We had the good fortune of connecting with Karen van Vuuren and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Karen, we’d love to hear more about how you thought about starting your own business?
I thought, I would never want to enter the funeral business! I had been involved in elder care, hospice, and ran a non-profit educating about holistic and natural approaches to end of life. I’d always been on the periphery of death care as an advocate for environmental choices and consumers rights. I helped hundreds of families direct their own funerals and supported natural death care in families’ homes. But then one day, over tea, a friend and I were chatting about green burial. “We need green cemeteries, but we also need a green funeral home,” I said. My friend, an atmospheric scientist with no direct end-of-life experience said, “Let’s do it!”. It was a destiny moment that nearly had me falling off my chair and choking on my tea. But it was ultimately something to which I said, “Yes!” In 2019, more than three years after this invitation to begin a holistic funeral business, The Natural Funeral opened its doors.
Alright, so let’s move onto what keeps you busy professionally?
My artistry is in documentary-making and in my journey towards the founding of The Natural Funeral holistic funeral home, I used film to delve deeper into what it means to die consciously. My first documentary, Dying Wish, featured a retired vascular and thoracic surgeon, Dr. Michael Miller, who had end-stage cancer and wanted me to film his last days after he stopped eating and drinking. I had worked as a broadcast news journalist in my 20s and then stepped away from that world to focus on end-of-life education in my 30’s. When Mr. Miller told me he wanted me to make a documentary about his dying process, and that I needed to begin filming the next day, I told him I would do it. When I shared this with my husband, who had not known me as a journalist, he asked “Are you sure you can make a documentary?” Dying Wish featured twice at the National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization’s annual clinical conference. It has brought comfort to countless families with dying loved ones. My other documentary, Go in Peace, is about veterans with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder at end of life. I use my filmmaking skills for our funeral business now to showcase our specialized green services such as green burial and water cremation, and our ritual of Reverent Body Care™ to bless the body with washing and anointing at death.
If you had a friend visiting you, what are some of the local spots you’d want to take them around to?
My favorite spots are in nature. The Front Range of Colorado has the most spectacular vistas, and I would most certainly head to the hills to the Indian Peaks Wilderness or Rocky Mountain National Park. On a more landscaped front, the Denver Botanical Gardens are most alluring in the spring, with the most dazzling array of blossoms and resting places such as the Monet Pond. In Boulder, my home, for its atmosphere and ornate and colorful carved wooden decor, a trip to the Dushanbe Tea House would be absolutely in order,
Who else deserves some credit and recognition?
The National Home Funeral Alliance is an organization I helped to co-found. But it represents a movement of courageous and trail-blazing folks from around the US and the world who stand for families’ rights to care for their dead in a way that fits with their values and leaves a smaller final footprint. I would like to honor all those in the movement for conscious and holistic approaches to end of life who have inspired and encouraged me to manifest a vision – The Natural Funeral. Within this community are hospice workers, end-of-life educators, home funeral guides, death doulas, and families who have led the way in conscious and healing death care.
Other: dyingwishmedia.com goinpeacefilm.com naturaltransitions.org
Credit: Shroud photo – SevenStones Cemetery, CO Other photos – Credit – The Natural Funeral