Why I Wore Black After He Died

— Lessons from Victorian Mourning Culture

Women wearing overcoats and mourning hats, designs by Madame Coussinet, engraving from La Mode Illustree, No 36, September 2, 1888.

I needed others to see me—to acknowledge my grief.

By Kari Nixon

Reader, he died.

I’ve devoted my career to death. As a scholar of Victorian disease, I think about death nearly every day, but this did not protect me from the sucker punch of loss. Neither did his slow, prolonged decline, nor my slow, growing awareness of his coming end, like a roller coaster inching to the crest of a hurtling drop.

It hit me as I cradled my dog’s dead body: I was 32, a specialist in death, and I’d never seen a corpse before this moment. Even as my animalistic cries mingled with actual animal cries in the veterinarian’s office, the scholar in me awoke. How had I never seen a corpse? It struck me as I stroked his soft, velvet ears, no longer responsive to my love, that this separation from death—pervasive in modern society—is actually culturally and historically unprecedented.

Evidence of rituals associated with death is ancient—burials of modern humans date back about 30,000 years, a testament to the very human need for a physical means of coping with loss. Jewish communities sit shiva. At funerals, mourners also tear pieces of their clothing to mark the permanent rift left in the fabric of their lives. In Croatia, going into mourning is still standard. But in America and much of Western Europe, we’ve scrubbed society clean of anything that bespeaks death. We tend to see ourselves as beyond the pale of infectious disease, and we have developed an entire funeral industry to cart away death so we don’t have to see it. Yet, by privileging ourselves with this social sanitation that offers a fantasy of life free from death, we have, in fact, robbed ourselves of any means of coping with it.

Caught in a vortex of loss, I felt profoundly the productive communal purpose of Victorian mourning culture. Victorian novelists often refer to mourning culture with wry disdain. I can appreciate their critique: After all, you were expected to go into mourning for your husband whether you were desperately in love with him or whether he was an abusive sadist. But in doing away with what can seem like fussy external markers of a deeply personal state, we’ve thrown the baby out with the bathwater.

Expected to teach my classes on Victorian culture and live my life with the stoic professionalism of the unbereaved, I felt lost after his death. I needed others to see me—to acknowledge my grief. Somehow that eased the nauseating feeling that my loss of something tangible was itself intangible. So, with the existential defiance of the bereft, I went into Victorian mourning. I wore black clothes and jet jewelry for weeks, comforted by their mute message: “Here stands loss … unalterable, unutterable loss.” In 2019, though, my mourning cues were indecipherable. How I wished, in that black hole of clawing grief, that they were readable signs calling for community support when I didn’t have the strength to ask for it.

Victorian mourning culture was as complex as modern-day weddings. Bodies stayed in the family home for extended periods, giving families time to make sense of the same bodies they had always known, now lifeless. Black clothes were standard for up to two years, depending on the relationship with the deceased, after which muted purples and grays were permissible. Death literally colored daily life. After a flu epidemic in 1890, the streets were seas of black and purple foot traffic. Everything from jewelry to stationery to vehicles were marked with mourning symbols, communicating to correspondents and passersby that death had touched the writer of that letter, the person in this carriage. Families hired public mourners to walk with them to the cemetery, a means of asking for community witness to the expansive, enormous, all-consuming nature of private loss. They took one last photograph of their departed, and often clipped hair from their heads to braid into jewelry.

Today, my students often find these practices revolting, but they make sense to me. Ritual pads desperation. It gives us something to hold on to, literally and figuratively, a presence to mark an absence that feels like it will swallow us whole. I too clipped a lock of his hair and stored it away in an envelope to be sent to the few people who still practice the art of weaving Victorian hair jewelry for mourners. It’s not off-putting to me, because it was him—a cherished life connected to mine. It’s the last remaining vestige of his DNA—why wouldn’t I hoard it greedily when I’ve been deprived of every other part of his presence?

At a wedding recently, six months after his death, I found one of his hairs on my dress, death clinging to life at a celebration of love. What is more beautiful than this? This loss, this life, this love, all there together, among a crowd of unwitting wedding guests. I let the strand of hair go, watching as it drifted in the wind. This was another ritual concoction of mine in a world that gave me no structure for my grief, and I used it to wish for a world that did.

Complete Article HERE!

Books bound in human skin?

A UCLA librarian on why you’ll want to read about them

Books bound in skin, which feature in “Dark Archives: A Librarian’s Investigation Into the Science and History of Books Bound in Human Skin.”

By Leslie Pariseau

That a librarian has written a book about rare leather-bound books and a major literary imprint has published it is a triumph for bibliophiles everywhere — especially when you consider the source of the hide.Dark Archives,” a deep dive into the history and mechanisms of sourcing, tanning and binding human skin into books, won’t be everybody’s cup of tea. But if you take comfort in reading Stephen King and Shirley Jackson on a stormy night or watching medical procedures on YouTube or you were the kind of kid who stole off to the occult section of the library (130 in the Dewey Decimal System, if I remember correctly), then Megan Rosenbloom’s strange history might be for you.

With sincere curiosity and clear-eyed analysis, Rosenbloom, a librarian at UCLA with a specialty in the history of medicine, unfurls the stories of the binders of the skins and their previous inhabitants: Mary Lynch, a young Irish widow who in 1868 died of trichinosis in a dreary Philadelphia hospital, her thigh skin saved in a chamber pot for decades; a Civil War soldier whose skin was stolen by Dr. Joseph Leidy and eventually became the binding for his “Elementary Treatise”; the highway robber George Walton, who planned for his own transformation into two books after his execution in 1837.

Over Zoom Rosenbloom jokes that she didn’t set out to be the “human skin book lady.” But her interest in rare books, combined with an early job in a medical library, led her down a winding path. “The things that I learned were just so shocking,” she says. “You mean medical students used to literally dig up graves and steal bodies, and their teachers were pretty fine about that?” Indeed, a good deal of “Dark Archives” engages with questions of consent around human bodies, especially during and after death — down to the most banal-seeming of our organs.

Growing up in a working-class Irish Catholic family in Philadelphia, Rosenbloom was attracted and repelled by “darker things” from an early age. This specific curiosity was first piqued in 2008 as she wandered around the Mütter Museum at the College of Physicians of Philadelphia, which houses (among other bodily obscura) Einstein’s brain and a chunk of John Wilkes Booth’s vertebra. Rosenbloom came upon a case of leather-bound books whose display text claimed they were made of human skin — via a process called anthropodermic bibliopegy, practiced by 19th century doctors who wanted to give their own collections a special touch.

“A dead person’s skin had become a by-product of the dissection process,” Rosenbloom writes, “like a piece of animal leather after a butcher’s slaughter, harvested solely to make a doctor’s personal books more collectible and valuable.” Imagine a veterinarian keeping her feline patients’ hides and then covering her most prized medical books with them — except, in this case, the veterinarian would also be a cat.

In earnest pursuit of answers, Rosenbloom formed the Anthropodermic Book Project, which sets out to test as many books purported to be bound in human skin as possible. So begins her jaunt across through the U.S. and Europe to harvest samples. Rosenbloom’s project takes her to the library at the Los Angeles County Medical Assn., the site of a book supposedly bound in the skin of a white man captured by Native Americans; to Harvard, whose library holds not one but two prospects; to Cincinnati, home to a copy of Phillis Wheatley’s poems bound in 1934; and elsewhere, with often surprising test results.

Her travels extended to other relevant sites, from an old-fashioned tannery in upstate New York to understand the leather-making process to a Cleveland nonprofit dedicated to preserving tattooed skin once its (consenting) owner’s soul has departed their earthly vessel.

Rosenbloom is well aware that morbid curiosity can read as glibness. “The book walks a line,” she says, acknowledging the timing of the book’s release, in a year of multifarious horrors, with characteristic good nature. “I thought it was effective to have a guide because you should have someone you can trust.”

The author earns that trust. The result of Rosenbloom’s probing travelogues, lively histories and deep study of book stewardship is an incongruously bright-eyed view of a subject that, in the hands of another scholar, might be either plodding or gruesomely sensationalistic. The true story of how people became books is surprisingly intersectional, touching on gender, race, socioeconomics and the Western medical establishment’s colonialist mindset.

“Every time I tried to research a book, I would almost always find a doctor involved,” Rosenbloom says. “And the sort of disconnect between the way our society views doctors and then how this got done … is fascinating to me.” She says she spent time with texts like Ruth Richardson’s “Death, Dissection and the Destitute” to understand the rift between famous male doctors and the patients they treated: “People who didn’t have access to assert themselves or have agency around their bodies. What of them? It’s a harder story to tell.”

“Dark Archives” confronts the myth of Nazis turning human skin into gruesome objects, concluding the infamous lampshade (whose existence remains unproven) had become “an outsize emblem of the brutality of the Nazi regime.” She turns this conflation of history into an ironic twist on the banality of evil: “It’s easier to believe that objects of human skin are made by monsters like Nazis and serial killers, not the well-respected doctors the likes of whom patients want their children to become someday.” More than a tromp through a bizarre subset of bibliophilia, “Dark Archives” is a truth-telling expedition.

Rosenbloom’s nuanced approach is intertwined with her work as the cofounder of the Death Salon, an organization whose mission is to “[encourage] conversations on mortality and mourning and their resonating effects on our culture and history.” Styled after an 18th century salon, the event series is part of the Order of the Good Death, a group that works to promote the death positive movement — which aims to destigmatize dying.

“Basically everything that you take for granted and think is normal around death is totally culturally relative,” says Rosenbloom. She remembers having “a seed of fear” planted after attending an uncle’s funeral around 11, observing family members as they approached and retreated from the open casket. Eventually, she understood the necessity of confronting her own anxieties around mortality from an intellectual perspective. “I’m a bit of a control freak, anxious person, and if there’s something I can do or if I can learn about things and try to understand them, that helps with the anxiety thing.”

In many ways, “Dark Archives” feels like an extension of Rosenbloom’s death positive work, urging us to confront not just what happens to physical bodies after they die but the memory of people who occupied them — and a society that has systematically brushed them aside. “We can’t go back in time and stop anthropodermic books from being created,” writes Rosenbloom, “but since they exist, they have important lessons to teach us — if we’re willing to reckon with their dark past and all that it tells us about the culture in which they were created.”

Complete Article HERE!

In the midst of deep grief, a scholar writes how Hindu rituals taught her to let go

Hindu cremation being performed on the banks of the River Ganges in Varanasi, India.

By

Cultures have built elaborate rituals to help humans process the grief of losing someone.

Rituals can hold the core beliefs of a culture and provide a sense of control in an otherwise helpless situation. I came to understand this when I lost my mother last year and participated in the primary Hindu rituals of death and grief.

The cultural practices and experiences helped me find meaning in my loss.

Body and soul

Many Eastern religions do not bury their dead; instead, they cremate them. Most Hindus consider this to be the final sacrifice of a person.

The Sanskrit word for death, “dehanta,” means “the end of body” but not the end of life. One of the central tenets of Hindu philosophy is the distinction between a body and a soul. Hindus believe that the body is a temporary vessel for an immortal soul in the mortal realm. When we die, our physical body perishes but our soul lives on.

The soul continues its journey of birth, death and rebirth, in perpetuity until a final liberation. This is at the heart of the philosophy of detachment and learning to let go of desires.

Scholars of Indian philosophy have argued about the importance of cultivating detachment in the Hindu way of life. An ultimate test of detachment is the acceptance of death.

Hindus believe that the soul of the deceased stays attached to its body even after its demise, and by cremating the body, it can be set free. As a final act, a close family member forcefully strikes the burning corpse’s skull with a stick as if to crack it open and release the soul.

To fully liberate the soul of its mortal attachments, the ashes and remaining bone fragments of the deceased are then dispersed in a river or ocean, usually at a historically holy place, like the banks of the River Ganges.

Knowledge within rituals

Someone from a different tradition might wonder why a ritual should ask mourners to destroy the body of their loved ones and dispose of their remains when one should be caring for all that remains of the dead?

As shocking as it was, it forced me to understand that the burning corpse is only a body, not my mother, and I have no connection left to the body. My Ph.D. studies in cognitive sciences, a field that seeks to understand how our behavior and thinking are influenced by interactions between brain, body, environment and culture, made me look beyond the rituals. It made me understand their deeper relevance and question my experiences.

Rituals can help us understand concepts that are otherwise elusive to grasp. For example, scholar Nicole Boivin describes the importance of physical doorways in rituals of social transformation, like marriage, in some cultures. The experience of moving through doorways evokes transition and creates an understanding of change.

Through the rituals, ideas that were abstract until then, such as detachment, became accessible to me.

The concept of detachment to the physical body is embodied in the Hindu death rituals. Cremation creates an experience that represents the end of the deceased’s physical body. Further, immersing ashes in a river symbolizes the final detachment with the physical body as flowing water takes the remains away from the mortal world.

Dealing with the death of a loved one can be incredibly painful, and it also confronts one with the specter of mortality. The ritual of liberating the soul of the dead from its attachments is also a reminder to those left behind to let go of the attachment to the dead.

For it is the living who must learn to let go of the attachment to the dead, not the long-gone soul. Cultural rituals can widen one’s views when it is difficult to see past the grief.

Standing at a place where millions before me had come and gone, where my ancestors performed their rites, I let go of my mother’s final remains in the holy waters of the river Ganges.

Watching them float away with the waves of the ancient river helped me recognize that this was not the end but a small fragment in the bigger circle of life.

As the Hindu text, the “Bhagavad Gita” – The Song of God – says of the soul,

It is not born, it does not die;
Having been, it will never not be.
Unborn, eternal, constant and primordial;>It is not killed, when the body is killed.

Complete Article HERE!

If a loved one dies, beware the ‘renter’s death penalty’

Landlord can legally ask for remaining rent on lease

By: John Matarese

If someone you love who lived in an apartment dies, you might assume the landlord will just tear up the lease.

But many grieving families find that is often not the case.

Carrie Davis is mourning the loss of her beloved mother and battling her mom’s apartment complex at the same time.

Despite her mother’s passing, Davis said Northwest Woods in Springfield Township, Ohio, still wants the equivalent of six months rent.

“They said we needed to sign a buyout agreement,” Davis said. “That could leave us paying a total of six months rent in order to get out of that one-year lease.”

She can’t believe the family has to keep paying for an empty apartment.

“The grandkids are not going to get the gifts bequested to them this Christmas in my mom’s will because we have to pay an apartment complex,” she said.

Law is on landlord’s side in most states

Although this might seem unfair, most states have laws to protect the landlord, not the deceased person’s family, when this happens.

Although the survivors are not billed directly, the dying person’s estate is, and sometimes their estate must pay 10 or 11 months rent on an apartment that will not be used.

Family law attorney Pavan Parikh said this is often called the “renter’s death penalty” — a penalty for dying.

“The law is pretty clear on this that when someone passes away, the decedent’s estate is still responsible for the full term of the lease,” he explained.

A handful of states such as Pennsylvania and Colorado have recently outlawed this, but Ohio, Indiana and Kentucky have not.

Parikh said he believes more states should look at changing the law out of compassion for grieving families.

“It is a scenario where the law needs to do a better job of contemplating,” he said.

We contacted the complex owner, Nexus Property Management, but were told “we have no comment” by the woman who answered. She would not put us in touch with the complex’s attorney.

Although Northwest Woods and Nexus Property Management has done nothing wrong in this case and legally have every right to ask for the remaining rent, Carrie Davis would like to see tougher laws to protect the survivors of those who pass away.

“We should protect our residents, our elderly, our disabled, and even our COVID victims, from incurring thousands of dollars in debt just for dying,” she said.

Attorney Parikh, meantime, says taking an apartment complex to court could cost more than the rent.

He suggests negotiating with the landlord, so you don’t waste your money.

Complete Article HERE!

Couples Care for Stillborn Babies for Weeks While Grieving, & We Need to Be OK With That

By Sabrina Rojas Weiss

When Chrissy Teigen lost her baby Jack last week, some disapproved of the fact that both she and her mother shared images of themselves holding him. Those people may be surprised to learn that some parents go even further when grieving a stillborn baby, choosing to visit and hold them for days or weeks. As October is Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness month, we want to help spread the word that this is one of many ways to grieve and memorialize a miscarriage or stillborn child.

“She was a fully grown baby and I kept thinking that she would wake up at any minute,” British mother Jess Mayall told the Sun of her stillborn daughter Ava. Her hospital in the U.K. allowed her to keep Ava in a refrigerated device call a CuddleCot for two weeks. That meant that she and her partner could hold her, take pictures with her, and even take her on walks in a stroller to say goodbye.

“The hospice was a life saver for us,” Mayall said. “The support they offered us really changed our experience and we are so glad that we were able to make two weeks’ worth of memories with her before laying her to rest.”

This is a practice some hospitals and pregnancy-loss organizations have recommended for bereaved parents, even sometimes suggesting they bring the baby home for a short time. While in the U.K., most hospitals have CuddleCots, there are parents and others hoping to bring more of them to the U.S., where often parents don’t even get to see or hold their infants after losing them.

The prospect of holding and caring for a deceased infant is not for everyone, though. We hope to help normalize many ways to cope with this tragedy. Here are some other ways to grieve and memorialize pregnancy and infant loss:

Seek the help of a doula. BirthWaves.org has doulas in five states who provide free help for parents during delivery of a stillborn child as well as with all the difficult things that come after they return home, from lactation support to funeral arrangement.

Hire a photographer who is comfortable with bereavement photos, or take pictures yourself.

Frame an ultrasound picture or create art with their footprint.

Buy a customized Molly Bear that is the weight of your baby.

Fill out a special memorial baby book.

Create a customized book for you and your other children to read together.

Make a memory box.

Reach out to a local or online support group.

Share your feelings with friends and family. No one needs to go through this alone. You may also be surprised to learn that someone close to you suffered from miscarriage or stillbirth without telling anyone until you did.

Read about other beautiful ideas from Still Standing magazine.

Complete Article HERE!

The Newly Legal Process for Turning Human Corpses to Soil

Reusable eight-by-four-foot steel cylinders, packed with wood chips, straw, and alfalfa, present an eco-friendly alternative to traditional burial

By Corinne Purtill

There’s an empty warehouse 20 miles south of Seattle that, if everything goes as planned, will soon be full of dead people.

The facility belongs to Recompose, the first U.S. company to compost human bodies indoors, through a process known officially as natural organic reduction. Washington state became the first — and so far, only — U.S. state to legalize the practice in May 2019. Recompose opens in November. It’s designed to hold the bodies of up to 10 recently deceased people at a time, each of them quietly decomposing into a loamy, nutritious soil, just as their previous owners wanted.

At the most basic level, decomposition is not a new technology; microbes have been doing it extremely well for just about as long as organic matter has existed. But it’s a part of death that Western funeral practices have traditionally gone to great lengths to evade: Embalming a corpse in chemicals with the goal of preserving a “natural” (that is, not dead) look; hawking expensive caskets that claim to seal out nature’s corrupting forces.

Recompose takes the opposite approach.

Against an attractive millennial pink background, the company’s website plainly explains the eco-friendly setting in which clients will decay. Instead of in a single-use casket, bodies rest temporarily in a reusable eight-by-four-foot steel cylinder, packed snugly in a cocoon of wood chips, straw, and alfalfa. For 30 days the dead human and living microbes stay in the vessel together, lying alongside fellow Recomposers in the warehouse’s hexagonal wooden frame, while the microorganisms slowly break down the corpse. At the end, after a brief turn in a curing bin to cool and dry out excess moisture, what once was a human body is now about a cubic yard of fertile, nutrient-rich soil, which can be returned to loved ones or scattered according to the decedent’ wishes. (The company will deliver all or part of the soil free of charge to Bells Mountain, a protected wilderness in southern Washington.) The service costs $5,500 — more than a typical cremation and service costs in the U.S., but about half the cost of burial. Some 275 people have already signed up for the service since reservations opened a month ago, said customer and communications manager Anna Swenson.

“There are a lot of signs and signals that are somewhat apocalyptic that kind of turn you back to your mortality.”

Why hack death? Cremation releases more than 500,000 tons of greenhouse gases annually in the U.S. alone, along with significant levels of mercury emissions. Traditional burial shoves truckfuls worth of metal, concrete, wood, and formaldehyde beneath the ground each year. Cities around the world are running out of traditional cemetery space, and preserving any unmolested open space is hard, even if you’re not trying to get permission to plant corpses in it. Human composting and its kindred green death technologies distill the body from a large, unwieldy, decomposition-prone state to one that is smaller, shelf-stable, and portable, with negligible environmental cost along the way.

There are existential reasons as well. As a pandemic rages and wildfires burn and a general feeling of doom pervades the air, “there are a lot of signs and signals that are somewhat apocalyptic that kind of turn you back to your mortality,” said Jeff Jorgenson, who owns green funeral homes in Seattle and Los Angeles.

“We look at what we’re doing and how disconnected we are from the earth and realizing that we’ve created this mess. We’ve allowed this to happen. And I think that informs decisions and perspectives on death.”

Recompose founder and CEO Katrina Spade was raised in a family of doctors “where it was fairly normal to talk about death and dying at the dinner table,” as she explained in a 2016 TED Talk. That frank approach to life and its end followed her to architecture school, where she became fascinated by a particular design question: How to dispose of her own physical body when she was no longer living in it, without — as she put it — “destroy[ing] the possibility of giving back after we die.”

She admired the example of green cemeteries, where nonembalmed bodies are wrapped in biodegradable materials and buried in a grave about three or four feet deep in which, over the course of about two years, tissues decompose into matter that nourishes the surrounding soil. (Bones can take up to 20 years more to fully disintegrate, according to the Green Burial Council.)

Green cemeteries are lovely places, with trees and plants growing freely without the austere manicuring of a traditional cemetery. There just aren’t very many of them. Only a few hundred of the thousands of cemeteries in the U.S. offer any green burial option, including many Jewish and Muslim cemeteries, whose burial practices traditionally forgo embalming and nonbiodegradable caskets. With composting, the body can go through the same process as it would beneath the soil of a green cemetery, even if there’s no open space for miles.

There’s also the question of one’s final resting place. A body placed in a green cemetery becomes, effectively, a part of that particular expanse of earth. One of the benefits of cremation is that the deceased or their survivors can dispose of the resulting “ashes” however they see fit: scattered in a meaningful spot, divided amongst children, even shot out of a cannon if that feels most appropriate.

Wouldn’t it be nice, Spade thought, to rot closer to home, to turn back into something that feeds the earth instead of takes from it, and to have a say in where the soil made from you goes?

Agriculture has been using natural organic reduction for decades to dispose of dead cows and other livestock on farms. For her master’s thesis in architecture, Spade laid out the idea for a facility where humans could be composted this way, indoors, in a setting that would be both dignified and sanitary.

Upon graduation, she began in earnest to make the business a reality. In 2018 she partnered with the Washington State University Soil Science Department for a study using six donor bodies to confirm that soil produced from human composting would be pathogen-free. The heat produced by the composting process kills almost all pathogens; the only people who will not be eligible for composting at Recompose are those who die with prion conditions, like Creutzfeldt–Jakob (“mad cow”) disease, as the proteins that cause those conditions can remain toxic in soil for years.

Recompose’s vessel is not the only relatively new advance in the disposal of human corpses. The law that made Washington the first (and so far only) state in the U.S. to legalize human composting also explicitly legalized alkaline hydrolysis, also known as chemical cremation.

The novelty of Recompose got more attention, as alkaline hydrolysis was already legal in more than a dozen U.S. states. But because the technology fits so easily into existing crematoriums, chemical cremation, which was also originally developed to dispose of dead cattle, may be the more accessible option at the moment for people without access to a green cemetery or reduction facility.

More than half of the people who die in the U.S. each year are cremated, a process that emits more than 500 estimated pounds of carbon dioxide per body. In alkaline hydrolysis, a body is placed inside a vessel containing a solution of water and the caustic base potassium hydroxide that’s then heated and pressurized. Over about three hours, the pressurized liquid dissolves the body’s soft tissues as fire does in a traditional crematorium. Because there’s no combustion, there are also no greenhouse gas emissions.

The end result of both processes is the same: Bones that are then pulverized into what are typically referred to as the “ashes” of the deceased. Traditional cremains are the color of gray sand. The remains of a chemically cremated body are the pure white of seashells.

Green death tech also expands to engineered materials that line coffins and wrap corpses, and that sell themselves as accelerating the conversion of the former, resource-consuming you into matter that feeds other life forms, the ideological opposite of traditional burial marketing.

“People want their deaths to mean something. They want their bodies to be useful in some way.”

These include the offerings of designer Jae Rhim Lee’s company Coeio, which sells burial garments laced with a mixture of mushrooms and other organic matter that claim to speed decomposition and break down the toxic compounds the body releases. (According to his wishes, actor Luke Perry was buried in one after his 2019 death from a stroke at age 52.) The Italian designers Anna Citelli and Raoul Bretzel created Capsula Mundi, a biodegradable, egg-shaped urn whose creators say should be buried in the ground, with a tree as a grave marker.

New technologies for disposing of bodies allow new ways of mourning the dead. Even before Covid-19 disrupted the ability to gather in mourning, it was a challenge to convene dispersed loved ones and choose a specific place to lay to rest a person who lived their life in multiple cities or countries. The share of people who identify with organized religion has fallen. Secular services that fill the need for mourning rituals have grown in their place.

Recompose is also a funeral home, and eventually, the business hopes to move to a facility large enough to allow for memorial services where loved ones can participate in the process of placing the body in the vessel. The company also plans to offer franchising opportunities in a few years. While patents are pending on the specific design of their vessels, composting itself is not a proprietary idea. In the future, rather than calling the church to organize a service, one may call the closest organic reduction facility.

“People want their deaths to mean something. They want their bodies to be useful in some way,” said Nora Menkin, executive director of the People’s Memorial Association, a Seattle-based nonprofit cooperative funeral home. Over the last six months, there’s been a jump in calls to the organization from people contemplating their mortality while riding out the pandemic at home. They want options, she said, so that “your last act on earth isn’t polluting it.”

The way we dispose of bodies says more about how we live. Embalming became popular in the Civil War, the first episode in U.S. history where people died en masse far from their homes and needed to be transported for burial. Cremation rates rose as the country became more mobile, and scattered families could not be convened fast enough for a burial. Today, more people seek options that don’t contribute to the environmental destruction we see around us, that allows our earthly remains to be shared by the people we loved or disposed of altogether. To embrace our final obligation, which is to return to the earth the substance that let us be ourselves.

Complete Article HERE!

This ‘Living’ Coffin Uses Mushrooms to Compost Dead Bodies

This ‘Living’ Coffin Uses Mushrooms to Compost Dead Bodies

Hendrikx with the ‘Living Cocoon’ coffins.

by Becky Ferreira

For tens of thousands of years, humans have developed funeral rites and burial practices that reflected the attitudes of their particular time and place. These traditions of honoring the dead continue to evolve into the 21st century, as people seek “green burials” that are more environmentally friendly than standard coffins. 

One of the newest examples comes from Loop, a Dutch biotech company that recently unveiled a biodegradable coffin made of fungus, microbes and plant roots. Called the “Living Cocoon,” the coffin is designed to hasten bodily decomposition while also enriching soil around the plot.

“Normally, what we do as humans is we take something out of nature, we kill it, and we use it,” said Bob Hendrikx, founder of Loop, in a call. “So I thought: what if we humans start moving from working with dead materials toward a world in which we work with living materials?”

“We would not only become less of a parasite, but we could also start exploring super-cool material properties, like living lights, walls that are self-healing, and that kind of stuff,” he added.

Hendrikx was inspired to develop the Living Cocoon while presenting a living home concept at last year’s Dutch Design Week. While houses are obviously for the living, Hendrikx got to thinking about adapting the concept into a coffin powered by mushroom mycelium, which is the filamentary vegetative part of the fungus.

“Mycelium is nature’s biggest recycler,” Hendrikx said. “It is continuously looking for dead organic matter to transform into key nutrients.”

Developed in collaboration with Delft University of Technology and the Naturalis Biodiversity Center, the Living Cocoon contains a moss bed packed with mycelium, plant roots, and a lush ecosystem of microorganisms. It is already on the market in the Netherlands, and has been used for a burial at the Hague.

Initial tests of the coffin indicate that it degrades in soil over about 30 to 45 days, and the Loop team estimates that bodies within coffins should be composted after three years. Mushrooms can also remove contaminants from soil, so the researchers have a “bigger vision” to use the coffins to purify dirty environments.

“We have a dream of having super-new natural funeral-based concepts in which we go to different cities and search for the most dirty soil and start cleaning that up,” Hendrikx said.

“We already have this product launched on the market, but what we want to really know is how long does [decomposition] take exactly, what does the decomposition phase look like, and also—this is super-important—what kind of chemicals can it absorb and in what amounts,” he added.

The Living Cocoon is one of many emerging concepts that aim to reduce the environmental tolls of current mortuary norms. Right now, both caskets and cadavers are treated with chemicals that leach into soil over time, potentially contaminating groundwater.

Green burials are exactly not a new phenomenon, as Indigenous cultures around the world have practiced environmentally friendly mortuary practices for thousands of years. For instance, “sky burials” that expose bodies to high altitudes where they can be scavenged by birds and animals, are still practiced in the Himalayas today.

But more novel funeral technologies such as “water cremation,” in which bodies are broken down in water and potassium hydroxide, are attracting the interest of people who want to tread lightly on the planet, even after they no longer live on it.

To that point, the Loop team thinks that the Living Cocoon will help people access the right end-of-life experience for them.

“I think people are ready for this,” Hendrikx said.

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