By Molly Patrick
Jun 15, 2019,
“You’ll miss the best things if you keep your eyes shut.”
And so, we open our eyes, and we look at the things that are uncomfortable to confront.
We look them over, we think about them, we ponder, we wonder, we talk. We ask questions. We listen.
And pretty soon, the big scary monster that we’ve been avoiding doesn’t seem quite as scary. Not because fear is absent, but because familiarity has a way of caressing fear and softening its hard and jagged edges.
Death is big. It’s huge. It’s permanent. It’s overwhelming. It’s unimaginable and completely unknown. But to die is our birthright, it’s the one thing that we all have in common. And yet, most of us don’t dare talk about it.
We bury it in our mental closet and file it under “will deal with later.” And in the meantime, the thought of it mounts. It grows. It makes our sleep restless. It makes the stomach churn. It causes anxiety and panic. No matter how much we want it to, ignoring things that make us uncomfortable doesn’t make them go away. It only heightens the intensity.
Screw that! Let’s shine some light on the darkness and breathe life into death. Let’s face it and talk about it and soften its edges. Let’s accept the fact that we will in fact, die one day. That the people we love will die one day. Accepting this doesn’t magically make the thought of it delightful, but it does make today look pretty fucking good. When we don’t think of ourselves and others as invincible, we no longer take our time for granted.
Dr. Seuss knew that “You’ll miss the best things if you keep your eyes shut.” If we open our eyes to death it might just make our life more rich and full of wonder.
Maybe that’s why we die. Maybe we die so that we can really live. I don’t know. It’s a mystery to all of us.
Today I invite you to make death a little less mysterious by listening to my talk with Amber Carvaly, Director of what used to be Undertaking LA., and is now Clarity Funeral & Cremations, a progressive funeral home based in LA. The founder of Clarity is Caitlin Doughty, author of Smoke Gets In Your Eyes, From Here to Eternity, and Will My Cat Eat My EyeBalls?
When Amber and I chatted it was originally a video chat, but we had technical issues with the video. We decided to extract just the audio because we really loved the talk and thought it would be better to have audio only than nothing at all. Enjoy!
Molly Patrick & Amber Carvaly Audio Interview
Download the transcript of the audio here.
A quick warning before you listen to our talk. Amber and I get down and dirty and talk about all things death: dead bodies, logistics of dead bodies, the funeral home industry – we cover a lot and we don’t sugar coat anything. Probably not a great talk to have on around your little ones or anyone who is triggered by these topics.
After you listen to our chat, here are some additional resources that I’ve found helpful in shining light on death. Clean Food Dirty Girl is not affiliated with any of these links / resources.
- Smoke Gets in Your Eyes – Caitlin Doughty
- From Here to Eternity – Caitlin Doughty
- It’s Okay That You’re Not Okay – Megan Devine
- Even Vegans Die – Carol J. Adams, Patti Breitman and Virginia Messina, MPH, RD
- The Tibetan Book on Living and Dying – Sogyal Rinpoche
- Death in the afternoon
- Grief Cast
- Dr. BJ Miller / How to die
- Jae Rhim Lee / My mushroom burial suit
- Caitlin Doughty / A burial practice that nourishes the planet
- Katrina Spade / When I die, recompose me
- The Order of the Good Death (this website has a ton of resources)
- Zen Hospice Project
- Find a Death Cafe in your town or start your own!
- Elizabeth Gilbert on The Moth talking about her partner’s terminal disease and eventual death.
- Ask A Mortician (Caitlin Doughty YouTube channel)
- The Death Store (Maui)
- Recompose – become soil when you die
- Clarity Funeral & Cremation
- Cake (good resource to help you with wills, Advanced Directives, life insurance, etc…)
- Great video about Advanced Directives (watch this with your loved ones!)
- Our weekly meal plans won’t make you live forever, but they will make you feel really damn good and healthy while you’re alive.
I will leave you with a passage from My Antonia by Willa Cather. It brings me peace when I read it and helps me ease into the thought of my own mortality.
“I sat down in the middle of the garden, where snakes could scarcely approach unseen, and leaned my back against a warm yellow pumpkin. There were some ground-cherry bushes growing along the furrows, full of fruit. I turned back the papery triangular sheaths that protected the berries and ate a few.
All about me giant grasshoppers, twice as big as any I had ever seen, were doing acrobatic feats among the dried vines. The gophers scurried up and down the ploughed ground.
There in the sheltered draw-bottom the wind did not blow very hard, but I could hear it singing its humming tune up on the level, and I could see the tall grasses wave. The earth was warm under me, and warm as I crumbled it through my fingers. Queer little red bugs came out and moved in slow squadrons around me. Their backs were polished vermilion, with black spots. I kept as still as I could. Nothing happened.
I did not expect anything to happen. I was something that lay under the sun and felt it, like the pumpkins, and I did not want to be anything more. I was entirely happy. Perhaps we feel like that when we die and become a part of something entire, whether it is sun and air, or goodness and knowledge.
At any rate, that is happiness; to be dissolved into something complete and great. When it comes to one, it comes as naturally as sleep.”
Do you have any words about death you would like to share? Talk to us in the comments below, we would love to read them.
- 2 garlic cloves, minced
- 1 green onion, chopped
- 1 can (15 oz) white beans, drained and rinsed
- 1/4 cup water (60 ml)
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 1 cup packed spinach, chopped
- 1 teaspoon yellow miso
- Salt and pepper to taste
- Your favorite tortillas
- Heat a large skillet over medium heat and add the garlic and green onion and cook for about 30 second, stirring often.
- Add the beans, water, salt and spinach and cook until the water is absorbed, about a minute or two.
- Take the mixture out of the skillet, transfer to a bowl and mash with a fork.
- Add the miso and stir until the miso is incorporated into the mixture.
- Add salt and pepper to taste.
- Once the Bean Mixture is ready, assemble the quesadillas.
- Spread a generous amount of the mixture on a tortilla, cover it with another tortilla and heat the quesadilla in a dry skillet on both sides, until they are slightly browned.
- Take out of the skillet and cut into quarters.
Wishing you a happy week. May it be filled with shining light on the things that scare you.
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That is a beautiful excerpt to ponder life and death. I must admit, I’m terrified of dying! I don’t believe in a heaven or hell to live on for all of eternity. So when my life comes to an end, it just ends. It’s calming to think that there is a time for all of us. And while my body ages and comes closer to its expiration date, there are many other creatures just coming into full bloom and starting their youth. That is what I took from your passage, all these things so alive and bustling around a body lying still on the earth. Maybe when my time comes (many, many years from now) I can remember the joy of youth and life, and know that something else is starting that joyful journey. Thank you!
Along that same vein, it’s important to make sure the legal side of things is tied up with a pretty bow long, long before it’s ever needed. So your loved ones don’t have to think about it. Everyone, everyone should have a will – or at least a living will – in place for the unexpected. It’s the best final present to give family.
I agree, Lisa – get those affairs in order, no matter what age you are!
It is a gift to your family to do so.
Thank you for sharing your thoughts – I love your insight about the cycle of life and how it keeps going.
What a lovely passage by Cather. That truly resonates with me.
I am 60 & in good health (thank you WFPB eating!) however I have thought of death a lot (not in a morbid way) & I actually do not care what happens to my soul or my body when I die. My personal beliefs are closest to Buddhism, & I don’t feel sentimental about my body, I never have. Since I was around 10 I requested cremation. I didn’t want to take up space in a cemetery was my reasoning at the time. Still is, but more than that now that I’ve had 50 years to ponder. My family’s a little dismayed by my lack of interest, so I’ve put in writing (& told them) to cremate me & spread my ashes where lilacs grow (my favorite flower), that I’d prefer they don’t have a service unless it makes them feel better to do so. However I’ve since revised that to donate any usable parts, & then cremate the remains for the lilacs. It brings me a lot of peace & joy to imagine being able to help someone in need &/or give nourishment to beloved lilacs. And if they don’t do any of this well… I won’t be around to be bothered by it!
You are awesome, thank you for sharing.
My thoughts about death are very similar to yours.
“…one doesn’t live, God damn it, he lives through, he survives, one learns too late that even the broadest and most useful of lives only reach the point of learning how to live…”
Gabriel Garcia Marquez
I love it!
Thank you for sharing.
Oh my hell, this recipe is amazeballs!!! This is definitely being added to the menu rotation. I didn’t have spinach, but kale was a great substitute! My carnivore hubby loved it, so that’s a win!!!
Winning! I’m so happy to hear it was a hit!
Ditto on amazing recipe! The miso adds the perfect finish. I ate most of the filling before even putting any in the freshly made tortilla from the place up the street. (Fourteen for 1.25. Cannot beat that with a stick!)
You are so beautiful. Thank you for this post.
Death is such an important topic to look at directly in the eye — not so much to quell our fears but to acknowledge and accept them, as well as the continuously terrifying yet alluring mystery of all phenomenon.
The resources you provided are wonderful. You continue to guide and inspire. Thank you.
Oh, that photo of you trying on new clothes made me so happy. You are truly beautiful. Know that you are loved, and consider yourself hugged.
Peace, w/thanks, always and forever,
So glad you enjoyed the piece, Rick.
My son and only child died in October 2017 of a fentanyl/heroin overdose. He was 33. His death is hard no matter how much I stare it in the face.
Oh, Kathy, my heart aches for you.
I am so very sorry.
You are right, I don’t believe anything has the ability to make that easier.
My heart goes out to you, my dear.
I used to want a cremation, but now I want a “green burial.” Looking into options. When my daughter died suddenly last fall, we were too much in shock and didn’t have time to find a green burial location — we decided on cremation and her ashes were divided into urns for her husband and children, me, her father, and her brother. When her children establish their own homes, they will be able to take some ashes with them. I haven’t been eating right or cooking much for myself since her death. I ended up in the ER the night of her death with super high blood pressure — they called it “acute stress reaction.” I seem to be keeping it all in and it is tearing up my body. I know now why spouses and parents die soon after their loved ones. It is a real thing. But I have four grandchildren that need me, so I need to get my shit together!
I’m so sorry to hear of your daughter’s death. That must’ve been such a hard thing for you.
Thank you for sharing your story and please try to take care of yourself.
I was visiting my mom the summer before she passed. She knew she was dying and was terrified. I asked her questions about death. Her biggest fear was what would happen after she died. I thought about it for a while. My answer was that she would be free of her pain. We would be sad. We would be okay. She still wanted to know about after. I told her she would gone but she would live on in our memories.
I think that was the answer she wanted since she didn’t ask again. She died December 17th. I put off calling her that night because I was too tired. I was going to ask her what I could get her for Christmas.
I’m so glad that you had that special time with your mom.
Thank you for sharing such a special memory.
Molly, death lost it’s sting for me (at least, it feels that way) when I finally opened up to the possibility that there was more to living than what I see with two eyeballs and a human brain. That happened in a flash when, screwing up my courage, I joined a group of women meeting with a skilled medium.
I’d been raised Catholic which taught that mediums, psychics, etc. were doorways to evil.
But after leaving the church I began to loosen up around such things. The medium that day kept connecting to people who had died and yet came through with so many familiar parts of their personalities to their loved ones in that room (including me). My mind was forever expanded beyond just this earth, just this body.
Shaking off so much of that old belief system, which had me thinking death meant judgement & one-way tickets to heaven, purgatory or hell, I discovered a rich delight in knowing I don’t end.
My family members who have died — mom, dad, brother — they don’t end. My aunt who was murdered? She was the first to reach me thru the medium. She’d been killed years before I was physically born yet there we were, talking to each other.
This forever changed my fear of death as a final ending.
I loved the way you have written here on death because whatever we fear, including death, “is just the next in line to be loved,” as Matt Kahn says…Death, where is thy sting? Enfolded and wrapped up in the arms of never-ending love 🙂
Thank you for sharing part of your experience with us.
That sounds fascinating!
When I was 15, I’m now 48, my older brother (17) died by accidental asphyxiation. By which he unintentionally hung himself from his bunk bed. I entered his room and found him. He’d been gone for several hours. That day is forever etched in precise detail in my memory. You see, I thought I had caused him to die after an earlier argument. For years afterward I would wake up in the middle of the night to check on my loved one to make sure they were still breathing. Death scared me something terrible. I’ve reached a point in my life where death no longer frightens me, but makes me sad to leave my children behind. When I do finally pass from this earth, I would like to be cremated and have my ashes used to grow a tree. Wouldn’t that be beautiful?
Yes, that would be lovely. I’ve often thought that I might do that too.
Thanks for sharing your thoughts on death.
When I was a kid, our parents would never take us to funerals….no place for kids they said. When my Grandma was dying in 1983, they wouldn’t let me (age 23) go to her hospital room to see her one last time (you don’t want to see that). So I always didn’t so much have a fear of death, but more of a curiosity. Then at age 50, it was suddenly “in my face”. My younger brother was dying of a terminal brain tumor. All I needed was that word, “terminal”, and I knew it was real. And it was coming. I took care of all the financial/medical/caregiver/POA, etc knowing how it was going to end. But my frustration was the denial from him (my brother) and both of my parents that “this is really happening”. I was the bad person. I was the bitch. Because I was realistic. I was the only one in the room when he took his last breath. I kissed him on the end of the nose, told him I loved him. The end. Then, my mom got cancer and landed in the nursing home…..which is a story for another day. She would never admit she was going to die. Didn’t want to hear about Jesus…Period. Even though she claimed she was saved at the age of 8. My father in law does not believe he is going to die. All of these other family members’ “perspectives” makes me feel like there is something wrong with ME? Because I accept there is an end? I don’t fear dying, I fear I might be wasting my time I have left doing stupid, meaningless shit. Thank you Molly for the subject of this blog post. Denial is HUGE. Let’s talk about people who find themselves spending their last days in nursing homes sometime? Thank GOD for WFPB!!! I am trying very hard to take care of my health and NOT spend my final days laying in a bed with others having to take care of me.
Thank you so much for sharing your experience.
I agree wholeheartedly that we need to embrace each day and live life to the fullest.
Thank you dear Molly for opening this conversation with such care, compassion and curiosity. The interview was so interesting and informative. Your list of references at the end of your piece is excellent and will provide an opportunity to learn more about a subject too long closeted in our culture. I come from a generation that did not encourage children to ask questions about “adult topics.” Consequently, there came an entire generation cut off from the basic facts of life and death. We were between the generation that existed before the “disconnect” from the natural world where babies were born at home and the dead were often kept at home for wakes, and the generation that whitewashed essentially everything, creating illusions rather than sharing reality in a transparent way. When I left home for college I rejected so much of what I had witnessed in my home environment and began the journey of a lifetime. A real lifetime where curiosity, exploration, creativity, reflection, and values that honor the natural world serve me well. Thank you for opening a conversation that is an essential part of that world.
Hi Mama P!
I’m also very grateful for this opportunity to hear, understand, and figure out such a usually “off limits” topic. I was also sheltered from the realities and that makes it more difficult when someone dies/transitions.
Thank you for sharing your thoughts on this subject.
Thank you for bringing this important topic ‘into the light’. As a hospice nurse, I regularly encounter people who have yet to give death any thought. It is important to be thinking about death and the associated decisions. Not just the final decisions, but also life review. These things can be done anytime at any age and there is great value in doing so.
I like the idea of a green burial for myself. I married a significantly older man, so while I would like him to live forever, the idea that I would most likely be a widow one day was something I had to grapple with before saying, “I do.” He is 68 now and in pretty good shape. I can’t help but frequently think about how I will handle it if that day comes before I go.
When I was 25 I lost my dad. He was only 48 and his death was unexpected. I did not handle it well at all. I was told to come to the hospital, I learned that he died, and it felt like only a few minutes before they had me up there ready to see his body. When I saw him lying there, looking like he was just sleeping, I just had a complete breakdown. I hyperventilated and I really thought I was going to die. I know my mom and my brother went in there and saw him, but I only saw him for about one second before I turned and ran. A kindly nurse talked to me and had a paper bag for me, but for some reason I wanted to punch her in a way I have never felt before or since. He was cremated. I never saw his body after that one second from outside the door of his room. I couldn’t handle death at all that time. I threw up and had diarrhea while a pastor nobody asked for stood outside the door. When he wanted to pray I told him to leave me alone.
Now that I have experienced that and I have lost my grandparents, I feel like I will of course be sad, but next time I will be able to accept it and understand it at least a little more. Losing my father changed my life in a very negative way for a long time. I know he didn’t want that for me. Maybe it was a temporary dip, and now that I am better, I am better in a way that I might not have been had I not gone through that. I hope he would be proud of me now if he was here. I know I want my children to thrive after I am gone.