"No matter how hard you try, you never get out of this world alive."--Bill Morrissey, singer-songwriter.
Recently, I was standing in a circle of friends at Baldwin Beach when one elder member suddenly reflected, "You know, someday we'll all be skeletons." That comment left us all a little stunned! And yet, surprising as it may sound to those who perennially and assiduously avoid the subject, death has become a lively topic of conversation.
Whether the Grim Reaper has caught on yet, or not, we're starting to take a fresh look at death, breaking free of traditional views and making different kinds of choices about life's end. Though death itself is a given, one's attitude toward death can definitely be shaped by a greater, more informed awareness.
Rev. Bodhi Be is a practical visionary whose “Death Store” offers a new paradigm of death and dying.
Trailblazing the so-called "natural death" movement (which embraces, among other matters, home funerals and "green" cemeteries) is long-time Maui resident, Rev. Bodhi Be, a lifetime explorer of matters both metaphysical and practical. Entrepreneurial Be once owned and managed the Maui Juice Company.
While the blockbuster movie starring Jack Nicholson continues to propel millions into creating their "Bucket List" of experiences that they wish to enjoy before "kicking the bucket," Be has lately been pursuing an entirely different tack. His current inspirational mission is to help us focus on the process of death and dying itself and look at meaningful, affordable ways to have that experience be more graceful, stress-free and deeply profound for all concerned.
Reverend Be's unique art is awakening us to the desirability of a conscious preparation for death--and in providing a range of practical options from which to choose. To that end (if you'll pardon the pun), Be has recently opened "The Death Store" in the Pauwela Cannery Mall, Ha'iku. Its Grand Opening will be on Saturday, March 10.
The Death Store offers most services that are traditionally provided by a funeral home. But its operative paradigm is sustainability and environmental friendliness. Goods are "carefully chosen for their quality and environmental standards and whenever possible made by local artists and crafters." There one can buy colorful urns made of recycled mulberry-leaf paper, cornstarch, clay and sand, all of which will easily decompose.
The store also serves as a resource center, with a lending library of resources to help navigate a loved-one's dying process. One can receive guidance in personal matters, too, such as managing grief and loss; and in practical ones, such as advance health care directives, power of attorney and ethical wills.
In contrast, conventional care of the dying has become big business, sorely deficient, in Be's view, in the human element, often including toxic and unsustainable practices such as embalming. And it's expensive--the typical cost of a conventional funeral is around $6,000, not including the burial plot, while coffins cost $1,200 or more.
Be's idea is to "take back something very important that we've given away to big industry," namely our end-of-life practices---and integrate these back into the community, as sacred service. They can also be affordable; at The Death Store, one can buy an attractive, handmade wooden coffin for as little as $400.
Two years ago, Rev. Be, who is a state-certified funeral director, coordinated the body-burial at sea of Maui Renaissance man William Vitarelli. Consciously planned by the elder Vitarelli himself and with the loving participation of his son David, who handcrafted the wooden coffin, as well as his grandson, whose fishing boat carried Vitarelli out to sea, it was Maui's first ocean burial in over 50 years.
In re-inventing and revolutionizing the funeral home and bringing it forth as a "store," Be aims to stimulate and elevate the cultural conversation on aging, dying and death.
"The Death Store is my response to the 'death phobia' in our culture, where aversion, denial and avoidance of the reality of death are the norm," Be explained. "Whenever there is death phobia, there is also 'life phobia,' characterized by an inability to be fully alive."
For Be, our disconnection from what is "holy" has left us with a gaping "hole" in our psyche that renders us helpless and needy. That neediness has become a driving force in our over-consumption of earth's resources.
Spiritual elder Ram Dass, who has mentored Be with the birthing of "The Death Store," said, "Reverend Bodhi Be is a visionary thinking 'outside the box.' His leading edge efforts in the field of death and dying are in some ways ahead of his time, and in some ways exactly on time, given the state of the world. The Death Store is a big, bold and important step towards raising consciousness in our culture."
Granted, the subject of life's end is still one that most of us prefer to turn away from, living as we typically do in a kind of comfortable denial that it will occur--at least, to us. But for those of us willing to pause, reflect, and look death straight in the once-fearful eye, there's now a rainbow of available choices.
The Death Store is open on Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. and by appointment. Visit www.doorwayintolight.org and call 283-5950.