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How to Have 'A Good Death': Movement Leaders Gather as WA Takes Leading Role

A Seattle conference is exploring how people can have a healthier relationship with death. (Yes! Magazine)
A Seattle conference is exploring how people can have a healthier relationship with death. (Yes! Magazine)
October 22, 2019

SEATTLE — Leaders of the alternative death movement are in Seattle today for a conference on how to reclaim the end of life. YES! Magazine will host "A Good Death," bringing together local and national figures thinking about and approaching death differently.

Sarah Chavez is conference moderator and executive director of The Order of the Good Death, an organization focused on healing the disconnect between families and the funeral experience. She said Seattle has become the epicenter for people working toward reimagining death care.

"You'll get to meet a lot of the major players that are really at the forefront of helping people have a healthier relationship with death, protecting our death rights and care, and providing different, more eco-friendly and cost-effective options,” Chavez said.

Chavez's panel includes Jeff Jorgenson, owner of Bellevue-based green funeral home Elemental Cremation and Burial; YES! Magazine contributor Cynthia Greenlee, who has written about death doulas; and Seattle's Co-op Funeral Home of People's Memorial. The conference begins at 6 p.m. Tuesday at Impact Hub Seattle.

In 2019, the Washington Legislature passed a law allowing people to compost their remains. Katrina Spade, panel guest and founder of Recompose, said it makes the state the most progressive in the nation on death care.

Recompose is pioneering the method for turning human remains into soil. Spade said the process mimics nature - much like what would happen to a body left in the forest. The sustainable process sequesters about 1 cubic yard of carbon in the soil, avoiding emissions from cremation or burial.

"I started this work because I realized that whether you choose conventional burial or cremation, the last gesture you'll make on this planet will pollute it,” Spade said. “And I thought that that just seemed awfully disappointing."

Chavez said the medical and funeral industries established the current practices for the end of life more than a century ago, and the practices have been industry-led ever since. She said she’d like to see things shift towards being more human-centered and with more room for family involvement.

"Even though we prepare for things like graduations, for having a baby - we educate ourselves about these huge life milestones - preparation for death is so neglected that we really have become this death- and grief-illiterate society,” Chavez said.

More information on Tuesday's event is available here.

Disclosure: YES! Media contributes to our fund for reporting on Human Rights/Racial Justice, Native American Issues, Social Justice. If you would like to help support news in the public interest, click here.
Eric Tegethoff, Public News Service - WA