Zenith Virago

Educator, teacher, speaker, death walker

Zenith is a highly respected celebrant, educator, public speaker and author who lives in Byron Bay, Australia although she was born in England.

She is the founder of the Natural Death Care Centre charity, and was named Byron Citizen of the Year 2021 in recognition of her work.

“Inside everyone is the courage and capacity needed to be easier with death and dying, we just have to wake it up, remember, become more familiar, and practice it everyday.  My work is a holistic hybrid of old and new ways, accompanying those who are dying and their carers, walking with the suddenly bereaved, creating ceremonies that encourage people to really honour their loved ones.”

Zenith’s website can be found here.

Below, Zenith explains why she’s one of the patrons of the Good Funeral Guide:

“It’s quite an honour to be one of the Patrons of the GFG! I was fortunate to meet Fran and Isabel at the 2019 Death, Dying and Disposal conference in Bath.  I had just arrived that day from Australia and gravitated to them as they looked and felt like my kind of people.

I am English born, but left when I was 24, and have lived in Byron Bay, Australia for most of my adult life.  Like many of us, I started working with death, dying and people after my dear friend Sylvia died suddenly, and we decided to take care of her body and her cremation process ourselves. It was such a rewarding, empowering and lifechanging experience, then other people asked me to help them, and it had a life of its own.

I feel the way WE are doing death is a reclaiming, a reconnection with the wildness of death as our birthright, and ceremony as a rite of passage.  We ARE the traditional way to undertake the care of people who have died, and the industrial approach of black suited, male run and owned, sometimes corporate Funeral Directors is relatively new in the big scheme of humanity.

In contrast, like the GFG I wanted to be in a clear and strong integrity, and so I searched for other people in different countries, I found Nicholas Albery of the Natural Death Centre, we spoke on the phone a few times, and I asked him if I could use the name here in Australia to start my work.  He generously agreed, and I founded what is now the Natural Death Care Centre.

We are now a NSW Charity, I am co-author of the book The Intimacy of Death and Dying, and subject of the international independent documentary, Zen & the Art of Dying, both of which are collaborations with my local community, together we have created a deathstyle that works for us.

It’s been an incredible 25-year journey.  I suppose I was a sort of one-woman GFG!  It was a wild and exciting time to be at the forefront of the global wave of home funerals in Australia, pioneering a return to dying well, family-led body care, meaningful and appropriate ceremony, and informing and educating communities to reclaim and be empowered before, during and after death.

I was fortunate to have a legal and community background, I became a community resource, assisting people to know and reclaim their legal rights, and co-create their own social rites of passage.  Just like many amazing women and some men around the globe, I have been working towards more holistic cultural change in approaches to better and continual end-of-life and after-death care for well over 25 years.

Claiming the role of the Deathwalker, I am now an educator as well as a celebrant, sharing the subtle and obvious layers involved, offering guidance, support and care to inform, enable and empower people to be as capable and courageous as they can, to experience their dying and their loss in the best way they can, to have a healthier bereavement as they move into their healing with no or few regrets.  A good ceremony can save you 12 months of distress or therapy.

As a young woman, I was often seen as a maverick, offering a hybrid of truly traditional ways blended with a more contemporary understanding, encouraging people to take their dying, death, after-death care and ceremony back into their own hands and hearts, even in cases of sudden death and trauma.

But now in my 60’s I find myself regarded as a respectable elder, (all things are possible if you live long enough!) as the mainstream is finally waking up to doing death well, and all that has to offer in our hearts as human beings, that love is the strongest force on the planet, and what binds us, and drives us. 

Even in the terribleness of the pandemic, I feel it is an exciting time, to honour and support the GFG to continue to offer trusted information, inspiration and comfort in this particularly challenging time.”