“You can’t take it with you” goes the old adage. Upon our demise, we leave behind our IRA’s, our houses, our favorite slippers. We leave our families, our communities, and, of course, our bodies.
And yet, when we die, many of us take quite a lot with us. Our society’s burial practices consume thousands of tons of wood, steel and concrete. Mary Woodsen, from the Greensprings Natural Cemetery near the Finger Lakes, estimates the annual ecological cost of contemporary burial practices:
827,060 gallons of embalming fluid
90,272 tons of steel (caskets)
2,700 tons of copper and bronze (caskets)
1,636,000 tons of reinforced concrete (vaults)
14,000 tons of steel (vaults)
30-plus million board feet of hardwoods, much tropical (caskets)
The reasons for this large consumption have arisen in modern technological times, and serve to prevent, or at least delay, returning our bodies’ nutrients to the earth, to the ongoing cycle of life. For many of us, contemporary funeral and burial processes are “out-of-sync” with our values and how we endeavor to live our lives. After all, the substances that comprise our bodies come from the earth, we use them for awhile, and it seems equitable to return them when we are finished. Happily, there are now alternatives that allow us to plan our return to the earth, simply, naturally.
When I die, I’d like to get back into the system, into the cycle of life. I don’t want my body to be embalmed, preserved by chemical fluids, encased in steel and concrete. I’d rather that my burial site not be mowed, fertilized and sprayed with pesticides and herbicides. I’d like the iron in my red blood cells to be taken up by earthworms and robins, the calcium in my bones to contribute to dandelions and towering oaks.
One of my favorite resources on the topic is “Be A Tree: The Natural Burial Guide for Turning Yourself into a Forest,” by C.A. Beal. It’s available online in a condensed version. In it, Ms. Beal lists the key elements of a natural burial:
- A clean and natural body-management process
- A fully biodegradable container
- A place to go
- People to put you there in the manner you determine
- Laws to support your right to be there
- A community to help you stay there
I haven’t taken steps yet to plan for my own natural burial, but I know people who have made plans for their eventual natural burial. I’d be interested to hear from others about their thoughts on the subject.
Liz Pohlmann is a member of the Troy Transition Network. She is interested in sustainability issues. She can be reached through Member email.
Editors Note: Liz shared the idea of this blog in September. Ironically then, Mother Earth News magaizne published in the Dec 2011/Jan 2012 printed edition (so far not online), the article "We Never Regretted a Private Burial." This article provides insights into buying someone on private property - working somewhat outside the funeral industry. It also provides the following valuable resources: