The best places to die

Since I started thinking about a death concierge service, I’ve been wondering where are the best places to die. Are they good places to live, too?

The Economist’s 2015 Quality of Death Index says that the UK has the best quality of death; Australia and New Zealand were second and third. (The US and Canada were 9th and 11th.)

In the top-scoring countries (which are also some of the richest countries, with high public spending on health care), palliative care is well integrated with medical care, and the quality of care is high. If you’re in pain and need opioid painkillers, you can get them pretty easily. People know about palliative care and doctors and other medical workers get a lot of training.

Besides good hospitals and hospices, though, maybe there are some other things to consider when choosing a place to die. If you don’t care about the hospice nurse you might want while you are dying, maybe you go for grandiosity and live where you can have the most spectacular funeral.

I can’t stop looking at the picture of cliff graves in this post about funerals in Tana Toraja, a regency of Indonesia. (Scroll down a little and you’ll see what I mean.)

Maybe you want to be buried at home, wherever home is. If it’s in L.A., get in touch with Caitlin Doughty. She is a mortician who runs Undertaking LA, a “progressive funeral home in Los Angeles, California.” She helps people be more involved in the preparation and burial or cremation of their dead loved one’s body. One of the services she offers is “Green/Natural Burial,” which includes a plot in Joshua Tree Memorial Park.

I have lived in cities where I have thought, I would not want to be buried here. When I lived in Eureka, I would walk past a cemetery that was especially unappealing — it seemed mostly empty and forgotten. There was one nice thing about it, though — because the grass was rarely mowed, the dandelions could grow to be very tall, and then there would be, along a busy road with a broken sidewalk, an expanse of waving yellow with a few headstones bobbing on it.

While I was visiting a friend in Pittsburgh recently, I found out that she lives right by the cemetery where Andy Warhol is buried, so I walked there one morning. His grave is in a cemetery on a hill overlooking a neighborhood called Bethel Park, where the brick houses were identical and the air smelled like gravy. A little higher on the hill his parents are buried, and some other people from his family, too. He died in Manhattan, but his brothers brought him back here, the city where he grew up, by the church his parents went to. There’s something comforting to me about the shape of it. We each might have certain inescapable places.

Bernard Crettaz, a Swiss academic who started Death Cafe, lives in Anniviers, a where he grew up and where is his parents are now buried. He tells the story of how one day when he was a boy, his parents took him down to the cellar of their house and showed him the wine and cheese they were saving for their funerals. It was an old tradition in the valley around Anniviers to do this. He grew up seeing this wine and cheese and knowing what they were for.

One of Crettaz’s childhood friends, André, has a cellar in a cave where he is saving wine and cheese for his own funeral. Occasionally he and his family go into the cellar and, in a ritual, sample the wine and cheese. Once time when André’s seven-year-old grandson came to the cave, ‘he pointed up to where the wheels of cheese were kept on a top shelf, to protect them from mice. “Here is the cheese for my death,” he said, proudly.’

Since reading this, I have wondered: if I had a cellar in a cave where I could keep something for my funeral, what would I keep there? Who would I bring with me when I went to visit it?