During the time that I was a visit nurse, I did a fair amount of death visits. That’s when the family would call and say the patient had died, then I was to go out and confirm – that is, listen to heart and lungs and confirm that the person had in fact died.
We then helped clean the body and call the mortuary for pick up. There were the usual pick ups for a traditional funeral. There were lots of pick ups for an organization that provides cremation services. There were even a couple of people that donated their bodies to science – one had a rare condition that he and the family wanted studied further after his death and one or two others were for general donation.
No one (that I visited) requested any “green burials.” I was a pretty big fan of Six Feet Under when it was on HBO (and still am – I consider the last several minutes of the series finale the best thing TV has ever aired) and they portrayed these green burials a couple of times toward the end of the series. I am very interested in learning more about these types of burials so you can certainly expect a post or two about them in the future.
In my relatively short time doing death visits, one visit stands out from all the rest. I arrived in the late evening to the patient’s home. It was very unusual in that the only person there was the patient’s husband. No other family at all. My previous experience had been with patients who were surrounded by family members – either at the time they died, or certainly by the time I arrived to confirm. But this time it was just one person, just him. Since I didn’t have any other calls at the time I spent some time talking to him about his wife.
At one point he said, “Here, let me show you something” and turned on the light for the backyard. I was a bit startled to see a casket out there – a plain pine casket. No shiny polished dark wood trimmed with brass fittings. Just a casket-shaped box. Then he told me they’d already had a little mini-funeral for her while she was alive! Everyone had written something and signed the box. The plan was to cremate her in it, surrounded by loving words.
I thought that was so clever and so sweet.