We are delighted that Pia Interlandi is joining Molly Carlile as an Ambassador for Dying To Know Day. Pia is a fashion designer, funeral celebrant and death practitioner who creates meaningful rituals around the dressing and care of the deceased. Pia brings a wealth of experience in natural burial practice and has recently set up the Natural death Advocacy Network in Victoria. We hope you enjoy this interview with Pia.
“I began my journey into the funeral industry through somewhat winding paths having initially gained degree in fashion design. In my undergraduate years I often incorporated death as a scientific and psychological concept for exploring life’s transient qualities and while this was the instigator for my PhD studies at RMIT, it was when I dressed her grandfather for his funeral in 2008 that I became interested in the realities of death and became a qualified funeral celebrant.
Involving rigorous immersion in the rituals associated with preparing the body for interment I started my current practice Garments for the Grave in 2012 where I now designs custom made bio-degradable burial shrouds and performs dressings with the family of the dead. This practice has been the launch pad from which to discuss broader issues around our cultural relationship with death. I regularly give lectures and run workshops, having been privileged to receive praise both nationally and internationally. In 2013 I was nominated and became runner up for ‘The Most Significant Contribution to the Understanding of Death’ at Good Funeral Awards in the UK.
For 18 months I was a core member of the team at Clandon Wood Natural Burial Reserve, where I gained an understanding of the fundamentals of Natural Burial so that I could bring them back to her home in Melbourne.
I now balance my practice with regular teaching into RMIT’s School of Fashion and Textiles and am delighted to launch the Natural Death Advocacy Network, a collective group of death practitioners and educators who aim to bring about transparency, innovation, facilitation and creativity to family lead funerary processes.”
Since my first encounter with death I have been adamant about engaging in a dialogue through which we can explore the processes and rituals at the end of life. It is one of the most important things to happen in our life, and the lives of those around us. The deaths of those we love will punctuate our own lives and can leave us with a feeling of love and privilege for having known these people, they leave us feeling more alive than before.
I am an advocate for Natural Burial after having been involved with more than 100 funerals at Clandon Wood Natural Burial Reserve in the UK. Each funeral was exceptional and beautiful. Some lasted 5 minutes, some last hours. Each was unique and deeply personal. Some involved religious ceremony, and some were simply celebrated by everyone raising a glass of mulled wine at the graveside. But what was offered consistently to each family was choice. We were able to create meaningful funerals for everyone who came through our doors.
Natural burials are about more than eco coffins, no embalming and no tomb stones. They are about the life that emerges through death. Spending over a year watching our burial ground carry through the seasons, life was affirmed every day. The flowers would bloom and wilt, the birds would nest and fly, and families would come and place their loved ones into the soil. Trees would grow from the graves and deer would come and sleep in their shade. Some families would return regularly, and became part of our Clandon Wood family. Some would come in and flip through our growing photo albums, and others would grab a cup of tea, a fold up chair and head down to spend some time in the meadow. We got to know everyone, we got to hear stories about the people who were buried with us. I got to know they people who I never got to meet in life.
Australia is somewhat behind when it comes to Natural Burial, so one of the first things I have done since returning from the UK was to unite many of the brilliant ‘deathies’ working at the face of the industry locally, in the Natural Death Advocacy Network. Our first point on the agenda is to advocate for the establishment of designated Natural Burial grounds around Australia. I want to be able to offer what was available at Clandon Wood (which recently won the award for the best Natural Burial Ground in the UK), to my community.
Being a D2K Day Ambassador is a privilege which allows me to share my experience and knowledge with all of those who are Dying to Know.
What is your work and why do you do it?
I have never felt as alive as when I’ve been confronted with death. I am grateful for every person who has shared their stories, their lives and their deaths. When I dress someone for their funeral I am profoundly changed by the experience, each person’s death is unique and beautiful. When their family is involved in the dressing with me, the room is often filled with intense gratitude and love.
Death is a natural and inevitable part of being alive. Once the energy, soul, spirit, chi or whatever it is that makes one alive, has left the body, the vessel or the shell is the physical remnant of their life. To take care, wash, to dress, and to be present to their body is something that our culture has often taken a step away from, leaving it to funeral directors to perform. I feel that to not be involved in these processes is to rob the living from an important ritual.
The idea of dressing someone who has died is confronting, and so my work is really about facilitating that process. To be a guiding hand to families during the dressing, to answer questions or to just be a supporting presence in the room letting them know that it is okay.
What is your most memorable experience of this work?
I had been asked to do the funeral ceremony and dressing of a gentleman who was going to be buried at Clandon Wood a few days later. We had become very close with his family during the funeral planning and his live in carer came to the dressing on his family’s behalf. She had looked after him over his last year, and felt it was her duty to continue her care until the very end. Like most dressings it was hard to begin with, the initial shock of seeing someone dead doesn’t change, but as we put his layers of clothing on he was transformed from being a dead person in a hospital smock, to being the person we had heard so many stories about. We placed photos and letters in his hands and against his heart, all of us tearing up as we did so. But there was one final item to go with him. His carer pulled out a small plastic bag. She told us it was something he always kept handy. Through our teary eyes we all smiled. We had heard the story. Apparently he always had then on hand for his dog. It was a little doggie treat shaped bone. We placed it into his pocket and with that he was ready for the funeral.
Do you have any tips on how someone could develop their personal relationship with their mortality/death/dying?
TALK ABOUT IT. It’s as simple as that. Talking about death, the death of those you love, and your own death really brings to the fore the things that are important to you in life. It reminds you to tell people you love them, and be grateful for each day. Talking about death makes you live better.
What are you Dying to Know?
I’m dying to know how we can get Natural Burial up and running in Australia!
If you could redesign an aspect of the Australian way of death what would it be?
Home based funeral care and Natural Burial! I want our dying to be at home surrounded by people they love when they die, and I would like for them to be able to stay there until their family is ready for their to body leave. I would love for families to feel confident in the care of their dead. For the care of the dead to be transferred back into the hands of whom the death matters the most.
I would love for people to see death as the natural progression of life. And that from death live is born. When the body is given back to the earth it provides the nutrients for new life to occur. It’s not only a poetic notion, it’s a scientific fact! One of the graves at Clandon Wood literally had daisies springing up from it! I watched as bees would buzz around the flowers and I couldn’t help but acknowledge that the person who lay below was transferred into the air and environment. It was lovely.
What do you want to be wearing when you are buried?
I’ll definitely be opting for a Natural Burial, so I have to get them up and running before I go!!
I would like to be dressed in something my family and friends have contributed to, I’d love to have a shroud made from pieces of cloth from my favourite garments and from the closest of people I love. It might be a bit of a quilted mash up! But I also have a beautiful antique lace silk skirt that is too fragile to actually wear, but I would like for it to be repurposed for my final veiling.
Assuming you have one, what will your deathbed scene be like?
If I’m lucky enough to be surrounded by my family and friends (maybe even future children?) I think that is the start of a good deathbed scene. I would hope that I am not in pain. I would want my dogs sitting at the end of my bed, and my hands held tenderly. I’d probably like for some candles to be lit and some tuberose scent in the room. I would like a window to be visible, possibly a skylight to look up to!
After my death I would like someone to close my eyes, put some music on, and to stay with me until my temperature lowers. I would like to be dressed sooner rather than later, and for my deathbed room to be open to anyone who wants to visit. I have this vision of being on a bed surrounded by flowers. Preferably really nice smelling ones!
What songs will be played at your funeral?
I change my mind on this every few years, but at the moment I would love Coldplay’s ‘Death and all his friends’ to be played during a slideshow, I feel like it pretty much represents my childhood, adolescence and ends in a place similar to where I am now – finishes with a lightness. But I want people to sing at my funeral, so it has to be something that is uplifting and that people know. I’m pretty keen on the New Radicals ‘You Get What You Give’ and also the Rolling Stones ‘You Can’t Always Get What You Want’. Something that says ‘it’s been a blast, I’ve had a great time, and thank you for being a part of it’.
What is your best advice when people remark “I don’t know what to say"
Not knowing what to say is actually an okay thing to say. Honesty over cliché any day.
Is death work morbid? and are you ‘special’/‘weird’/‘scary’ to be doing this work?
To some people it is, death is the big unknown. I guess I’m fortunate that it feels so natural for me. I feel as though I’m really lucky to have discovered a secret. Of course it’s not a secret and I want to share it with as many people as possible. I’m just grateful I found it early enough to dedicate my life to it!
What’s your view on death being taboo?
‘Taboo’ is a weird word to associate with something that is natural as birth. I think that because we don’t know what comes after death, if anything, it will always hold a bit of mystery. So perhaps ‘mysterious’ is a better word to be describing it as.
Connect with Pia here:
www.piainterlandi.com / firstname.lastname@example.org