Back to School 2014
Congratulations. You are no longer a child—finally!—and you're probably feeling pretty good about that. But once you cross the threshold of adulthood, it's time to start thinking seriously about a few things. Like death.
Nobody knows when the reaper will come for you or those you love, but it's never too soon to start considering it. College students die all the time, and college students' parents die even more often than that—plus all the other people you know who are going to die at some point. Do you really want to put off thinking about the end until it's too late and you're stuck in crisis mode, your brain is fogged by grief, and you're getting bilked (or at least aggressively up-sold) by one of the 10 companies that control the $15 billion death industry?
According to the National Funeral Directors Association, which runs the funeral cartel, the average cost of a funeral in the United States is around $7,000. It's closer to $9,000 if you want flowers and your cemetery requires a concrete vault, which many do. (Why? Because if bodies and caskets decay without a vault, it leaves a depression in the grass, making it more difficult for the cemetery to mow the lawn—yes, that's why they charge your family an average of $1,298 to put your bones in a concrete box that you certainly don't need.)
Lucky for you, you live here now. "Seattle is probably the best place for alternative death care in America right now," says Caitlin Doughty, founder of the Order of the Good Death, host of the popular web series Ask a Mortician, and author of the new book Smoke Gets in Your Eyes & Other Lessons from the Crematory. (She’ll be reading from the book at University Book Store this Thursday, September 18, at 7 p.m.) We're the second-most-popular state for cremation in the US at 72.5 percent (the national average is 42 percent) and home to a whole array of progressive thinkers and professionals in the death-care business. A few to check out:
• Elemental Cremation and Burial. Seattle's only green funeral home is run by Jeff Jorgenson, who—like many of our alternative death types—got fed up after years of working in the corporate funeral industry. Elemental strives to be affordable (full cremation services cost $495) and uses carbon offsets. (Doughty says one cremation uses as much energy as a 500-mile car trip.) Elemental also emphasizes responsible banking and labor standards for its partners, local and sustainable sourcing of materials, and a de-emphasis on embalming. If people really want embalming, they encourage the use of eco-friendly fluids.
• People's Memorial Association. This co-op and consumer-advocate group will, for a one-time membership fee of $35, provide support, information, and lots of discounts at contracted funeral homes (and they promise no up-selling during your time of need).
• Lundgren Monuments. Run by artist and impresario Greg Lundgren, this business has pioneered the use of luminous cast-glass headstones—and has spent years convincing cemeteries they're just as good as more dour-looking stone—and has a gallery/storefront featuring a gorgeous array of urns by up-and-coming as well as highly successful artists.
• Chanel Reynolds. She founded getyourshittogether.org, a life- and death-planning service, after her husband was hit and killed by a car, and she realized how unprepared she was for the inevitable. Like a lot of people.
• Katrina Spade. An architect with a vision for a third way between burial and cremation, Spade is currently working on the Urban Death Project—a "natural burial" option for urban-dwellers that involves composting human bodies and returning them to the soil. (It's a mind-bending idea, but the more you listen to her, the more sane and even sublime the idea becomes, not least because she wants to overturn what she calls the "self-centeredness" in American attitudes toward death that every individual needs an individual casket or urn instead of returning back to the great mass of matter in the universe.) She's just getting started, but expect to hear much more about Spade in the near future.
Those are a few of the folks who make Seattle a special place for death. Look up Doughty's website, the Order of the Good Death, for much more about progressive death-care throughout the US, as well as the Green Burial Council for reputable funerary businesses. Who knows? You might even want to study some death while you're in school and join this growing revolution in eternal rest.