Death as part of life
A conversation between Kim Poldner and her mother Lisette.Last year in February, just before the pandemic put The Netherlands in its first lockdown, my mom decided to select the location where she wants to be buried. People asked her if she was ill that she made this decision, but she is 69 and in very good health. I asked her what her reasoning was behind this choice.
Kim: Mom, we’re standing here at the spot where you will be buried after you die. What made you choose a natural burial ground?
Lisette: Death has always been a part of my life and at one point I started thinking about what I wanted around my own death. Incineration was never an option for me as it goes too rapid: I have incubated for nine months in my mother’s belly so I also want to take time in properly departing from this earth. I love the idea of being buried in nature as I don’t like the straight stones you find on a conventional cemetery. Instead, I enjoy the idea of becoming a part of or even regenerating nature. This spot is perfect for me as it has a view on water while being located in an open meadow.
Kim: Why did you already reserve and pay for this exact spot?
Lisette: As I don’t want to burden my children with it, I have taken the initiative to already organize this. On a cemetery like this you don’t need to care for the grave as you have to on a regular cemetery. My parents died when I was relatively young so I have been caring for their graves the past 43 years, weeding and cleaning them.
Kim: What about your coffin?
Lisette: I have put in my testament that I would like to be buried in a basket, but I recently read that you can be buried in a mycelium coffin. The mycelium cleans toxins from the body and can decompose the body in three years, as opposed to conventional coffins that take 10 to 20 years to decompose. So I am open to innovation and would prefer the most environmentally friendly solution when my time has come. That is then something that you may take care of ;-)
Kim: What does death mean to you?
Lisette: The only certainty when you are born is that at one point, you will die. I have no fear of death, I see it as a transition to a different level of consciousness. I perceive myself as originating from a unity. Now, in this earthly existence I often feel caught between my material existence and spiritual existence. There are moments that I can really long for being unified again in that spiritual realm.
Kim: What is your relationship with death?
Lisette: When I was only seven years old, a classmate died through a car accident and I remember seeing her lying her in her coffin, dressed in her communion gown. In the twenty years after that several family members died. And while I was pregnant with you at age 26, my own mother died, which awakened a lot of existential questions within me. I started reflecting that if I could have a grip on death, I might be able to better understand life. So when you’re thoroughly aware of the fact that you will die, it will support making conscious choices throughout your life. This is a topic I often spoke about with my clients when I worked in palliative health care.
Kim: How do you imagine your own funeral service?
Lisette: Death is made into a puppet theatre with putting up big shows around burial and incineration processes. I call it also the herofication of life; people give large speeches on what an amazing person the deceased was. I don’t want all of that; rather, I prefer some prayers, maybe one speech and lots of singing and dancing at my funeral service.
Kim: What is your view on how we deal with death in society?
Lisette: I don’t think we deal with death at all. If you are already acquainted with death at a young age, I think it will be easier to embrace it when it arrives. And not to artificially extend it as we do today. I see friends who are being kept alive while they should have been death. Our consumerist society makes that we consider it normal to take in heaps of medication destroying our natural immune systems. I don’t think this behaviour promotes resilience. In the current pandemic we’re trying to keep people alive while they might think they had enough of life themselves. Our medical system simply doesn’t allow it.
Kim: I very much recognize what you’re saying as Mark (Kim’s husband who is a surgeon) is not able to let people die in the hospital. He needs to fill out 18 pages of documentation and no doctor has time for that. So what happens is that people are being kept alive with multiple complications while their quality of life is near to nothing. He always says that when death comes knocking on your door, people cling to life. I am curious what your vision is on for example being diagnosed with cancer, what would you do?
Lisette: If I can be operated, I will go for it, but I don’t want chemo because of several reasons. It puts enormous pressure on our healthcare system while it usually only extends your life temporarily. Many toxins get released for example through urine of cancer patients, which ends up in our sewage systems and affects our drinking water. I also think that my body won’t respond well to heavy conventional medication as I have seen with my own mother who suffered for nine months before dying of cancer.
Kim: What would you like to see different in society when it comes to death?
Lisette: It would be great if we don’t dismiss death from a place of fear but integrate it into our lives.
We should teach it to younger children as part of the curriculum in primary schools. And we should live much more consciously to honour life and embrace death when it is our time to go.