I was really excited to learn that a non-profit organisation called Ke kořenům (To The Roots) had established itself in 2015 to offer natural burial provision and bereavement support in the Czech Republic. When I also learnt that one of the Founders, Monika Suchánská, was an anthropologist (like myself), I became even more intrigued! So I subsequently approached the founders and asked if they wanted to write a guest blog about their organisation and what they do…you can read their response below!
The three Founders of Ke kořenům (To The Roots)
The Czech Republic is a unique country in many different ways: great beer, beautiful castles, national parks, famous writers, models and hockey players. But there is also one uniqueness that we are not that much proud of; we have got the highest rate of burials without a ceremony. It means the deceased is cremated without a farewell, so no one is there in the crematorium, to say goodbye. This is the case for more than half of the funerals in Prague, and approximately one third in the Czech Republic generally.
The first question that arises is why? It is not that hard to find the answer if you look at our history, from just 30 years ago. Four decades of communism had a big impact upon funerals and last farewells changing them into very quick and simple ceremonies that focused mostly on the work life of a deceased, with no sign of religion or spirituality. After the Velvet Revolution not that much has changed. The quick tempo remained, the speech (eulogy) gets simpler because all the political formulations are now left out. Ultimately, the freedom that the democratic regime brought was very convenient for the funeral industry, but it didn’t lead to more relaxed or creative funeral ceremonies.
However, over the last decade it is getting clearer that something new must evolve from this vacuum-like funeral…Maybe something less formal, just according to bereaved family’s needs and wishes? To get a deeper understanding of why our funerals are no longer functional I did academic research (as a student of anthropology), asking people what they think about today’s funerals. A lot of people consider them to be cold, impersonal, and empty; so much so, that not having a funeral at all, is more acceptable and preferable to having a “bad” one. The most disturbing part about Czech funerals today, according to my research, seems to be that the professional speaker (officiant) talks about the deceased without knowing them during their lives! The second thing people often mentioned was the cold environment of the crematoria ceremony halls.
As three students at the time, we were very inspired by the British Natural Death Centre and researching our own experience of modern funerals we started to think about new ways of approaching the last journey. After writing our theses on the topic of natural burials as a reaction on funeral crisis we were asked to create the first Czech natural burial cemetery in Prague. The Director of Prague Cemetery office was a very innovative and creative person and he saw great potential in this kind of burial. At one of the cemeteries, in Ďáblice district, there was quite a large wood in the center of the cemetery, which wasn’t being used for burials yet. So, in 2012, and two and a half years later, we proudly opened Les vzpomínek (The Wood of Memories). It is a space with a relaxed atmosphere, without any gravestones, plastic flowers or plastic candles. We bury the deceased at the roots of the trees and we create more personal funerals with bereaved families. Rather than doing everything for them, we encourage the family members to take part in the ceremony as much as they have the capacity and desire for. We believe, and now have the experience, that this rite can be a healing and enriching experience. After three seasons (from March to November annually), we created more than 150 unique funerals.
In 2015 we also established a non-profit organization, Ke kořenům (To The Roots). We are focused on work with bereaved families and natural burials. Mostly, we work with people who choose direct cremation without ceremony. We think it is the best starting point for creating a new, more meaningful ritual. We deeply admired the work of Australian deathwalker Zenith Virago so we decided to invite her to the Czech Republic and we organized two public workshops – one focused on the personal relationship with our own mortality and the second one about funeral rituals.
Our aim is to support everyone who wants to take their own path in the final farewell. We see the creative involvement of the family in funeral planning as a way to foster healthier bereavement. Whether it is a handmade urn, DIY invitation, photo album or organisation of a memorial picnic, having something in their own hands can help the bereaved family to connect with the reality of the loss.
Secondly, we do a lot of workshops and public talks on how to communicate about death with your close ones and children. We have also introduced the natural burial movement to other cities and helped them to establish their own natural cemeteries (e.g. in Brno and Olomouc in Czech Republic or Zvolen in Slovakia).
Last, but not least, we pass on our know-how and educate different people in bereavement counselling. We want to contribute in the education around the topic of death. How we feel and think about death, how we handle it in our families and in our daily interaction with our loved ones. We have formed a community who is starting to open to this point of view and we want to offer more information and options to continue broadening this path. So we are very happy that we can host another great workshop this year (June 8th and 9th 2018); this time in Brno with Canadian griefworker Stephen Jenkinson.