It's 7:30 on a Sunday morning. I'm writing this in the home of Marianne and Dennis, who I don't think are awake yet. For company I have a cat named Skeksis and a young man named Lee. Skeksis is ignoring me. Lee is dead.

For several years, I've felt a calling toward death work, but only in the past 15 months or so have I begun putting that call into action. I've joined a local group that focuses on family-directed death care and green burial advocacy and education. I'm helping plan a death and dying workshop for my local Reclaiming community. I'm getting my own end-of-life affairs in order. I'm sitting vigil with a young man I didn't know in life to help a shocked father begin to grieve and heal.

Each of us who comes to death work follows a different path, and we each have our own reasons. My reasons are rooted in my Pagan beliefs, which are profoundly shaped by the Reclaiming Principles of Unity.

"We see the Goddess as immanent in the earth's cycles of birth, growth, death, decay and regeneration."b2ap3_thumbnail_sugar_skulls_by_Narodny_Geroy.jpg

Most of you are aware by now that I'm a naturalist. When I say I see the Goddess as immanent in the Earth's cycles, I mean that the Earth is my Goddess--and even then I use that term gingerly. Earth Itself is the source of my awe and the object of my reverence. I see Mystery in all its cycles and processes and know myself to be a part of those cycles. I know that I participate primarily as a consumer, rather than a producer. This is a huge part of why I want green burial for myself and champion it to others, especially fellow Earth-based practitioners:  in green burial, which most commonly means no vault, no embalming, and either no casket or a very simple, completely biodegradable one, we have our best opportunity to give back to this sacred living planet that gives us so much over the course of our lives. Cremation and alkaline hydrolysis, although they have their environmental challenges, are also more eco-friendly disposition methods than being pumped full of embalming fluids and sealed inside air-tight caskets in vaults or mausoleums.

"We know that everyone can do the life-changing, world-renewing work of magic..."

Everyone. I take this phrase in the Principles of Unity very seriously, and I don't intend to give up that magic-making power just because I happen to be dying or dead. No, I can't wave a wand or stir a cauldron after I die, but I can make choices in life that will help ensure that my passing blows one last breath of magic across this world.

  • Making provisions for my families of blood and choice to clean and dress my body for disposition restores an age-old tradition, linking them to generations of ancestors and opening a path for profound healing and acceptance.
  • Choosing green burial, cremation, or alkaline hydrolysis restores me to Earth's cycles and connects me to its magic at the most elemental levels.
  • Preparing end-of-life and post-death legal documents, such as medical directives and wills, helps ease the logistical course my survivors will need to navigate and lowers the potential for strife and energy drain among my loved ones and communities.
  • Any action my loved ones and I take now to prepare for our deaths removes us from the dominant end-of-life messages of a culture that has become helpless in the face of death, utterly dependent on professionals and strangers to perform acts that, for milennia, were the province of families and communities. It empowers us in death, as many of us strive to be empowered in life.

After Lee's ashes returned to Florida, his father sent a message of heartfelt thanks to those of us who had helped with the vigil, funeral, and cremation. I suspect that, as with all acts of intention, the ripples of the group's work and Lee's presence among us will continue to spread and return to us. This is the outcome I strive toward: to continue to be magical and Earth-healing--even in death.