By Lucinda Herring
I almost missed the email that day. Luckily the words “exploring a book project” caught my eye. I had been writing a book over many years about my mother’s remarkable death and home funeral on our family land in Alabama, but I had put it down after a disappointing journey with an agent/publisher. And life happened; I got the opportunity to become a licensed funeral director, to strengthen the work I was already doing as a home funeral and green burial guide, and that work became all consuming. I answered the email from Tim McKee of North Atlantic Books right away, and the rest is history.
At heart a storyteller, I knew how compelling the stories were that I had gathered throughout my many years of helping families and communities care for their own dead again. These stories needed to be told, and there needed to be enough practical information and guidance as well, so that people could be both inspired and empowered to create home funerals and green burials themselves. I believe my book fulfills both those intentions well. I have had feedback from many readers across the globe about the power and beauty of the stories, and the usefulness of the material and resources for those wishing to create home funeral vigils, and to choose more natural and ecological after-death dispositions. The chapter on green burials is one of the most extensive, since a lot of my work has been focused there, but I include a chapter on other innovative “green” options as well —aquamation, promession, and recomposition. I also write about the spiritual and sacred nature of caring for our own dead, and the unimagined and powerful gifts available to us at death’s threshold.
Many people have written to say that my book has helped them feel more comfortable talking about and planning for death. I am grateful for this, for I emphasize strongly in the book how important it is to imagine and get in place one’s end of life plans, especially if one wants something more alternative, like green burials and home funerals. Some people have even written that, after reading my book, they are less afraid to die. I know this kind of shift is possible, having experienced such transformation in many individuals and families who choose to be more actively engaged with death, rather than leave that sacred task to strangers.
What have I learned since writing the book? I think the most powerful understanding has come from watching greener after-death options enter the mainstream. I know we have a long way still to go, but it’s heartening to see so many different kinds of people choose home vigils and especially green burials now. One family, one community at a time, we are reimagining after-death care practices, and transforming our experience of death and what is possible at the end of life. And we are caring for each other and the earth, in ways that are more healing, life-giving, and sustainable for all.
Lucinda Herring has worked at the cutting edge of the green funeral movement for more than twenty years, beginning with others in the 1990s to quietly care for loved ones after death. Herring is a home funeral/green disposition consultant and guide, an interfaith minister, storyteller, and a licensed funeral director in the state of Washington. She speaks regularly about her work, and offers advance after-death care planning, home funeral/green disposition education and trainings, and celebrant/ministerial services for families and communities who are reclaiming their innate right to care for each other and the earth at the end of life.
Herring's Gold Nautilus Award-Winning book Reimagining Death: Stories and Practical Wisdom for Home Funerals and Green Burials, is available from North Atlantic Books, Penguin Random House, and Amazon for the Audible version read by the author. For an author/publisher story of synchronicity, read Tim’s Letter From the Publisher.
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