The Story of Green Funeral Pioneer Esmerelda Kent

green funeral

The Story of Green Funeral Pioneer Esmeralda Kent

There are some jobs it seems no one would ever want. Who actually wants to pump a septic tank, for instance? And why on earth would anyone work in a restaurant dish tank? As human beings, we constantly rationalize our place in the world by comparing ourselves to people who seem to ‘have it worse.’

But the very concept of ‘having it worse’ may well be something we invent, a lens we use to look in the mirror and make sense of it all. Sure, there are certainly people who have it worse than we do. There are also people who have it better. But the scale we use to measure this is based on rather arbitrary concepts of good, bad, better, and worse. So how reliable can this scale really be?

Let’s look at it a minute. Someone you assume has it worse than you might actually be much happier than you think. Similarly, someone you think is ‘better off’ than you might be miserable deep down. Or at least less happy than you imagine. But in the end, what does any of this even mean? What are we actually measuring here? Is it money, happiness, good looks, or spirituality?

Esmerelda Kent And Her Concept of the Green Funeral

Or maybe others measure their lives using categories we don’t even know about. Our guest today might be an example of this. Her name is Esmeralda Kent, and her life’s work is uniquely interesting to say the least. Seen aright, it forces us to pose ourselves some important questions. Maybe you’ll think she ‘has it worse’ than you, maybe you’ll think she ‘has it better.’ Either way, I hope that after hearing her story, you’ll decide that the very premise of better and worse is ultimately misguided.

Here’s the thing: Esmeralda Kent deals in death and dying. A pioneer in the concept of the green funeral, she’s battled both the status quo and the billion dollar funeral industry for 20 years. She’s done this by walking one family at time through the often harrowing loss of a loved one. These are families of every size, shape, and background. And as you can imagine, each of these families has experienced a funeral process that’s very different than the traditional one.

Ms. Kent has revolutionized the way we conceive of life’s final transition by taking it back to its roots. Twenty years into her fascinating career, she now focuses on the creation of funeral shrouds– beautiful ornamented fabrics designed to replace the anonymous metal containers we’ve become so accustomed to seeing.

A Difficult Tale that’s Well Worth The Hearing

Now for a word of warning. If you’re anything like me, reading this introduction brought a number of strange feelings to the surface. And whether these feelings are warm, fuzzy, or uncomfortable, they certainly take us to places that we don’t usually go. This episode may or may not be right for you, so please proceed with caution.

It might be wise to listen to this episode without the kids around or when you’re in the right frame of mind. But regardless of these disclaimers, I sincerely hope the difficult subject matter doesn’t prevent you from listening. Esmeralda Kent has a fascinating story to tell. The tale of her journey and the insights she’s gleaned from it are worth experiencing some uncomfortable feelings. And sometimes, visiting places we don’t to go is exactly what we need.

In any case, we’re so glad that you joined us.

Here are some highlights:

What was her childhood like? (3:15)

Esmerelda grew up in Los Angeles in the 1950’s.  She lived in a Hollywood neighborhood surrounded by the working class of the movie industry.  As a child, she was creative and attracted to morbidity and religion.  She loved to design clothes for her paper dolls and have elaborate funeral processions for anything that died.  Even though her parents we agnostic, she insisted on going to Lutheran church.  When that start to bore her she switched to the cathedrals and traditions of Catholicism.

How did these passions evolve as she grew up? (11:30)

Esmerelda was a teenager in the late sixties.  She loved the music, The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, they all would perform close to where she lived.  She was experimenting with LSD and soaking in the community that became known as hippies.  The Vietnam war was talking many of her male friends and many came home in a casket.  It was the first real tragedy she’d experienced.

She had two children by the time she was 21 and the American culture around birth was her first taste of what would evolve into the business she has now.  Birth was a sterile event, experienced in hospitals without your loved ones close.  Esmeralda opted for home birth and a group of women learned the art of midwifery and helped each other.  She was seeing that both birth and death in America were handled in an unnatural and even inhumane way.

How did you she decide to start advocating for Green Burials? (14:05)

Esmerelda was a singer for years and then became a costume designer on Hollywood sets.  In the 1980’s, the AIDS crisis hit.  Many of her friends were gay men, A community among the hardest hit by the epidemic.  Many of her friends died and it became her second experience watching her friends handle death and funerals.  They had very limited choices and she watched as they were forced into ceremonies, expenses, and traditions that served the funeral industry more than the family.

All of these pieces: her interest in spirituality, her creativity, the Vietnam war, and the AIDS epidemic followed her into the year 2000 when her mother was dying.  When the phone call came, she grabbed a huge piece of fabric, some candles, and incense and flew from San Francisco to her mother’s Kansas home.  Esmeralda walked through that death experience and saw that, just like the birthing process, the industry wanted her to handle it IN a certain way.

After that, She saw the first episodes of the HBO TV series Six Feet Under.  In the show, a small funeral business tries to keep afloat amidst the ever present pressure of a large corporate mega company.

Esmerelda decided it was time.  She found a cemetery owner who was open to the idea of the green funeral and she took it from there.

What are some different approaches to funerals? (29:40)

There are so many!  Chinese culture tends towards expensive copper vaults around the coffin.  She attended a Samoan funeral procession where the men, wearing suits cut off as shorts, played tubas while the women screamed, cried, and lamented.  She loves African American funerals where attendees dress to the nines and sing with an unmatched passion and soul.

The most anesthetic culture tends to be white Americans who exhibit a stoicism that Esmerelda has never really understood.

Are there people who deal with death better than others? (44:30)

It’s all about attachment.  The better the dying and the survivor can come to terms with the change the more healthy the experience.  This is often about work done years and years before the actual death. But the ceremony can have a lasting effect on attachment and the act of both sides letting go.

What advice does Esmerelda have for us about death? (48:30)
  1. It’s important to address the idea today. Make a connection with the brevity of life.  For Esmerelda, she does this through Buddhism.  Everyone has their own path but the better a grasp we have to more fulfilling life we live and the more peace we have in the end.
  2. Do your family a favor and create a plan now.  Download the Before I Go You Should Know booklet, complete it and share its location with your family.

 

Special thanks to Esmerelda Kent for taking the time to share the Kinkaraco story with us.

The show was produced and edited by me Jeremy Goodrich.

The music is by my high school buddy Mark VInten.

If you enjoyed this podcast, there’s a couple of things we need you to do right now.  First subscribe to Scratch Entrepreneur on itunes, Stitcher, Google Play or wherever you listen to podcasts so you can hear future episodes as soon as we release them.  While you’re there, please give the show a review.  We’d love to know what you liked, what you didn’t, and what you want to hear next.

Until the next time, We truly appreciate you listening.

 

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