tragedy happens,
and we’re actually cleaning up these things, and dealing with the families. And I was just wondering if you knew anything, or knew any sort of historical originally who were the people who cleaned up after traumatic events that happened in towns or families, and are there any resources or subjects that you two know about that are available? – Well, it’s, first of all, there are people in the audience today who could just have their own hour and a half long program, easy. Just have one of these every Sunday. It would just be, Let’s
Talk About Death Year, maybe, at the library. – [Rivkah] The Year of Death! – The Year of Death, hurrah! I’ll answer the first one…? – Yeah. – So, first thing I would say is that, it’s probably not gonna surprise you, I think that in high school, there should be a semester of sex education, followed by a semester of death education. And that should be like your junior year. (audience claps) That’s like a thing you have to have. And just like, these are things that are happening. They’re not like,
Algebra might not happen, in your life. Like, but sex and death are really likely to happen in your life. And these are things you need concrete facts and understanding the bureaucracy and all the things we’re talking about. And, as far as the marketplace, something really interesting, is that, when the FTC, the
Federal Trade Commission, came in and put down the Funeral Rule, which says that each funeral home is required to give out their price lists, if somebody asks. So, we have to, you have to tell a person. Each price has to be individualized, you can’t have big packages, like, the luxury loved one package. And, not tell them what’s in it. But, what they’ve found since then is that that’s a good step. But they did all of
this, predicated on the idea that people would price shop. And, people don’t. Which is why there funeral homes like, the big corporate funeral homes, which will just be, for
the exact same service, like, a good 4,000 dollars more. But, nobody knows that because they go into O’Malley and Sons, which was taken over by the
big corporate funeral home, and they heard that, they knew that Aunt went there, or dad went there, so they’re just gonna use ’em again. Without knowing, because they don’t call, and they don’t price shop. That it’s 4,000 dollars more, for the same service. And so, there has to be a way, and there are a lot of companies now, that are trying to do online pricing, and trying to do, have a way, almost like True Car for funerals, you know, like a company has to honor the lowest price type deal, and, yeah, I think that is all beneficial, because, we do really need to know what people are charging, especially if it is
the exact same service. – I kinda want to go back to the schools, I know, I’m not sure if Sacramento Country does it, but in Plaster
County, we’ve actually started a program called Every 15 Minutes, has anybody heard of that? (audience mumbles agreement) – Okay, yeah, to me that’s
been very impactful– – Can you explain, I don’t actually know what that is? – Oh, Every 15 Minutes is what, we have different schools decide that they want to do this. And we actually create a scene where there was a drunk driver, that caused a death, and we bring all the kids out to the stadium, and what we do, is we actually have a car, with kids that are staged, where they’ve actually
flown out of the front window, but they have it covered up. And so, when everybody’s sitting down, they actually take it off. And what they do is they walk them through the process of what happens, the DUI and everything. But, what’s unique about this whole thing, is the fact that, during this whole entire time, there’s kids who have chosen to be part of the death process, and they have certain people who are going and taking these kids out of the classroom, and so they’re having an empty chair. And, so, what they do is that, they take all these children, and they put them in what they call a kid’s retreat. And this is all done in high school. And what they do is, they have them write
letters to their parents. Which is very emotional. I’ve been a part of that, and it’s been very emotional. And then the parent’s retreat is actually writing the obituaries. So, it’s, I think it’s unique, because it teaches the kids about death, and what it does to the people
that are left behind, and then at the next day, what they do is they actually bring in the auditorium, they actually have a funeral service. And they have a casket,
and they have all the kids there, they have kids
who get up and they talk. They have guests speakers who come up and they talk about, you know, the process of death, just like, DUI checkpoints, DUIs and stuff and how it affects people. But it’s very, it’s very emotional, and I would say that
that most of the kids, are really emotional, and you can see it because a lot of them are falling a part. Because, at some point, somebody has actually dealt with somebody dying. Whether it’s DUI or just at home, so that brings up a lot of stuff. So, to me, that was pretty impactful to them, to go through that. – I was gonna say, as
far as the crime scene cleaning, I don’t actually know the full history of that, but I would imagine it was just the family, themselves, or the community, but I don’t really know if there are any papers like that or anything. – You said that you do crime scene, but do you guys have a
company that does it? I know that in Plaster County, when we are on scene, we’ll call people out. – [Rivkah] Is this Aftermath, is that the name of the company, Aftermath? Okay, yeah. – Hopefully none of you need them, anytime soon. – But you do find that there is a lot of people who do it on their own because they can’t afford it. And what most people don’t realize is that their homeowner insurance will help that. – Oh. – Even if you’re renting. – Oh, the more you know. – [Rivkah] Okay, we have
a question back here. – I’ve been online, and I’ve seen more information and resources, you know, about donating one’s body to a Med School and to science and study. I’ve got a life long medical condition, my wife has a really rare disease, and we’re interested in seeing to it that our remains, our bodies, get to specific sources of where research and our particular conditions can be done, I’m not seeing a lot of information online, and I was wondering if you had any directions or any resources for that sort of thing. – Yeah, and what most people don’t know is that if you donate your body to quote unquote science, it’s probably a private company, that
you have no control over what your body is used for. It could be, you know, weapons testing, it could be, curing
cancer, you don’t know. – [Jenny] That’s right. – But, it helps obviously if you want to donate your body directly to a medical school. But, I spoke to someone recently who I believe, she also has
a rare brain condition. And she found a specific professor studying that specific condition. And he was like, yes, I would like your body and brain very much. And they have specific
companies that actually know a girl who does brain removal. That’s her job. She goes to specific bodies, and removes the brain, and packages it, and sends it to be studied in a specific way. So I don’t have a direct cause of action, but I would say you know, you probably, you know, if you’ve had the condition you know who the people working on it are, and you know where the academic papers are coming from and you know what any information that is available is coming from, so
directly contacting that you know, that Dr. Such-and-such at Stamford, or Dr.Such-and-such at MIT, and asking, offering
up, your mortal remains. After you die. And if they don’t know, they might know someone who does. Who would want them. – And dare I say it, that might be a role for a librarian. That’s what we do. We can help you research that. – [Caitlin] There you go. – We can’t tell you,
but we can tell you were to find it. – That’s now my answer to every question. – [Rivkah] Ask the librarian, right. – You know, there’s a librarian for that. – [Rivkah] We’re gonna try to get to all the questions, so. – I had another question about the financial aspect of death. I had, I actually got into a really interesting conversation, with a patient of mine who works in a mortuary, and as a health care provider
was sort of stunned about the things that I just didn’t even know existed. I mean, part of that, I will attribute to being relatively young and not having to have dealt with death on the more personal side, fortunately. But, you know, we got into this amazing conversation about burial insurance, and how you know, a lot of people will spend a lot of money on that, not realizing they can go straight through the funeral home or the mortuary, and that there is a lot of times trusts set up through them. And I was wondering, if, obviously, that not being my business, this is a very, very watered down version of what we discussed, but it was just interesting to
know and I’m wondering if you can expand on
that a little more too. Because that was something
I had no idea about. – Yeah, sure. So, I think what you’re talking about is what’s called pre-need, which basically means you go to a
specific funeral home and you pay in advanced, or you make payments in advance for your funeral. I think that, that is something, we don’t offer it, at our funeral home. The reason we don’t offer it, is because I’m not a strong believer in it. But, there are people who feel a great deal of relief after, especially if it’s a less expensive item,
like a direct cremation, like a simple cremation. And, when a family goes
in, and they’re older, and they pay for it, they come out just feeling great. My kids aren’t in charge of this now, I’ve really, this is a huge weight off of my shoulders. And so, if you really want to do that, absolutely do that. But what I would say is there are often cases where a family will pay and it will say it will be fully paid
for this whole service. And they’ll go in at the time of death, and like, oh but it doesn’t include, opening the grave. We do have to dig up the grave. You know, and that’s
another thousand bucks. And, oh we didn’t tell you that the casket that you ordered is no longer available, so you can get this one, it is an extra 1,500 dollars. So, things like that. And there are also problems when they’re put in big trusts. And, trusts don’t always work out and survive the way you want them to. And what if the funeral home goes out of business? So, my funeral home, we prefer to work on a case by case basis. And that doesn’t mean you can’t do our paperwork, in advance. That doesn’t mean that
you can’t figure out everything you want, and the prices that you want, in advance. But we just don’t take any money from you, until an actual death has occurred. But, if you really do your research, and you know your funeral home well, and you feel like it’s something that would really be a weight off your mind. Yeah, get a pre-need and start making payments on it. – Sounds like, for
cremation, it’d probably be easier for that kind of a thing. – Yeah exactly. – Versus the, I would
think it would be harder to do it, the other way. – Yeah. – Yeah, I just had a couple of questions about the marketplace. Do cemeteries work with the single mortuaries, if they’ve got a mortuary, in house, will they accept a body from other mortuaries from out of state? And the second question
is about dying alone I moved here many, many years ago from the east coast and I
don’t have any children, and I’m a single guy. And, how would one make
sure one’s body got dealt with, properly? – Yeah, those are good question. Maybe I’ll do the first one and then…? So, as far as the, sorry what was your first question, I had an answer and then
you did the second one. – [Blue Shirt Man] About the cemetery. – Oh yes, about the cemetery. Yes, yes, the cemetery. Cemeteries can’t have exclusive deals with mortuaries. A lot of places will be what is called a cemetery mortuary combo, which means it’s, you know, Mount Oak Cemetery and Mount Oak Funeral Home existing on Mount Oak Cemetery. But, you can, we don’t own a funeral home, but we can put, we can go to any cemetery we want, if they
have plots available. We only do natural burials,
so there’s actually only a few cemeteries that we work with. But we would refer to
someone, if they wanted that. But yeah, it’s not
exclusive to one cemetery. And actually, in some
states, it’s, you can’t even have a, own a cemetery and funeral home at the same time. They want to specifically kind of anti-trust wise, keep them a part, which is not a terrible idea, honestly. – If you died at home, and you don’t have children and stuff,
typically a lot of times, the officers will try to
find your next of kin. (man in blue shirt asks question off mic) – Correct, they’re always
gonna take, they’re always gonna try to find the next of kin, whether it be a sibling, or a parent, if that parent is still alive, if not, they usually go to the morgue. And you can probably,
what happens actually, when they don’t have somebody? There’s usually some relative some place. And the deputies are trained, we have access to a lot of
different data banks that can work to find family members, if there’s absolutely nobody, then we keep the body, depending on the county, and it sounds funny, but the amount of room in the morgue, we keep the body up to a year, sometimes over a year. And then we have arrangements with local cemeteries. And once, or twice, a
year, we bury the body. – And then also, I would say, you know, the beauty of the advanced directive, which is the simple form I was talking about, is you can give your dead body to anyone, anyone you want. So, a friend, a colleague, just anyone you trust to make your
funeral arrangements. You can assign that to. And tell them. So, it’s not a surprise. But, it doesn’t have to be someone in your family, it doesn’t even have to be a friend. It can be a lawyer. I can just be somebody that you trust to make those arrangements for you. And then, if you’re worried about it, you can maybe pre-pay, maybe just set aside a certain amount of money that you know it’s gonna cost, and just make it clear to that person, who is named in your advanced directive, this is what I want, this
is where the money is, let’s make sure that this happens. Can you do this for me? – Was that the question? I heard a slightly different question. – It’s specifically for your dead body. Yeah, so it’s the advanced directive for health care, so it means they’re in charge of you right before you die, and also after you die. And it’s different,
depending on your state. But, that’s what we have, in California. – [Female Audience Member #2]
You mentioned natural burial, and can explain what that means? – Sure, so, what natural burial really is just burial. It’s what humans have been doing for 10s of 1,000s of years, it’s somebody has died, let’s dig a shallow hole in the
ground, put a shroud around them, body goes in, decomposes. But at a certain point, cemeteries became very interested in what is now called traditional burial, even though it’s only been around for about a 100, 150 years, which is chemically embalmed, or preserved body, which then goes into a sealed casket, which then goes into a concrete or metal vault. Under ground. When you think about being buried, you think about being in the earth. But at most, the vast majority of cemeteries in the United States, no dirt is coming anywhere near you, in this scenario. And most people aren’t aware of that. So, you really, if that’s something you’re interested in, would be to decompose naturally or get a green or natural burial, you really have to search out
those places in advance. – I’d like to have your opinion on, having an open viewing of the corpse, as opposed to a closed casket with a beautiful picture of the person, because usually, that’s
the last remembrance of that person, when
the cold body is dead. And when you think about that person, but it’s the truth. If anybody has ever
been to an open viewing, you think about that person right now, you think about that cold body, as you said, it’s not the person. But that’s what you remember. And is that for kids too? – I have a really, do you have a thought on this, I have a strong opinion on this that I will now share with you, if you don’t… – Well, I, I personally want a memorial. But I do realize that people who want open caskets, it’s a lot of times because they need closure. – So what open, and really, I was actually talking about this with
someone last night. What open casket has come to mean is the idea of, as we were talking about. And embalmed body, a body that’s been chemically preserved. They’ll be in a nice suit. They’ll have makeup on, mortuary makeup on, of some sort. And you walk by the casket, and you kind of get your twenty seconds to be like, hi Bob, how’s it going? And, for a lot of
people, that’s not really working for them anymore. If you ask the funeral industry, that’s the foundation, that’s what they’re built on. So, they cannot financially afford for that to not work for people anymore. And so they are very desperate to hold on to that. Which is why they’re not huge fans of me, because I happen to have
a different opinion. Which is that, I believe very much, that you should see the body, but I believe that you should see a natural dead body, that has not been chemically altered, that doesn’t have makeup on it, and you should be able to see it over a period of time. Which means, you should be able to go in, and say it was your mother, you should be able to sit with her. She’s laid out, looks kind of asleep. But also, pretty dead, and continues to be dead, over the course of five hours, over the course of ten hours, over the course of a day. However long you need
until something shifts. In you, and you, and this happens, again and again, and you can see, you can argue that people come to my funeral home, they know what they’re getting into and they’re self-selecting. You know, we just don’t pick people off the streets and say, like, sit with a corpse, congratulations! These are people who are already seeming like this is going to
be meaningful to them. And again, and again, we find, that they call us after
a certain amount of time. You know what, it feels like it’s time. I’ve sat with her, I’ve had my time. And something feels different now, and I’m ready for you to come pick mom up. So, that is my personal belief. For where we should be going in the funeral industry, which is technically open casket, but there doesn’t need to be a casket, there doesn’t
need to be preservation. I believe in seeing the dead body. But, I don’t necessarily believe in how it’s being done now. – [Rivkah] Okay, we have
a question back here. We’re gonna really try
to get to all of them, I promise. – Hi, so I have kind of
a contrarian question, because I feel like, the reason why we are having this talk is because death is a really strange and kind of taboo subject, and we try to shove it to the corner as much as possible. But, I feel that reflects also on like the lack of talk that we have on life, and what kind of life we want to live. And what there, if somebody is sick for a long time, we try to do all these things to extend their life, regardless of how it feels to them, or how terrible it can be to their bodies. So, I just wanted to know your opinions on why that is and what can we do better as far as like, taking care of more of life and what kind of beautiful meaningful lives we want to live while we’re still alive? (Jenny laughs) – I have a ten second answer for that. It’s easy and simple and
will solve everything. – It’s funny, because I have to say that when I go to the home, or just anybody that I have to do a death notification on. I start hearing a lot
of the family history, or the conflict in the families. And I hear a lot of times about the estranged relatives stuff, or children that are estranged. But when they all come back together, I always hear them say, why were we separated, why did we allow this to happen. And if I’ve come from any of this from being a chaplain, I’ve realized that life is precious and valuable. And we have to be careful about allowing fences and things, to divide us from our loved ones. Because, once someone dies, you can’t re-coup that, that time with that person, anymore, so,
that’s how I feel about it. – There’s a good quote, which is that, the meaning of life is that it ends. And that, in pushing away conversations about death, we’re
pushing away conversations about life in equal measure. And, I don’t think people always make that connection. I think that they tend to talk about death, as morbid, or engaging in it as morbid, and here’s me, long suffering, like, don’t you understand? This is the most important thing you can do for your life! Is to have this conversation. And like you were, in your question earlier, about how once the conversation was had, and it was in the advanced directive, what your mother wanted, she didn’t want months of being force fed through tubes, and the proof was there, and that conversation had been had. It changed her end of life experience. And it changed what she was able to have. And I was talking to
a friend the other day about how when his grandmother died. She only spoke spanish, and she was in her bed at home, and she was starting to fail, and they called an
ambulance to bring her in. And she was just banging her cane on the floor and she just did not want to go. She wanted to die right there in her bed. And they wouldn’t let her do that. They took her to the hospital. And these stories are awful, but then you get the person who’s actually in charge of your healthcare, who’s your daughter, we need to help mother, no matter what, I can’t let her die, I can’t fail her, and if you haven’t had that conversation, that’s
what’s gonna happen. And if you don’t have
an advanced directive, saying what you want, that’s gonna happen. And, sometimes, it actually really helps to imagine the worst case scenario. Because, the worst case
scenario is actually completely possible,
if these conversations aren’t had. And it really, you don’t want, and this is something that I’ve been thinking about a lot recently, so I have an organization called The Order of the Good Death. And people, some people, have a problem with that phrase, Good Death. It’s not my phrase, it’s
been a phrase that’s been around hundreds of
years in popular use. But, I like it because when you think about a good death, you think about, what is it that you want. Do you want not a lot
of medical information, or uh, intervention. Do you want to die at home in your bed? Do you want to have
everything taken care of, with your will and your
estate, that’s great. It’s not that if you don’t get all of those exactly right that you failed and it’s a bad death. Now, it’s terrible and it’s awful. But, if you don’t think
about what a good death is, and you don’t think
about what that is. You’re not gonna get
any of that stuff done. You know, if you don’t
have some sort of ideal in mind; if you don’t have some sort of sense of what a good death is. You’re going to definitely
have a bad death. There’s no chance for
you to have a good death, if you don’t think or talk about it at all, it’s just not gonna happen. So, it’s still a goal to have, I think. That was ramble-y answer. – [Jenny] No, it was a great answer. – Apologies. – [Rivkah] I have a follow up question, and then I’m gonna get
over there to that side, and I know you’ve been very patient, and we have about eight minutes left. – And we’ll be around, we’ll be lurking outside, if you… – I was curious about, with donation, of the body, or organs. What happens to the body that isn’t put into use? – It’s generally cremated. It’s either cremated
or, in a lot of medical schools, they have something called, alkaline hydrolysis, or aquamation. Which, pro-tip, I actually think is the future of how we
dispose of our bodies. Because, it’s, some people call it water cremation, which is not really what it is, because cremation is inherently fire. But, aquamation is high-heat water, and the chemical lye, and it kind of flash decomposes the body down to something similar to cremated remains. And, it’s only legal in something like seven or eight states, right now. California not being one of them. But, it’s used in the Mayo Clinic, at UCLA, at all of these medical schools, to take care of the bodies after they have been donated for use. So, if it’s good enough for all of these high-powered medical
schools, it’s probably okay for the general public. But, that’s either
done, or it’s cremation, generally. But, I think, in some
cases, if you really want to have it taken to, a burial place, you can have that as well. But generally cremation. – [Rivkah] Alright. – Regarding natural burials, I’m on a public cemetery board, and there are actually no laws against natural burials, but there is liability and employee risks of the non-morticians who bury the bodies in public cemeteries. So, hearing that you promote that, is there anyway to have allies, create allies, an alliance, private and public cemeteries to create change in this field. Because of the liability
issues and you said, you had people digging bodies, digging the ground, and for liability issues that’s like, oh we can’t have people who aren’t employees. – [Caitlin] Right. – And that kind of thing. So, I need, I need guidance, and I’d love to see some alliances being formed, the whole state is watching what we’re doing, as far as public, as far as the policies,
and things like that. – Yeah, and you should start an alliance, first of all. You seem very interested in this, and we need you. I would say, yeah, most
people don’t understand that the reason that you can’t just bury a body in a hole in the ground in the cemetery is not state law, or it’s not national law, it’s cemetery policy. It’s cemeteries. What they don’t want is for, the, because is you
have a body that’s just in the ground, the ground
will sink and shift, and so it’s hard for their industrial backhoes and
mowers to successfully keep their very pristine, you know, AstroTurf grass going. So, it’s, it’s really, we have to get people more educated and we have to get more consumers demanding it, and we have to do exactly
what we’re saying. Make it clear to cemeteries, what they could do. Because cemeteries, normal cemeteries, normal cemeteries. More traditional cemeteries, are terrified of these things happening,
and what it could mean and what’s going on. Some aren’t, some are
incredibly open to it, and have opened natural
burial sections in their cemeteries. And that’s actually the one that we work with in Southern California. Where you have to drive two and a half hours out to Joshua Tree to bury your body in a whole in the ground. Which is embarrassing. And strange. But. Yeah, I’d love to hear more about what you’re doing and what you’re planning to do, that’s great. – Again, in regards
with the natural burial, I’ve heard there’s also green forms of like, embalming fluids,
and I was just wondering what your opinion on using those, and utilizing that in a
natural burial system as well. – So, yeah, that’s interesting, there are, yeah, natural,
natural embalming fluids, which can temporarily preserve a body in a more green manner. We don’t use those, at our funeral home. Because there just hasn’t been a need yet. But, I think it’s an interesting way for funeral homes to transition, you know, if they’re still like, oh they still need embalming, we can’t not, you know, charge for embalming or have embalming, we still need to do it. To be able to offer a green fluid that then can allow the body to not, you know. Because there’s still, you know, when embalming first started it was arsenic that they used. And there’s still arsenic in the ground in old cemeteries like
you wouldn’t believe. And when they talk about natural burial, people are always like,
is the corpse going to get into the ground water? You know, but the formaldehyde can. That’s in there. There’s no like, corpse juice that’s like leaching out, that’s not what happens. The body, the soil takes care of that so well because it’s an organic material. But it doesn’t really do that well with formaldehyde. So, I think it’s a good step, I think that you know, some of us
would like to see it just, you know, not like small
green washing things, like, Clorox presents Green Bleach, sort of stuff. But, at the same time,
it’s, it’s a good step, and it’s a good hand-holding step. And it’s a good option, especially if you have to ship the body, for instance, to another state, or to Germany or to Lithuania. Or wherever it’s going. I think, it’s a good thing, in general. – [Rivkah] Okay, we
have one last question. And for the people who
didn’t get to ask a question, I’ll apologize. But, Jenny and Caitlin will be around for awhile. Caitlin will be signing books, we’ll try to get to your questions. Here you go, so make it a good one. – No pressure. – The at home care, after someone, after somebody has died, do you have policies in place for when they’re a donor or a gunshot wound to the head? Are you making minimum preparations for those families, or, just saying, oh, put the donor in the bathtub. I mean, how do they, how are you laying them out at home, how does that work. – Yes, the policy is definitely put the donor in the bathtub. That’s first thing. – [Young Male Audience
Member] It’s gonna leak! – Big bucket of ice, yeah. No, that’s not what we do. So, so far, most of the, so, first of all, what we’ve found is that, we thought we were going to be doing a lot of home funerals, where we’d go and help the family do everything at home. Turns out, we don’t really do that that much. We tell the family everything to do in advanced, and they do it themselves. When the time comes. Which has been so gratifying and exciting. For us. (audience member asks a question off mic) No, not so far, we have, in certain cases we have picked up the body at the hospital, and brought it over, and they have prepared it at home. These are not autopsied cases. We have not done, for example you said a bullet wound to the head. Someone’s been autopsied, we have yet to bring someone like that to a home. If the body was in the right condition, we would. If we were able to bring it to our facilities first, do minimal prep and autopsy repair. And then bring it to the home. And then, be very honest with the family, that they’re not getting a pristine dead body back. Some people still do want that. So basically, we have a
home, we have a crematory, we have a prep room, we can go in, we don’t embalm, but we can do repair, and prep. We have a chapel, where they can come in, and just kind of recreate it, sort of. Experience of staying
for a couple of hours and just being with
the body, if they want. Or we would, if they
wanted to, we would bring that same body to their home. Just making them very aware of what they were gonna get in to. – [Rivkah] Okay, wow. I don’t know, how did
you feel about today? (audience claps) – Thank you guys, it was great. Great questions. – Good, thank you. I really do feel like
this is let’s talk about death part one, would you come back for another program? (audience claps) Okay. So, we’re going to ask you to fill out the surveys and then note, if we did death part two, what did we miss today, because we’re librarians,
we wanna get it right. And I, I honestly, so far this exceeded my expectations, and I
really didn’t know what was going to happen. And I think the two of you
were just perfect for us. Please, let’s thank them again. Thank Jenny, and Caitlin. Fill out the survey, sign up for letstalksacramento.org, whatever go to our website and sign up, there are resources on the website. If you have a really,
really good resource. Email that email that
I talked about earlier. [email protected], and really, it’s our
job to help people make good decisions and to
get you the information you need, but also to have a conversation. This was really, really important. So thank you so much, both of you. Caitlin will be signing books. Stick around. Get to know somebody. Have a creative conversation. Thank you! (audience claps)

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