Dealing With Death (In The Family)

With my current transits, I continue to be interested in Funeral Customs Throughout History.  A few people have told me I am morbid, but hey! I’ve heard that before!

I heard it from my parents, when I wanted to look in the sick call Crucifix when I was a kid. This was forbidden.

I heard it when I was 15 years old, lying in the dark, listening to Leonard Cohen’s early work.

“Why do you want to listen to that depressing son-of-a-bitch, Elsa? You’re as morbid as he is!”

I just stared at these people because frankly, I didn’t know what they were talking about.  I have a packed 8th house. I am supposed to be interested in this stuff, fool!

Last night, my husband and I watched a movie, set in the 1800’s.  A woman died on her front porch.  She was brought inside.  Her body was laid on the kitchen table to be cleaned and cared for by the women in the family.

Her body was washed. Pennies were placed on her eyes to pay, Charon the ferryman. The women put flowers and ceder chips around the body to help with the smell. Meanwhile, the men built a coffin.

Death was part of life at that time. Today we’re quite removed from it.

Our loved ones often die alone,  in institutions, cared for by professionals who are strangers to them. Death is now extremely sanitized.

You may (or may not) feel this is an improvement.  Either way,  most would agree that these changes have caused death (and life) to be viewed  in a different way.

My husband would prefer to die at home. He’s very clear on this and if I have anything to say about it, he’ll be allowed to do that, though the situation is less and less common. I would prefer this as well.

How does your family deal with death? How would you like to be cared for at the end of your life?

22 thoughts on “Dealing With Death (In The Family)”

  1. Dear Elsa,

    With my 12th House stellium and Scorpio rising, I have become well acquainted with death and transition. I was privileged to be with my mom at her home- and my sister at her hospice when they crossed over.

    I accompanied their bodies when the undertaker came. Same gent- Looked like an extra from Harry Potter! LOL!

    I see when someone is beginning the journey out. It can take months or even years.

    We have a local funeral home which refuses to gouge families.

    My sister died last year. I’m the only one who speaks of her- her daughters are in too much pain.

    Today I’m singing a requiem with other choirs for Holocaust Remembrance Day at an interfaith service/ premiere. I am offering my voice for all of our beloved departed and those who are forgotten. Moon/Neptune/Jupiter in Scorpio in the 12th. Auspicious Pisces Moon!

    Love your work!!



  2. Since a kid have always been interested in death&funeral customs. A very interesting PBS program re death/funeral customs in Tibet viewed about 2yrs ago. Try to watch, if still available.

  3. I’ll try to find that – thanks for the tip. I am studying this right now, from every angle. I would not exactly say I’m immersed, but I’m getting there.

  4. Customary for the family, I don’t know. For my parents, it’s run away forever and live in denial of the deaths. I don’t know if it’s because they both lost a sibling in childhood. My dad went to grief counseling 40 years after his parents died. he had stuffed his feelings that long. Before his older brother died, he went overseas and stayed with him for a month, tending to him in the nursing home as a long goodbye. It was hard on him but good, too, after the pain he went through after the grief resurfaced about his parents.

    My mother has said, when dad dies we (the children) are not welcome to take part in any of it. No funeral and we are not allowed to witness scattering of the ashes.

    When my mother’s sister died, my grandfather went from farm house to farm house, looking for someone to drive him in to town to get an undertaker. They waited with her body in the house for 3 days before they could take her out. My mother was forced to sit with the body and my grandmother insisted she died because of their lack of piety.

    As for me, with Saturn in the 8th I look for a way to honour those who pass. I don’t want to live in denial–not that I am able to.

  5. I would like to die at home with women to clean and wash me, preparing me with greens on my wrists and ankles so my ancestors will recognize me when I reach them. Since I am an ocean away from my place of birth, I would like to have some of my ashes sprinkled here (in the Pacific NW) and the rest of them flown or canoed over to O’ahu to be sprinkled at my favorite beaches.

    My husband knows of a Buddhist Hospice house not far from where we live and knows the nurse who cares for folks during the last days. I have met her, too.

    I have an intensely tenanted 7-8th house stellium that aspects much of my chart. Death and honoring death is as Kashmiri said, something I consider valuable.

    My family (my son and husband) avoid the topic, but I broached it recently and so the issues are on the table. More conversation and decisions need to be had because I too ‘don’t want to live in denial.’

    I appreciate that you have brought this up, Elsa. Thank you.

  6. A subject I am acquainted with. I even took a Master’s level course on Paganism & Death, but decided against matriculating into the Pagan Seminar.

    I have already donated my body to science. I carry a card with me that indicates at my passing that this number be called and all arrangements will be taken care of. If my family wants my ashes back, fine -they pay the Priority Mail.

    My husband wants straight to cremation. I have not yet discussed with my sons, as my Sister and 2 cousins on either side have lost children at 26, 16 & 14.

    I hate the death industry. When my Dad passed, his body was warehoused until it was convenient for my older sister to be in NY. That was torture. He is buried in a Catholic Cemetary, where I go, but feel uncomfortable.

    My maternal grandparents (who’s house we now own via mortgage) chose their plots in a funky Rural Cemetery. I love to visit them. It is non-denominational and has wild grounds.

    Elsa, look up Jessica Mitford. She wrote an excellent book on the high cost of the Funeral Business.


  7. I don’t find a fascination with this morbid at all. Like other 8th house stuff perhaps, I think there’s something essential told about a culture in the way we practice and hold our death rites. Somebody in a culture has to be willing to do this work, but it’s likely that they’ll have to carry the shadow for everyone else who is unsettled by death.
    In my family, a ridiculous and distressing level of denial. And I was something like you Elsa, I needed to know. I NEEDED to know.
    At the end of my life – hmmm. Although I would love for there to be some tenderness around me, I don’t have many expectations about how I will pass. But I don’t want body to be in a non-perishable box in the ground. That seems a travesty to me.

  8. I’m the oddball in my family. To me death is just a transition to a different form of energy. I didn’t even attend my mom’s funeral because she said goodbye to me on her way out. What was the point? I’d already said goodbye.

    Both parents were cremated. My dad’s ashes were scattered where he loved being the most – in the mountains of Montana. I thought my mom’s ashes should have been treated the same. She loved the mall. But my sisters couldn’t bring themselves to take her ashes there. Instead, they split them up. I don’t have any of my mom’s ashes. Didn’t want them. One of my sisters took her stash of mom ashes, mixed them in paint and painted pictures she hangs in her home.

    For awhile I had one of the pictures, but a Navajo medicine man told me to give it back to her. So I did and explained why. She wasn’t surprised and I further confirmed her suspicion I was strange. I’m okay with that.

    I really don’t care what happens to my body when I die. Hell, they can throw it in the desert and feed some coyotes with it. It’s a shell. A temporary dwelling that affords me a vehicle to get around while on planet earth. The best part of me I’m leaving in people’s minds and hearts.

  9. My family treats death as the ultimate tragedy instead of the natural transition out of the physical world. I look at dying as returning to my real home. For me, this life is like a school or proving ground. Now, just how a person dies does concern me. I don’t want to be thrown alive into a wood chipper or waste away with cancer. I would hope to fall over dead while doing what I love or to go in my sleep. Don’t want people hovering over me feeling sad nor do I want to suffer my last days in a hospital bed.

  10. Elsa, you’d love the book “Where are they buried? How did they die?” by Tod Benoit. I think my favorite story is that of Orson Welles.

  11. My mother would never buy a burial plot as she is superstitious. She thought if she bought a plot for her and my dad, one of them would fill it within a year… Fast forward to today – no burial plot, she wants them both to be cremated. I think that’s smart – less cost, and not taking up space in the Earth. My parents raised me to be practical about death. Mom was raised Orthodox Jew – meaning they cleaned the body and kept it in the house 3 days after death for the visitation. She’s not squeamish about death at all…

    For me, cremate my body as well. Toss me in a vegetable or rose garden, and let my elements feed the Life on going.

  12. Oh, one more thought about death.

    Elsa, a book about death and “afterLife” you might like is “A Brief History of the Dead” by Kevin Brockmeier.

    It’s fiction about how Life here on Earth affects those who have died..Wonderful and easy read.

  13. Hi – Elsa,

    Not everybody dies in an institution or alone.

    my Mum is 93,suffering from dementia and lives in a home with 4 other women (and 1 man). Last year one of the women died and her daughters were the ones who made her ready for the funeral, (they washed her body and did her hair (they even used hairpins and rollers), so she would be beautiful in her coffin for people to come and say their goodbyes. I heard of more deaths where relatives do this for their Mum or Dad.
    I don’t know how long it will be for my Mum to die, I don’t know about my sisters, I certainly would like to do the same for her.


  14. If you haven’t read it yet, I highly recommend Mary Roach’s “Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers.” I love it, and I recommend it and gift it often.

  15. Depends on the situation. If you are fortunate to have a living will and medical directives in place then you should be able to have your wishes met. You son must stand by your wishes as well since he is most likely the one who will be in charge.

    My mother passed at home but my father was in a nursing care facility which was best for him. However I was there each and every day the 2 weeks he was dying. He had hospis and so did my mother but she was at home when she passed. I did my best to abide by their wishes.

  16. Death is a part of life that is a fact no body can run from it is the end we all race toward all our lives from the moment we draw our fist breath. That being said due to some issues our children have with what my husband and I want done we are going to make the arrangements so that there will be nothing for our children to do and our wishes will be met.

    We will most likely be in a long term care facility when we pass and hospis will most likely help us to the other side. After having hospis with both my parents at their request I have to say that is the way to cross over if you what to know the truth.

  17. I wasn’t there when my mom passed and I still feel bad about that. My dad wanted to be at home and hospice was a huge help. They explained the stages including the death rattle. It was surreal and a couple weeks before Christmas. My brother played Sarah McLachlan’s Wintersong CD a lot that season. That’s my favorite Xmas album now.
    My dad was our family’s sun and we all got a little off course afterwards.

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