ONCE upon a time dying was considered a natural part of our lives, just as the birth of a child was. According to the Federal Government's publication Trends in Palliative Care, of all deaths in Australia in 2008-09 just over half (52%) occurred in an admitted patient setting within a hospital.

These bodies are usually whisked away from the hospital to be dealt with by a funeral home. The bodies are rarely looked at again.

But, as more people are choosing a natural lifestyle, they are increasingly opting to have a more natural death. Now as our parents, partners or children die, some of us want to embrace the death and funeral process in ways that reflect how we lived our lives.

According to celebrant Zenith Virago, many in the Northern Rivers region are embracing a more conscious approach to death and dying.

"We have a big home death in situ here in our region," says Zenith.

"We want to die at home. People think this is a new idea but it's not.

"Our community has created a natural lifestyle and now a more natural death style. We now have decorated cardboard coffins, ceremonies at home, in the park - anywhere." Zenith did not plan to be an expert in death and dying and said her calling came quite by accident.

"When I first got involved I had a job as a paralegal. I had certainly never facilitated a ceremony let alone a funeral. Then a really close friend of mine died suddenly in my garden. I made an offer to her husband that I would take care of the ceremony."

For anyone planning a natural death or funeral, preparation and dialogue are the two most important things. This can start well before death by filling in an advanced Health Care Directive - a legal form in NSW that directs how you want your health treatment to unfold. It can outline a range of steps that qualify the quality of life.

"The other aspect of dying that people need to be aware of is what happens after you die. For the most part, there are three links in chain to this process.

"There are the coffin manufacturers and the funeral directors, and that for the most part, they are privately owned.

Then there are the crematoriums and the cemeteries."

The Natural Death Centre is a non-profit incorporated association located in the Byron Shire.

It is a small, passionate organisation and part of a global wave of demystifying and reclaiming death.

In essence its philosophy is: Death done well allows for a much healthier individual, family and community.

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