For Jane Hillhouse, the revelation came as she drove down a country road in her native England: She didn't want to be buried in a cold, impersonal box.
Karima Cammell saw it as an opportunity to take more control of her own life as she and others openly discuss the unthinkable: death.
And Naomi Rose decided she would treat herself on her 64th birthday by looking at death in a different way.
All three women ended up at the Green Funeral Fair at Grace North Church in Berkeley on Saturday, where vendors were happy to offer tips, services and products designed to carry a loved one to the great beyond in the most open, natural, holistic and biodegradable way possible.
There were caskets on display of woven willow or decoupaged versions made of sturdy cardboard — including one that resembled an antique hat box. There were beautiful shrouds in which to envelope the departed, from simple linen to ornate silk designs. There were people fashioning flowers from fabric and there were people offering natural burials and funerals in the home.
Hillhouse, owner and founder of Final Footprint, formerly Colorful Caskets, a company that specializes in environmentally friendly caskets and natural burials, said there were few people thinking about greener alternatives to traditional funeral and mortuary rituals when she launched her business 10 years ago. She admits her impetus wasn't so much green as it was the thought of being laid to rest in an expensive, shiny coffin.
"It wasn't mortality, nobody was dying, I was just driving," she said. "I decided I would have my friend decorate my casket with all my favorite things."
Originally the funeral fair was supposed to be a wedding fair, said Ann Arnold, who helped organize the event. That idea was quickly scratched.
"Funerals are so much more fun, more impromptu, less planned than weddings," she joked.
Indeed, there was a typically Berkeley-like funeral procession around the church's North Berkeley neighborhood led by Father John Mabry in his traditional vestments, followed two skeletal-masked flute players — one with a lime-green talking parrot on his shoulder — and hat-wearing pallbearers carrying an environmentally friendly coffin.
Rose, a writer and book publisher from Oakland, followed them down Cedar Street. "You know, I've lived in America all my life and I've heard that other cultures don't have the same views about death and hiding death," she said. Cammell, owner of Castle in the Air, a specialty art supply, gallery and printing business in Berkeley, said she didn't quite know what to expect when she accepted an invitation to participate in the funeral fair.
Quickly, however, she was able to imagine the possibilities for her business and for her, personally. She handled the funeral arrangements for her father, Diarmid Cammell, who died in February, and she wishes she would have known more about the options. The fair helped her see that it's really OK to talk about death.
"Having that conversation about (death) when we're still alive really helps," she said. "It has lifted the shroud, so to speak."
Reach Cecily Burt at 510-208-6441. Check out her blog at www.ibabuzz.com/westside.