Business Unusual

Even death is being disrupted

The only thing humans have had rituals for that predate death is birth. It has been at least 100 000 years that we have marked the passing of fellow beings.

The rituals have varied greatly over time. Despite being more settled within cultures they are still changing.

Generally they have become more elaborate and expensive over time. For some, the greatest financial investment in their lives will be their funeral.

In South Africa, the National Funeral Directors Association (NFDA) estimates that there are 700 000 deaths a year. At a very modest R5000 per funeral it makes for a R3.5 billion annual industry.

Sometimes things go wrong; the Funeral Industry Regulatory Authority (FIRA) has proposed an ombudsman which would assist in managing those occasions.

Graves. Picture: Supplied

This may be a typical representation of death now, but what would it look like in the future?

The decision to abandon cures and instead end your life before it deteriorates is becoming less of a taboo, if not actually becoming more popular. The safeguards and laws that will be able to accommodate it are improving even though few religions have seemed willing to accept it.

There are a few movies about transferring your consciousness into a machine in what is called mind uploading. There have been a few attempts to create companies to invest and develop it, but nothing has come of it yet although those involved believe the time frame for success is 30 years. The first travellers to Mars may be cyborg versions of ourselves.

A similar effort created not for the extending your life but as a potentially new way to grief saw the creation of a bot that was based on a person that had died, it could interact with written input that would reply in a tone and possibly in a way that the person it was based on would. Future versions may replicate the person's voice too.

There is money to be made in all of this and so there is likely to be some unscrupulous operations offering "solutions" along the way.

The intention, though, is to first live a more fulfilled life, if not a longer one, which also has the benefit of facing death with a sense of peace.

While burial has been the most popular option in the past, the costs are seeing more people favouring cremation. The Catholic Church allows for cremation but called on their followers to use graveyards for interning the ashes. More people are keeping the ashes in their homes or scattering them somewhere that was significant to the deceased.

The church has updated a 15th century document on the art of dying well and turned it into a website.

There are death cafes which allow those that have recently experienced death or are facing their own to discuss it, even plan it.

The Final Fling goes a step further with actual tools to plan for you death with items like memory boxes of your favourite pictures and stories as well as digital store of all the important documents and requests for your funeral. It acts as a more friendly type of will which would include your legal will too.

There are those that offer palliative care for the dying but that is typically focused on keeping you comfortable and pain free.

Death doulas seek not only to prepare you for death but are your companions as you face it.

Facebook is approaching 2 billion users; some years ago it had to devise a way to deal with what to do with the pages of users that had died. It is now is a comprehensive help section to manage a memorialised page. It is arguably the world's largest digital graveyard.

Medical science has improved to the point that Google’s parent company Alphabet has a company, Calico, set up to understand and cure aging.

There are others who are looking to freeze you in such a way that once medical science has a cure, you can be revived and healed.

And should you have resigned yourself to your fate, but wish to be remembered forever, you can be turned into a diamond!


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