America has been described as a society that is at the same time death-obsessed and death-denying. Mainstream media, in its efforts to capture and hold our attention, focuses on the sensational and feeds us endless stories and images of people being killed and we can’t seem to help but devour them all in a sort of dark obsession. At the same time, most people have a very hard time talking with depth about the idea of their own death and the topic is often treated as taboo. There’s an interesting June 22nd article in the New York Times about a “positive death” movement, and as someone who’s passionate about changing the way our society approaches death and has been working to do so in this community since 2010, I’m genuinely excited to see the face of death starting to change locally and nationally.
Sounds a little dark, doesn’t it? Here’s a little background so you understand where I’m coming from on this. I started a local business called Peaceful Crossings in 2010, and we introduced creative, innovative services and products to help people embrace and plan for the really big life changes - especially their own death. I was certified as a Celebrant through the InSight Institute to learn how to approach death and funerals in a more healthful way. I called together a small team of like-minded, huge-hearted locals and we created a beautiful, holistic personal legacy planning guidebook , and then we developed a curriculum by which we certified a team of 14 local Legacy coaches to help guide people through the process. The community response to this was an interesting mix of fear and “lip service” - the very name “Peaceful Crossings” made people think of death and scared them away so we ended up changing the business name to Intentional Legacies, and most of those that weren’t scared off appreciated our legacy planning offerings and said they wanted to use them, but investing the time and money to get them done turned out to be another whole story.
Recently, awareness of things like Death Cafés, Death Doulas, home funerals, and green burials has increased and as the light is shined on death it’s become a much less taboo topic. A recent TedX talk called Changing the Face of Death by Lisa Delong and some insightful discussion on the End of Life University podcast are among a growing number of pieces that are opening America’s minds to the topic of death. Societal change often happens at a snail’s pace, but the positive death movement is picking up momentum and that gives me hope, because dealing with death – our own and others’ - in a healthier way will make us a healthier community.
On a more personal level, my Dad passed away in January of 2017 and his passing was a big deal to me. He was a thoughtful, loving man and didn’t want people to mourn his passing – in fact he wanted people to remember him in joy and come together to celebrate his life. In 2012 we talked together about his eventual death and planned the life celebration gathering that occurred in 2017, and I can say from personal experience that a proactive, conscious approach to planning the events, ceremonies, and rituals that will happen when someone passes can completely shift the grieving experience and help loved ones pick up the pieces and move forward in peace.
Another client, a lovely Detroit woman that chose to do comprehensive legacy planning services in advance of her 80th birthday party, put a beautiful twist on the whole process by asking why she couldn’t go ahead with the life celebration gathering while she was still alive so she could share in the experience with all her loved ones. Why not, indeed?. Our legacy planning services and the rites of passage work we do at Conscious Rites are all about living – and dying – in the most conscious, intentional, and personal way possible.
In a strange twist, nearly every client I’ve ever done legacy planning with has said that embracing and planning for their own death has shifted them from being fearful of it to being more at peace so they could live more fully in the current moment. Namaste.
Callan (Cal) Loo is an experienced, authentic, and creative participant in the journey of life. He’s something of a serial social entrepreneur, having co-founded The Intentional Living Collective, Intentional Legacies, Conscious Rites, The Rising Phoenix Awards, and The Village Wisdom Portal. He's a certified celebrant through the In-Sight institute, an officiant and priest, a certified personal legacy coach, a business legacy coach, a father of two amazing young adults, and a techie at heart that still also works part-time in the high-tech industry. Cal is passionate about helping others find peace, balance, and personal growth while navigating life's major transitions. After pursuing life and a career around the country, Cal is happy to now call Ann Arbor home and you can reach him at callan@The-ILC.org or 734-680-6660.