What Does The Shell Mean?

Death can’t ever be totally rationalized, but we do learn to deal with it.

We climb the staircase of the finite to the brink of the eternal. We stare at the end of the road, at the barrier between light and darkness, we learn about that borderline, but we ourselves do not cross over, yet.

Double helix of DNA

In doing so, as humans taking care of the only true certainty in all of human life, we join in a process that underlies existence throughout our universe. The process can be symbolized by the “golden mean” or “golden ratio” of a spiral, which is the proportional relationship between progression and growth. For the mathematical basis, do a Web search for “Fibonacci Sequence.”

The unwinding of the helix maintains structure and proportion out to infinity. It appears in biological shapes, from artichokes to pine cones to the DNA molecules within all of life; in spiral galaxies such as Andromeda, Whirlpool, and the Milky Way; in hurricanes; and in the nautilus shell.


When we face the hard reality of death and carry its burden, by making the arrangements and suffering the anxiety and sorrow, yet imposing order, we find ourselves joining our ancestors from millenia upon millennia in a practice that is much more than cultural, but a primeval process of tidying up.

The logistics required by a death, and the experience of having to think about what we want to do in the situation, force us into a mindset that can be deeply unsettling under the pall of grief. It can seem like too much.


For me, the nautilus shell is a reminder that a funeral arranger’s role is not to make everything ok, nor to explain all that has happened, nor to create a flawless funeral, but only to move a process forward.

Like a wound healing, or an island being reshaped by a storm, the aftermath of death is life that has changed permanently, but continues. When we help with the aftermath, we are part of a pattern as old as creation, underlying the organic and inorganic, and linking the finite to the eternal.