Creative Dying - Resources and tools for designing our own death and dying is one of the designs in my portfolio for my Diploma in Applied Permaculture Design. I started this design in 2013 and it’s had several incremental changes over the years since. You can read more about Creative Dying and how permaculture can improve how we die, in a previous article I wrote here . The online resource I created then has now being archived and I’m currently in the process of designing the next steps of the project.
Triggered by several major life changing events, including serious illness, I have recently been updating my When I Die plan, which was part of the initial Creative Dying design. I’ve not explicitly named the permaculture principles used throughout my plan, but see how many you can identify as you read through. Could the same principles help to shape your own Creative Dying related design?
(The information shared in this blog relates to death, dying and bereavement in the UK)
The functions of my When I Die plan
The functions of my When I Die plan are
When I Die - Three Sections
My When I Die plan consists of three sections
The Before I die and As I die sections of my plan contain personal information that isn’t appropriate to share in this blog, but the information can be categorised under the following headings -
Through both my work as a palliative care nurse and as a Carer for various family members, I am aware of some of the difficulties in meeting the wants and expectations of a person approaching the end of their life. These include -
Not being able to meet the exact expectations of a person who is dying can be a significant burden for friends and family which can in turn impact on their bereavement. So including various options in an advanced care plan can be really useful for everyone concerned.
The third section of my When I Die plan, After I die, is typically the aspect of dying that most people planning for their death, focus on. It’s something which I am very happy to share the main elements here -
The final resting place for my body
My first choice for the placement of my body after my death, if available in the UK or other country where I die, is to be composted. Recompose are an amazing organisation founded by Katrina Spade, a permaculture designer and architect, in the US, who are pioneering the composting of human bodies. It’s a process that is already legal in several states and one if the aims of Recompose is to enable organisations in other countries to create similar systems.
If human body composting is not not possible, including because of the wellbeing of people close to me, then I would like to be buried in a woodland burial site nearest to the address where I am living when I die. Ideally I would like to be buried in this blanket that I have made from felted knitted squares of natural coloured wool, (wool which is produced and sold directly from small farms in the UK).
If burial in my blanket is not possible, including because of the wellbeing of people close to me, then I would like to be buried in the coffin I have already designed and purchased. This is in use as a book shelves and (the lid) as a notice board in my house.
If I die outside the UK then I would like my body to be treated and placed as local custom, with my ideal choice always being burial. I would not want my body to be transported back to the UK.
Celebration of life and saying goodbye
I have no fixed ideas or needs for those around me to celebrate my life and say goodbye after I die. Here is a list of some ideas I have that might assist people close to me involved in my after death care -
I have listed friends who are celebrants of various kinds and might be available to facilitate an event
Legal aspects of my When I Die plan
A really important part of the update of my When I Die plan has been getting some of the legal aspects of the project completed. I got both Lasting Power of Attorney, Health and Welfare and Property and Financial Affairs, documents arranged, meaning that a close friend of mine can act on my behalf if I am too unwell to make decisions for myself and my own needs known. At the same time, with the same local solicitor, I wrote my Will which means that when I die my wishes for any belongings and/or financial assets that I own will be carried out.
These documents took a bit longer to process than anticipated as they had just got into the legal system as the first lockdown for the COVID 19 pandemic commenced in the UK. However, they are complete now and the details in them will be honoured for the rest of my life. I can also change the content of any of these documents at any time, should I want too. A copy of my When I Die plan, while not legally binding, also sits with the Power Of Attorney documents and Will, both with my solicitor and in my paperwork at home. Two close friends have also got a copy of my When I Die document.
These books are some of my current favourite resources for making plans for dying.
The following list is a selection of my current favourite online resources -
Life. Death. Whatever
The Digital Legacy Association
The Good Grief Project
End Of Life Care - LGBTQ Route To Success - Macmillan Cancer Support
Anti-Racism: The Outer and Inner Work - End Of Life University Podcast
How To Have An Environmentally Responsible Death - Marie Curie
A Greener Way To Go, What’s The Most Eco Friendly Way To Dispose Of A Body - The Guardian
Eco Friendly Funerals - Green Eco Friend
The Natural Death Centre
Whether for your own death plan, or someone close to you, I hope its been useful to read about my own When I Die plan. I have other other new elements of Creative Dying planned over the next few months, sign up to my monthly newsletter to access them when available.
Apologies. I’ve definitely been a bit A.W.O.L. In recent months, both from my blog and Full Moon newsletters. At the end of last year I outgrew my marketing package from Weebly, my website host and decided that while I upgraded I would take the opportunity to give my website a much needed update too. Living with a chronic illness means that unplanned times of rest are often a thing and none essential activities can get delayed in a big way, which is what happened with me. However, here I am again with my website updated, a new blog/newsletter design underway and some great plans for my online spaces over the next few months. Here is a little overview of what you can find on my website now: -
About Me and My Work
An overview of my different Permaculture Educator projects: - Permaculture Illustrations, Blog, Permaculture Diploma Tutoring, Accessing Permaculture, Permaculture Resources and Social Media
Details about my Free To Use illustrations, examples of some of the recent commissions I have undertaken and a link to my Etsy shop where some of my older Illustrations are available as cards and prints. Over the next few weeks I will be opening a new shop for cards and prints of my illustrations on my website. Sign up to my full moon news letter and connect with my social media spaces for updates on this
Everyday examples of how permaculture can provide healing and regeneration for ourselves, our communities and our planet.
Permaculture Diploma Tutoring
Information about my work as a tutor for the Permaculture Association (UK) Diploma in Applied Permaculture Design
Some resources designed to help and support improving access to Permaculture, (and other activism type work/events), for people with chronic illness and/or disability.
Some of my favourite permaculture related resources : - websites, blogs, podcasts, books and videos
Keep Up To Date
For many people the sudden arrival of the Coronavirus Pandemic has meant significant changes in how we live our lives. As the weeks pass it is becoming more evident that in the UK, as in many other places in the world that we will be living with some level of “lockdown” situation for many more months, possibly longer.
From my own observations and listening to the stories of others, there are many similarities and parallels about life respecting the lockdown rules and managing the impacts of the overwhelming loss related to the pandemic, and my experience of being mainly housebound while living with long term illness over the last few years.
In the early months of my diagnosis with late stage Lyme Disease I used aspects of permaculture design to create a life that, although very different from my life prior to becoming seriously unwell, I could continue to thrive in. I have now easily been able to adapt these ideas to both enhancing my own experience of lockdown and also supporting others around me to be able to adapt as well as possible.
Here I share some of those ideas.
● I use The Design Web by Looby Macnamara from her book People and Permaculture (2012) to design the pattern of my days. I can really recommend spending some time on creating a template for this, which can then be used as the structure for each day to add detail to according to the different activities and priorities of each individual day.
● I spend time on a regular basis acknowledging the loss, grief and various emotional states associated with this, relating to how Covid 19 is impacting on our lives. Also how this can compound other loss in my life too. Gently accepting and reminding myself about the fact that fast changing sways of emotion are in fact grief and connecting with others about this can mean that the emotions don’t become overwhelming as often.
● Connection and integration with other people, (while physically distancing, but demonstrating social solidarity!) to support each other through the Pandemic, but just as importantly to focus and talk about other meaningful topics again to avoid being emotionally overwhelmed, is also a valuable tool.
● I use reflection a lot - a mini reflection at the end of each day, a more detailed one at the end of each week and then an in-depth time of reflection at each Earth festival. It really helps to have these periods of reflection with other people who know me well too, a bit like “life supervision”. Referring back to the daily pattern template above during the reflective time means that I can creatively make changes as needed on a regular basis. Regular reflection helps me to value my achievements however small, even on the most difficult days. Being able to identify potential for new projects or positive habits enables more flow and growth in my life too.
● Creating a journaling tool to record ideas, gratitude and event memories is a really positive strategy. The fast changing pace of the changes involved with the Coronavirus situation and the media responses, means that it can be difficult to focus on aspects of life not related to the crisis and this in turn can lead to feelings of being overwhelmed and potential burnout. Using the permaculture principle of catch and store energy, in making a physical space to record actions and thoughts really helps to focus on solutions and regenerative ways forward.
● I use the permaculture tool of Zoning to help to connect with the things in life which give me meaning, even though the ways I can do this are often very different from before. This means that I can decide on an activity based on any limitations that the effects of the Coronavirus lockdown are having on my life at any particular time. For example – one of my main projects on the go is the design and creation of a new edible garden. Zone 0 activity related to it is to have dedicated thinking/daydreaming/mind mapping time, Zone 1 to listen to a podcast or audiobook about edible gardening, Zone 2 to read a book or watch a video about edible gardening, Zone 3 to chat to a friend or on a forum about gardening, Zone 4 to actually spend some time on practical gardening activities and Zone 5 to visit other edible gardens/allotments in my local community.
● Over recent years there has been many studies demonstrating about how beneficial nature connection is to our physical, emotional and spiritual health. I designed ways in which I could connect with nature when my health was at its most difficult and I spent many months in bed. One of the most effective ways I maintained this essential part of my life was to create a space in my bedroom to display objects and other representations of patterns in nature. I wrote in more depth about this in this here . Although now, through significant improvements in my health, I have the privilege of being able to spend time in my garden and enjoy daily walks in my local park, I realise that not everyone has access to this either geographically and/or because of needing to self-isolate or shield because of Covid 19. Having an inside space dedicated to connection with nature, continues to be a constant vital aspect to my holistic wellbeing.
● Growing food is also something that gives me and many other permaculture practitioners really significant meaning in life – I’m really lucky to have the space and health to be able grow food in my garden now and as the Coronavirus lockdown commenced in March I started a design for my edible garden. Throughout the difficult times of my illness I was able to grow food on windowsills in the house – sprouted seeds and pulses, herbs and chilli plants – and I still do as these ways of growing give me fresh home grown food each day of the year which is hugely impactful to my holistic wellbeing.
● I timetable a regular space in each day to intentionally “pause” and take a break from whatever else is going on in the day. For me this means 10-15 minutes of grounding, through awareness of my senses and purposefully connecting to Earth – I also found this tool really useful to use at any time that feels overwhelming too. This short time away from whatever else is happening in my day nearly always enables me to regain a healthy sense of control and is helpful when changes are happening quickly, such has been the case with the Coronavirus crisis.
These are some of the life tools, inspired by permaculture, I have been using and adapting over the past few years to stay as holistically healthy as possible. I hope that you have found some inspiration here in my ideas for your own self-care in these times of Covid 19.
An edited version of this article also appears in Permaculture Magazine Autumn 2020 (No. 105) - If you have the financial means I can strongly recommend subscribing to this wonderful quarterly publication. As well as the magazine, Permaculture Magazine website has masses of free permaculture related content plus a wonderful YouTube channel
A few months ago I started a new blog series to run alongside a year long design process I had started for the garden at my new home. Then the Coronavirus Pandemic became a very real thing and realising the scale of changes we were urgently going to have to make to our lives, I decided to make an edible garden ASAP. My main reasons for creating this garden at this time rather than continuing with the long term period of observation I was part way through, was to give myself an immediate project which I know from past experience would hugely benefit my holistic health and well-being, at a time of probably prolonged changes, uncertainty and grief. Given my existing health limitations plus the limitations of the pandemic “lockdown”, I designed my new garden to be as simple as possible to implement and to use as few bought in components as possible. In addition, this design aims to be easily changed or adapted for the long term when more time has been spent as planned on the observation and analysis phases of my original project.
Here is a photo journey of my lockdown Edible Garden so far : -
(PS - sign up to get my monthly newsletter to read more instalments about this garden design)
My finished Edible Garden area - the beds are topped with spiky twigs to deter cats and birds. All ready to get planting into now! The shady strip of grass at the right side of the area has had some perennial wild grasses and herbage seeds sown into patches of bare soil, as well as edible flower/pollinator seeds sown into the edge alongside the fence. The function of this small area is to mainly be a space for wildlife habitat.
The Climate Change Garden published just last year, is my first complete read of 2020 and part of the research planned for my new garden design.
As well as being an author of a wide range of books, Sally Morgan is also the editor of the Soil Association's Organic Farming magazine. Kim Stoddart runs climate change gardening courses, is a gardening journalist and the editor of The Organic Way magazine. The two authors clearly have a great wealth of knowledge and experience in all matters relating to garden design with our rapidly changing climate in mind.
Overall The Climate Change Garden is a comprehensive and engaging overview of some of the main ways that climate change is, and will continue, to influence how we garden in the UK. The book has lots of inspiring photos to back up the very accessible format text. The key topics each have their own chapter; Too much water; Heat and drought; Wind, frost and snow; A healthy soil; Design Ideas; Working with wildlife; The veg patch; In the orchard; Trees for the future; The flower garden - and there is a useful appendix of extra resources. Each chapter contains relevant background and history alongside many ideas for garden design choices and plans. In my opinion, The Climate Change Garden is a great book for folk new to gardening as well as others who would welcome a reminder about some of the key issues relating to climate challenges in the designs and creations of our growing spaces. While the book isn't an in depth "how to garden" book, it firmly plants many specialist seeds of inspiration to be furthered by accessing additional resources. The Climate Change Garden is a very welcome addition to my land based permaculture tool box and already a central part of the first steps of my new garden design.
My Permaculture Illustrations on this new page on my site are offered free of financial cost, to use digitally in any regenerative change event or resource materials and marketing. Please just include a reference to my website with any use.
Having followed the journey of Sarah Spencer’s course, workshops and training about using principles from nature, tress specifically, to navigate and thrive in our lives, I was really excited when I found out that she was also writing a book about the same topic. And I’ve not been disappointed. Think Like a Tree, the book, is a beautiful and incredibly informative tool for us all.
The 42 short chapters are brimming with examples of trees from many parts of Earth, alongside every day case studies and ideas of how the nature principles taught to us by the presence of trees, can positively impact on our lives as individuals and within our communities. Each chapter covering one principle, are divided into 6 Groups – Observation, Purpose, Surroundings, Connection, Resilience, Future. There is a lot of information for each principle, as well as some really thought provoking exercises to undertake. I really enjoyed reading about 1 principle each evening and I can recommend this approach in order to take time to absorb and reflect on the details presented.
Sarah’s work with Think Like a Tree has been very much linked to her life through living as well as possible with Chronic Illness. This theme is evident throughout the book and means that Think Like a Tree could be particularly useful to others in similar situations.
Sarah claims that “Nature holds the secret to your happiness, health and wellbeing - Think Like a Tree guides you to discover your own personal route to happiness, health, success and fulfilment – whatever your circumstances” – and I agree that this part ecology, part sociology, part history and part self coaching tool lends itself to being a useful and meaningful book for a diverse audience.
Think Like a Tree can be bought directly from Sarah at
The Permaculture Design Companion by Jasmine Dale is a very beautiful new permaculture resource, in many ways. Based on Jasmine’s 20 years of experience of teaching and mentoring over 1000 permaculture students from her home at Llammas Eco Village in Wales, her book is a brimming treasure chest of diverse permaculture design tools, process and principles.
The Permaculture Design Companion itself is designed to be a workbook and literally a companion to guide and mentor us through a personal permaculture project. Although this is one of the main intentions of the book, I can already see how the individual sections as stand alone topics will be incredibly useful for many of us too. Jasmine’s written communication style is chatty and fun, while consistently demonstrating her obvious in-depth diverse knowledge and experience both as a permaculture designer and teacher.
The physical layout of the Permaculture Design Companion is something that I immediately connected to with it’s A4 size, relaxed font, and its many, many gorgeous diagrams, illustrations and spaces to make notes throughout.
The book is very much focused on using permaculture to design land based/physical projects but one of its many pluses is how it consistently weaves the connection of people involved to the physical space of the design. I particularly like the section about making sure that our wellbeing as the designer of the project is well supported and valued as being central to a successful design.
The Permaculture Design Companion is aimed at both folk who are brand new to permaculture and also to more experienced practitioners, and I whole heartedly agree with this. Having quite a few years of permaculture design experience now myself, I continuously learnt about new ideas and approaches to the many aspects of permaculture design, as I read and engaged with the exercises.
The Permaculture Design Companion is yet another fantastic new book from Permanent Publications and like so much of their work, would make a wonderful present and life tool for ourselves and the people we connect with. I’m going to be starting a new garden design within the next few months and really looking forward to testing out this fantastic new permaculture resource throughout the process.
If you decide to buy this book then please consider buying directly from the Permaculture Market, (where there is also loads of other fantastic permaculture related resources to inspire you!)
This book review is also published in Permaculture Magazine Autumn 2019 (PM 101)
Strands of Infinity is a beautiful collection of poems from Permaculture Designer and teacher Looby Macnamara. (and one poem by her daughter Teya), written over recent years. Subtitled "Poetry to reconnect", this is exactly what this powerful writing does. Connecting the personal, political and spiritual we are encouraged to explore how these intertwining threads manifest in our own life journeys. The poetry in this book is inspirationally written for both sharing at events and gatherings, alongside our own personal reflection. With themes such as "Change the story", "Gratitude as Attitude," "This Woman is Rising" and "Will Humankind Survive", Looby's poems are wonderfully accessible on many levels to a diverse audience. I can strongly recommend Strands of Infinity as a tool for our present and our futures
Using Permaculture to improve how we die
I am a palliative care nurse and permaculture educator with a spiritual self which is deeply rooted in Earth-based seasons and patterns. Issues relating to death and dying are intrinsic to most aspects of my life. Several years ago, I started exploring how permaculture can improve how we die in the UK and in many parts of the world. Central to this was the fact that “Dying with dignity” appears in Holmgren’s Permaculture Flower, and generated many interesting discussions in my peer groups within the permaculture community. This eventually resulted in the launch of my permaculture project: Creative Dying, a free online resource.
Death and Dying in the UK
In the UK and in many other parts of the world. Death and dying is still a very difficult, taboo topic, cloaked in the fear and unknown. The way in which many of us die at present in the UK is at odds with permaculture principles and ethics. People do not often get the death they would like, many needlessly dying in hospital experiencing unnecessary and distressing procedures, tests and treatment, away from their home, with resulting feelings of confusion and lack of control.
Inequalities around whether a person is enabled to make decisions about what they would want for their end of life and care after death are huge – age, disease type, social class, sexuality, race, mental health, with very real consequences about whether someone then has a ‘good death.’ In my experience, fear, distress and lack of control about how we die can often mean life time effects on emotional and physical health to those left behind, due to complex bereavement.
The environmental impacts of how we die are also very significant. – from the resources needed for end of life care in hospital, to the damaging actions of many aspects of the funeral/after death industry, - embalming, cremation, coffin materials - and financial affordability (the average cost of a funeral in the UK in 2018 was £3500 for a cremation, and nearly £4300 for a burial )
My experience in the permaculture community is that even within groups of people who are very knowledgeable, empowered and solutions focused about other aspects of their lives are reluctant to talk about how their end of life might be.
So, what can permaculture offer as a way solutions focused way forward?
Before We Die
People who talk about and plan for their death, tend to have a much better experience of death, and those around them : - family, friends and community - then go on to have a more open and positive attitude towards death, loss and supporting others as they approach death. Planning for what we want to happen as we die and after our death is much easier to do when we are well, than waiting until we are unwell and perhaps too poorly to make decisions. There is a much greater chance that End of Life wants and wishes will happen if we have a plan, and others close to us, are aware of those plans.
Ways to start talking about death and dying, and making plans include:-
As We Die
If we had some control (most people, with the right support, do), what would we want our death to look like? Where would we want to be (if possible?) Who would we want to be there? What support would we need and want?
One exciting and rapidly growing role is that of a Death Doula – non-medical people who are trained to be alongside terminally ill people and support those close to them, at the end of their life. There are several places in the UK where Death Doula training is available now and the numbers of people working in this sphere is spreading steadily.
Obviously we cannot all predict how we die and for some we might not be able to achieve the ideal death we hoped for ourselves. It can be useful to have a ‘plan B’. For example, if you were to die in hospital, who would you want to be there? What kind of medical/nursing intervention would you want? What possessions, music, art would you want to surround you from home?
After We Die
What do we want to happen to our bodies after we die? How do we want our life to be remembered and celebrated?
With our present systems of after death care in the UK, many people can feel frustrated, and let down, with their experience of grief deepened, as after death care activities carried out by health care professionals and then practitioners in the funeral industry can feel impersonal and profoundly disconnected from the identity of the person who has died. In addition, the financial cost of much of this is beyond the reach of an ever increasing number of people.
There is no legal obligation to use a funeral director for after death care in the UK – though if you choose to do so, there are some wonderful Funeral Director and celebrant businesses who can ensure the whole process is as in keeping with the life of the person who has died as possible. In addition wherever we die, we can choose to have friends and families take care of us (wash, change clothing . Making this request known to health care staff involved can mean this is more likely to happen
In the UK one of the most Earth regenerating ways to care for the body of someone who has died, is burial, where the body is wrapped/contained in a locally sources biodegradable material, in a geographical location where other life can benefit from the nutrients released by our decomposing corpse. (I’m currently knitting a cover from UK grown wool – which will be used a blanket, for hopefully many years, then my plan is my body will be wrapped in it before I am buried as close as possible to the place where I spend my final weeks of life.) Organised Woodland Burial sites are the most obvious choice of location., but there are other perfectly legal options.
Globally there are some great projects emerging looking at ways of increasing Earth Care with relation to what happens to our bodies after we die. These include:-
Recompose - transforms bodies into soil so that we can grow new life after we die.
The Living Urn – growing trees from human ash
Ecoffins - environmentally friendly coffins and caskets
Permaculture design offers us many answers to how we can improve an experience we all face, and which connects every living being and system on our beautiful planet. Opening up conversations, exploring fears, empowering ourselves with knowledge and support and then making documented plans are all very real ways of ensuring we work towards Earth Care, People Care and Fair Shares as we die.
In this article I have provided an overview about how permaculture design can help with way we die, which will hopefully engage a much bigger conversation.
The following resources can help you to explore this topic further. As part of Creative Dying, my own project exploring how permaculture can improve how we die, I have a regularly updated page sharing many online, in real life and print resources. Go to Creative Dying for lots more information and ideas about using permaculture to improve how we die.
Other (UK focused) favourite key online resources of mine are
Natural Death Society
Power of Attorney
For those people who use social media as a way of connecting and learning new knowledge, there is a wonderful diverse community of people globally working word to raise the profile of improving attitude and experience of death, dying and bereavement. The hashtag often used to link this work is #deathpositive.
Finally – I would like to acknowledge the potential for triggering difficult feelings relating to loss and bereavement that people may experience through reading this article. These reactions are totally understandable and healthy. Many of us have experienced events where grief has been ongoing and complex. If this has happened for you then giving yourself to engage in activities which for you can provide the support you need is very much ok. If you find that you are needing something more than your usual emotional support tools then I can recommend the following links as first steps
What’s Your Grief
Cruse Bereavement Care
An earlier version of this article "The Art of Dying Creatively" was also published in Permaculture Magazine (Autumn No 93)
Welcome to my blog. Here I aim to share everyday examples of how permaculture can provide healing and regeneration for ourselves, our communities and our planet.
Search My Blog
Sign up for my monthly newsletter, Full Moon Flourish. Here I will be sharing updates about my creative permaculture projects, plus links to inspiring work from other women in permaculture.