Consumers to the very end

Garish funeral casketIf you’ve ever watched Six Feet Under, you have a sense of what happens to the body prior to a conventional funeral and burial. If this is an indignity that you are willing to suffer, and a price tag that you are willing to bear, so be it.

But consider for a moment the environmental impact of the typical funerary send-off.

After the funeral service, the body is sealed inside a metal casket or lacquered wooden coffin lined with plush satin and adorned with gleaming brass accessories. This is then lowered into a concrete vault and buried. The reinforced concrete tomb is covered with a ton of dirt, and planted with non-native grass which is kept artificially green with pesticide and weed killer.

A ten-acre tract of cemetery ground hides enough coffin wood to construct more than 40 homes, and contains nearly a thousand tons of casket steel and another twenty thousand tons of concrete.

Formaldehyde, the primary ingredient in embalming fluids and a known carcinogen, is another concern. Nearly a million gallons of embalming fluid are buried every year in North America, some of which eventually leaches out and runs into surrounding soil and groundwater.

Above ground, the local cemetery looks peaceful and pastoral. But below the surface it serves, to all intents and purposes, as a landfill of hazardous wastes and non-biodegradable materials. An affront to nature, to be sure.

Natural burial groundA modern natural burial, wherein the body is returned to the earth to decompose naturally and be recycled into new life, is an environmentally sustainable alternative to existing funeral practices. The body is prepared for burial without chemical preservatives and is buried in a simple shroud or biodegradable casket that might be made from locally harvested wood, wicker or even recycled paper.

A completed natural burial preserve is a green place with trees, grasses, and wildflowers, which in turn bring birds and other wildlife to the area. It is a living memorial and leaves a legacy of care for those of us who respect the earth and understand our connection to it.

What could be more organic than to become a part of nature? Death does, after all, complete the circle of life. I would find it comforting to know that my body will someday enrich the soil and allow living things to flourish. Maybe a molecule of mine will end up in a berry eaten by a bird. More likely, I’ll be a nut eaten by a manic squirrel.

3 thoughts on “Consumers to the very end

  1. I had a few nice laughs with the mortuary folks while discussing “six feet under”. It was about the only thing consoling, next to telling family members to pull someone’s finger if they wanted to remember the deceased in full respects. So much altruism, so little memory… mankind seems doomed to monuments of pride.

    “I bequeath myself to the dirt to grow from the grass I love,
    If you want me again look for me under your boot-soles.

    You will hardly know who I am or what I mean,
    But I shall be good health to you nevertheless,
    And filter and fibre your blood.

    Failing to fetch me at first keep encouraged,
    Missing me one place search another,
    I stop somewhere waiting for you.”

  2. The Northern native tribes and nations have ceremonies which are variants of basically putting the loved one in a tree to make it easier to ascend to heaven.

    Amazingly, it’s not legal to do that.

    In Texas, where “The Undertakers have the only strong Union in the whole damn State”, you have to be embalmed. If they find your bleached and coyote/buzzard gnawed bones out in the desert somewhere, you can’t be declared dead until a Mortician signs the papers.
    …and the bones have to be at least officially embalmed.

    opt for cremation and you still have to be embalmed.

    left me shaking with laughter, and tears of disgust, when I read in “One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest” where Chief Bromden, (narrator of the book) flashes back to a scene where his brothers and cousins and himself had dug up their “properly buried” Grandmother and put her in a tree in the forest.

    and they’re all down at the Sheriff’s office being bawled out by a detective for it and the cop is demanding to know where they put the body.

    and they just looked at him and said, “fuck you white boy”.

    The disgust was with a system that dictates what your cultural funerary practices are going to be…

    the Choctaw funerary practices would drive them up the damn wall.

  3. Yo BJ,
    Other than your words, your idea or was it indian? How one is put in the grave should not matter, you are gone, what matters is how you lived, huh? The Chief B must have respected their grandmother & buried her respectfully. Have to agree with them – she lived right. Again, contact your congress person & let him/her/it know how you feel after death. Vote! Remember the fureral is for the living – not the dead. It is us who has to stand up for the dead.

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