Aindriú Peers is a practical lead at Poppy’s, driving hearses, helping at burials and collecting people who have died from homes and hospitals. He’s also an author, teaches Shamanic Druidry and is a former Trappist monk. Aindriú explains his amazing path from punk to monk to working in death care.
What do you do at Poppy’s?
I’m one of the practical leads which means that I assist at cremations and burials. We help organise the practical side of things. For example, for a burial, we might carry the coffin and help lower it into the grave.
The work can also include collecting people who have died at any time of the day or night. In the mortuary, we might do anything from lining coffins with linen to dressing the person in clothes the family have given us.
You used to be a Trappist monk and I was wondering what that meant to you?
Before I was a monk I went through a hairy time as a punk. A communication breakdown with my father culminated in open rebellion. Eventually, I came to the point where I had to make a decision between flipping or beginning to forgive, which I did.
At exactly the same time, I discovered the presence of a metaphysical reality and laid my life options open to this wonderful love that I’d felt – even including something crazy like becoming a monk.
Monastic life is ascetic and vigorous. We didn’t take a vow of silence but we did observe silence for large parts of the day and night. My daily round was one of working, eating, sleeping, meditating, reading and listening to the abbot give a talk in the Chapter House.
The Divine Office (psalms and prayers) was sung in the church seven times a day. We’d retire early and then do the same again the next day, every day of the year. There were no holidays and we stayed within the enclosure walls. In my case, for twenty-one years.
Why did you decide to leave?
A couple of years before I actually left, my idea of God suddenly changed during a walk in the woods. I’d only ever know what conditional love was from my parents and suddenly I had this experience of unconditional love. In other words, I felt that whether I was a monk or not, I’d be loved unconditionally – and that was quite a realisation.
So I thought maybe I was free to do something like move to another monastery. The full message hadn’t got through to me that I could really do whatever I wanted, including leave. Finally, an extraordinary dream made it clear to me that my place was back outside in the world. Six months later I left the Order.
How did you make the transition from monk and then ex-monk to working in death care?
Trappist monks have a tradition of watching the body overnight and whenever a monk died, I used to do my two-hour shift. Monks are also buried on a plank, not a coffin. If the family is allowed to attend the burial, they’re warned that the person’s face will be exposed. Otherwise it might be traumatic for them, especially when throwing a handful of soil in the grace afterwards. So, there was already this familiarity with death.
Since leaving the monastery, my father and my younger brother have died. I’m not that afraid of death anymore because I sorted out my own existential angst as a monk. I think that was a big part of my struggle as a young man. I could never understand why we were here on this ball floating about in the universe – it all seemed so pointless. Having now sorted that out, I feel more comfortable with people who have died and the idea of death.
Is there a connection between your spiritual practice now and working with death?
Yes, definitely, though in the sense that my spiritual practice relates to all of life, of which death is a part. It helps me to focus on the smaller touches in caring for the person who has died, especially with regard to how the family is doing.
I would say my journey has made me better able to stand back, see the wider picture and do what’s needed of me at a particular time. It might be just the timely offering of flower petals to the family for scattering over the grave – small things really.
You’ve mentioned being a punk and then a monk and now you work in death care. Is there a common thread of all of those things being part of counterculture?
Yeah, definitely, as well as the old druidic thing! There are so many ways to look at my story up to the present time. Being a punk certainly wasn’t a fashion statement for me, it was a very nihilistic outlook – a kind of death-wish.
People are afraid of death because we’re so identified with our bodies. So, when the body stops or breaks down, they think it’s game over. It’s a terror for them and I understand that, it was for me too as a young man. But my way of looking at it now is that we are infinitely more than just our bodies.
Do you think it would be helpful for more of us to spend time caring for people who have died?
Everybody’s different, so it’s hard to generalise. For some people, it could be very helpful in breaking down a taboo. When my brother died of cancer at fifty-five, he left two older children to be involved in the process and help them to talk about it later.
For others, it may not be necessary. Like me, they might think of the essence of that person is already somewhere else – or, in fact, everywhere. So that person is still with them, only in another way. People we love live on in our hearts and we can still hear their voice when we feel the need for them.
Interview by Poppy’s Funerals